NCIC deals with much more than hate speech

Ah yes, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) – they’re the hate speech guys aren’t they? The ones who hear our politicians stir up their supporters against those of their opponents, and then slap their wrists.

Yes they are in business to hammer hate speech, and it’s definitely what the media love reporting on – the more senior the politician the more prominent the coverage, particularly if such honourables end up in court. But this is but a small proportion of NCIC’s mandate, and the reality is that much more quietly, behind the scenes, they are deeply engaged in bringing conflicted communities together.

How do I know this, despite the almost complete absence of media coverage and hence of public perception regarding this life-beyond-hate-speech?

First, because I supported NCIC with their strategy development in 2011, when I was exposed to their activities up close. Then, more recently I read Alice Nderitu’s book, Kenya, Bridging Ethnic Divides: A Commissioner’s Experience on Cohesion and Integration (which I reviewed in a column of mine on this page exactly two years ago); and now I am a member of NCIC’s Social Cohesion Committee, set up to promote national cohesion at this challenging time of Covid-19.

To learn about the early years of NCIC, I urge you to read the book by Alice Nderitu, who was one of its founder commissioners. In this article though, let me share something about the conflict resolution and peace-building initiatives they are engaged in right now, which I have been hearing about from current commissioners and staff.

First I’ll highlight their approach in Narok, where longstanding societal problems going back to the evictions from the Mau Forest and the feuds between the Kipsigis and the Maasai have led to the violence we have again been witnessing in recent weeks. Here NCIC officers have made their constructive presence felt in a reassuringly impactful way.

Even in this time of Covid they have been travelling to the affected areas, where they held several weeks of consultations with the affected communities and their leaders, listening to the voices of those on the ground so as to understand the issues, and hence building trust and confidence in themselves.

They collaborated with other agencies, benefitting from their expertise and their networks; held public barazas; organised work projects bringing youth together; and through all this started developing a culture of peace rather than of conflict. As a result of their mediation expertise progress has been made, and without needing to resort to judicial intervention. Seeing their contribution has encouraged both government and development partners to reinforce their support for NCIC.

In their mediation efforts in Marsabit they involved professionals, religious leaders, women, elders and students in promoting peaceful ways of resolving the conflicts over boundaries, grazing land, water and related issues, again adopting a multi-agency approach. And similar approaches are under way to resolve the conflicts on the Kakamega-Nandi border.

The NCIC peace soldiers have learned that while conflict is active it is not a good time for them to intervene. During such periods they must leave it to the security forces to calm things down, and it is only then that they can start engaging those involved in dialogue.

They have found that they need to be flexible in how and with whom to intervene, and another principle of theirs is never to over-promise but to keep their word. Ultimately, their mission is to develop cultures of conflict resolution and peace, generating a constructive win-win atmosphere among the locals. This requires great expertise and experience, which fortunately is available within the commission.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to assess how to involve – and not involve! – the local politicians, for too often they are the very ones who stir up the conflicts to their short term political advantage. It is why the development of grassroots community leadership is so vital, enabling it to become a voice of positive influence.

Realistically, many of the politicians will keep on doing what they’ve always done. And given how their activities whip up emotions that deliberately generate conflict and violence, this becomes natural material for the media to feed on.

Equally, as I wrote at the beginning, for NCIC’s conflict resolution and peace-building to be effective it must be conducted in a low profile way. So please, let us not conclude that just because we aren’t reading about this day-to-day they are only spending their time chasing after hate-speech mongers.

Basic income, free face masks needed in the slums urgently

As the government continues to work out an adequate and fair response to the huge rise in virus infections and accelerating death rate, out of the box thinking is required. Complete area lockdowns hurt socio-economic development, while clearly helping to reduce Covid-19 infections.

Yet reduced development devastates incomes, especially of the poor who even find it difficult to pay for face-masks. It also leads to deaths from hunger and disease, and raises the risk of crime and violence.

Consequently there must be a carefully targeted response to lockdown, coupled with increased personal responsibility. Banning large get-togethers unless all wear face masks covering both mouth and nose is a must. There is no doubt that wearing face masks properly is key to preventing the spread of the disease. Right now only 30 percent (according to our daily tally in our neighbourhood in Nairobi) wear face masks correctly and these are mainly women. At the coast the figure is far lower, at less than five percent.

Thus it is clear that personal responsibility is lacking to wear face masks, even by those who can afford them. A major campaign is required to alert the public in general and poor people especially. Methods of alert so far via television, radio and the press have unfortunately failed — even in sophisticated countries with higher readership and coverage. A new approach must include more social media and increased controls.

The campaign should feature the link between jobs, prosperity, and even lockdown, for each area where face-mask wearing is low or non-existent. Further, facemasks must be made free in the slums, and users coached on the need to wash them daily with soap and water.

Even in the best case scenario income levels will continue to be down, as external factors such as tourist flows suffer because of the pandemic.

But there is a modest solution. Economic activities, especially with incoming tourists, will increase if it is known how serious the government takes the personal responsibility of all Kenyans — as the President has so clearly been showing. Tourists should be encouraged to adopt mask-wearing as part of their own personal responsibility.

The bargain is therefore you do something for me dear tourist, face-masking and social distancing, and we’ll do something for you through ensuring the personal responsibility of our citizens. The latter includes what we are seeing now, the selective opening of hotels, bars and restaurants, with closure immediately invoked should they ignore their responsibilities.

We know of a case where a restaurant and bar owner on the beach pays for his staff out of his own pocket, ensures adequate table and social distancing, sanitises all touchable surfaces continuously, and only keeps negative-tested staff. The risk of infection is very low or non-existent, as the winds blow around his establishment. But he has closed. His staff are on minimal wages, and tourists have cancelled their stays.

The brave attempts to distribute desperately needed food are misguided. Cash is the key and then the poor can buy what they need. They will buy food and thereby stimulate local markets but they will not necessarily buy face masks, so these must be given free on condition of penalties if they don’t.

We noted before that cash transfers to vulnerable families increased mutual support between beneficiaries; reduced tensions; and improved relationships within the community. Even better news is that each Sh1,000 of cash assistance can generate more than double that, most of which will be spent locally. Then, with cash, people were able to buy what they most needed, whether food, rent or other essentials.

A huge difficulty is that corruption has led to most cash distribution schemes failing. There are too many steps to take, with slow and bureaucratic government mechanisms. As we suggested before, a basic income can be sent only to areas where poor people live, distributed via M-Pesa to those with mobile phones. Of course some will have more than one phone and others none — estimated at a mere three percent in the slums. But the sharing culture there would reduce the hardship of the few without.

As insisted before, our technical contacts at mobile phone companies are confident they can identify most poor people in the vicinity of a transmission mast through a technique known as “geo-fencing”. Yes, some people who don’t need the cash would be included. But if distributed after curfew it would exclude passers-by.

Worse, some who desperately need the cash might also be excluded. However, geo-fencing ensures that it is the people in need who do obtain the cash, while corruption can just about be eliminated.

Meanwhile the quest for perfection breeds paralysis. It is better to start now, since cash is desperately needed by the vulnerable. We therefore once more urge the government to urgently consider distributing a basic income for the poor in the slums of Kenya… coupled with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility.

Hopkins is Professor of CSR and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Eldon is Chairman, The DEPOT and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Munro is a former UN Senior Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development and MYSA Founder Chairman

Hurdles that hinder growth of insurance scene

Over 40 percent of Kenyans have a bank account, and when one includes the use of mobile money over 80 percent enjoy access to formal financial services. Yet the penetration of insurance in Kenya stands at under 3 percent – and it is not rising. Understandably, many commentators therefore see huge potential for developing this arm of the financial sector, typically quoting South Africa’s penetration rate of 17 percent as a comparison and lamenting the unimaginative use of technology by Kenyan companies.

So why is our penetration so low, and what might be done to increase it? For sure many feel that insurance is “just for the well-off”, “a Nairobi thing”. Others feel the odds of needing to claim on a policy are too low to justify paying the premiums required – defying the whole basis of insurance, which is to collect from the many so as to be able to compensate the few who have legitimate claims to lodge.

I am a relative newcomer to the insurance industry, and for the sake of transparency let me state that a year and a half ago I became the chairman of Occidental Insurance Ltd, having been invited to serve on their board a while before. Through my earlier background in the IT industry I was aware that insurance companies typically lagged other sectors – not least banking – in their use of technology.

Indeed back in the mid-seventies, in my last position in London before coming to Kenya, I was the manager of British computer multinational ICL’s business in the insurance sector. Then and since, my perception was that too many leaders in this sector were less innovative than their counterparts elsewhere, not least in applying the latest that technology could offer.

However the more I have become familiar with the challenges faced by insurance companies here the more I have learned to sympathise with players in this market. Admittedly the case can be made that there are far too many of us, leading to an unhealthy fragmentation of the market. But a further significant factor is that as of December 2018, 92 percent of insurance business was passing through agents (of whom there were 10,000, accounting for 53 percent of business) and brokers (of whom there were 200, accounting for 39 percent).

So only 8 percent of business was handled directly by the insurance companies (down from 12 percent in 2017), with the balance dealt with by intermediaries. Much of what does or does not happen in the industry therefore depends on them, and yet insufficient attention is paid to their practices.

Now despite being highly regulated by the Insurance Regulatory Authority it is generally acknowledged that there is also much indiscipline in the sector, with serious premium undercutting and fraud leading to compromised growth and profitability.

How therefore can insurance companies find the resources needed to invest in research and development, including for acquiring new technology that will better serve both the market and their shareholders? One answer is collaboration, as has already happened with the introduction of data sharing platforms that have led to reduced fraud in the motor and marine classes of insurance.

But more is needed. Two major initiatives in the works are the introduction of the Risk Based Capital rules, designed to ensure capital adequacy and more robust risk management; and the rather more controversial “cash and carry” principle requiring premiums to be paid upfront or at the point at which the cover is issued, in order to ensure that the insurer is able to settle claims appropriately. Alongside these, companies are grappling to implement the consequences of the various stringent International Financial Reporting Standards.

Will these be sufficient to bring about a more sustainable insurance industry? Discussions among industry players are active in our Association of Kenya Insurers, and equally between us and the regulator. More trusting collaboration is needed, and less unhealthy competition.

At the end of June 2020 the capital adequacy measures were due to kick in, and let’s hope that the requirements are adhered to, with appropriate oversight being provided by the regulator. And let’s encourage the regulator to keep going after those who shamelessly undercut their premium rates to gain undue competitive advantage… while jeopardising their ability to pay claims and to be sustainable entities.