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Doctors’ strike symptom of malaise in leadership

By Makau Mutua | February 21st 2017 at 16:04:32 GMT +0300

American thinker John Henry Thoreau wrote in the 1849 seminal essay — Resistance to Civil Government, also known as Civil Disobedience — that “government is best that governs the least.”

The aphorism is democratic admonition to governments that are controlling and tyrannical of their citizens. The idea is that government should let citizens think and act for themselves without dictation. Mr Thoreau believed that primarily government is an agent of corruption, and that democracy does not bequeath the majority with the virtues of wisdom and justice. He argued that it was the duty of honest people to rebel and revolt against the state. He argued that complicit citizens with atrophied brains were paying taxes to support a government anchored in slavery.

Mr Thoreau’s admonitions against the American citizenry and state are synonymous to Kenyans and the Jubilee regime today. In Jubilee’s case — unlike the American slave state in the nineteenth century — we have a double whammy. On the one hand, the Jubilee regime governs not the least — in fact, it governs not all in matters of national priority and urgency.

Exhibit A is the long-running strike by doctors and healthcare professionals. Other examples include the incompetent execution of the war against al Shabaab. Let’s not forget the ravaging drought. Before then, it was the imbroglio with the striking teachers. In 2004, then Opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta described President Kibaki’s leadership style as “hands-off, eyes off, ears-off, and everything off.”

In hindsight, Mr Kenyatta might as well have been describing his leadership style today. The man from Gatundu has gone AWOL as Kenya burns. This isn’t the “least governship” that Mr Thoreau was talking about. This is no leadership at all. On the other hand, however, the Jubilee regime “governs too much” in some areas. “Governing too much” obviously runs afoul of Mr Thoreau’s finger wag.

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That’s because it’s either tyrannical, oppressive, or corrupt. Cases in point include Jubilee’s persecution of bona fide NGOs like the Kenya Human Rights Commission, massive pilferage of the national purse through mega projects like NYS, SGR, the Afya House scandal, and other eye-popping heists.

However, I digress — my focus is the doctors. In political theory, the bare republican state must assure citizens of their physical well-being and protect their property. A state that fails to fulfill those basic twin obligations forfeits its right to rule. Physical well-being includes the minimum conditions for citizens to be free of molestation and catastrophe.

The health of citizens is one of those basic conditions of the people that trigger the core obligations of statehood. Jubilee has blatantly defied a court order to conclude the binding Collective Bargaining Agreement between the state and the Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union (KMPDU). The 2013 CBA is a comprehensive and fair agreement whose resolution can resolve the devastating strike. It’s a good-faith agreement.

First, no one should be under any illusion that becoming a doctor is easy or cheap. It’s one of the most laborious professions. Second, Kenya has one of the lowest per capita for doctors. In rural areas, doctors are a rare species. We know the appalling state of many hospitals, including many white elephants the state classifies as Level 5. Many have no drugs or other essentials. Now, even the biggest hospital in East and Central Africa — Kenyatta National Hospital — has been shattered by Jubilee’s intransigence to grant the doctors their just demands. Teaching hospitals have been closed.

So have clinics and dispensaries. The healthcare system has totally collapsed. It’s an abomination for any court to sentence KMPDU leaders to jail. Only moneyed patients who can afford the exorbitant costs in private hospitals can avoid certain deaths by untreated or preventable illness. People are giving birth on the street under perilous conditions where deaths have been reported.

Kids with curable fevers are dying. Combine the lack of medical attention with biting hunger and you have a national catastrophe. Yet the Jubilee regime twiddles its thumbs. The politicians — who have private healthcare — don’t give a hoot. Get this — they have even resorted to attacking and demonising the doctors. In the meantime, MPs want to hike their already obscene pay and perks. Is it any wonder that civil society aptly coined the term MPigs for them? The potbellies keep growing.

Doctors want a fair wage and humane working conditions and terms. The lowest paid doctor (Job Group L) gets Sh35,910 a month pre-tax. With all allowances, she might get Sh149,888 pre-tax. That’s not a real living wage. The highest paid doctor (Job Group T) gets Sh152,060 pre-tax a month. With all allowances, she might receive Sh538,980 pre-tax a month. Remember doctors are on call throughout. Raising wages — instead of falsely accusing doctors of wanting a 300 per cent raise — is a national duty.

The writer is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.

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