CITIZENS DO THEIR ROLES MR. PRESIDENT: MAYBE TAKE YOURS A BIT MORE SERIOUSLY TOO

I for one, I do not expect the government to do everything. And this government is anywhere close to saying what can even be remotely close to everything. Kenyans are a conscious people who go on with their daily struggles and whose greatest wish to their government for now is to assure them the basics. Now, I wish not to assume knowledge of the many priorities a government has to grapple with. And many tough decisions holders of power have to make, but certainly a decision between heading back home to a grieving nation and watching a fascinating formula one race cannot be so hard to make. 

During my primary school days’ I pledged my loyalty to the President of Kenya every Monday and Friday morning. It was a ritual which my teachers inducted me into with such admirable commitment. Of course, in the excitement of my childhood, I enjoyed knowing I could recite those words.

Today, I go back to the vaults of my past, where in my childhood, the state lied to me to be loyal to the president first before my nation. It is a vault I despise, for today I realize the state wanted me to conform but the only place I can find a reason to be respectful today. So, inspired by the countless pledges I made to the presidency, and understanding that in so doing, I am abdicating my duty of vehemently rejecting bad leadership, I choose to be restrained. I hope to be restrained.

I have taken a deep reflection before deciding to write. And from the onset, I’d rather state the underpinnings of my rather strong opinion today.

I am aware, that presidents are human, and I have a feeble imagination of what the presidency could look like. I can imagine the burden of carrying a country on ones back; the impatience that each morning brings to a President’s plate. Security and other briefings that may disorient one, yet in all this, the person president is required to hold both their person and the country together.

Being human, I understand that criticism can weigh you down, especially when you know from your own eyes that perhaps you have done your best. You can wonder why other people are not able to see it. And it is very natural to want to shift or at least home that someone else should share in the blame.

And finally, I understand one thing, that rarely will a leader meet people’s expectations. The expectations are diverse and wide, and most of the times, leadership is about priority and sacrifice. It is again human, that even if you never achieve everything, people appreciate the little you do.
With these underpinnings, I have to express disgust at what is increasingly becoming a weird Presidency.

When responding to a Journalist’s question on why there seemed to be no improvement of security despite numerous re-assurances, the Deputy President responded: From where you sit, you may not be able to appreciate what has already been done. And that whatever we see, the deaths and a couple of explosions, was but a fraction of what was possible.

The good, Deputy President did not ask the country to clap for the security apparatus. But he seemed to be suggesting that may be, we should appreciate and not just offer blanket condemnation.

This equals a call for me to understand that there is something being done when 28 hardworking Kenyans are massacred by a ruthless gang. As a citizen, I have my duties and obligations. To pay tax, obey the law and build my country. I do not however have an obligation to understand the failings of the state. It is impressive to learn that our security forces have preempted many planned attacks, but if at best, still these large scale massacres will be witnessed, I am sorry, your explanations do not just make sense.
Now, there is this narrative the jubilee government has been choreographing, passing the buck. It started with a funny ad, on TV. It is funny in many ways, in particular, that part where the President says: Thugs, run and hide, because there will be a million camera’s watching. At best, this was theatrical. And of course, the signature, “usalama unaanza na wewe.”

This translated to the inspector General of Police asking Kenyan’s what their role was in maintaining security. And yes, the President reiterating that indeed, Kenyan’s bore a part of blame in the existing insecurity.

I am certain the anger in Kenyan’s at the thought of a government keen on sharing the blame arises from a very genuine confusion. Confusion because, Kenyan’s build fences around their homes and those who are able constructs gates without a call from government. Kenyans certainly lock their doors every night without the President asking them to. A majority pay taxes to the state on an understanding that the basics that a government should ensure will be guaranteed. And security is a basic.
It beats logic what a government means when it asks a mother whose child was raped why she left the child with a pest uncle. Of course that mother did not expect a police man to sit on the front couch with a gun cocked to protect the child. But how does such an unfortunate incident anyway justify Kapedo or Mandera?

To be honest, even if the mother knew that the Uncle is likely to be a pest, it does not make any big difference whether she carried the baby on the back or left her home, because even if she carried the baby, anyway, and used a public bus, she is likely to be stripped and sexually assaulted before the eyes of her child.

And so should all Kenyan women stay at home to take care of their three year olds in an economy where this very government has decided to drive up the cost of living.

Kenyans are forgetful people. May be our leadership has been so characteristically mediocre that we can excuse many things. uhuruto110214

But there are some of these questions that do not just make sense in this country. Will we ever have each person with a policeman, of course not? And we do not want it anyway. But we see some elected leaders walking in town with six guards, armed with AK 47 Rifles. In Nairobi, people who are not senior government officials or foreign diplomats have roads cleared for them with police sirens anyway. In fact, people, who if this country was one properly managed by structures, they would be either running away from the police or in prison.

I for one, I do not expect the government to do everything. And this government is anywhere close to saying what can even be remotely close to everything. Kenyans are a conscious people who go on with their daily struggles and whose greatest wish to their government for now is to assure them the basics. Now, I wish not to assume knowledge of the many priorities a government has to grapple with. And many tough decisions holders of power have to make, but certainly a decision between heading back home to a grieving nation and watching a fascinating formula one race cannot be so hard to make.

Other global leaders have been faced with way less grievous scenarios and responded with much more zeal. When Wright Foley, a British Journalist was allegedly executed by ISIL, the United Kingdom Prime Minister not only cut short his vacation, he headed back to the United Kingdom and a legislative review to secure the UK border through tough requirements on suspected Jihadists was born.

While, the watching of formula one may be excused, certainly coming back and asking citizens what their role is, is just not a response one would expect from their leader. I hope this is too much a naïve expectation.

And yes organizations are flying their personnel out of Mandera, and Kenyan’s who cannot guarantee themselves security want to be flown out of Mandera. This situation shall certainly not be cured by amplifying the role an unarmed citizen should play.

Tough decisions have to be taken, certainly. From a complete restructure of our security system to dealing with soft human issues around relations and specific community grievances. The government cannot afford the luxury of becoming a cry baby. It must be bold, consistent and persistent.
And the best way the government should get me to play my role, is to inspire us into a unity, not self justification.

And indeed, there seems to be a malaise in the government, an obsession with how good they believe they are doing. Like we noted before, quoting numbers mean nothing, unless this can be translated to actual impact on people.

I hope the presidency can understand that criticism, and even abuse characterizes public duty. And that the weight of a fearful nation rests on its shoulders. There will certainly be no one, except Uhuru Kenyatta, whom we will be expecting to both assure us security and actually provide that security. And certainly, I am sure the government feels the anger and frustrations all Kenyans have.

On another note, the luxury of irresponsibility depicted by government can only be afforded in a situation where the opposition is also impressively bankrupt.

WHAT IS UHURU KENYATTA’S: “PR” or PRESIDENCY?

Uhuru-Kenyatta-selfie“Either way you look it, the person Uhuru has definitely shaped what the Kenya’s presidency looks like today. Not just by the fact of his being the occupant of the office, but his very personal nature.

A powerful narrative equally arises against this conclusion. I mean, all the communication around the presidency could be strategic; to borrow a word from what now is the “PSCU” Presidential strategic communication unit. Each photo, each post perhaps calculated to manipulate your thinking.”

The Singing Senator, Gerald, Otieno “Nyakwar Nyakwamba” Kajwang’ breathed his last; may the good Lord rest his soul. There are numerous occasions when he humorously communicated sad realities. While reporting, to Baba on the state of security, Kajwang’ captured what Kenya was then as a nation, of “mbomu, hapa, mbomu kule.” And at a rally recently again, he was at it, just failing short to call Kenya a failed state. He shot at the President, telling him police cannot die fo-fo-fo, a scathing political attack by all measure.

When he passed on, President Kenyatta eulogized him. He saying he found Kajwang a pleasant person to deal with. Yes, a truth that those who have never walked the trails of politics fail to understand, it is never personal. But even in death, many whose political egos were bruised by the senator lashed out at his breathless self. Such a vanity I must say.

It is uncharacteristic of a President to comment on the feedback he gets on his post, but Uhuru Kenyatta did the unexpected, he came to the defense of the dead; urging respect for the grief the Senators’ family was facing, a good thing. And Uhuru is increasingly becoming known for good things.

He visits Kibra with very little security detail and talks to common folks. He greets little children who do poems, and hosts Otonglo when he gives a good narrative. The man just is not stopping. He congratulates Gor Mahia and yes, gives Jaro Soldier immediate work.

To his critics, these are PR stunts that do not reflect the actual score card of his governance. To his followers, that is the president they elected; a man of the people, humble and down to earth. Whichever way you look at it, the charm offensive continues, and seems to be achieving its intended results, and so is the narrative that the stunts are just that, stunts, with no reflection of actual work.

Where does the truth lie? Is the Jubilee government working or are they just out to manipulate perception?

The answer is certainly not as clear as one would aspire. There is a remarkable difference between the Kibaki and Uhuru Presidencies. One looks like it did a lot, but communicated little; Uhuru’s is keen on communicating everything. Well, to play a devil’s advocate, “uwazi” transparency lies at the heart of jubilee promises, a key pillar. So perhaps, the good president is just but living his promise of ensuring you know what happens each day.

My interest was however to try and determine how the person Uhuru, has influenced what the Presidency now looks like. We all agree, the traditional aura of near-holy nature of the presidency has remarkably disintegrated. While Kibaki left the office without an official Facebook page, Uhuru’s page offers the platform where he interacts with people. Communicates messages and of course, shares those photos that make us see the cool president.

Generally, social media is never a true reflection of a person’s real nature. There are virulent bloggers online who when you meet, are impressively meek that you would be surprised at the contrast. But the man Uhuru, how different is the all smiling president from the “jamaa” UK.

His friends agree largely that the man has carried his nature to the presidency; a firm handshake, a good word for everyone and yes, those ten seconds that make you feel like he has known you for a lifetime.

Earlier this week, I met a gentleman who definitely has a soft Spot for Uhuru. And this started way back at the heart of post election violence. After the displacements, Uhuru so often visited the victims. On this particular day, he visited Mawingu Camp in Nakuru, a cold rainy day. He was the minister of Finance.

As it Rained, Uhuru stood with the IDP’s in the rain, and took porridge with them. Now this cemented a cord that you just cannot untie. Let me dwell slightly more on this IDP issue. Uhuru is among the accused at the ICC on account of 2007 Kenya’s post election violence. The case has had an impressive circus characterizing it, but the greatest paradox, is that the victims of those violence are the ones most vehemently opposed against the continuation of the case. To a majority of them, Uhuru was the sole intervener who rescued the situation.

This sort of draws a parallel to India’s Narendra Modi. All the men share an international loathing at some point, especially by the west, but a sharply contrasting fanatical support from their core home lovers.  And just for the sake of it, they all share a love for selfies. We will do a comparison later on.

Uhuru was born in royalty, no doubt. Born to a father who would become Kenya’s first President, he knew and lived power all through. In part, as I noted way earlier, he has a way with power. And the presidency and its trappings would rarely surprise him, may be the reason for the ease with the Presidency.

But even so, though born to the first President, that image of Uhuru with a truck ferrying cabbage from Nairobi to Kiambu, and later on working as a bank teller, perhaps point to a person who is not a typical “Africa’s big man’s son.”

Either way you look it, the person Uhuru has definitely shaped what the Kenya’s presidency looks like today. Not just by the fact of his being the occupant of the office, but his very personal nature.

A powerful narrative equally arises against this conclusion. I mean, all the communication around the presidency could be strategic; to borrow a word from what now is the “PSCU” Presidential strategic communication unit. Each photo, each post perhaps calculated to manipulate your thinking.

Is there an actual difference from Uhuru’s use of mainstream and Social Media and what other world leaders do?

Among global leaders who frequently use Social media is USA’s Barrack Obama. Obama has over 44.6 Million Followers on his official Page. A quick scan through the page points to it as largely impersonal. While it has glimpses that portray Obama as a cool guy, or perhaps who has a great working relationship with his Deputy, the bulk of posts point to a usage of social media as a mobilizing platform.

Obama therefore routinely posts petitions or messages aiming to seek support for a policy initiative he is undertaken. For a while now, the page has been dominated by messages relating to Obamacare, his pet healthcare reforms policy.

On the other hand, Narendra Modi of India has a strong 25.1 Million likes on Facebook. He, like Uhuru Kenyatta communicates activities on his platform, like which world leader he met and brief snippets of what the meeting was about. And yes, he too shares selfies.

The two leaders share a lot in common that could go into understanding the similarity in their messaging. We noted the disapproval they all shared at some point especially from foreign nations because of their association with violence, yet an inexplicable deep love from their core supporters. I do think that such messaging that seeks to point out the good personal attributes of the leader can be safely construed as a pursuit for acceptance.

In the Kenyan context, Kenyatta’s Presidency was founded on a fear that its mandate was not absolute. The thought of a persistently nagging opposition in my opinion is at the heart of this messaging. So the stunts and the carving of the stories seek to endear the president to people, especially those who did not support him.

There is definitely nothing wrong on this.

What would be wrong is if real work suffered at the altar of this impressionism. And indeed, there have been instances when government communication just failed to make sense and in part bordered over communicating or unnecessary PR.

Uwezo Fund for example, was launched on Sunday, September 7th 2013 in an impressively engineered event. At the time of the launch, largely Uwezo Fund was just but an idea. After the launch, it became apparent that even the regulatory framework of the fund was non-existent. Parliament had to consider the framework, pass it before Uwezo Fund, became a real policy.

More than a year on, after the launch, as late as last week, there was no single person who had received funding from the Uwezo Kitty. I am told the funds started being disbursed sometimes last week.

Now, I am unable to understand why at a very basic level, a government would launch a project that has no regulatory framework. The haste points to an urgent need of being seen to be working. And definitely, the first ad on “Usalama unaanza na mimi na wewe” was quite something.

The problem with “PR” is that it can reduce public criticism and drive a government to a comfort zone where they actually end up believing their own spinning. And this obsession with self approval can be seen starting to crop up in Jubilee. Considerably, agents of government are keen on passing the message that we are working, than listening to what the public say should be done. The natural consequence of this will be a disconnect between the masses and the leadership. A disconnect that will negate the very reason for PR.

As such, quoting numbers and vehement justification of a tenure will definitely do no long term good to the government; but that communication will certainly do magic if it resonates with the public’s reality. Unfortunately, individual reality cannot be manipulated.

Either way you see it, I walked through Kibra, and its way clean, thank God for the NYS seconded there, and am told the geothermal power is now working right? On a Radio show, one of the state spinners, Dennis Itumbi offered to pay electricity bills of anyone if the cost of electricity fails to come down next month. Still, police men were butchered in Kapedo; many Kenyan’s can barely afford a decent life and public health facilities are dens of death.

Whether PR or not, a lot more needs to be done.

THE RAILA NATIONS: THE UNCERTAINTY OF POST BABA ERA

For those who revere the man they nurse a hope of reinvention; at least for the last time perhaps. Well signs point to an ending season; bold internal rebellion and an ODM that is a pale shadow of its former self. Of course, a resurgent Jubilee that is so keen on allowing no chance at reinvention. And the man, Raila, his vigor and energy stolen each day by the advance of age

Kenyan politics has pivoted around this enigmatic figure for more than a decade. The man, Raila, has been a novice and a master, the hero and the villain. He has morphed from Tinga, to Agwambo to hammer and then baba; a master at reinvention.

His name has made careers and his person destroyed some. A characteristic Machiavellian prince in many ways who did not hesitate at some instances to burn the very bridges he used. To say Raila has been the Kenyan politics and the Kenyan politics has been Raila is not an unholy exaggeration.

But now the sunset looms; a statement that his believers would not bear. But which is a guarantee of nature, for every man must bow down at some point, and Baba, is just a man. Raila has been a controversy, a puzzle that history will try to unravel. And in his characteristic self, no one can predict just the perfect time when he should call it a day. And he knows the art, he keeps people guessing. Raila.

Raila built around himself an aura that is puzzling, his name sometimes overshadowing institutions. Not the best characteristic of a good leader, but I think a show of politics per excellence. And with this, he built two nations; one that believes the man and the other that loathes the man. Sometimes the latter has been reduced to be called the Luo nation, but that is a lie. For Raila commands followership albeit fading that goes well beyond the boundaries of Nyanza.

While the former, the nation that loathes the man anticipates his end, there is an unknown danger that it equally faces. Anytime Raila is in the politics, he becomes a common enemy, when he leaves; certainly, a unity of purpose for an impressively large constituency in Kenya disintegrates. So, in my own estimation, the two Raila nations must share in the anxiety of the post baba uncertainty.

So the most fundamental question is what lies ahead, after Baba?
For those who revere the man they nurse a hope of reinvention; at least for the last time perhaps. Well signs point to an ending season; bold internal rebellion and an ODM that is a pale shadow of its former self. Of course, a resurgent Jubilee that is so keen on allowing no chance at reinvention. And the man, Raila, his vigor and energy stolen each day by the advance of age.Raila Odinga

OKOA Kenya which in my interpretation would have provided a real chance has barely taken off. And while Raila in the last decade always set the pace, he finds himself playing reactionary. Trying to catch up, trying to mend what is disintegrating. Signs point to a looming sunset. And in part, I believe those around Baba instead of helping him craft a narrative that resonates with time, they each day are a luggage, being carried on his very back that knows both the joys and pains of time. Signs point to a looming sunset.

It will be foolhardy to conclude, whether there is nothing up his sleeves. Whether there is no other person after Baba.

To the ambitious, who hope they can inherit his faithful, this is the best time to start. And some in naivety believe this nation is up for auction.

While admittedly Kenyan politics his tribal, what has galvanized Luos around Raila is not necessarily his Luoness. It is his charisma, his person. He earned his place through stripes and whacks. Born of royalty, to a vice president to be, he crafted and cemented his own image. Told his own story and fought his battles. To imagine that after he leaves the scene, there shall remain a coherent Nation of faithful is to be naïve.

Well, certainly a huge number of people will now be up for grabs, but the ambitious who hope to take the loot home, in my estimation must be ready to craft a powerful narrative. In fact, a hope that anyone can replace Raila, in form and stature is impossible for much known reasons; no one can be Raila. So everyone should try being their own person. If there is a conclusion I am prepared to make, is that the Raila faithful cannot be inherited without considerable disruption. The going of the man, shall leave a nation that will certainly scatter, even if it will recollect itself later on.

The nation that loathes Raila must be prepared to find a new unity of purpose. And whatever narrative that will replace Raila, must certainly be powerful. It was so easy to whip emotions against the man and get followers. You could galvanize a narrative by just stating that is you are not supported, and then Raila will win. This narrative won 2007 and 2013. Certainly, post Baba shall call for a thorough reinvention.

The hope of his calling it a day will be disruptive, but certainly not unwelcome. He has given his time and life for country. Many see him as a hero, many as a villain. Many see him as though he championed a course; many think his was a raw pursuit of ambition. And many will struggle to have an opinion about him. Whichever Nation you belong, one thing we all agree, Raila Odinga existed, and an exciting time is ahead as we face a politics without him.

IN MEMORY OF THE DEAD: FATHER I AM NOW 24

So many times, in my own quest to be a man, I miss you. Those small voids that a young man experiences; the questions that a father would be suited to answer. The small successes that would make more sense if I felt your pat on the back. And that one thing that I would pay with my life to hear you say: Well done son.

In two short days, it will be sixth of November, 14 years since you died. It was on sixth, November, 2000. It was a Monday. I recall that day, though I was tiny, in stature and age, I still recall that day. I had been swimming in River Sio, you know that rock filled trench that taught my heart its rhythm. Water used to flow swiftly dad, and here the measure of a man was how swift you could swim against the current. A lifelong lesson I carry today.

Now, I know you are not aware, but three years earlier, I almost drowned here. You see, I was tiny, but always wanted to be a man. So I always took a dive, and when my brother Odhis, was not watching, I would go to the deeper ends. So on this day, I went into the silent waters, where current could not save me. So I swam, and swam till when my feeble arms could no longer hold me. I gasped for breath, and swallowed water.

These deep ends were so silent; no one seemed to notice as I gasped. Until this one guy, I just remember him as Moni. I should look for him, noticed me as I sank one more time. He did not rush to save me. The art of rescue meant that he had to wait, until when I had just swallowed enough water, before he could come.

But however designed that rescue thing, has never drowned. With every gasp and every gulp swallowed, is a step closer to death. The problem with drowning is that you are so aware that you are dying. So you keep reaching out to something, something that is not there. So you keeping gasping, amidst hopes that you may find something to hold onto to.

Well, that close shave with water never deterred my spirit. In childhood bravery, I still stood on the rugged rock naked, and took that bold plunge into the very depths that almost drowned me.

So on this Monday, after the ritual, I started walking him. You see, this plunge had so many things; you would leave the river with a buzz in your ear. And you had to jump up and down with the ear facing downwards for the water to come out. As the water came out, it was warm, close to being hot, and then you would hear well again.

So as water came out of my ears, I heard that unmistakable shriek. In Western Kenya, it could only mean one thing, a person was dead. People were crying, and from a far, I picked out Granny’s cry. You see, Granny had such a distinctive way of mourning; a rhythmic pulse that described loss and grief; a fusion of artistic cords with genuine cry. She could mourn, Granny mourned you Dad.

I wondered who would have died. I do not recall hearing anyone say you were sick. Even so, your death would have been the last thing on my mind. You were the last thing on my mind then.

But as I got home, I sensed danger. Mom was sobbing uncontrollably. She sat looking west, saying her friend had gone. Saying he had gone without a bye. Saying she missed those small things that were eaten up by years of separation. You see Dad, mom mourned you.

At first, it never struck me as anything. The gazes I received from people, those deeply warming sympathies that would make a young person believe that the loss only meant more concern. It is strange, but as I try to recall exactly what I felt, I think it was pride.

I felt proud of the loss, strange that sounds. But yes, I was ten, I had lost a father, and I had gazes of concern all around me. I was surrounded by love, and pats on the head. I was a son who had lost a father. All people go through this; just few people do so in the innocence of their childhood.

The memories of your funeral, cars; it is magical how in a village the number of cars that come for a funeral matter.

My last glimpse of you, you were stretched in that mahogany casket; peaceful in death. And I think I saw this dust on your shoe which I wanted to wipe before Auntie Pamela whisked me away.

Now, I never shed a tear, all through the days of the funeral; until by your graveside. When I saw your casket being lowered into the eternity something snapped.

I remembered that was the only time when it was just you and me. It had been in November, 1999. You were bringing me back home after a long stay in hospital. So you drove, I still remember the bottly- clings as your car, a jungle green KAC something passed over bumps. I still remember that sharp swerve on some corner when you almost hit a Matatu. You smiled with that guilt on your face.

Perhaps you may not recall, but I cried by your graveside. I just don’t know why. But you see, it is not good for a son to grow up never knowing how a pat on the back from a Dad would be.

I recount the hate I felt, and in my adolescent escapades the rebellion I waged against your grave. I never experienced your strict reign. But I enjoy the tales when my sister and bro tells me the fear your presence wielded. I am told anytime the hum of your car would pass by, they would run to their books. Yet, you had an eye for the one who was pretending. Bro, Tito tells me one day you found him looking at the book upside down. I think that was cool.

So many times, in my own quest to be a man, I miss you. Those small voids that a young man experiences; the questions that a father would be suited to answer. The small successes that would make more sense if I felt your pat on the back. And that one thing that I would pay with my life to hear you say: Well done son.

Now the last time you saw me, I was nine. The last place you saw me, was Granny’s gate. That was the happiest day ever Dad. You gave nine shillings; shiny silvery new shillings. It was such a boost. I added seven to my savings. You know I had a small hole on the Eastern wall of the house where I saved. I only emptied it on Christmas Eve. Because that was the only time mom would allow us to go and walk. And I would indulge in spending; I enjoyed outdoing my brother Odhis. Then I would some back home, a poor little fellow.

So that nine shillings went to my Christmas. And that smile is what the last thing I remember of you is.

Dad, I am now 24. And I no longer save for Christmas. I rarely celebrate Christmas. Mom, your friend has been awesome. I have stopped rebelling; I now live your aspirations. You know, it has not been easy. I do not have your photo, and I have to listen to stories about you and guess what you would have wanted of me. Granny thinks I really look like you, so secretly, I look forward to being old, then I will take two photos, one, I will write Lone Felix, and the other, Lone Felix-he who resembles Charles. That sounds cool.

Dad, I am now 24. And I no longer save for Christmas. And I would laugh at you if you gave me nine shillings. Your going gifted us an invaluable chance, to grow in uncertainty and lack. And so we have become tenacious and well rounded. But somehow, mom always reminded us that you would want us to succeed. She has been awesome.

Fourteen years can be a long time. I think they have taken a toll on her. But she has been awesome. Happy 14th Anniversary of your Rest.