Week #6. Lari’s anti-democrat, Why Nyeri women cannot fight the stereotype…

We have seen this week the gangland ways of those that don’t like it when someone appears to speak their mind, the reaction of the Chief Justice to the assertion by some that judges appear to have a policy against reform and the headline-grabbers from Nyeri that have helped stereotypes grow. Here are this week’s five things five lessons.

Lari’s unlikely anti-democrat

There is a shopping centre on the single-lane road between Limuru and Naivasha, otherwise known as the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, known as Kimende. Fate and circumstance have made it one of those small places the traveller on a bus to the Western side of Kenya can miss as the sleep begins to set in on the initial leg of the long journey. It is also too close to Nairobi to grow into the sort of place where one stops for a quick bite, smoke or call of nature. In fact, as the bus makes its return journey, the dim lights- it has those solar-powered dim lights seen on Harambee Avenue and Parliament Road- mark the end of the infamous Kinale Forest and the beginning of the descent through the mists  and slippery roads of Limuru into the City in the Sun.

Kimende is among the bigger shopping centres in Lari, and because it is perpetually cold, all the men there sport dirty jackets while the women are likely to be found blowing steam from under smelly thick woollen sweaters. Kimende is not the sort of place that produces memorable, and Lari, the constituency in which it falls, is rarely in the news. That was until one David Njuguna Kiburi Mwaura, elected MP in 2007,  and notably beating the noisy showman Viscount Kimathi in the process, elected to attend the opening of the Kisumu International Airport on February 3.

Politicians and journalists know only too well the value of a grand statement in their trade. The journalist will prune the politician’s statements until only the pithiest and most appropriate for the story is left, and then it shall be put in its proper context and headlines will be made.

That’s what happened with Njuguna, as explained in various stories thereafter, but the damage had been done, and the lesson we relate here has begun to be learnt.

A brief summary should suffice. At Kisumu, Njuguna was given the rare privilege of speaking at a presidential function. In the true manner of a teacher, Njuguna offered a history lesson, reminding the crowd that when Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was offered the opportunity to set up an African government in the early 60s, he did the proper thing and told the British he would not take up the offer unless Jomo Kenyatta was set free and given the chance to lead his nation. It came to pass that three decades later, Jaramogi’s son Raila Odinga declared that if Kenya was to do without Moi and his Project Uhuru, then Kibaki was kosher.

Jakoyo Midiwo and James Orengo later alluded to Njuguna’s history lesson when they asked President Kibaki to have the electorate endorse Raila as the next Head of State.

This got some blood boiling in Kimende that evening, and some fellows went to Njuguna’s home and set fire to his 504 Peugeot, not to warm their hands, but to ostensibly send him a message.

In our conversation on Tuesday, Njuguna  laughed as he narrated the events.

It’s not anything to laugh at.

The lesson here is not for Njuguna but for the rest of us; there are some who still can’t stand it when another expresses an opinion and we should be wary of that variety of anti-democrat.

Mutula cannot stop

Journalists generally prefer people who talk a lot more than they do those that stay quiet. Also, if those that talk know what they speak about, and the subject is rather complicated, or scientific,  and the person has the ability to break it down in simple language, you’ll always have recorders and microphones in that person’s face. If the subject is again constantly available to share their thoughts and is not always getting back to clarify or correct what has been reported, we will generally lend you an ear. Well, you might wonder, does that mean that journalists will lend you their microphones just because you do all that? Nope. If you are in a position to offer that opinion, and are not too rude when brushing aside intrusive questions, we shall be more obliged to listen.

That’s why you’ll notice that there is a set of commentators whose opinion is considered sound enough to be put on national media weekly, even daily, depending on the subject, and that’s why you’ll have Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo getting lots of time on air.

The thing with Mutula is that he will often be making his arguments eloquently. Think here of his stand on shuttle diplomacy, having Kenyans tried at the International Criminal Court, whether those indicted ought to contest the presidency, whether they ought to leave public office, when we should hold the next General Election and whether we can afford it. He is also a Senior Counsel.

But he also has his dark parts; that long association with Daniel arap Moi, defending Kanu’s takeover of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre and that failure to pay a large amount of taxes (it ensures that he takes nothing home from his salary) and that other one about the Judiciary becoming anti-reform.

We can rest assured, in the meantime, that he won’t be holding back his opinion soon.

The Judiciary will not back down

One gets the feeling that soon, a disgruntled teenager will ask his lawyers to sue his parents for making him clean the dishes and the car after he is through with the monstrous amount of homework his teachers have assigned him. It sounds like something a kid in the United States would do. Yet given the expansive Bill of Rights in the new Constitution, there are chances this could happen. Did not a prisoner in Malindi sue to have the tribunal to investigate Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza stopped from working?

I have it on very good authority that that is not the last we shall hear from the Judiciary and the surfeit of lawyers  and litigants willing to put in one more application at the High Court.

I also have it on very good authority that in less than five years, these bands of litigants will tire and move on, the judges will have been vetted and will have precedents preventing them from pandering to our every whim and we shall have any vexatious cases thrown out long before the judge has wasted five minutes on it.

Until then, it is good to hear that the Chief Justice is not interested in interfering with the judges’ decisional independence.

It’s not over between Mudavadi and Raila

Seeing as there are stories in the news every day, perhaps it is true what the hard core political reporters and editors say; that ODM Deputy Leader Musalia Mudavadi is presenting a credible challenge to the assumption that Prime Minister Raila Odinga should be the party’s automatic choice for president.

Not long ago, Mudavadi was fighting with one Akaranga and one Chahonyo for the Sabatia parliamentary seat as Raila led the push to have Mwai Kibaki succeed Moi and Project Uhuru at State House.

Mudavadi makes the very valid suggestion that rather than transport the delegates to Nairobi, give them some allowance, t-shirts, scarves and caps and have them shout their choice at the gymnasium at Kasarani, why not have them meet at their counties, vote and have the results transmitted to Nairobi. He argues that since the party  has been steadfast on devolution as a better method of governance, it is also the very epitome of democracy.

Raila has said the party should decide, and so we wait for it to decide.

The stereotype is not dying soon

It has been rumoured for some time, in the part of Kiambu from which I come especially, that women from Nyeri are not the type that scampers when their husbands cough. It is also said that those from Murang’a will only require that you buy them an acre or more of land. That they will faithfully till every corner of that piece and will never once threaten to leave even if the man of the house decides to install another woman in the house. Politeness and decorum only demands that the second or third woman be installed at a separate house. Murang’a is after all the place where their feet are tied together and the valleys are so steep the women dread ever going back. On the other hand, women from Kiambu are said to be irresistibly drawn to money, to the point where they can willingly end their husbands’ lives. The entire province and community by extension shares the stereotype that the men have been drinking so hard so often and so lethal substances that they can no longer sire children, the nursery schools are being shut down and the general population is reducing drastically.


Recent events in and around Nyeri suggest a conspiracy (by nature perhaps) to lend credence  and to reinforce these stereotypes and there was no better illustration of this than the photograph of a man with his face like a large jigswa puzzle, held together by a trainee doctor’s stitches and God’s grace. I wished the writer had asked how many stitches he took and written a more descriptive and dramatic story. There was another who works at Ruiru but had somehow been in Mukurweini, with his back, face and hands burnt and with conflicting stories about the circumstances but with the theory of his wife’s responsibility on top.

It used to be said that women from Nyeri hardened in the 70s and 80s when their husbands and sons migrated to Nairobi in search of jobs. They would thus leave economic power in the hands of the women, who would manage the coffee, tea and dairy farms and pay for the kids’ education. While their men gained a measure of respect by virtue of working in Nairobi, they did not make much, and even when they did, they would get back home to find their wives comfortable and used to taking care of their families. When they came home drunk and demanded to be recognised as the man of the house, and invariably demanded their conjugal rights, the women would do more than merely brush them away. Having realised that they could do without their men, they would beat them up. Today, they cut them up.

Without the benefit of empirical evidence and proper research (Nderitu Njoka of the Maendeleo ya Wanaume has a pile of unverifiable statistics) the stereotypes and associated myths live on.


Week #5: The five things we learnt

This week, Kenyans were ordered to place a collective finger on their collective lips and say nought about whether UK and WSR ought to contest for the presidency. We also saw the President pull out a white handkerchief and wipe away a tear, heard of prosecutors call a suspect in a case as a witness in another, and had the mayor clench his foot between his teeth. Well, read on.

You can have a nationwide gag on noisemakers

One of the reasons I like to talk with old men and women, and the reason I used to visit my grandfather for long periods in his last years, is the way in which they use undiluted language.

You see, with the influence of Kiswahili, English and the attendant in-between languages, it is rare to find people who talk pure undiluted native languages in these days of modern education.

That is unless they grew up speaking the one language and only began to interact with the other languages long after they had grown up, collected a variety of vocabulary and idioms in their native tongue and generally become proficient.

Throw in the use of proverbs and peculiar turns of phrases and that can keep one entertained in much the same manner upcountry folk marvel at the singsong accents of Coasterians and how easily the words roll off the tongue when Tanzanians speak, or sing.

When you then throw in the twist of one of those long and lyrical songs favoured of the Akorino, or the long and boring ones preferred by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, you are bound to get me interested.

These turns of phrase, use of undiluted language, use of proverbs and idioms plus those old hymns were all on display on a hot Saturday in April last year when the two most written about ICC suspects headed to Githunguri for a prayer rally.

That day, freedom of expression was stretched to somewhere near its elastic limit, with Internal Security Francis Kimemia and National Cohesion and Integration Commission chairman Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia having to issue a customary threat against hate speech.

I have heard it said that a lot of incitement was spread in the period before the last General Election but what we heard from Ruaka through Muchatha, at Kiambu town- where I remember flinching at the insinuations thrown around carelessly and finally at Githunguri stadium was the closest I have come to hearing that kind of speech uttered.

The ICC juggernaut rolled on nevertheless and today we have four suspects where there were six and with the wishy washy season firmly with us, two of them say they can still afford to have Kenyans decide whether they deserve to go  and live in State House.

That’s obviously bound to get some tongues wagging, and now that Kenyans know they have courts that are apparently willing to deliver, he has sought the interpretation of the High Court over the matter.

Justice Lenaola has gotten more people talking with his ruling that there should be no further discussion of the matter until the decision is made. There shall be nothing here about whether the good judge can impose a censorship order in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed (and exploited).

For the neutral, it must be refreshing to have some silence, as the judge appears to have had some level of success despite the difficulty of enforcing his order, although the reality is that it will not be short-lived.

Even then, it would be better if we began to refer to those who have different ideas as “rivals” rather than “enemies”, groupings as “parties” rather than “brigades” or “parades” and to minimize use of such other aggressive language.


Prosecutors are interesting types too

The prosecution in the case where former top managers at City Hall are in court over the curious case where the City Council of Nairobi was said to have bought some rocky land in the outskirts of the capital for a cemetery must be biting their collective nails off.

That case was quite the shameless scandal. The land was so rocky you’d need a mechanical chisel to crack open a grave, there was four feet of black cotton soil, the CCN’s own people had warned against its purchase, the council paid 10 times the real value and then had apparently handed it to the wrong person.

And then there was that guy with a company with an improbable name who very bravely said he was yet to be paid in full.

The speed with which the prosecutors had the suspects in court was as amazing as their decision brought to light last week.

They managed, by a clever stroke, to charge someone with one offence and then have them as a witness in another related case.

It did not happen to occur to them that the person, one Mary Ng’ethe, was a lawyer who had worked for the council for some time before the grave scandal walked in.

If the office of the public prosecutor needs pointers as to how it can firmly get on the path of getting more criminals into jail, perhaps it has a few indicators of where it can start.


Mayor Aladwa still makes it to history

News readers appeared sad that the event at which George Aladwa was elected mayor of Nairobi last year did not yield the kind of news they had expected.

They were uncharacteristically calm and the councilors neither broke down in tears nor threw chairs in anger to act out the full drama of old.

They never even accused each other of “selling the party” as usual or threatened to have the askaris in riot gear- the reporters took care to include the shots of the anti riot apparatus in their stories- do more than bake in their suits.

From the election, Nairobi got a mayor who was also like few others before him for Mr Aladwa does not lead demonstrations, does not seem eager to feature in a scandal and does not roll on the ground in anger when his electorate is under threat.

He literally grabbed the headlines on Saturday with his bold pronunciation, with the non-governmental organizations listening keenly, that the council would be looking to see whether it would be possible to legalise prostitution.

We did not have religious leaders frothing at the mouth in anger at that. There were no protests in the streets, no burnt effigies and certainly no round condemnation of the mayor by his colleagues.

We cannot speculate that this was because a lot of people know prostitution is alive and doing well in the world. We also know that the mayor was quite circumlocutory when he made his statement but nonetheless did make the ridiculous assertion that the council could even build the prostitutes a special zone after the mode of that other zone they created for hawkers in Ngara.

The good mayor has since said he does not support the ideas he was associated with on Friday, but we will remember in the future that Nairobi’s last mayor was once on the verge of making some history.


The US of A has its eyes on KDF and its progress

Because Kenyans are rightly a very cynical lot, and it is not easy to get anything past that lot on Twitter, and because of certain blunders by one major person and others by many others involved, the ongoing operation in Somalia has been easy to forget.

But one also notices that since one Hellgiver Bwire was found with 13 grenades in his Kayole home, quickly taken to court where he very swiftly and with the largest smile on his face confessed that he was a local Al Shabaab agent, there are more people in the city in the evening.

There has been a three-piece story in Saturday Nation that spoke of the reduced volume of trade in certain parts of Nairobi and the overall effect on trade in contraband in parts of North Eastern Province.

A different voice came in the form of US director of national intelligence James Clapper, who was reported to have praised the efforts of Kenya and other countries that have helped weaken Al Shabaab.

That should be quite something for an army whose capabilities were doubted and which had people asking questions and doubting when the incursions into Kenya increased over the last three years,.

Let me stop there before I am accused of propaganda.


Kibaki has that grandfatherly warmth going

Apart from the office described in the story as “surprisingly small”, the interview with the Sunday Nation in 2010 yielded a few insights into the mind of President Mwai Kibaki.

He was quoted as speaking in grandfatherly warmth of the happiness he derives from seeing so many children headed to school as a result of the Free Primary Education programme he brought back.

There are still gaps in enrollment. Education minister Prof Sam Ongeri said on Friday, for example, that even with 9.4 million children enrolled in primary school, there are one million out there somewhere.

We have also seen evidence on the streets every day that these kids are held back from school by parents that would prefer to have them learning to be streetwise early on so they can know how to identify the person whose pockets are loaded enough to warrant a mugging.

Although he often displays the stoicism that goes with being in politics, much less Kenya’s politics with its attendant curiosities, sometimes the inner person is exposed.

Looking closely at the photos taken at the Kasarani gymnasium at the launch of Wings to Fly, where some girls spoke of the various lives they lived before their fates were changed by the programme under Equity Bank, MasterCard Foundation and USAid, I saw the same grandfatherly fellow touched to the point of shedding a tear.