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.


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