Five things we learnt from the news last week

It’s either the MPs or the rest of us that have bad heads

“This office does not have a window,” the MP I was interviewing in his corner office at Continental House said as he lifted the curtain behind him. He must have meant that the only window in his office couldn’t open, not that there was no glass pane through which he could look and see the outside because that behind the grill was as tall as he is. The fact that his office “had no window” was among a litany of complaints he made during the interview, which was essentially about why MPs have been clamouring for better salaries. Other complaints included the fact that he has to share the office with his personal assistant, the furniture is 16 years old, the carpet was old and smelly when he moved in, he had had to get his own computers, none of the kitchens in the building work, Parliament does not supply as much as pens to the legislators and nothing gets repaired if it gets broken. That, and the fact that he feels the salaries are too low, were hopefully the sum of the shabby treatment he feels he has been subjected to. Now imagine how those who don’t have offices yet or haven’t been paid or who have no fuel money as the month draws to a close must feel. The new MPs, and there are 252 of them, more than the entire membership of the 10th Parliament ( and that includes the President, his deputy and the Prime Minister),  had been told being an MP was an honourable being. Well, things have turned out not to be as rosy as they had imagined. I am among that small wrong-headed group that insist  we also ought to hear the MPs’ side of the story but that not being the point of this post, let it end there. As I left Continental House Thursday evening, I was wondering who between us who elected them and those we elected could be the problem is this whole clamour for more money.

In Kenya, every other person is marginalised

Among the most ridiculous things I have had the displeasure of listening to is an explanation by Nyandarua deputy governor Waithaka Mwangi on why his county should be considered marginalised.

Nyahururu, which hosted Nyandarua’s administration before devolution kicked in, is across the river in Laikipia, so, too the police headquarters and anything that is of importance. That, and the fact that there are not enough offices in Ol Kalou to accommodate the new county government, he argued, is the reason Nyandarua County is marginalised and qualified to get a share of the Equalisation Fund. I apologise for not walking over to knock some sense into the man’s head.

Last Thursday, after Cabinet Season Two had been named the previous day, Members of the National Assembly describing themselves as youthful called a press conference. The Maa Community were hot on their heels. They all made complaints along Mr Waithaka’s lines above. Even as they claimed marginalisation and begged for one of the two remaining slots to be given to one of them, the Maasai and Samburu said that since independence, there has always been a person from their community in Cabinet. Why, I wondered, were they complaining, then?

The Kenyan speculator is alive and well

Like a good number of my fellow Kenyans (Kibaki used to start all his speeches to Kenyans with those two words, fellow Kenyans) I was shocked to learn of the death of Mutula Kilonzo. Any journalist who has written about the Constitution-making process, the Justice ministry since Martha Karua left or the Education ministry since he took over has fond memories of an interview or a press conference that Mutula presided over. Many of us were virtually his law students and were happy with how obliging he was when information was needed and how simply he managed to break it down every time (you needed plenty of credit to call him, though, because he took the long route to explain anything). Given his place in the country, first as the lawyer for Retired President Daniel arap Moi, as an apologist for Kanu and then as nominated and then elected MP, minister and lately Senator, nobody expected to be called on a Saturday afternoon with that piece of news. Even the room in Embu I stepped back into after getting that call from my editor fell silent to absorb the news.

What has been shocking for me are the theories that have sprung from amongst us to try explain how a man can die in his bed at his ranch. I have heard no shortage of conspiracy theories, right from Facebook, where a well-known nuisance has been peddling them to a café where I had lunch this afternoon. Somehow, no prominent person’s heart in Kenya is capable of stopping. Granted, we have had our own fair share of weird and unexplained deaths. Hopefully, the police  and the pathologists have learnt from their mistakes in the past and learnt the value of forensic investigation of scenes of death. Looking at the pictures on TV Saturday night, there was not a large number of people swarming in and out of Mutula’s house, interfering with whatever evidence there was simply because they wanted to have a look-see.

Listening to Americans a few months before the elections last year helped me realise how unique Kenyans are. No American I asked was willing to tell me how they thought the elections would go, not even the blackest staunchest Democrats who knew and felt in their very hearts of hearts that Barack Obama would win.

The explanations remain the same hollow stuff

How long would you prepared to listen to the drone of a TV reporter doing a live broadcast from an event his boss has somehow decided to label “Breaking News”?

If you have been in Kenya this past week, then the answer would be, “As long as it is tiringly necessary.”

Nothing sounded quite so pathetic as the explanation by one reporter last Wednesday that the President had failed to keep time because he wanted as many Kenyans as possible to beat the maddening post-work traffic jam and watch the announcement of the Cabinet nominees live. If that were the case, then we would all have to spend all the hours of the day beating the jam to go stare at our TVs. There must be a reason, surely, other than Nairobi’s good old jam for the two brothers to have everybody spend more than two hours waiting for a decision. As it turned out, they had not finished with the interviews. Perhaps some of the people they wanted to talk to were stuck in the jam. We might never know.

While we were all happily surprised at the razzmatazz and the show put up when the first nominees were announced, the anger was palpable the following day when the rather fudgy explanation above was offered. It made a joke of the President’s assertion that they wanted to make a clear departure from the days decisions were announced at the end of the martial music at 1pm (How many near crashes could that have caused, by the way?) These days, reporters must stand outside in the cold at State House for at least two hours, or outside in the sun, as long as they will be offered tea later.

From covering the Jubilee Coalition’s campaigns across the country, reporters have no shortage of experience of how late UhuRuto can sometimes be.

More was to follow when the President sought to explain the nomination of Charity Ngilu and Najib Balala to the Cabinet despite the assurance that there would be “no politicians” on that team. The lesser is said about that, I think, the better.

Public vetting is only so good for a few reasons

As he settled into his chair in front of the gathered press and their microphones at Parliament’s media centre last Thursday, Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo asked wearily, “What I’m here for?”

He knew. We had sent him messages and the journalists who shepherded him to the press centre knew. There was only one question: how would they handle the politicians nominated to Cabinet?

“Which Kenyan doesn’t know that Ngilu has issues with anti-corruption?” he asked.

It is that obvious.

It is also rather obvious that Ngilu’s nomination is more likely to be approved than not for the simple and boring reason that the coalition she claims to be part of dominates the National Assembly top to bottom.

What, then, would be the benefit of the public vetting process she has to go through? It is that those who feel she doesn’t deserve to be in positions of influence and power will make their voices heard. That, in these circumstances, is the best we can hope for.



Don’t you just love how the authorities in Boston shut down a whole estate, told the people to stay in and threw everything into the successful hunt for the two bombers. No activists came forward to claim their rights had been trampled upon.


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