A House of Foreplay

As the debate before the aborted debate in the Senate raged Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Ekwee Ethuro appeared to sink deeper and deeper into his chair.
Two hours into the exchanges between the senators, it suddenly dawned on many of us covering the Senate that Ethuro had every reason to relax.
Unlike his colleague Justin Muturi, who leans forward and whose back rarely touches the back of his seat, Ethuro appeared to have been aware what he needed to do.
Sit. Listen. Take notes. Rule. Go back to holiday.
Unlike Muturi, who had to duck missiles on his last day in the House this year, Ethuro did not have to do anything he wouldn’t be inclined to.
Later, Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula would blast him in that passionately eloquent way of his: “My worst fears came to pass that the deliberate prolongation of the point of order raised by the distinguished senator for Tharaka Nithi was in fact a conspiratorial process to make it difficult for this motion to be debated in this House.”
Ethuro waited for him to finish in stony silence and when he was done, declared that the House stood adjourned.
What would Muturi have done?
He would have been sitting upright and from the moment Wetang’ ula made the second or third of his belligerent statements, he would have declared him out of order. One can reliably predict that the same would have happened when people like Omar Hassan or Dr Boni Khalwale contributed with the usual mix of sarcasm and well-worded digs.
At the end, he would not have resisted the impulse to get back at Wetang’ula and warm him of the great dangers of insulting the Speaker and accusing him of bias. That would have probably marked a descent into chaos and name-calling.
As it was, Ethuro did not even need to duck missiles.
He did not, like his colleague Muturi, even have to prepare a considered ruling. He wrote his on the papers around him and offered a moment of humour when he dropped them around him as he prepared to make his ruling.
Cord must be kicking themselves ( and if they are not then they should start) for allowing Ethuro to sit back in his chair and allow three hours of foreplay knowing very well they wouldn’t be getting any of the main action.

It is a House, in the end, that appears fully committed to the act of foreplay without thinking beyond that.


Isukutis and awkward teenagers

Isukuti drums and songs welcomed Student So and So as she rushed to confirm her first place at This and That School somewhere in the leafy suburbs or at Unknown Academy at Dusty Estate in Nairobi.

That was December 2007 and as we looked forward to the General Election, I wrote such an intro on a 300-word story that was married to several others describing similar events the day the results of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination came out.

The editor who assigned me that job was obviously happy with the story I wrote that day. It was precise and delivered fast and in time to go into the paper, which I think had a bigger print order than usual.

For KCPE, we would troop to the Makinis, Riaras, Light Academies and in the odd year, to some school in Komarock or Githurai  to record stories of the supposedly best students. It is all predictable quotes: “I prayed hard to God and would like to thank my parents and teachers for their support. I was watching TV with my sisters and cousins when I heard the minister say my name. I want to be a doctor/aeronautical engineer/neurosurgeon/pilot/insert dream profession.”

In subsequent years, I would find the whole process of covering the release of national examination results rather boring. I could write that intro one million times with my eyes closed. That intro can even write itself. It is that used to being written.

Even when colleagues who work on other publications asked that we introduce some variety, we put out the same thing over and over every year. It worked for us and it worked for the market.

In 2012, I had the results for the entire country at my disposal. All the candidates. All you had to do was give me an index number and in the case of my nephew, Ctrl F and enter his name.

One of those years- they all look  and sound the same- an advertising salesman came to the news desk and got into an altercation with the boss. He wanted one of his clients given favourable coverage because they had ran adverts in the paper six months straight. We don’t do that kind of thing so he was asked to sod off. Ironically, I had been to the school earlier and talked to the owner and her benighted first class honours students.

Before Mwai Kibaki brought (back) Free Primary Education, the stars of the annual ranking were the likes of Olympic Primary School. Set in Kibera and catering to the ordinary, common and most likely poor students, there was a sense of satisfaction in seeing a public school where students got the honours they deserved. But then schools such as Olympic got crowded  and those who could afford it began putting their children in private schools. When a private school got ranked high up, it got to attract more students- parents actually- and has a genuine reason to hike the fees.

Walking these newsroom corridors, I have often heard the question, “What happened to the stars of yesterday such as Olympic?”

They drowned in the rankings is what happened to Olympic.

Internally, the media will have to adjust to covering the release of the results in a whole new different way. We have to get more creative. No more isukuti drums. No more awkward teenagers on uncle’s shoulders.

Let’s see what the papers do tomorrow.