5 Lessons from the Alfred Keter debacle

1. Impunity is alive and well

You might have seen on the internet an image of a letter said to bear the forged signature of Deputy President William Ruto. It is to the China Road and Bridge Corporation purporting to recommend a contractor to the firm building the Standard-Gauge railway. It states rather simply that the contractor is known to the Deputy President and has executed previous contracts excellently, with the upshot being that they are good guys and ought to get the job. In Kenya, it would work in your favour if you did not ignore a letter from the Deputy President saying so and so is a nice guy who delivers on time.
After all, it has been proven that if you are a Cabinet Secretary pulling down homes built on what you believe is grabbed government land, and you hear the President telling on Sonko on phone that you should stop, it is only reasonable that you shut down your noisy earthmover.
It is with this in mind that Alfred Keter was screaming, ““We were about 10 Members of Parliament. You are waiting to hear from who? From God? Jesus Christ to call you? What the f**k is that?”
In his twisted logic, a call from the State House Comptroller is equivalent to a call from the President and a call from the MP who chairs the Administration and National Security Committee is like a call from the head of the police.
It is therefore proper to surmise that impunity, the word Koffi Annan brought to Kenya, is alive and well.

2. Everyone is involved

Before Sonia Birdi and Rahim Dawood, Shakeel Shabbir was the most recent Kenyan of Asian origin in Parliament. But Dawood is from deep inside Meru in Imenti and Shabbir is known to declare that he is a Luo and an honorary Massai. I forget the Massai name he calls himself. Sonia Birdi is every inch the Kenyans of Asian origin we see in Nairobi. Some drink and party and hang out with Kenyans of African origin and get in the muddle with the rest of us. They make up their hair into mohawks, have joined the community of bikers and Subaru drivers and generally mingle quite well.
I noticedSonia during the pre-election campaigns in 2013, taking a place at the front of the dais on a day that ended badly in Dandora and waving dreamily at the crowd with the rest of the politicians,. Although she struggles to make a point during debates in the House, she certainly makes an effort. She is also a regular at the bar and some colleagues have seen her smoking. She caught the attention of a few of us when we spotted a tattoo on her upper arm one day.
While she was not known much before the incident, she now is, and we now know that everyone is involved in whatever it is they were doing.

3. We need to talk about weighbridge corruption

“At that bridge, a lot of bribes are demanded,” Sonia said first thing on the phone Sunday when asked about the incident. It was no surprise that the claim would be among the first reasons Alfred Keter and her would give when confronted. There has been a fracas at the weighbridge at Mlolongo Monday. Not long ago, a cop manning a weighbridge shot at officers from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Unit bent on arresting him. There was also that interesting case where cops sued the Inspector-General after they were transferred away from a weighbridge. Get the drift?
Now we know that even as Keter and Sonia are lynched in the manner deserving of a public officer caught in that kind of affair, there is something seriously wrong at the weighbridges.

4. “Railway Bug”was never a saint.

After he ‘broke’ the story about people in government taking money to give the contract for the construction to China Road and Bridge Corporation, Alfred Keter gave the media in Parliament a copy of the statement he read. We were lounging around at the media centre there when I took a look at the statement, which I had glanced over earlier as I wrote the story. It was then that I noticed that it had “Railway Bag” written at the top. “What is Railway Bag?” I asked a colleague. He was also puzzled a bit by it for a while but then his eyes lit up and he said, “This guy meant Railwayberg, like Goldenberg.” We had a good laugh like all good Grammar Nazis so in such circumstances. There were a few jokes about how he might have meant “Railway Bug” because he was going to be a bugger on that one.
Not that getting a word wrong is a sure sign of a bad guy but when the Public Investments Committee asked for proof of the corruption, he made a point of appearing.
The reporters following the ‘scandal’ expected Mr Keter to show up with a trove of documents showing how this and that official went to China on this and that date and came back with a container full of Reminbi. Instead, he showed up with Senior Counsel Ahmednassir Abdullahi and a statement apparently taken off the World Bank site showing that CRBC had been blacklisted by the World Bank.
Is it fair to say that Alfred Keter was a creation of the media? I think he was. In a coalition that doesn’t exactly like criticism from anyone, much less from within, a rebellious voice was certainly bound to get attention. Who else would say in public that, ““We are holding the horns of the cow while others are milking it,”?
Although he publicly declared an end to his rebellion, Keter had just managed to establish his name. Now we know he was never a saint.

5. If caught, spin it as much as possible

When she was arrested for driving under the influence, she was quite embarrassed and thought that going under for a while would solve things. But a politician friend who has been in the arena for a while had some useful advice: just spin it. When I heard their conversation a few months later at the older politician’s office, she sounded happy that the advice had come. “When they called me, I did not even try to deny. I gave them an explanation and added a little story. I did what you advised me,” she happily said.
“Don’t call me honourable,” Sonia Birdi shouted at NTV’s Larry Madowo when the combative presenter asked her whether she deserved the title Honourable, which MPs are trained to apply to their names the moment they enter the chambers. (By the way, only in politics, academia and in the titled professions will you find people who tell you what title to put before their name, which I find extremely egoistic).
Back to Sonia, who when asked why the title should not apply to her, said it is because if being dishonourable amounted to what she was doing at the weighbridge by fighting for the rights of Kenyans, then clearly she does not deserve the title.
Similar arguments were advanced by Keter, who argued that the focus ought to be on the corrupt, not those, like their two honourable selves, who tried to go around the rules instead of offering the money straight up and sending the crane along to drill holes.
Among other failings. the two failed to stitch their tale together well enough and so the holes in it were so big you could see their tails very well.

But now we know that spin is an essential tactic to counter bad press.