Friday, December 19, 2008



By Kipkoech Tanui

The tension is palpable — the fear of food riots is thick in the air.
The ravenous and gluttonous spirit of Parliament is gnawing at the hearts of those of us whose pay-slips are inverted pyramids, needle-sharp at the bottom from deductions. The revulsion against MPs, who connive not to pay taxes on their allowances even as the nation bleeds the leech to fatten the heifer, is higher among those who do not even know what cheque books look like.

Riot police, the same ones who fired live bullets at unarmed demonstrators earlier this year, are back on the prowl.

President Kibaki, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and PM Raila Odinga had their own taste of rising public cynicism and impatience with the political class when they tried to rally angry, hungry citizens around the spirit of nationhood. People just stared at them as if in a daze.

A few jeered, amid shouts of "Unga! Unga!" Even Raila’s attempt to whip up emotions with Barack Obama’s rallying call, "Yes we can", did not stir a ripple.

When Kibaki and Raila landed in Kisumu on Wednesday, security was so tight you would think intelligence services had picked up a squeak of an imminent assassination attempt. But nay, it was once again the fear of something ominous ‘cutting’ in Kenya’s ghettoes. Government big-wigs, however divided they may be, have one fear — the union of empty stomachs and the black T-shirts. It has brought down governments, transcends tribes and knows no political party.

I believe we have a leadership that is too detached and abstract in thinking. Fascination with figures and integers, percentages and timelines, as well as high sounding ideas like Vision 2030, have little bearing on the complexity of life of the poor and lowly-paid. They lack the promise of immediacy, just like the grand plan for road constructions.

Human Touch
Grand and ambitious as they are, such plans require a human touch, a sign to the people their leaders live among them and understand their pain and anguish. Retired President Moi’s administration had its failings, but it had the common touch. On the road, he would stop for tea at a roadside kiosk. In my village, he stopped when he saw an old mama struggling to walk home with stacks of dry grass on her back. The rains had begun and she had to re-thatch the family’s hovel. He forked out Sh50,000 for her to buy corrugated iron sheets.

These days, I hear rare compliments on Moi, not on the basics of sound economic management. Like or hate it, it is the ring of the common touch, through say delegations to State House.

One could argue the visits, along with the ‘gifts’ of chai and ugali, fanned corruption. The net effect of the ‘touch’ was a connection, not detachment with the electorate.

But again, it would be wrong to read this to mean advocacy for Kibaki to be another Moi. My interest is only in so far as there is a rapport between the governed and the governor, not just through television.

Kibaki and Raila were, after all, to tour and unite the country. To date the presidential motorcade is most of the time parked or headed for conferences and MPs’ kamukunjis. There is a void that is left for anger to blossom, watered by runaway food and fuel prices, inflation and global economic pressures.

I doubt Moi would have told the public to "fight if they so wanted", as Kibaki did last week at Nyayo Stadium, while his security tried to strangle and castrate an activist. He would have commisserated with the angry and hungry. He would have known in advance what the public wanted and ought to hear.

But there we are, saddled with a leadership blinded by the life of opulence and unaware of the rage boiling beneath. They are closeted in offices set apart by stone walls and razor wire. There are, now that the loaf has been shared and all are one in Government, fewer public outreaches. Kibaki, who ought to know what is what because he went to lower primary with an over-size shirt and no shorts (quoting his elder sister Waitherero), told the crowd to "ignore a mad man".

The other day, Raila was warning his supporters not to bombard him with CVs because there were no jobs — all he got was half-a-loaf. What difference does Raila project when, like Kibaki, he radiates impatience with the needy? Then the madness of the roads when they join in!

I am reminded of a man in my village who, when employed, kept joking he missed the ‘feel’ of akala (tyre-sandals) and that the leather shoes he was ‘forced’ to wear in the city were ‘suffocating’ his feet. Then he lost his job one day and, to this day, he is back to akala! Does this remind you of the Kibaki, Raila and Kalonzo of yesteryears?