Tuesday, September 9, 2008



September 9, 2008
The Standard

The PNU, ODM and ODM-K parties fight hard whenever their leaders President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka are attacked.

But the parties never spoke for First Lady Lucy Kibaki, PM’s wife Ida Odinga, and VP’s Pauline Kalonzo, when they were attacked for the money the State either pays them or intended to.

Responding to the attacks became individual decisions. Ida declined the offer, Pauline took hers and insists she will donate the same to a charity, and Lucy kept quiet.

The ladies need the money. But the society never worked for them, so they got hounded and embarrassed even by MPs who raised their pay without much ado only recently.

In Kenya’s politics, credit goes to the one who shouts loudest. In the process, we miss a chance to pursue substance.

The noise is, however, not over because the VP’s wife has cheated the public by saying she would donate the money to the needy.

generous actions

Charity is defined as "generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless". It cannot be generosity when Mrs Kalonzo takes money from the general public and gives it to a section of the public. It is charity when she donates part of her civil service pay to the needy.

Mrs Kalonzo should either accept the money and not tell us what she is doing with it, or reject it. She has no mandate to spend public money on her causes.

But there is a bigger way in which the three ladies are victims of our patriarchal society. As a modern State, Kenya lives by certain conventions. Convention here means accepted procedures of conducting State affairs. One such is that the wives of presidents, vice presidents and prime ministers have roles in the life of the nation even though they hold no constitutional offices.

In the US, the Office of the First Lady helps her carry out her duties as hostess of the White House. She has staff that include the White House Social Secretary, a Chief of Staff and Press Secretary.

Although they have no offices, it is true that Mrs Kalonzo and Ida shoulder responsibilities by virtue of the positions their husbands hold.

Wives of policy makers have played effective roles in the lives of their nations, which ours have tried to do.

Hillary Clinton made healthcare a serious political issue to date. Laura Bush has pushed hard an initiative to help organisations keep young people out of gangs and show young men an ideal of manhood that respects women and rejects violence. It came from the husband’s State of the Union Address in 2005. Cherrie Blaire was a trustee of anti-domestic violence charity Refuge. She also campaigned for the rights of women prisoners.

The ladies are close to the top policy makers, so society taps into them because of the attention they focus on causes they identify with.

In Kenya, while there are structures around the President, the PM and the VP, there is none around the ladies, so they fight public battles from the privacy of living rooms. Yet Kenya expects the ladies to play the roles their counterparts abroad play.

Kenyans expect Kibaki to show up with the First Lady when he meets dignitaries abroad and at home.

public money

It would be awkward for the PM to show up alone, for a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who would be accompanied by his wife.

The question is, when the President shows up with the First Lady in Washington, or Raila with Ida in Downing Street, are the ladies supposed to raise their own airfare and pay for their hotel rooms from their salaries? When Lucy attends a First Ladies meeting, is she supposed to get the money from her private businesses?

There is room to have a plan for the ladies that does not force Mrs Kalonzo to donate public money as if it were hers and Ida to reject money she surely needs. Society betrayed the ladies. They should fight back.