Friday, May 17, 2013



By P. Anyang' Nyong'o
May 19, 2013

My death was, unfortunately, very highly exaggerated. As a matter of fact, no such thing happened, and I thought those who were calling me to find out what had happened were confused by some new calendar which might have been circulating in Kenya since April Fools' Day had long come and gone.

Be that as it may, I thank God am still alive and kicking, and may be doing so by His grace for quite some time to come. But in politics one never knows how many enemies are harvested along the tortuous path we tread, and when they rear their ugly heads. Worrying about them, however, can render you ineffective and consign you to the corner of political inertia. But ignoring them altogether may also be foolhardy. The balance is not easy to keep, hence the need for wise counsel and sobriety, two commodities not always available when most wanted.

I took the opportunity while in the US for a United Nations meeting of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration to which I belong to go to California for my annual medical check up which was long overdue. I should have had it in January but the elections were around the corner, so duty came first. An annual check up does not mean one is just about to die; one never knows when that comes anyway. But it means one is heeding to the nursery school warning which says: a stitch in time saves nine. And it is usually better to take your body to the doctor than to wait until your body takes you there, so says Hon. Dalmas Otieno Anyango.

Which means that we should train health care givers, from nurses to doctors, that preventive health care is the foundation of good health. Which means that community health workers should teach our people in the villages and urban areas about healthy living. In every dispensary the people around should each have a record of their health status, which means visiting dispensaries for regular health check ups even when they think they are well. When this is done regularly, once a year for example, one can discover a creeping disease in time for it to be arrested before it damages the body.

Let us, however, go back to the original issue of my highly exaggerated death while I was away in the US for what I considered a worthy cause. Thank you all for those who expressed sincere concern. My equally sincere apologies for giving you such unnecessary grief. The root cause of our suffering is, of course, some irresponsible and malicious individual in a technological city called "the social media". I have no problem at all with this technological contraption, but I worry about its irresponsible and reckless use by some people who have little respect for the sanctity of family life, the sovereignty of individual privacy, the beauty of civility and the need for a culture of mutual social responsibility.

The social media, put in the hands of some young people immersed in the heady excitement of social upheaval which must deconstruct everything in every direction, may cut off many people from enjoying the benefits of this information super highway. Somehow the excesses of the social media need to be managed. I do not think this technological innovation came with the sole purpose of building a rumour mongering industry, nor was it meant to give credence to character assassination. In Kenya, however, I fear "what trends" tends to be what is most notorious or what is most outlandish. That, obviously, is a rather unfortunate reputation to build. Let us be fair to all of us: do unto others as you would others would do unto you.

Now let us look into the future. Those who have initiated the debate on "being Kenyan" deserve our support and encouragement. It is an issue which is both urgent and timely. We still have not fully known, nor appreciated, how political repression can mess up with building a democratic political culture: a culture of discipline, trust, mutual social responsibility, decency, give and take, fairness, respect for ground rules and, above all social justice and liberty. This political repression usually begins by the reckless use of state power for individual gains in developing countries in particular. When properly institutionalised we all it authoritarianism, a disease we are trying to deal with in our new constitution.

That is why it is very important to implement this constitution, take care of devolution and be ready to amend the constitution where some parts of it need improvement in institutionalising a democratic political culture and dismantling authoritarianism. As usual this will entail some struggle between those still determined to maintain the old order and those determined to become Kenyans under the new constitutional dispensation. Let the debate be carried out under an atmosphere of civility since human rights are now enshrined in our constitution and they need to be exercised with due respect to each other's rights.

That, however, is not usually the case. I remember in 1998 when I proposed a bill in Parliament for Presidential Retirement Benefits I was scathingly attacked by the media and "civil society" for pandering to the Moi regime. As one known for participation in the Second Liberation, what I was doing was regarded as an anathema. But I was quite clear: with a retirement benefits package, sitting presidents will, in future, feel more secure "to leave the throne" rather than to continue undemocratically to stick to power. This was my responsibility as a legislator, and the law was bring enacted not just for Moi but for future presidents. Recently when the retirement benefits for President Kibaki were made public I did not read anything negative by those who viciously attacked my ideas in 1998.

Of course I argued for the principle, and not the details in terms of facts and figures. These can be moderated in line with our economic realities in Kenya. But this discussion, I repeat, needs to be done with more civility and less cacophony.