Of Jail Birds And Freedom

While I was away from social media, 6 MPs accused of hate-mongering had emerged from a remand holding sparkling and reformed as the Pangani 6. The 3 days in holding appeared to have been such an enlightening experience, they had all turned into motivational speakers. 3 days was all it took to get hostilities straightened out. It was noted by keen observers that Pangani police station should be elevated to a rehab centre.

Jail therapy has shown remarkable results with the hate speech detainees. I was hearing such flowery statements about former bad boy Moses Kuria’s newfound maturity. Ferdinand Waititu smile had broadened and he seemed so at peace with himself. Junet Muhammad was thinking of leading prison reforms. Johnstone Muthama was making capital of 3 days of imprisonment drawing parallels to the Kapenguria 6.  Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri who had fainted in court had a Saul to Paul transformation and gave such a touching confession about his rogue past, I almost reached for the tissue box.

The Anatomy Of A Kenyan Demonstrator

A politician, a civil society lawyer, a hustler, a curious mwananchi and an activist met at an anti-government protest and started talking about what got them to be part of it.

The lawyer said, “I have always been curious about the social dynamics of people power, in exercising rights to dissent against institutionalized polity and how they organize as non-institutionalized political actors”.

The veteran activist said, “I have been active since the late 70s. I demonstrated with Tito Adungosi and Jimmy Orengo before he was expelled from University of Nairobi. I walked with Matiba and Rubia. Raila several times and even shared a cell with him briefly in Kamiti. We ate tear gas with Uhuru during his KANU days and I was there for Kibaki during the NARC era. Bwana, we are the original TeamCourage”.

The Rule Of The Cane

Nitachapa wewe kiboko” was a widely used threat in my formative years. It tended to be applied by figures of authority; parents, teachers, chiefs, judges, policemen when addressing lowly subjects. I grew up with corporal punishment back when everyone was fit for a caning. No one was beyond a good beating and some teachers just caned for the kicks of it.  They administered the cane with vigour and zeal. There were head teachers who had reputations as stroke masters. Like a good colonial DC, their strokes were unforgettable. Being disciplined for mischief was one thing but most caning was misplaced, mostly to students who failed to understand instructions and scored poorly. It was common knowledge, a few lashes a day, kept the bad grades away. I met headmasters with real anger management issues only that back then they were called disciplinarians and the means were not half as important as the results a cane could produce. We were assured that a good beating and sound education went hand in hand. Indeed, they are students who can truly claim that they would never have passed their exams without the help of a cane.

The cane carried with it the power of humiliation. Satisfaction was derived in seeing the victim cowing in the presence of this intimidating object to wish they had to submit to. The most humiliating act was to be caned in public, in front of an audience. The cane’s fear factor was a residue of a brutal colonial legacy.

Kenya was a British colony and like all good ex subjects of the crown, we carried on the great tradition of correction and owned and localized it. The tradition of six of the best, is now about as Kenyan as chai. A headmaster would ask the students to bend over, lightly stroke the targeted bottom, take aim, and descend with a resounding thwack. Most howled and started pleading, vowing never to taste that pain again. A good portion accepted the suffering. They learnt not to give the caner the satisfaction of squirming in pain as a show of power over one’s oppressor in a state of powerlessness. Which only gave the caner more resolve.

The cane represents very many things in the Kenyan mindset. To get caned meant to be humiliated as a form of punishment. We were programmed to believe that we deserved the caning. That somehow our actions had brought upon the wrath of the cane. So people who went through the Kenyan educational system learnt to submit to authority early. Even when that authority changed labels from parent, teacher, employer and government, in the face of punishment, there was a reluctance to protest because speaking out only seemed to attract more punishment. The government routinely ‘canes’ its citizens through punitive policies and thanks to our early training, we submit first and protest later.

So when Lengo Mdzomba, the man from Kwale who made the news headlines for assaulting a prominent senior citizen Raila Odinga and Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, the story was largely framed to exploit its underdog appeal. The observers’ were interested in the reason behind the assault because in our psychology, one must have done something to attack the wrath of the cane.  It was not polite to see the humour in the absurdity of the incident but the media was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  It was an incident ripe for snickering and jokes loaded with innuendo (Did you hear about the Boko Haram incursion in Kwale?). In a society afflicted by the tall poppy syndrome, caning is still regularly used to cut people down to size.



If you are ever interested in venturing into a career as a reality TV producer or script writer, watch the news every day. The plots of political drama are more engaging than scripted television. Kenyan news is more engaging than “Keeping up with Kardashians”.  We have made celebrities out of untalented people of little substance to offer and made fame directly proportional to the amount air time one gets. We glamorize vulgarity and materialism and occasional stupidity is what gets you noticed. The cameras are always present to capture valuable footage which generates high social media interactivity.

The news is personality driven and personal dramas become national issues. The competition and rivalry is endless. The plot lines are unscripted and unpredictable. Most episodes have great emotional hooks and cliff hangers. Sometimes when you think you have it all figured, there is a twist in the plot. One can never tell when something interesting is going to happen and most audience suffer from the FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome.

Sometimes, subjects are placed in planted situations to create controversy which brings eye balls. Other stars like Rachel Shebeesh bring unique personal style and push ratings.  The news format is very sustainable which is why it continues to enjoy prime time viewing. The cast members are auditioned and hired by the voters. A season lasts five years and each new season, a fresh cast emerges and the drama continues from where it left off.

Media executives have been focusing a lot on the president. He is a break out star who has brought more drama to the presidency that no network script writing team would ever have conjured up. TV exes know that the president possesses sufficient charisma to carry a long running series.

No president has danced around the media as deftly as Uhuru Kenyatta. The president now has legitimate press groupies. There is not a moment in his interesting life that we miss out on and often when we switch on the telly, it feels like picking up from a previous episode of “Keeping up with President Kenyatta”. It is an unending media spectacle with dramatic twists and turns, hostile encounters, international conspiracy and intrigues, playing out in multiple locations simultaneously. It is the best reality television we have seen. All we need now is a diary room for the president to tell us what he really thinks about some of his opponents in the opposition.


Patriotic Mourners


TeamKenya is out in London and the corporate and politicians are going hoarse trying outshout themselves to prove to whoever is watching that they love Kenya the most. The Olympic season is characterized by an overload of patriotic messages. Switch on the telly, buy a newspaper and out pops another timely reminder of why you should be proud to be Kenyan.

I remember fondly those gullible years as a child looking up longing to those kids who got to welcome the president from a trip abroad, flapping their mini flags. I was envious of those young patriots and admired their pride for the motherland. I wondered why I was not like them. Why did I mumble over the words of the second stanza of our national anthem and why had I never thought of using the flag as duvet?

I was reminded of that period recently when I read a tweet from none other than PM Raila Odinga urging patriotic Kenyans to come together in large numbers and vote for Prezzo. My patriotic antenna flickered to life. “ The Prezzo of what?”

Prezzo the musician of the chopper-over-fence fame continues to up the ante so much so that he has some big hitters shouting from his corner among them Nairobi governor aspirant Philip Kisia and media don Chris Kiribu all weighing in. Turns out Prezzo is the ‘it” factor in a reality show house filled with bored and sexually frustrated housemates from around Africa and is a hot favourite to win the cash prize and everyone loves a winner. I remember when Prezzo was chosen to represent Kenya in the Big Brother Africa Star Game. I wondered why the minister for foreign affairs offered no comment. I mourned about the would-be damage to the country’s image abroad. I was simply being patriotic.

As a true patriot I speak from experience. I have lived through recurring absurdities of Kenyan reality and turned into an optimistic pessimist. I have learnt to manage expectations. Things generally tend to get worse before they can become better. My brand of patriotism is laced with cynicism.

Attempt to perk me up with artistic impression of Vision 2030 and I sneer back, “Whatever happened to Water For All Before the Year 2000”. Make a big deal about the Thika Superhighway and I worry about maintenance. Try and cheer up the mood with Konza city and our Silicon Valley potential and I will complain about the dominance of western conglomerates turning us into mindless consumers. Switch topics to Team Kenya’s hopes at the London Olympics and I start mourning about the AK (Athletics Kenya) and why chairman Isaiah Kiplagat needs to step down to pave way for youthful leadership if Kenya does not top the Beijing tally of 6 gold medals. Bring up youthful leadership and the retort is that I would rather have Uncle Moody Awori out of retirement than re elect Mike Mbuvi aka “sehemu-nyeti” back to parliament.

The one characteristic shared by genuine patriots, is that they mourn about everything. Outsiders and politicians may insist on wearing rosy tinted glasses and keep gushing on about Kenya’s great potential now that we have a new constitution. True patriots know why the glass is half empty. Indeed, only those who care about Kenya would bother to mourn about it. Ask Miguna Miguna.