#FRONTROW: Why our political differences are a good thing

Wednesday November 15 2017

people’s parliament, opponents, Madowo, FrontRow

A people’s parliament, in session. People attend such meetings to defend their positions and size up their opponents. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By LARRY MADOWO
More by this Author

Discussing politics in Kenya over this past year has been as exciting as having your tooth pulled out.

Hang on, discussing politics in Kenya in the last five years has had the charm of a prostate exam.

It is not just the last year that has made politics and politicians unbearable; this has always been our pastime, something we love to hate but consider a necessary evil.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t discuss religion, sex or politics at a dinner party but don’t tell that to anyone who lives in these parts.

We’re too prudish to comment on matters below the waist in the presence of polite company but we’ve never been shy to beat down people with our faith, or point out why their local leader or choice of presidential candidate is wrong for the country.

I generally avoid discussing politics with anyone I don’t know well because I can’t be honest without hurting their feelings, being downright cruel, or shining a bright light on their blind spots.

Because I know many of these people in the news personally, I don’t want to give a hot take but I also don’t want any nuance I might bring to the conversation to be wasted on a made-up mind.

So I generally don’t engage online or offline, unless it is on the idiot box in those panels, one-on-ones and stories that create such animosity, it’s almost biblical.

It is easy to be disillusioned about the deep divisions our politics elicits among the population and write off the masses as beyond redemption.

Watching the vast wasteland of social media, peering into the mindless defence of Jubilee and uthamaki or Nasa and its promise of a Canaan of milk (not Brookside!) and honey, assessing the lack of depth in the discourse about our governance structures, you would be on solid ground for your reservations.

COUNTER-ARGUMENT

However, there is a strong counter-argument to all this noisy but often nonsensical debate about politics.

Most of it might not be ideal or even intellectually sound, but we should all be grateful that the people are engaging and are invested in their country’s future.

The arguments will get better over time, as long as we keep talking. The online forums are already spilling offline and leading to some actual activism and by so doing, moving beyond the often derided clicktivism.

Our democracy is thriving on those Facebook, Twitter and blog feeds and that is a good thing. 

Had they given up all hope of fixing how the country is run and become indifferent to everything that had gone wrong, it would  have been a tragedy.

We are  actively fighting using our keyboards only because we still believe this country can be better, that it can work for all of us, regardless of where we come from, that we have certain expectations of it and that we have every right to speak up when it falls short.

There are people’s parliaments or bunge la wananchi in most towns across the country where passionate exchanges of views occur daily.

People come to such meetings to defend their positions, size up their opponents and make their cases as to why they are on the right side of history.

The people of North Korea don’t have the same luxury of holding their leaders to account like we do here.

There are many countries in Africa and further afield where even daring to question the government can have dire consequences, including death.

You might not like it that mannerless novices are calling President Uhuru Kenyatta all manner of colourful names but they are free to do so here. It might offend you that unaccomplished kids who have never sacrificed anything in their lives are all over social networks disrespecting Raila Odinga without understanding his struggle credentials but let freedom ring!

Every political post inevitably degenerates into name-calling and personal attacks but that is a price I’m willing to pay if it keeps the population connected to their civic duties.

The rebels posting county expense accounts and calling out wastage of public resources when they see it are the true patriots who need commendation.

Embrace the bloggers on the Nasa or Jubilee payroll, the ones who no longer even pretend to be non-partisan and shamelessly shill for their political parties, the propaganda and fake news and all the unpleasantness that comes with this extended presidential election.

As the Supreme Court hears a fresh round of petitions, the country will be spellbound again but this, too, is a positive development for everyone because our institutions are being tested.

Ordinary wananchi without a day in law school will watch it and interpret it their own way but that is alright because our constitution was made by, and for, them. This divisive period is painful but as long as the people still care enough to be involved, there’s still hope for us.

Is he right? Send your comments to Larry [email protected]@ke.nationmedia.com

***

FEEBACK ON NHIF’S CONTENTIOUS REGULATIONS

 

Mr Madowo, I read your article on the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) and completely agree with you. I had registered with the fund but I withdrew last year since I felt it was robbing us of our hard-earned money. Besides, I don’t have a steady job, so I could not keep up with the monthly payments. I’d like to know what logic did the fund use to increase the monthly instalments from Sh160 to Sh500, given that very many Kenyans are poor. When the monthly contribution was Sh160, I could afford it, but when it was raised, I gave up.  Kindly seek answers on behalf Kenyans as to why they raised the charges when they offer poor services.

Pius Matoke

 

Larry, I read your column on how the NHIF got it wrong by limiting the number of outpatient visits to just four per year. You sounded upset by that move but failed to read between the lines to establish the reasoning behind it. The NHIF wanted to place more emphasis on inpatient cover, which usually drains families financially. Outpatient visits are normally for acute illnesses such as  diarrhoea, stomachache, colds, which most families can manage, while the fund wishes to remove the heavy burden of chronic illness like diabetes, cancer, etc,  where the amount collected from the members might not be sufficient, hence the capping.

Munene Muthee

 

***

LUXURY TAKES TO THE SKIES, IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT

Some American airlines have four different levels of economy, the most basic option allowing you a cramped seat and such little leg room, even a toddler would struggle to fit in.

If you want a few extra centimetres for your leg, pay more.

If you want your seat to recline a few more degrees or a meal that isn’t meant for a pig, that will be $25 (Sh2,575) extra. But in the world of Gulf careers, flying is getting even more luxurious, with Emirates and Qatar Airways battling for the crown of who can make commercial aviation even more welcoming for the world’s top 1 per cent.

At the Dubai Air Show, Emirates just announced a particularly opulent “fully-enclosed private suites” in First Class inspired by the Mercedes Benz S Class. You get 40 feet of personal space, use video link to order food and drink with “zero-gravity” seats and up to 70kg of checked-in luggage for the totally reasonable price of Sh985,000.

Yes, one trip will cost more than most second-hand cars in Kenya, but you can’t put a price on luxury, right? Qatar’s just revamped its business class offering with something it calls a Qsuite, which includes double beds if you’re travelling with a significant other.

 

***

A PHOTOBOMB FOR THE AGES

A well-timed photobomb is one of the most amusing aspects of our culture’s obsession with documenting every moment. But when relatively unknown Nigerian musician Mayorkun posted a picture from the Business Class cabin of a recent flight, it was elevated to an art form.

There, smiling in the seat behind, is bona fide global superstar and Literature Nobel Prize winner Prof Wole Soyinka. He has the look of bemused annoyance at the two youth posing so self-assuredly in front of him. Because he didn’t acknowledge the prolific writer at all in his caption, he probably didn’t recognise him or even know who he was.

The legend is obviously more accomplished than Mayorkun and his companion in the front of the picture, a fact that was not lost on social media users who saw the picture.

If I were Soyinka, I would probably give them a good lecture about respecting their elders after they were done with their picture, just for kicks.