Somebody in government should have the gumption to tell the striking teachers “hakuna pesa, hakuna pesa, hakuna pesa!”.
The problem is that the tough talk from President Moi in 1997 was just plenty of hot air, for with elections fast approaching, he turned tail and assented to the infamous pay deal that haunts his successors today.
Teachers in the public sector went on to down their chalk numerous times during Moi’s final term.
They also went on strike regularly over President Kibaki’s decade, demanding full implementation of the 1997 accord; and now have greeted President Kenyatta with yet more of those grating, out-out-of-tune songs beloved of union leaders in Kenya.
I have heard impassioned pleas from President Kenyatta, who at inception of the strike put aside his presidential mien in begging the teachers to go back class.
On Monday Deputy President William Ruto was also telling teachers to resume work in the wake of an Industrial Court order.
Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi, a hapless character if there ever was one, has blown hot and cold over the issue, as has his Education counterpart, Prof Jacob Kaimenyi.
Both have come out with lots of bluff and bluster, alternately issuing threats and at the same time inviting the teachers union to the negotiating table. To no avail.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers led by the new face of labour militancy in Kenya, Wilfred Sossion, has remained deaf to all the threats, pleadings and entreaties.
The strike leaders are also likely to ignore the High Court ruling. In fact, they night welcome it as an opportunity for martyrdom if the government uses that as an excuse for heavy-handed tactics.
Throughout the drama, the striking leaders will have noted that no one — not the President nor his deputy, no Cabinet secretary — has dared utter the words “hakuna pesa”.
That is because they would be ashamed to say with finality that there is no money to pay striking teachers when they find it easy to secure all the cash needed for projects of extremely dubious nature.
As Mr Ruto was on Monday asking teachers to go back to class, he no doubt was aware that some Sh100 million has been found somewhere to decorate his spanking new official mansion to match his newly-regal standards.
It was Mr Ruto, also, who negotiated, against the public interest a sweetheart pay deal for greedy MPs dishonestly hidden under some motor vehicle maintenance allowance of nearly Sh400,000 per month.
That, allowance, for avoidance of doubt, is over and above the mileage claims through which MPs traditionally rob the taxpayer.
I don’t know what size of fleet each MP operates, but I can confidently venture that not a single one of them can exhaust Sh400,000 per month to maintain a car; and any extra ones used by spouse(s), mistresses, boyfriends and children.
President Kenyatta has warned that pay demands by MPs, teachers and other public sector employees could have disastrous effects on the economy, but he has not put his foot down and declared there is no money.
In fact, he is the one who sent Mr Ruto to strike the deal designed to hoodwink Kenyans that MPs had backed down on their pay demands, only for the extra cash they were demanding to be effectively awarded under the table.
He also approved the outrageous amount of Sh700 million to provide his predecessor an office complex, and no doubt is aware of vast amounts going to a very opaque State House budget that is always shielded from scrutiny.
As for the Cabinet secretaries, principal secretaries and others who might be charged with facing down the striking teachers, none of them can utter “hakuna pesa” because they are busy looking after their own creature comforts.
They are ignoring government policy to acquire spanking new limousines and luxury monster 4x4s. They are going further to constitute their own fleets of police escort vehicles to clear roads for them as if they were mini-presidents, a culture unheard of in Kenya until very recently.
I don’t support the strike, but I can only conclude by saying, “iko pesa, iko pesa, iko pesa”. But we have priorities upside down.