If you argue that President Kenyatta was right to publicly and squalidly attack Turkana Governor Joseph Nanok as a satanic fool because this confirmed his strong leadership, then, you must also vote against elected leaders conveying popular grassroots sentiments to the President.
You may also argue against the political rally becoming a forum for constructive discourse and only serve as a platform for what besieged Charles Njonjo in 1983 called politics of elimination. That’s a sad feature of Kenya’s politics immortalised by President Jomo Kenyatta’s rampant public humiliation of dissenting Bildad Kaggia in Murang’a in 1965.
Vitally, you may want to establish whether when he publicly berated elected leaders in Turkana, Mombasa and Malindi in a week, President Kenyatta came across to a majority of the public as in control, losing control or altogether out of control and reeling from mounting Executive and political pressures.
I hold that Mr Nanok would have been remiss if he did not talk about oil and benefits accruing to the Turkana. It is what thought leaders have done wherever oil has been found. Oil finds fuel great expectations of instant wealth and opportunities expressed in lucrative jobs, fetching tenders, luxuriant schools, rich scholarships, clean water, shiny hospitals, and tarmacked roads.
As in Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda before it, the announcement of the Turkana oil find in 2012 was immediately greeted with the question, whose is it? The Turkana feel entitled to the oil and consider themselves first among equals among stakeholders. To a people long marginalised by the centre, the find portended a break with poverty and dependence.
It is why when Governor Nanok voiced each of the challenges bedevilling the county, his constituents, in unison, chorused back with the word "shida" (hardship). He was taking the President through his development shopping list vis-à-vis his purse. He owned up; Turkana is wholly reliant on allocations from the National Government for revenue and continuance. Mr Nanok, then, turned to a possible solution for Turkana’s challenges. He told the President that if the county benefited from more oil revenues, he would accomplish plenty and he (President) would reap handsome political dividends. All it needed was a rethink of proposed legislation which the President changed to cap and reduce revenues to county and community respectively.
The response was sizzling. The President was angry because Mr Nanok held him, not Parliament, responsible for the legislation the Turkana believe unfairly denies them revenue. Did he have to? During the extended oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Barack Obama’s spokesperson Robert Gibbs was asked why the President did not appear angry enough with BP. He replied:
“Our point is not to feign………anger at what environmental and economic damage has been wrought by disaster. That wasn’t going to fill a hole. That wasn’t going to put money in the bank account of a shrimper that’s not fishing. That’s not going to help a hotel worker or a hotel owner on a beach in Florida.”
President Kenyatta’s anger did not sate any hunger. The Turkana continue to feel hard done by; their Governor’s fears in February that Deputy President William Ruto visits only to undermine him appear confirmed; and blinded by his anger, the President wrongly painted himself as a mere seal for Parliament. Nationally, the President also displeased many people.
Will a displeased President ignore a displeased public? Suffice to say his anger must not drive his policies. Indeed, he must consider the anger of those he governs when designing and deciding policy. As George W Bush put it after last November’s ill-tempered US presidential election, “what needs to drive policy is what’s best for the people who are angry.”
Is President Kenyatta’s anger driven by policy, politics or personal differences with opponents? Last week, against Governors Nanok and Amason Kingi (Kilifi) and Hassan Joho (Mombasa), it was all of the above. Ditto his attacks last September and November against arch foe Raila Odinga at William Ntimama’s burial in Narok and at Jubilee Party’s Kasarani launch respectively.
Therefore, the test of strength the President should pass is to preach, as in Wednesday’s State of the Nation address, that residing on different sides of a fence does not turn Kenyans into enemies and his policies benefit both sides. For starters, he should agree keeping one’s temper in check is a virtue; public putdowns can be off-putting; Turkana harbours genuine oil-based anger; and his ire counts for little against the public’s.