MONDAYMix - Hail to the chief for a fast return - Daily Nation

MONDAYMix - Hail to the chief for a fast return

Monday April 25 2005

By PETER KIMANI, [email protected]

Internal Security Minister John Michuki has taken the drivers' seat – safety belt buckled and all. He is going through the villages issuing an edict to all retired chiefs on a loud speaker. They should be ready to report to work at a short notice, once the Chief's Act is re-introduced.

Chiefs are a colonial relic, but then Mr Michuki was a colonial administrator. Then, chiefs were a crucial tool in suppression of "natives" agitating for freedom.

Tides of time may have swept the wazungu at the dawn of independence but Mr Michuki thinks "native" thugs are roaming the streets unchallenged. The moneyed wazungu weusi are imprisoned in their own castles. 

A crucial lesson from his days in the colonial government is that the chief lives among the people, so he's best-placed to tell who among the villagers is making illicit brew. 

But Kenyans know better. Crime is underpinned by poverty. Chang'aa and muratina are the ideal depressants; they make the people forget.

We haven't forgotten what Mr Michuki thinks is a golden era for local chiefs, when they disbanded political rallies and extorted from widows. 

Those were the days of harambee. Chiefs invariably kept a card where one had to pledge something before getting any service. Kenyans understood harambee to mean extending a helping hand kwa hali na mali (in cash or in kind). 

When chiefs went on debt collection missions, they needed assistance to take the loot home as their hands would be full – quite literally clutching at squeaking hens and the leashes of bleating sheep.

A long time ago, we were treated to a bizarre drama every Sunday. The chief would ride on his bike, sandalled feet in thick socks and coat flapping in the wind. He would make several stops at the homes of "Christian" families where he would gulp cups of over-sweetened tea.

His last mission was to the homes of people who had clandestine business, brewing muratina. Merry-makers would disperse, but their wobbly legs would not take them very far. The chief would drag the brewer away, taking with him a big brown bottle containing muratina. His one hand would be on the bicycle's handlebar, the other on the suspect's wrist.

On reaching a specific spot, the brewer would ask to be allowed to pass water. The moment he was freed, he would run like a deer into the nearby coffee plantation. The chief would stand dejectedly for a few moments before pushing his bike on. He had an exhibit, but no suspect to charge. 

The next Sunday, he would return without fail for a repeat performance. 

The brewer was never charged. A little rattling every Sunday, but that was it. We later learnt the chief was his in-law, so the Sunday raids were gimmicks to show he was working. But the bribes and extortion were real, as were the chicken, the heifers and the goats. Now Michuki wants the eating chiefs back. 

Let's brace yourselves.

A matter of sisterly and brotherly love

When Moses, the famous lawmaker in the Bible, was burdened by work and asked God for help, he was asked to find a helper. Naturally, he picked his brother Haroun for the task. 

And when Foreign Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere was wondering how to cut the huge wage bill foreign missions were costing tax-payers, the President must have recommended restructuring, which meant dropping many workers and picking a few new ones.

Miraculously, the President picked Mwakwere's sister, Mishi Masika Mwatsahu, for an ambassadorial job, and also a brother of Wilfred Machage, an assistant minister in the Office of the President.

It is the prerogative of the President to make such appointments, but it seems highly suspicious that two ministers have had their siblings appointed to serve Kenya in the sunset days of their careers. 

Even more curious, Machage's brother, Sospeter Magita, is married to a Russian, so it makes great familial sense to send him to Russia. But why make Kenyans pay for it?

Needless to say, Mwatsahu is not a diplomat, but she will happily report to her brother anyone questioning her credentials.

Dying for a piece of education

Nine girls have declined food and drink for over a week until the government pays their school fees. 

There was a whisper in the NGO world that someone had "eaten" their fees, so the students have refused to eat food till they know where their next fees will come from.

Instead of assuring the girls that they will be admitted back to school, and that the fees will be paid one way or another, a local administrator in Marakwet pleaded with them to eat. They were unmoved. 

Some Kenyans just don't get it. The girls are not protesting lack of food; they want to be allowed back to school. All they need is their money, which someone is allegedly keeping.

What happened to the much-hailed bursaries for bright students from poor families? Is there a provision that the kitty can be used for girls so thirsty for education that they can starve themselves to qualify for it?

The hidden truth about tinted glass

The police are convinced there is something sinister about motorists who prefer tinted windshields and windows on their cars.

And they are reading some script to allege that it is illegal to have such tints, as it abets crime by frustrating their efforts to recognise and arrest criminals. 

The Law Society of Kenya, on the other hand, is reading a script of its own to illustrate how misplaced the Traffic Act in question is, as the law does not criminalise tinted windows.

What's all the fuss about? The police actually stop and check all suspicious vehicles, and they can still do this. In any case, motorists naturally wind down the windows when flagged down. 

At this rate, we shouldn't be surprised if they stop all pedestrians wearing dark glasses and march them to the nearest police station, or line them up in identification parades.

Traders regain a paradise lost

Hawkers, how they love the city. They must be elated to be back, this time at designated areas of Nairobi that include the busy Koinange Street.

Every Sunday, this and other city streets will be open to "genuine" hawkers, which is great news for them. A caveat for those who may not be well versed in the ways of the city, and who may be hoodwinked by some merchants on Koinange Street.

Once hawking is legitimised, some street walkers may choose to change their shift from night to day. And since it is difficult to distinguish a "genuine" hawker from a false one, some nocturnal girls may do a strip-tease while selling clothes, though in fact they'll be hawking something else. What you see is not what you get.

How they drive him crazy, those debts!

Is it true that Davis Nakitare's car was impounded by creditors last week? That's what some papers reported, adding that the Saboti MP's driver, determined to protect his boss's property to the bitter end, stayed in the car as it was towed away.

The auctioneers said they were acting on instructions of people who Nakitare owes money, and that he hasn't heard the last of them.

"This is not the first time we have attached the MP's vehicle," claimed one of the auctioneers. 

"We have done so several times. But this time, he must pay all the money before we release the car."

Pity the hapless driver. They must drive him crazy – struggling to retain his job and to keep his boss's car. We hope that his many responsibilities are made clear in his job description, and that he is compensated accordingly.