Politicians are a peculiar lot which is why, at times, they are able to see — or is it create — things some of us ordinary mortals don’t see.
Take, for instance, remarks made by Mr Kalonzo Musyoka last week that the level of ethnic hatred has got to unprecedented levels never before seen in Kenya since independence! Really?
I live in a neighbourhood where Kenyans from as many ethnic backgrounds live. I can testify that so far I have not seen anything to suggest there is ethnic hatred arising from choices individual Kenyans made in the last elections.
As usual, our spouses who are from different communities are still attending their Saturday chama meetings. Our children are still going to same Sunday School and attending birthday parties in the neighbour’s house. Elsewhere, jua-kali artisans from different ethnic backgrounds are still doing their thing at Gikomba market, and so far, there have been no reports of ethnic tension among them.
Actually, there are many cross-ethnic weddings scheduled to take place throughout the country.
Talking of tribalism and negative ethnicity, Mr Musyoka appears to have some obsession with that sort of thing. If you doubt it, ask one Kennedy Murithi, a journalist with QTV (and later NTV).
On April 24, 2014, Mr Murithi attended a press conference called by the Cord coalition party and addressed by, among others, Mr Musyoka.
As any journalist would do, Mr Murithi sought to know from the opposition leaders what they were doing to keep the government of the day in check.
The conversation went on like this:
Reporter: “All you’re saying is what is wrong with the government. But you’re not providing alternative leadership as the opposition (Cord). You’re not saying this is wrong. This is how it should be done.
Mr Musyoka: “You know young man, you’re entitled to asking, first I didn’t even get your name.”
Reporter: “My name is Kennedy Murithi from Nation Media Group.”
Mr Musyoka: “Thank you Murithi, that name betrays it all. I have nothing else to say. Absolutely, I have nothing to say.”
At a personal level, I have had two occasions to get an idea of how Mr Musyoka sees these things of tribalism. One of them was in July 2013 in the private office of Mr Raila Odinga who had granted me an interview. At the time, I was Special Projects Editor with the People Daily newspaper. As the interview with Mr Odinga went on, Mr Musyoka suddenly walked in.
Mr Odinga interrupted the interview to introduce me and my photographer to Mr Musyoka. On hearing our names, and the name of the media house we worked for, he made faces and walked away without saying a word. There was certainly so much to read from his body language. Mr Odinga hurriedly concluded our interview to join Mr Musyoka in the boardroom where they were to have a meeting.
Another incident I remember was in 2002 just after Mr Mwai Kibaki had been declared winner of the presidential election that year. Journalists had set camp at the gate of Mr Kibaki’s private home in Nairobi’s Muthaiga area when Mr Musyoka’s vehicle pulled up.
He didn’t look a happy man. I remember him telling the media as he waited for the gate to be opened: “Let’s see what these people have for us.” He was talking of “them” and “us” which I found odd because I thought they were supposed to be in the same Narc coalition with Mr Kibaki.
Yet another incident I remember was in 2001. My good friend Mr Ezekiel Mutua was secretary-general of the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ). He was being accused of favouring Nation journalists in awarding that year’s journalist awards for excellence.
I remember a frustrated Mr Mutua telling me one morning: “Look here, Kamau. I am being accused of favouring Nation journalists. On the other hand, the minister (at the time Kalonzo was minister in charge of Information) is complaining there are no Kamba journalists in the list of winners. People are hard to please!”
Matters ethnicity aside, Mr Musyoka has also in the past been accused of being a vindictive man. A most remembered case in point was in June 1989 when, as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, he engineered an historic censure motion to ban the Nation Media Group from covering proceedings in Parliament.
The media group was accused of showing “disrespect” to the Kanu government.
Another beef some people have with Mr Musyoka are doubts about sticking to a political deal to the end. A case in point is given by politician Joe Khamisi in his memoirs, The Politics of Betrayal.
In the book, Mr Khamisi gives graphic details of a supposed 2007 political deal between President Kibaki and Mr Musyoka and where the latter was to be Mr Kibaki’s running-mate.
According to Mr Khamisi, Mr Musyoka played hide-and-seek until no deal was reached, only for him to join Mr Kibaki in the post-election period after violence had already broken out.
According to Mr Khamisi, the violence could have been avoided had Mr Musyoka either sided with Mr Kibaki (PNU) or Mr Odinga (ODM) before the voting day; in which case they would have been a clear election winner and most likely pre-empt the post-election chaos.
Talking of Mr Musyoka, Kitui Governor Mrs Charity Ngilu was once quoted as summarising Mr Musyoka politics to be all about “myself, me and I!”
Wonder whether she still believes the same to be true. But then, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, swallowing words has never given a politician indigestion!