Before he fizzled out from elective politics, former Garsen MP Danson Mungatana often declared himself mla mamba (crocodile eater) as he taunted Opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The taunt was meant to portray the lawmaker as a tough and fearless politician who was not scared of Mr Odinga.
The crocodile analogy appears to have swam back into the political lexicon in recent months — not in Mr Mungatana’s Tana River this time but the biblical River Jordan.
In his characteristic use of analogies, Mr Odinga has since admitted that opposition Nasa’s political journey to ‘Canaan’ during last year’s election was halted by crocodiles in River Jordan.
In the run-up to the hotly contested presidential election, the Nasa leader, the self-styled “Joshua”, sold the narrative of the “promised land”— that he would liberate Kenyans from the bondage of corruption, tribalism and other ills.
But in recent months, Mr Odinga — whose March 9 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta calmed the political scene — has said the Canaan trip was cut short “after we encountered crocodiles in River Jordan”, referring to the disputed August presidential election results that were successfully challenged in the Supreme Court followed by Nasa’s boycott of the October repeat poll.
Initially perceived as a harmless hilarious statement, the crocodile analogy appears to have stirred debate among politicians, the clergy and even schoolchildren.
During a recent ceremony to consecrate regional bishops and other clergymen of the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa in Karatina, Nyeri County, a primary school pupil, Esther Mwangi, recited a poem praising Deputy President William Ruto as “a good Sunday school teacher” for clearing the air over whether or not there were crocodiles in River Jordan.
Mr Ruto has, often with a light touch, said that nowhere in the Good Book is it indicated there are crocodiles in River Jordan as Joshua led Israelites to Canaan.
He repeated this line in Tseikuru last week during the funeral of former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s father. The Deputy President joked that the confusion created by Mr Odinga was compounded by people’s ignorance since there were limited vernacular versions of the Bible.
Troubled Migori Governor Okoth Obado has also joined in the crocodile chorus.
Speaking recently in the company of Mr Ruto, Mr Obado — who has been charged with murder and is being investigated over corruption and illegal guns — claimed his enemies were trying to push him into the jaws of a crocodile.
But Majority Leader Aden Duale has no time for light moments on the matter.
“The President has made every effort to unite all Kenyans and our brothers from the other side (opposition) must stop this talk. These crocodiles that you remind us of every day only serve to cause divisions. We must stop them because there are no crocodiles among Kenyans," said Mr Duale last Friday.
Senate Minority Leader James Orengo fired back immediately by mocking the Garissa Town MP for not comprehending figurative language. "Mamba sio binadamu. Na kama wewe unafikiria wewe ni mamba, shauri yako wewe! (Crocodiles are not human beings, but if you think you are one, that is your problem).
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
However, listening to ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna in Trans Nzoia last weekend, it is not a surprise that some Jubilee politicians think there is more than meets the eye in the crocodile analogy.
“If it is not a crocodile that ‘ate’ (murdered) Jacob Juma, please tell us which animal swallowed our brother. Tell us, as well, which animal — other than the crocodile — devoured Chris Msando (the murdered electoral commission official), Baby Pendo and more than 300 of our people,” Mr Sifuna said.
It is because of the vicious crocodile attack, claims Sifuna, “that our party decided to stop feeding the crocodile with our children”, by opting for the handshake.
Nonetheless, Mr Duale cautions the crocodile narratives could jeopardise the handshake spirit, fears which Orengo dismisses.
“Stop being oversensitive. If you become oversensitive in politics, then my brother (Duale) you are in the wrong business. We must tell our stories and if you have no story to tell, just keep quiet," the Siaya senator said.
However, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen believes there is common ground in the crocodile talk.
“We first must agree that there was no crocodile in the Biblical tale, and the narrative by Nasa leaders is being quoted out of context. But there is room for us to change the circumstances and cast of the Biblical tale as we know it, to satisfy our current Kenyan situation and our interests,” he said.
But, as the Bible warns, it is prudent to avoid crocodile infested waters:
“The arrow cannot make (the crocodile) flee; slingstones are treated by him as stubble” (Job 41:28).