Opposition leader Raila Odinga is one of those Kenyan politicians who cannot resist the temptation to inject political speeches into funerals.
The exploitation of funerals for politics is a culture that justifiably grew in its time and space. There was a time when the one-party Kanu dictatorships of presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi denied legitimate voices of dissent all avenues of free expression.
The pioneering campaigners for freedom and democracy, such as Raila’s father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, found that funerals provided convenient platforms.
In some parts of the country where repression was at its meanest, funerals became about the only platforms for political expression. A culture that developed because of the exigencies of the day has unfortunately stuck to the present. Politicians continue to exploit captive audiences at funeral gatherings.
Often what they say will be of no redeeming value, but is base politicking in pursuit of self-interest and often takes little consideration that some cultures frown on debasing funerals with extraneous issues.
Such was the political speechifying that Mr Odinga introduced into the funeral of Maasai chieftain William ole Ntimama. I found it rather distasteful, and more so Mr Odinga’s now typical penchant to reveal before a funeral gathering what he claims the departed had confided in him shortly before his death. The deceased, of course, cannot corroborate such claims.
But even if there was something disagreeable about Mr Odinga’s spiel, it was not him, but President Uhuru Kenyatta, who came out stinking.
The President’s unguarded reaction was a Freudian slip that has remained the talking point since. The unfortunate comment that has since gone viral was “kumeza mate sio kula nyama … endeleeni kumeza mate, lakini nyama tutakula (swallowing saliva is not the same as eating meat… keep on salivating but we will continue eating)”.
If that comment comes to define President Kenyatta, it reveals a decadent leadership still stuck in kleptocratic tendencies where pursuit of political office is not about service, but about eating.
French Queen Marie-Antoinette came to be defined by the callous “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche (Let them eat cake)” comment on being informed that peasants were rioting for lack of bread, although there is no record of this phrase ever having been said by her.
President Kenyatta might well have authored his “let them eat cake” moment with those thoughtless “nyama tutakula” remarks. The amazing thing is that instead of seeing just how damaging those remarks could be, the President’s mindless cheering squads are celebrating because they think it a great put-down.
They think it is brilliant to point out that Jubilee supporters are at the feeding trough while Mr Odinga’s opposition Cord supporters are reduced to looking on hungrily from the outside.
NYAMA CHOMA REMARKS
At the rival political rallies in Nairobi over the weekend, Cord leaders were going hammer and tongs at President Kenyatta over the nyama remarks, while Jubilee politicians such as National Assembly Majority Leader thought it fit to boast that “We are at State House eating meat”.
In a country where a sizeable population has trouble getting one square meal a day and decent shelter, education and medical care, it is heartless for those given leadership positions to boast of how much they are eating, to the exclusion of everybody else.
One would have to be brain-dead not to see that the culture of eating binges defines not just the benefits of being on the winning side, but a retarded and primitive approach to leadership.
Political competition in Kenya has long been defined by the “it’s our turn to eat” mind-set, which also became the title of Michela Wrong’s book on former anti-corruption chief John Githongo.
In essence, we are being told that “Our Turn to Eat” is the guiding philosophy of the Jubilee regime of President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
Kenyans remember only too well how the Kanu kleptocracy of President Moi destroyed the country with its slash-and-burn economics, where those in leadership were not content to pick the fruits, but uprooted the entire tree and moved on to the next one.
Stunts like going for a nyama choma feast at the appropriately-named Kenyatta Market may impress the faithful but do not address the real issue: It is not merely about eating meat, it is about the licence to loot public resources.
Let us never forget that those doing the eating are engorging themselves, not on what is theirs, but on what they steal from the people they rule. God forbid that Kenya is taken down that route again.
[email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho