Order on presidential portraits is a throwback to the Kanu era

Tuesday February 9 2016

President Uhuru Kenyatta. There is absolutely no requirement, neither in the Constitution nor the laws of Kenya, for mandatory display of the presidential portrait. PHOTO | AFP

President Uhuru Kenyatta. There is absolutely no requirement, neither in the Constitution nor in the laws of Kenya for mandatory display of the presidential portrait. PHOTO | AFP 

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I don’t know who in the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government warned that traders who failed to display President Uhuru Kenyatta’s portrait in their businesses would be punished.

There is absolutely no requirement, neither in the Constitution nor the laws of Kenya, for mandatory display of the presidential portrait.

That directive is, therefore, stillborn, and, in itself, illegal and unconstitutional.

If there were any sanctions, they should be applied to the cretin who came up with such a directive, and not to any shopkeeper, barber, butcher, pub owner or any other trader who failed to display the portrait.

But then it should not be shocking that even in this day and age, an overzealous government bureaucrat should come up with such a misplaced order.

We live in the age of unparalleled sycophancy, and the Ministry of Interior has displayed a penchant for illegal directives that seem to hark back to the one-party Kanu era when leaders sought to outdo each other with displays of blind loyalty.

I suspect the illegal order was supposed to be the government response to an equally sycophantic bit of drivel from Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga, who a few days earlier had called on fellow Cord coalition governors to remove President Kenyatta’s official portrait from their offices and display opposition leader Raila Odinga’s visage instead.

Mr Rasanga, like the faceless government bureaucrat hitherto mentioned, may be desperate to catch the eye of his party boss.

Maybe he loves Mr Odinga dearly. He would be more than happy to wake up to a portrait of the Cord leader bearing down on him from the bedroom wall; and then proceed to his office and draw inspiration from the same face keeping a supervisory watch on him.

Both of the two characters would be fully within their rights to display the portraits of their beloved leaders wherever they wish.

They may, if they so wish, hang the portraits on every available wall, sleep with them, carry miniature ones in their pockets and even, Nyayo style, make lapel badges featuring the objects of their loyalty and affection.

However, they have absolutely no right to force anyone else to share their blind and mindless sycophancy.

Both President Kenyatta and opposition leader Odinga are surrounded by sycophants who are forever doing stupid things purportedly on their behalf, but manage only to open them to embarrassment and ridicule.

If Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga do not want to be seen encouraging these mindless displays, then both can send clear and direct messages to their respective bands of sycophants.

They can publicly disown some of the foolish things being done or said in their support, and upbraid those whose overzealous displays can only backfire.

The portraits nonsense is one such instance where swift rebuttals would demonstrate that the orders are not official party or government policy.

Failure to respond will indicate the seal of approval.

Leaders such as Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga should also always be careful against being drawn into events or activities unbecoming their high positions.

Take that circus the other day conducted by Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho.

Now, I have always considered Mr Joho a fairly independent type, the kind of fellow who puts his vast commercial interests above loyalty to any political causes.

But by naming a road after Fidel Odinga, the Mombasa Governor has proved he can be as sycophantic as the worst of them.

Other than being the first son of Mr Odinga, young Fidel had accomplished nothing to rate a road bearing his name by the time his life came to a tragically premature end one year ago.

I honestly don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, and Fidel may have been the apple of his father’s eye, but Mr Odinga should have politely declined when invited to grace such an undeserving cause.

Blind sycophancy, hero worship, idolisation, fanaticism and cultism around leaders contribute much to our under-development.

We will not come out of backwardness unless we reject those primitive notions and get down to the work of building a modern state.

The obsession with portraits and other symbols of the personality cult should have ended with the close of the one-party dictatorship.

Mr Gaitho is a former managing editor for special projects for the Daily Nation; [email protected] @MachariaGaitho