Falling standards of Kiswahili are to blame for the poor translation of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s put-down of Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho when the head of State went to relaunch the Mtongwe ferry.
Journalists missed the fact that the President’s lungs were full of the humid Mombasa air, free from upcountry influences, when he publicly denied being the governor’s bibi – he proper Kiswahili meaning for this word is “grandmother”, which is what he meant in declining to perform the traditional roles of a granny. Hinterland types who struggle with Kiswahili are wont to mistranslate bibi as wife, and instead refer to grannies as nyanya, which really is a ripe old tomato.
Since men in same-sex marriages refer to one another as "husband" and women in similar situations are wife to each other, there is no way the President could have meant that the governor was mistaking him for a spouse in tailing him and having a riposte to his every statement.
Anyway, it is a non-issue in Kenya. The idea of the President being Governor Joho’s wife is clearly untenable – because he would need to be seen and not heard; he would need to agree to be harassed, harangued, intimidated and mocked – for that is the lot of wives in Kenya. Heck, after the recent legislation on polygamy, he might even be an unthinkable second, third or – God forbid – fourth wife.
Evidently, Governor Joho has significant granny issues, going by his desire to tag onto the President’s coattails every time the latter is at Kenya’s coast for a spot of sand and sunshine. Mr Joho has been weaned on Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s riddles – the stuff in the repertoire of oral literature so beloved of grandmothers. People addicted to various forms of oral literature, including riddles and proverbs, myths and legends, as well as songs and oral poetry, expect the President to be their grandmother. They expect him to regale them with tall tales about Fumo Liyongo, myths on historical land injustices and sing empty songs and perform lewd dances, occasionally riddling about football matches.
The downside of this literary dependency is that around grandmothers, children tend to lose their manners, become spoilt, speak unguardedly and lose all sense of responsibility.
Let it be known that the President has no time for these childish pastimes. He will not mollycoddle grown bearded men who want to play word games with the figures of billions of shillings allocated to the County Government of Mombasa. He has no time to massage egos with pet names like Sultan.
Maybe Governor Joho needs a hug, too. Not happening; not happening, people.
American writer Sam Levenson once said that the reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy. Well, newsflash: there is none of that patience, generosity, unconditional love, empathy, and healthy detachment coming from State House.
The job of President is to nyorosha people, that is to straighten them out in case they are bent, curved or otherwise lacking in manners, political orientation or general refinement. When you are President, you post a bureaucrat to such a spoilt person’s backyard to watch him. You comb their houses for toy guns and confiscate them. You begin to systemically arrest suspected drug dealers in their backyards and put the fear of God in their stomach by giving loud warnings of the fire next time. Heck, you throw a ring of steel around such people and detain them in their offices until you are good and ready to leave town. You put them firmly in their place.
It’s called tough love, and it works without fail.