In my long reporting job, I have had my share of equally long political reporting. This is to say, I have had the good fortune of interacting and meeting with various Kenyan parliamentarians and politicians, across the political divide, for many years. I have watched them closely enough to arrive at fairly reasonable deductions concerning their typical characteristics.
They are a special breed of people – that is to say, as politicians, they hang out together, they patronise largely the same clubs, hotels, restaurants and hideouts, where they entertain their concubines and consorts, spouses and spinsters, friends and foes, confidants and close associates, away from the prying eye of their constituents and the public in general. Oftentimes, from the glare of the public, they will occasionally let down their guard, and (unknowingly) expose their soft underbelly.
Bunched together, Kenyan politicians have a lot in common with each other, their ethnic backgrounds and political party affiliations notwithstanding. They all exhibit the same traits – avarice, entitlement, capriciousness and a huge streak of dubiousness. They treat their constituents with utter contempt, individually and in private. In public, they play the game of chance and subterfuge, all at the same time, and like a pendulum, they swing from acting as the people’s representatives to furtively reminding those same people that they are not of the same class and, therefore, a certain officious distance must be created and observed.
BENCHMARKING IN TRIPLICATE
These past few weeks, Kenyan representatives were an item of newsmakers, per se, from the different and various news outlets, even as the politicians themselves helped curate that very news. The news was that a group of MPs and senators had taken time from their “busy schedules” to go and watch the end games, including the grand finale of the World Cup, in Moscow, Russia. Some of the politicians were audacious enough to post selfies capturing their fun time in the spacious stadiums.
As expected, Kenyans were up in arms, questioning how and why the politicians were off their important public work, only to be spotted in far-off Russia, looking like they were on a summer holiday, on public money and time. How dare they? The furious Kenyans seemed to question. The politicians’ reply was prompt and swift, backed by some of their colleagues back at the Parliament: Benchmarking, benchmarking, benchmarking, in triplicate was the one and only answer.
In 2007, six months before the general election in December of the same year, I was among some MPs and some aspiring House potentates. One of the MPs, then a fairly well-regarded people’s representative, was advising the aspirants: “You must make sure you win the election (they had, more or less, been assured of their party nominations), in which way you can. The rewards are joyous and sweet and you will not regret it, not even the lots of money you will have spent winning the seat.”
TUTORING ASPIRANTS ON HOW TO EAT
The advice was coming from a seasoned politician, well versed with the working of Parliament: “Parliament is the only (working) place in Kenya where you put in the least hours and are rewarded enormously,” said the now former MP. “You will be working for just three days, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and all you need to do, oftentimes, is just make sure you have been marked as having attended a parliamentary session, then off you go to attend to your ‘more’ important business.”
The benefits of being a MP are immense, tutored the MP: “You will belong to a parliamentary committee and for every session you will be paid sitting allowances. Depending on the nature and influence of the committee, there are lots of money to be made, through these committees. Why are you coming to Parliament? Aren’t you going there to make money?” Mused aloud their MP tutor.
But the killer punch was this: “Let me tell you, there are many abroad trips to be made – all paid up with per diems to boot. And by the way, in these trips, you can bring along your side-dishes and give them a treat of their lives….” And they all laughed uproariously. These, apparently, were important lessons being imparted to up-and-coming politicians. Tutorial lessons from a politician who in the eyes of his constituents was a public servant leader, who, every Thursday evening or very early Friday morning, would ritually make the trip to his rural constituency to, in a manner of speaking, “assuage and massage the voters’ feelings,” the former MP’s very own words.
The Kenyan politician is a notorious creature primed to live large at the expense of the ignorant poor who make up their voters. The voters are divided and manipulated along ethnic lines and played against each by crafty politicians, who in the evenings, meet in the exclusive clubs to dine and wine, as they exchange notes on how they are respectively managing their constituents. If you hang around politicians long enough as I have done, you end up having a template of their curious behaviours, reactions and responses – spontaneous or calculated, which over the time just fits so well.
I always tell voters, potential voters and Kenyans in general: their representatives are not elected and selected by the military, or by the oracles: They do it themselves, according to how much they have been influenced by cash, manipulated through ethnic dogma, threatened through violence, exposing their greed and gullibility to a group of people seeking positions of power and, who are all too ready to take advantage of the hungry, poor voter and browbeat him to submission.
After the furore and hullabaloo by Kenyans over the politicians’ misadventures in Moscow, amid hard economic times with no discernible optimistic future prospects, the politicians brushed away voters’ concerns and noises, with little or no regard to their feelings. The voters, vulnerable and voiceless, were left clutching at the straws of their anger and bitterness, but truth be said, if you make your bed, you usually must lie in it?
Mr Kahura is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication. Twitter: @KahuraDauti