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Our differences are narrower than we’ve always thought

Sunday June 19 2016

From left to right: MPs Kimani Ngunjiri, Moses Kuria, Ferdinand Waititu, Timothy Bosire, Junet Mohammed, and Johnston Muthama when they appeared before Milimani court on June 14, 2016 after they were arrested over alleged hate speech and incitement to violence. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

From left to right: MPs Kimani Ngunjiri, Moses Kuria, Ferdinand Waititu, Timothy Bosire, Junet Mohammed, and Johnston Muthama when they appeared before Milimani court on June 14, 2016 after they were arrested over alleged hate speech and incitement to violence. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

MOSES KURIA
By MOSES KURIA
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Three critical lessons and one fear that Pangani Cell 4 has instilled in me, but bottom line is you are a loser if you preoccupy yourself with hate.

The last one week has been one of the most riveting in the recent political history of our country. A week ago today, I made some comments which I truly and genuinely believe were largely misinterpreted and twisted by our latest and by far largest, yet uncontrolled media house — social media.

Whilst I believe the gist of what I said was largely lost in the most pathetic translation from Kikuyu language, the “take home” lesson from this difficult week is far from that.

The conditions at Pangani Police Station where I was held for four days with my five colleagues may not be your pick choice for a holiday destination, but the bigger pain that I now face is how we have managed to consistently lose endless opportunities to talk to each other as a nation. I feel that as a people we have allowed otherwise manageable issues to build up and blossom into full grown crises.

I recall with delight intense debates we had in the dingy cell at Pangani. Whereas our distinguished female colleagues Florence Mutua (Busia) and Aisha Jumwa (Kilifi) were held at Muthaiga, the “Pangani Six” occupied a 50-50 cell. Senator Johnstone Muthama (Machakos), Timothy Bosire (Kitutu Masaba) and Junet Mohammed (Suna East) represented the Cord coalition while Ferdinand Waititu (Kabete), Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati) and myself flew the Jubilee flag inside Cell 4 at Pangani.

As soon as we were ushered into the cell, we quickly drafted some quick ground rules. We agreed that no matter what we would remain in that cell as a joint team where there would be neither Cord nor Jubilee. We appointed Mr Muthama our team leader deputised by myself.

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We instructed our legal teams to merge and apply to the court to approach the case as a single unit under the able leadership of Senator James Orengo and Mr John Khaminwa. We confronted all challenges as a team. When the Cord leadership visited, we insisted that either they see all of us — and inside our dehumanising cell — or see no one.

When the officer refused to grant the Cord principals the clearance to visit our cell, we jointly stood our ground and refused to be seen in a show case office away from the stench of urine and hardness of a cold floor. To be fair to the officers, they at least gave us their phones to talk to the principals.

I talked to Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka and Mr Raila Odinga on phone. Mr Odinga requested if I could join him for a lunch of fish once we are released. I accepted the invitation though with a minor condition — that he assures me that my favourite vegetable Osuga will be in plenty, which he committed himself to do. I will hold him to his word.

Herein lies the first lesson from Pangani.

What is the point of you hating or fighting with the next guy because he supports Moses Kuria or Raila Odinga whereas they can easily fix a fish and Osuga lunch on phone? Before you insult Otieno Jasuba on Facebook or Twitter, before you stone Kamau wa Makonia or burn his kiosk, just picture in your mind how sumptuous the fish and Osuga would be.

The second take-away from Pangani is the dire and urgent need to reform and improve the facilities inside our prisons and detention centres. We have tasked Mr Bosire to draft a Bill to have mandatory minimum facilities in our cells and prisons.

Inside Pangani, Mr Mohammed came up with a formula for having the second shoe to visit the dangerously unhealthy toilets. He negotiated a common right shoe to be allowed in to be used as a “pool shoe” which he named “Shoe Number 10”.

Obviously, as you know by now, we were only allowed one shoe which also doubled up as a pillow case. Curiously we all chose to have the right shoe and until Junet invented “Shoe Number 10” no-one had a left one. All politicians reason the same!

But the lifetime achievement award for innovation, by unanimous decision of all the six judges at Pangani went to Mr Muthama. Tired of Karate fights every night with stubborn mosquitoes, my good friend from Machakos came up with a formula for converting a Nakumatt shopping bag into a mosquito net. Other Kenyans go through these hardships daily but there is nothing they can do about it.

NOBEL PRIZE INNOVATIONS

Luckily as legislators we have the power to ensure the next occupant of Cell 4 at Pangani does not need to come up with the Nobel Prize innovations like Junet and Muthama.

The third lesson is on the need to bring down the walls of mistrust and mutual suspicions that now define the relationship between Cord and Jubilee. Specifically on the IEBC issue and electoral reform in general, we discovered that Cord’s main fear is that a parliamentary process is a snare by Jubilee to use parliamentary strength to get our way by all means.

After many hours of debate and a meal of ugali and plain cabbage in between, we were able to convince them that this is not the case.
On the other hand, Jubilee MPs were convinced that Cord wants to negotiate outside Parliament so that they can introduce hidden agendas on the table, principally power sharing and introduction of a parliamentary system of government.

The Cord team made a powerful presentation where they debunked these claims and managed to convince us otherwise. At the end of the second plenary session in that cell, we agreed to support a hybrid structure of negotiations where we use parliamentary structures but involve as many Kenyans as possible in the electoral reform process while keeping away all other extraneous matters.

It is instructive to note that Mr Muthama and Junet were in the proposed Cord negotiation team while I was chosen in the Jubilee select committee line-up
Finally, the one single worry that I left Pangani with is the delicate interplay between democracy and ethnicity. We need as a nation to agree to confront this issue.

When we fought for multiparty democracy, we wanted the person who garners the highest number of votes in a free and fair election to take the mantle of leading our nation. Yet until our democracy outgrows the ethnic pattern of voting, successive elections will continue to produce results that will create not very pleasant feelings among sections of Kenyans. It is a debate we need to entertain as Kenyans.

We opted for multiparty democracy but are we ready to live with and accept its unpleasant consequences?

When life gives you lemons, make the best lemonade out of it. We as the “Pangani Six” have discovered that when we as Kenyans talk to each other, our problems are not insurmountable and our differences are much narrower than we imagine.

The writer is MP for Gatundu South [email protected]

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