Thursday, July 25, 2013

Protocol theatre of the macabre.

Our obsession with the creature comforts of men and women who can afford them without troubling the Exchequer give rise to absurd situations. Take for instance Kethi Kilonzo's brief and ill-fated foray into the murky and mud-splattered political. Regardless of what her ardent supporters say, it is quite evident that her explanations for why she remained unregistered did not persuade less emotional observers of the facts. But it is when she claimed that her registration was completed in the same registration register that President Kibaki completed and that this particular register, according to the IEBC, had been "lost" that the theatre of the absurd veers off into the farcical or macabre, depending on where your conscience directs your thoughts.

When Mwai Kibaki marked half a century in the sharp-elbowed world of Kenyan politics, the newspapers were at pains to remind Kenyans that the President had represented Othaya Constituency since 1974. If the law was applied "without fear or favour" as the Commissioners of the IEBC swore to do, Mr Kibaki should have completed his registration in Othaya at a polling station of his choice. Instead, the IEBC went to great expense for the pomp and circumstance of having His Excellence the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defense Forces to be the First Voter of Kenya by opening a "special" register for the President, moving his polling station for the purposes of voting to the precincts of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (Starehe Constituency) in Nairobi, and promptly closing the register after the farcical exercise. Then Kethi Kilonzo came along claiming that she too had been registered alongside the President. The IEBC had two choices: produce the Kibaki register and disprove Kethi Kilonzo's assertions or, as it turned out, claim that it had been "lost."

We need not bother with the absurdity of the Kethi Kilonzo/IEBC drama at this instance; rather it is the absurdity of treating VIPs and, in Kenyan parlance, VVIPs as if they were Titans of old who had challenged the ancient Greek gods on Mt Olympus. Before the late Mutula Kilonzo entered elective politics, he built a legal practice that remains the envy of many. He amassed great wealth, and power, by representing the well-connected and the politically powerful in Kenya. We may quibble about the choices he made while in private practice; but none doubts that it is his intelligence and legal-eagleness that brought him the wealth and recognition that he enjoyed till his death. But beyond that, especially when he served as Minister, Mutula Kilonzo went out of his way to play down the power he wielded. He surprised many of his interlocutors with his apparent humility. It might have been politically calculated, but his humility when in power endeared him to millions of Kenyans, not the least the tens of thousands who elected him Makueni Senator.

In contrast to his humility is the fawning brown-nosing of senior civil servants, especially those obsessed with "protocol." It is protocol that led to the erstwhile Prime Minister to bitch about "nusu mkeka;" it is protocol that compelled the idiots in the IEBC who set it up to ensure that President Mwai Kibaki would be registered in his own register. If they hadn't fiddled with the law in order to make the President feel even more special, they would never have faced the accusations of unfairness when they declared before the Supreme Court that the law, as written, was wrong and that the IEBC's "register" was a moving target that changed shape and volume as the IEBC deemed fit.

Protocol sometimes leads to absurd situations that should not arise in civilised society. Frequent visitors of public buildings will be confronted with the phenomenon of the "VIP Lift" (why a VVIP one is yet to be installed remains a protocol mystery that may never be solved.) But every now and then, a building (such as Sheria House) enjoys such a high volume of human traffic that it is near impossible to retain one lift for the exclusive use of the babus of the Government of Kenya. In such instances, the babu and his (or her) minions must share the same lift, which almost never happens because the askaris have been sensitised that the moment they see the babu's chauffeur-driven Passat (for the lucky ones) or Avensis (for those nearing the top), they are to call for the lift from wherever it may have stopped or, if it is already on the ground floor, to eject every single of the babu's minions that may have entertained ideas of riding in the same lift as their boss.

In Kenya it is not enough to recognise the special place a nabob occupies just by awarding them a really fat cheque at the end of each working month, we also infuse him with god-like powers to make those who serve under them live lives of abject humiliation. Whereas the nabob has a private loo for his sometimes irregular bowel movements, his minions have to make do with ill-lit smelly boxes that may or may not have ventilation or running water. While the nabob has at a minimum three secretaries, their minions require remedial computer-training; not even a copy-typist is available to set their documents in the "official" font. Whereas the nabob need not identify himself to the askaris at the door, his minions must go through the daily humiliating ritual of proving their identity and the privacy-invading search of their private bags when they depart after a frustrating day at the work-wheel.While the nabob may even end up with two desk-top computers, three massive printers, a laptop and an iPad, his minions share pre-Windows-XP computers, their printers are frequently out of toner or paper, and procurement of their facilities lasts three years or longer. But minions, of which the Commissioners of the IEBC increasingly resemble when in the presence of mandarins from the Presidency, still fawn and ass-kiss as if their very lives depend on it. If it is not macabre, what is it then?

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