Monday, September 15, 2014

Shoe petitions and civilisation.

Dr Makodingo Washington is offended by Boniface Mwangi's assertion that shoe petitions have any place in Kenya's politics. The good pharmacist is offended that hecklers, shoe-throwers and rabble-rousers "attended" a rally at which the Head of State presided over a Global Fund programme to distribute treated mosquito nets in conjunction with the Government of Migori County. The indefatigable civil society bruiser, however, sees nothing wrong in the 'downtrodden" masses taking each and every opportunity they can find to make their feelings manifestly known to the man whom they blame for the sorry state of their lives.

Both may be right; equally, both may be wrong. Both their positions hinge on whether Kenya is indeed a civilised democracy. During the furore over the deaths of dozens for Kenya from adulterated alcoholic beverages, the word "civilised" was also bandied about, with the consensus being that those who chose to drink in "those filthy surroundings" and who were poisoned by their suppliers of the hooch were definitely not civilised and those that chose to drink bottled, Kenya Bureau of Standards-inspected alcoholic beverages in properly licensed pubs were.

I do not believe that Kenyans are a civilised people. Not yet. Not even with the increasingly large number of billionaires and millionaires, and the thousands upon thousands of men and women who go on to complete formal education all the way to the graduate and post-graduate levels. In civilised society, where the rules are obeyed by all, whether they are statutes or social rules of conduct, the ones who breach the rules are known and shamed. They are not rewarded. They are not celebrated. They are not respected. They are shunned. The people of Migori who hurled missiles and epithets at the President reflected our degree of civilisation. The reminded us that it is pretty damn low.

It might be a Gatundu thing but few remember that it is the President, when he was a mere Member of Parliament, who first referred to his opponent's foreskin in public. It has now become the preferred epithet of the President's choice as member of Gatundu South, the man elected unopposed because it is believed the President prevailed on all other contenders to step aside for him. Even in the heat of political combat, where the ordinary rules of the political game are sometimes suspended, it takes a particular crass character to use a cultural shibboleth as a political stiletto against ones opponent. In discerning whether or not we are civilised, that allusion to foreskins says it all about our degree of civilisation.

Omingo Magara, the head honcho of the People's Democratic Party, under which the Governor of Migori was elected, argues that it is un-African for "hosts" to attack their guests in the manner that the Migori hecklers did. Surely Mr Magara must know that visits among chiefs are not simply arranged over a weekend. The ground work is laid over a period of weeks, sometimes even months. Emissaries visit with the most influential villagers and agree to terms. The senior chief's visit is a choreographed affair, even if he is an unwelcome guest. The preservation of "face" is the ultimate sign of our Africanness. Whether Mr Magara wishes to admit it or not, the President's visit to Migori was ill-planned and he has none to blame but himself and his minders.

Kenya is undergoing tremendous change amidst great polarisation. Regardless of the rosy declarations by the World Economic Forum or the Bretton Woods Institutions, there is despondency abroad in the land. The President is the symbol of national unity but his choices do not seem to reflect that constitutional description. He has certainly united his friends behind him. He also seems to have solidified the opposition's animus against his rule. His public service appointments, whether they are merited or not, will not civlise us; they will only guarantee that shoe-throwing incidents become more common, and the dignity of his office is lowered.

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