Monday, July 17, 2017

Nancy Baraza was an anomaly

I once was on attachment in the Government of Western Australia in the Department of the Attorney-General. The experience was eye-opening. The man I worked for was the Parliamentary Counsel of Western Australia, that is, he was responsible for the drafting of laws for the whole WA government. Without his say-so, on many matters, a bill proceeded to debate or died a still-birth. To my mind, he possessed great power, both administratively and politically, and this was reflected in the respect he commanded among the members of the elected government, including his boss, the Attorney-General.

Working for him was one cultural shock incident after another. First, he didn't have a driver-bodyguard or a preferred parking spot in the office garage. Second, he didn't have a personal secretary and receptionist; his entire department operated with one receptionist -- and one tea-lady. Third, so far as I could tell, everyone called him by his first name -- Walter -- even the tea-lady, whom we all feared because she was the one who decided whether or not you got Tim-Tams with your morning tea. Fourth, he didn't stand on ceremony; if you wanted to see him, you called his desk and checked if he was free -- if he was, you simply walked over.

If you have worked for a Kenyan senior mandarin, you will understand why my WA experience left me all shook. The higher you climb the administrative greasy pole, the more people you drag into your comet-like tail: drivers, bodyguards, secretaries, receptionists, "personal" assistants, and the like. You also seem to be the only one who seems to have an "official" tea-lady; your underlings enter into inform arrangements with clerks' assistants to perform tea-making duties (for which a small stipend is set aside from "petty cash"). The only ones allowed to call you by your first name are your peers -- witness the awkward first name handwritten on official correspondence in the the salutations. If any of your underlings even contemplated doing so, you would most likely exile them to the bureaucratic hinterlands -- the "confidential" registry, say -- where they will not be a disruptive influence on the other minions. 

Pomp and circumstance are the reason why you wanted that top job in the first place. From the moment your chauffeur-driven Peugeot 508 is spotted -- or Prado VX -- minions start an automatic ritual: the APs at the main gate swing open the gate and salute as you glide by behind blacked-out windows; the private security person at reception has already called for your lift, pushed open the glass doors and saluted as you entered the building and jumped into your lift to your top-floor office-suite. There, your receptionist, secretaries and personal assistants relieve your bodyguard of your jacket and briefcase as they await your commands.

Even though my WA sojourn was brief, it never occurred to me that the Attorney-General would raise a ruckus at the Perth airport because of how she was treated by the security staff. In Kenya, it comes as no surprise that someone has lost her job because she disrespected a member of the Cabinet. Her sin was in not knowing people. Her sin was in presuming that members of the Kenyan Cabinet are ever likely to be considered security risks while the reality is that, even in the secure confines of public airports, they are at heightened risk from the flying public. 

You never know who among them is trained in martial arts and has been sent by the waziri's enemies, of whom there are legion. If you don't understand the dangers facing the waziri, refuse to accommodate his obvious impatience taking the dangers he face into account, you can ask for all the millions you think are available in vain. Nancy Baraza was an anomaly. She was a woman, she was in the wrong arm of government and she did not have a powerful constituency backing her up. Her ouster did not establish a new rule. Kenya's Magufuli will not be taken down by an uppity airport askari. No way, no how.

No comments: