Friday, February 26, 2010

For me, it's personal.

In the 2008 movie 'Taken', Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative whose daughter gets kidnapped by a gang of Albanian human traffickers while holidaying in Europe. That of course turns out to be a seriously misguided move by the kidnappers, for a crazed Mills is soon on their trail and by the time he is done with them, they have to learn how to operate a human trafficking ring from the confines of hell.

The 93-minute thriller is as action-packed as they come, and I'd heartily recommend it to any thriller-movie buff. However, this post isn't intended to be a movie review. I simply mentioned 'Taken' because one line from the movie forms the gist of what I'd like to talk about.

When Mills finally has Patrice St.Clair, the leader of the trafficking ring, at gunpoint and in his mercy, St.Clair pleads for his life, asking Mills to reconsider because there was nothing personal in what he did, only business. Mills is however not in a very considerate move, and tells St.Clair "For me, it is entirely personal." before fatally shooting him in the chest. At this point, President Mwai Kibaki drowsily totters into the picture.

No, the Head of State does not have a cameo role in the movie. In fact, I'm certain that together with getting on the wrong side of Mama Lucy's temper, the last thing Emilio would ever consider in this lifetime would be a Hollywood career. It's just that he picture I'm talking about is my subject today, that is the personalization of the war against corruption, and President Kibaki happens to be an integral part of it.

On Monday, the president officially opened the fourth session of independent Kenya's tenth parliament. This came hot in the heels of a week of high political drama, in which Prime Minister Raila Odinga had succeeded in casting the president's commitment to fighting corruption into serious doubt. Evidently irked by this, the president used his parliament opening speech to warn the public in general and Raila in particular against 'politicizing and personalizing' the war against corruption.

We will discuss politicization later. For now, let us dwell on personalization.

One day last year, i made my way to the local supermarket to buy a packet of maize flour for my family's dinner. But to my surprise, the maize flour counter was emptier than a combination of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City's trophy cabinets, and this forced me to revert to the neighborhood kiosks where the price of the commodity is significantly higher.

However, the neighbourhood kiosks were also out of maize flour, and it was not until I crossed to the next neighbourhood that I found a shop with flour in stock, retailing a 2kg packet at a whooping Ksh.150. I did not have the extra Ksh. 50 and the kiosk had a big sign which said 'If you want credit, come tomorrow with your great-grandmother' over the counter. Thus that night, my family went to bed hungry.

For almost two months, my family went through hell as the country grappled with acute maize shortage. Later, I learnt that this was because high-placed personalities in the Ministry of Agriculture had colluded to fraudulently export maize from the country's strategic reserves, in what later came to be known as the Maize scandal.

So in a nutshell, I personally paid my taxes, which I'd like to think was used to pay farmers for their maize. But thanks to corruption, this maize was illegally sold abroad, and I was therefore forced to personally walk long distances and pay exorbitant fees for flour, and that was when I was lucky enough to get it. When I was unlucky, which was often, I personally had to go to bed hungry, and even more galling, witness my own family, including very young children, go to bed hungry. And someone then has the audacity to suggest that I don't personalize the war against the graft which forced me to personally go through all that?

Sorry, Mr. President. But for me, to quote Liam Neeson, it is entirely personal.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Esther, F.O.G, Hell On Raila

Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga must be seething with rage. The skin around the scar on his left temple must be stretched almost to breaking point. Because on a week that he in all fairness should have hogged all the headlines, a Jazz saxophonist and a former TV personality somehow connived to rob him of the spotlight.

Kenyans are an extremely sadistic lot. It is almost in our psychological make-up revel in scandal, and when the Prime Minister chose Valentines' day to announce that his romantic relationship with the President was headed for the rocks, he was giving us exactly what we wanted and surely must have counted on nothing less than our complete and undivided attention.

But unfortunately for him, it was round about this time that whispers of a very shady relationship between human-thesaurus-cum-jazz-saxophonist [and-apparently-also-preacher] Joseph Hellon and stunning media personality Esther Arunga left the grapevines for the headlines, and as far as sensational goes, the Premier's marital war chants might as well have been the bleating of a lost mountain goat somewhere in Bondo. We iced him out of our attention so fast, Usain Bolt would have screamed with envy.

Which was quite ironic, considering that while the PM was evidently playing for the headlines, the last thing Hellon and [especially] Esther would have wanted was to be a topic of nationwide discussion. So while the PM's lieutenants kept giving interview after interview to the press in a bid to keep him in the limelight, Esther and Hellon called a press conference and told all and sundry to keep the hell out of their private lives.

And this begs the question; should we stay the hell out of these two good people's private lives?

In my opinion, I think we shouldn't stay the hell out of their private lives. In fact, I believe we should hound them to the very gates of hell if that will keep them on the straight and narrow.

From my perspective, Esther gave up her right to enjoy the privacy of any nondescript citizen the moment she picked up a news script and allowed her lascivious figure to be beamed into our living rooms. The same goes for Hellon, who ceased to be a private citizen and became a public figure from the very first time he sat down in front of a paying public and  played his saxophone.

As public figures, a lot is expected of our celebrities. These are the people our children would like to emulate when they grow up, and not scrutinizing what they get up to when the cameras are not on them is tantamount to criminal negligence. We let Tiger Woods have his privacy, and seventeen marital infidelities later, we now know what a horribly bad idea that was.

Esther won a CHAT [Chaguo la Teeniez] award a couple of years ago, which means a large number of young people think she is cool. Hellon's classy demeanor and mastery of the English language during his stint as a teacher of TPF3 left a lot of young people mesmerized and won him a host of fans . Therefore, it isn't beyond the scope of anyone's imagination to assume that these two people's theatrics, be it the distance between their respective beds when they sleep at night or the bizarre aspects of their spirituality, is likely to influence a lot of young people who look up to them and may want to copy them.

The Finger Of God church, which Hellon apparently heads, may or may not be a cult. However, we have the right to ask questions, and not only for the sake of our impressionable younger generation. We also have the right to ask questions because you don't just pluck a TV anchor that half of the male TV-watching population of Kenya would like to sleep with from our TV screens and expect us not to ask questions. And when you convince the said TV anchor to dump her fiancee and distances herself from her family in the process, we will not hesitate to ask even more questions, such as what kind of psychological hold you really have on her.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You gotta love them, our politicians!

A few months ago, some very enterprising Mheshimiwa sold our entire maize stock to his relatives in Southern Sudan, forgetting that in its milled form, Maize is Kenya's national staple. Due to this, the supply of maize in the country was quickly outstripped by demand, and as is wont to happen in such  circumstances, the price of maizemeal was soon scaling heights that even Yelena Isinbanyeva would have needed steroids to clear.

A hungry nation is an angry nation, and having just recently come out of butchering each other simply because we were angry we did not have a Prime Minister, it was clear that playing with our food was the quickest way to a violent revolution since Marie Antoinette said "Let them eat cake." Governments hate revolutions, and ours quickly moved to remedy the situation by importing maize from outside.

For a while, everything was OK, until PriceWaterhouseCoopers did an audit of the excercise and discovered that true Kenyan style, a few billion shillings had somehow managed to affix itself to the real price of the maize that had been imported. Quite a few prominent names were mentioned and suddenly, Kenyans were very interested. Corrupt government officials were about to be exposed!

Our euphoria, however, was to be short-lived because in a master-stroke to end all master-strokes, the implicated Waheshimiwa pulled a fast one of us.

You see, just like Maize is Kenya's de-facto national staple, politics happens to be Kenya's de-facto national pastime. We can never get enough of politics, and being aware of this, the implicated Waheshimiwa knew that the surest way to deflect our attention from matters pertaining to the shady importation of maize was to give us something political to talk about instead. So out of absolutely nowhere, they manufactured a political crisis.

First, the Prime Minister called a press conference and fired ministers he had no authority to fire. Stunned, we were still taking it all in when a statement from the President's office clarified the obvious. We still hadn't understood what the hell all that was about when the Prime Minister screamed blue murder and declared a dispute between him and the President. While we were still getting our heads around the realization that kumbe disputes have to be declared before they are actually disputes when the Prime Minister went two better and called Annan while pulling his troops out of Cabinet, or rather, Cabinet meetings. [The two are mutually exclusive, apparently.]

Then having turned us completely on our heads, the Prime Minister packed his bags and left for the Far East to tell the Japanese what a politically stable and corruption-free investment destination Kenya is.

Behind him, he left a thoroughly punch-drunk and confused nation wondering what the hell had just happened. All the talk was now on the provisions of the National Accord, whether the PM has the right to suspend ministers and what exactly a 50-50 power-sharing deal was all about.

Any talk of maize, of course, was now completely forgotten.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Three little words.

In 1996, Prince Charles famously gave up his royal reputation, public affection and the most stunning female since Marilyn Monroe- all for the love of a woman.

But that, cataclysmic as it was, doesn't even hold a candle to his great uncle. sixty years earlier, King Edward VIII went on air to tell the British people that if a mere throne stood between him and the woman he loved, then they could take this exalted piece of furniture and shove it up their prudish behinds.

Hard as it may be to believe, these two royal idiots aren't exactly in isolated company. Men have been known throughout history to do some pretty absurd and even desperate things to prove their amorous inclination to the objects of their affection.

But in a paradox of sorts, you will find it much easier to coax some semblance of scruple out of a Kenyan politician than you will trying to get a man to utter those three little words that are the true spirit of Valentine. A man will readily show you that he has feelings for you in about a thousand ways, but if you are waiting for him to say it out loud, then stock on the food and the blankets. You have a long wait ahead of you.

There are two main reasons behind this strange mix of circumstances. The first one is chauvnism, plain and simple. No man deserving of the male title will ever give up his authority and accept to be subordinated in a relationship. In a manner of speaking, we prefer to hold all our cards in a relationship game, and an audible expression of affection to the female is tantamount to ceding part of you to her authority and therefore out of the question.

Basically, what this means is that the heart in a man can completely surrender to a woman, but the man in the heart will never allow him to say it out loud.

The second reason is psychological.Each one of us is unique. We all have an inner being which defines the way we think and the way we behave, which builds our characters and subsequently determines our destiny. Now this part which which defines us, is something we take very seriously. Things which profoundly affect it are the kind we don't go about voicing to every tom Dick and Harry.

And they don't come more profound than love, so we will find it very hard to voice it out loud. A man will find it really easy to say those words when he doesn't mean it,or when he is voicing it in the platonic sense, because then he won't be giving up a part of himself. 

But when it comes to the real thing, I'm afraid these two situations make it, forgive the pun, a little easier done than said

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tennis and gender rights.

I find tennis a really fascinating sport. But I'm also acquainted with the logical import behind that saying about one person's culinary delight causing another person numerous painful trips to the restroom, so for the benefit of that section of the public which finds tennis as interesting as your local councilor’s life history, I won't talk about match sets, double faults, deuces and hawk eye technology.

However, there is something about the Masters that leaves me heartily displeased, and I would like to voice this displeasure. And my point of origin shall be the just concluded Australian Open, which  had two obviosities;

[OK. According to MS spell-check, the word 'obviosities' doesn't exist. But since I was never under any obligation whatsoever to use words that actually exist to express myself, you can go ahead and sue me if you so wish. Otherwise, let's proceed.]

As I was saying,  the just concluded Australian Open had two obviosities. One, Roger Federer was always going to win the men singles title. Nadal is the only competition King Fed has had in a while, but Nadal is not yet back to 100% fitness after returning from a long injury layoff, and to beat Federer, even 100% is often not enough. And two, the younger of  Oracene Williams' daughters was always going to pulverize whatever opposition she would face in  the ladies final.

Both Federer and Oracene's last born took home an equal US$1.5 million prize money. And obviously, I am of the opinion that this is the most disgracefully unfair thing since Prince Edward was forced to choose between his throne and his love.

In the Gospels, there is a parable about a wealthy farmer who needed labor for a huge task that needed to be done on his field. So one morning, he made his way to the market square where young jobless men always idled from dawn to dusk. "Kazi kwa vijana." He said in the local dialect, and within a few minutes, he had hired himself some laborers.

But the labor he had hired wasn't sufficient for the task he wanted done, so at noon, he walked back to the market square where more idle young men had replaced the ones he had hired. "Kazi kwa vijana." He bellowed again, and in no time flat, he had himself an extra labor force.

However, even this doubled labor effort wasn't enough to finish the job. So in the late afternoon, the farmer made a third trip to the market square and for the third time that day, unemployment figures in that locality recorded a decrease.

This time the workforce was at par with the labor demand, and by the end of the day, the work in the fields was done, after which all the young men lined up outside the farmer's house to receive their pay.

While paying them, the farmer started with the group he had hired last, and they each received an equivalent of Ksh.250/- in the local currency, which was the set daily rate for the Kazi Kwa Vijana labor initiative. Upon seeing this, the ones who had started work earlier thought they would receive more money because they had worked longer, but to their utter horror, they also got the base Ksh. 250/- equivalent.

Naturally, these men who had been hired in the morning and at noon complained, but the farmer stood his ground. They knew the KKV terms when he hired them, and regardless of how much labor they had put in, he was under no obligation whatsoever to pay them more or the others less.

There is a spiritual lesson to be gathered somewhere in this parable, and I'm sure finding this lesson and applying it in life would earn any of my readers a point or two with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. But to be honest, spiritual considerations are quite frankly unnecessary in our present discussion, which is about fairness in the remuneration dealings at the Grand Slam tennis championships.

For starters, a vast majority of the revenue that pours into these championships is thanks more to the Nadals and the Federers than the Sharapovas and the Mauresmos. The Williams siblings are an exception, but considering the number of black players of either sex to have ever won a grand slam can be counted against two fingers of one hand, I dare anyone to challenge my assertion that their novelty is not due to their sex, but their race.

From a purely tennis perspective, it is even more grossly unfair. In all tournaments, men play more matches than women, their matches last longer because they play more sets, (Five in the Australian Open to women's three,) and generally, men's matches tend to be less lopsided because the incidence of matched talent in their pairings is always higher than in female pairings.

So with all this, does it really make sense to pay both these evidently unequal levels of effort equally? Of course it seems perfectly all right for the feminists and gender rights campaigners, but since when have such people ever offered any logical explanation to their actions and rhetoric?