Before I start
This is an intensely personal article.
For some time I have wrestled with whether to post such a patently political post on this blog. I have done so before, in August 2006 and December 2008, writing on tribalism and on what Obama’s chances would have been in Kenya. I am first a Christian and only later a Kenyan. There are those who would say that a Christian should sit down and keep quiet about the evils going on in his/her country. Secondly, from what I have read about the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, from my study of church history and from personal conviction, I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be the greatest force for social change in any community. For this reason it is highly unlikely that I will ever seek political office. It is not my place.
On the other hand, it is also hypocritical of me to pretend to be apolitical for the sake of appearances when in fact this is not the case. Further, some of the greatest crusaders for social justice that this world has ever known have been Christians. I am reminded of William Wilberforce, a man whose conversion led to a lifelong crusade against slavery. I am reminded of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., who used his gifts for rhetoric to further the cause for racial equity in a racially-divided nation. It begins to seem to me that my silence would be an exacerbation of the problem. Our gifts are not given to us for nothing. If something I say, or something I write, can lead to the alleviation of a few of the many, many evils facing the nation of Kenya, then I ought to do it.
Along the way it is possible that I may make enemies. But I am determined that if somebody decides to be my enemy he/she will have to be very determined to remain so. On the other hand I must do my best to remain intractable as far as right, justice and progress for all the people of this nation are concerned. If this causes enmity, it is an enmity I must endure.
For these reasons I am now going on public record to back a Presidential candidate.
In enumerating the candidate’s actions, I am not going to go by anything he has told me, or by anything I have read. I would like to use the personal experiences of myself and others who have talked to me about him, as I feel this is more authentic.
The name Peter Kenneth began to mean more to me at a personal level in late 2009, when through sheer happenstance I had lunch with a colleague who happened to be a member of his CDF committee. This gentleman displayed such a depth of knowledge about the problems facing his constituency that I was astounded. We were specifically discussing how they were using CDF funds to improve education in Gatanga Constituency. The gentleman pointed out that Standard 7 boys were being hired to harvest fruit on farms at KES 100 or 200 (USD 1.20/2.40) per day. As a result these boys were skipping school – KES 100 is a small fortune for a child that age, living in Gatanga. That’s chips and a sausage every day, with some left over! So this gentleman was pointing out that it would be pointless to build classrooms at that stage, only for them to be empty. He said the first thing that needed to be sorted out was awareness as to why school was important, and making children aware that they were sacrificing long-term benefits for extremely short-term gains. This in-depth knowledge of the problems facing the constituents of Gatanga impressed me.
Some time later I spoke to a taxi driver who had worked on a USAID-funded program to assess the utilization of funds that had been spent by the Agency on education in several constituencies. He let me know that it took him and the person he was with around 1 week to cover 96 schools in Gatanga constituency. Skeptical, I have called him to confirm this (that is an astonishing rate of 19 schools per day) and he is adamant that they visited at least 16 schools per day. It took the same driver 3 weeks to cover the same number of schools in neighbouring Gatundu South, although it is a smaller constituency. Folks, I implore you not to take this as a mudslinging affair, but rather as an attempt to convey the honest opinion of a taxi driver. The fact is, this is not about the demigods and demagogues that have so far run this country. Rather, it’s about the taxi drivers, the vegetable stall owners and the shoe-polishers that make this country run. Their health, their wives’ health, and the education of and opportunities for their children matter above all else.
Lastly, I also spoke to yet another colleague who had worked in the Bermuda/Cayman Islands and had come home to settle down. He comes from the neighbouring Kandara constituency (again no mudslinging is intended here, friends). He informed me that at night he can tell where his constituency ends and where Peter Kenneth’s Gatanga constituency starts, because electricity (and therefore lighting) only goes up to the border of Gatanga and no further.
When you join Peter Kenneth’s Facebook page (if you join the right one!), you get weekly articles from him. I used that email address to repeatedly urge him to unite with (what I believed to be) other progressives like Professor James ole Kiyiapi and perhaps Mutava Musyimi and form one progressive ticket. I told him in no uncertain terms that politics in Kenya is tribal and to think he would make it on his own is to guarantee failure. I wrote to him several times without a response but one day he actually responded.
I wrote back:
He wrote back:
I was amazed that he could be so free with his phone number, and I wrote back telling him it was an honour to get it and that I appreciated the gesture. I was on assignment in Malawi at the time; so I told him that I’d call him when I got back. One day amidst my errands I tried to call the number (not very hopefully). His phone was off so I purposed to call later.
Wonder of wonders, I was sitting in a noisy Citi Hoppa coming from Eastlands, when a Presidential candidate dialled my number! This was epochal for me. He apologized for not being able to take my call, explaining that he’d been participating in a marathon and that as a result his phone had been switched off. We had a good long chat. He told me that he is not going to form any coalitions with anybody as this will (1) dilute his message and (2) compromise his ability to effect change due to the vested interests of those he would form coalitions with. He said he has a committee that is doing a (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) SWOT analysis on him and finding out his weaknesses in order to identify a complimentary running mate. I began to think that if this man could run a CDF Committee as well as I have just explained, and if he could have another committee actually working on identifying his weaknesses in order to identify a running mate, then it was possible that this nation could benefit from seeing him in charge of a Cabinet.
One thing that is a big pointer to the kind of man Peter Kenneth is, is that he has always paid his taxes. This criterion alone would eliminate most candidates at a stroke. Even those who have now paid taxes since this became an issue only did so as a PR exercise. It was not something they have consistently been doing, and in fact since that time a law has been passed for MPs’ taxes to be paid by the taxpayer (these kinds of absurdities we can do without!). As someone who has also had to make the same (extremely difficult) decision about whether to declare income (fully, correctly) and whether to pay my taxes (to a particularly corrupt, inept and inefficient Government), I salute Peter Kenneth for this, if nothing else. For me this decision was painful enough that I can remember exactly where I was when I made it. I was on or approaching that walkway outside Posta Sacco towers on University Way in Nairobi when I said in my heart, “Ok, God, because You said ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ I will pay my taxes, in obedience to You.” Speaking personally I only did it because of my faith; I cannot for the life of me tell how Mr Kenneth arrived at this same conclusion and level of integrity.
Among the things I asked Peter Kenneth was a rather difficult, touchy question about his links with Dr. Sally Kosgei, the current Minister for Agriculture. I believe that if someone puts himself forward to be a leader, he should be willing both to be asked and to answer these types of questions. So I asked him point-blank about allegations I had heard that he was at one time Sally Kosgei’s boy toy, and that this is how he obtained the Managing Director job at Kenya ReInsurance.
Peter Kenneth did not insult me. He did not call me names. He did not say I lacked respect for my elders, or dodge the matter by stating that my question was “not pertinent in the larger context”, even though to some extent this is true. He (1) actually replied to me and (2) told me that “even if I was (and I am not saying I was) if after 16 years people are talking about one woman, that is a very good record”. Frankly that he replied my question at all shows what the man is made of. We have tried asking other candidates rather more germane questions regarding their candidatures and/or past conduct and mostly what we get is a stony silence or a tongue-lashing from either them and/or their followers that does not answer the question. That to me does not represent being accountable to the public.
Because of his achievements (which I did not hear from him, but from people on the ground), because of his accessibility to me, a common citizen, and because of his honest accountability, I consider Peter Kenneth to be the most viable candidate for President in the next general election. It is foolhardy to support most politicians, and perhaps some scepticism still persists among the people. But assuming he remains consistent in his message, continues to prove that he is untainted (I am more than willing to ask him any question on this matter and I can relay his response), and maintains a forward-thinking outlook, I intend to vote for him.
I wish every citizen of this nation was able to write 1,400 honest, heartfelt words about their preferred Presidential candidate. Or even 200 words. But honest words. Heartfelt words. Objective words. Un-tribal words.
This nation would be a better place, if we could.
And we can.
All comments – including dissenting views! – are welcome.