I often fall into the illicit pleasure of savouring words put together in great elegance, even if it is often at the expense of some poor soul who happens to lend himself/herself to cruel satire that may or may not be entirely deserved.
For instance, the other day Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta used his constitutional muscle to shake up his Cabinet in what got Kenyan commentators to see a grand plan to clip the wings of would be 2022 succession contestants and their supporters.
In one case, a Nairobi daily carried this gem of a blurb on its front page: “Fuelled by an outsize ambition, courting political martyrdom, to fire career into orbit, weighed down by a very poor record of achievement in public office, (so-and-so) stuck out his neck and the President obliged and fed him to the locusts.”
I just loved this. It contained several accusations against the man who was shown the door, including inordinate ambition and a poor service record while in office, which are the common currency of most of our politicians whose desire to rise and rise is usually inversely proportional to their intellectual acuity and/or their intention to be of any service to those who they claim to serve.
So, I would be the last person to shed a tear when one of them bites the dust, for whatever reason. Still I do not understand the reason locusts are brought into the equation, unless there is a suggestion that President Kenyatta has turned Kenyan locusts into meat eaters.
Ordinarily, these insects are a vegetarian species which, when they invade, leave entire landscapes denuded of all vegetation. In fact, the food chain points in the opposite direction. It is humans who eat locusts, and Kenyan authorities have urged Kenyans to eat the destructive insects otherwise the latter will leave them hungry.
Maybe the scribe who wrote that blurb is not a keen entomologist, or scientific knowledge was sacrificed on the altar of a beautiful turn of phrase.
Nairobi colleagues are good at that kind of coinage. You will likely remember one professor who gave us “the tyranny of numbers” a few years ago? He was spot on, and his prediction worked like clockwork. Until, that is, it stopped working and other tyrannies came into play.
In the new era of ‘building bridges’, the tyranny of numbers may have been overthrown by the treachery of appetites, if not by the villainy of incongruity. One may also want to consider, in the particular context of Kenya’s recent history, the weightiness of memory.
When politicians whet their desires to ‘eat’ to such an extent that everything else becomes secondary, they are likely to step on each others’ toes more often than it is in their best interests to do so.
There is, evidently, a desire among a number of some of the leading political principals to chart out a modus vivendi by which all the competing interests and aspirations will be moderated.
The ethnic calculus on which that ‘tyranny’ was predicated may not cut much ice any longer; new pulls and pushes may be crystallising, even as we watch.
The Kenyan middle class will probably mean much more in terms of belonging than the backward ethnic straight jackets of days gone by, and the capitalists will lay greater store by how much money can be made and how much wealth created than by the spirits of the tribal ancestors.
Eventually, it is to be hoped that the contests will be informed by the philosophical underpinnings of the political formations, between those who strive for greater social justice and the others who are glued to the class privileges they inherited from their parents.
In between those two you may count as many other strands as the rainbow has colours.
This is true to Kenya as it is to Uganda and Tanzania, but Kenya has the advantage of having travelled the road of political conversations that the other two have not had the courage, or luck, to embark on.
As much as 2007 and 2008 was a truly excruciating experience, it may have had some cathartic value to help the more enlightened citizens to know how to care for the next person without necessarily knowing their tribal totems.
This way those who come from areas where locusts are a delicacy will teach the virtues of these otherwise destructive insects as culinary delights to be enjoyed by all Kenyans. Bon appétit!
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]