The bitter exchange between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Governor Josephat Nanok during the launch of a drought mitigation plan in Turkana has made headlines across different platforms. The governor raised a number of issues on the allocation of resources to the county, suggesting that they have received less than what the national government claimed.
Most importantly, he raised concern about plans to amend the Petroleum Exploration and Production Bill, reducing the share benefit for local communities from 10 per cent oil share benefit, as earlier proposed, to five per cent.
A visibly agitated President responded ferociously to the governor for insinuating that he had a personal interest in the Turkana oil. So upset was he that he seemed to be willing to forego political support from the region during the forthcoming election. He accused the governor of failing to deliver on development for his people despite the more than Sh40 billion the county had received from the National Treasury, adding that Turkana was a shameful example of poor service delivery.
The pundits have been at it all week long analysing the exchange, giving rise to the hashtag #UhuruvsNanok. It seems that the main concern has been an assessment of the leadership quotient of the two leaders. It appears that Uhuru’s leadership has been found wanting while Nanok, who is seen as fighting for his people’s rights, is celebrated.
Analysis is heavy on the emotion while little has been said about the substance of the debate. As a national leader and symbol of national unity, we are told, Uhuru should not be so angry in public. Some have gone further to suggest that his handlers failed him. Absurd.
Not too long ago, President Kenyatta was subjected to a humiliating attack by Ali Hassan Joho, the Governor for Mombasa, at a public gathering at the Coast. The President, who was obviously taken by surprise by the attack, appeared to struggle with a comeback to Joho. When he spoke, he did not say anything memorable.
His response to Nanok, however, signals a man who will not take anything lying down. It is perhaps reasonable, as some have argued, that the President should have been more presidential in his speech, sticking to the facts rather than making an emotional response to the governor.
But I find this argument wanting for several reasons. First, we are attempting to depoliticise the presidency, which we seem to forget, rather conveniently, is the highest political office in the land. A political challenge, even to the President, deserves a political response, especially in an election season.
I find the attempt to dehumanise the President, by suggesting that he should be devoid of emotion in executing his role, somewhat crazy. He’s a human being like us all. Expecting him to sit like a lifeless object in the face of a political attack is delusional.
Secondly, the suggestion that it was President Kenyatta’s handlers that failed him demonstrates lazy analysis driven by the misguided view that he cannot do anything for himself. Surely, we can reasonably expect that a man who has won the presidency can think for himself and judge whether he should respond to an attack and, if so, how. If you’re going to blame someone for anything, blame the man.
We have seen these kind of arguments before. In fact, most recently, some people have blamed former President Kibaki’s handlers for his speech at Governor Nderitu Gachagua’s funeral in Nyeri that left many dumbfounded.
Finally, the selectivity displayed in the analysis of the Turkana incident is baffling. The analysts appear to suggest there are some people who are allowed to be angry and others are not; even implying that there is a certain, proper way of expressing anger. I doubt there can be nothing more ridiculous than the idea that some people are allowed to attack others without forceful rebuttals from the targets of their attack.
Whether I agree with the President’s language or not, I will not be the one to judge him. For a man who has to withstand tremendous criticism for his job, I’ll cut him some slack for being angry in the face of personal attacks by other leaders.