The last one week has been one of the most riveting in the recent political history of our country. A week ago today, I made some comments which I genuinely believe were largely misinterpreted and twisted by the large, yet uncontrolled social media. While I believe the gist of what I said was lost in the pathetic translation from Kikuyu language, the ‘take home’ lesson from this difficult week is far from that.
The conditions at Pangani Police Station where I was held for days with my five other colleagues may not be your pick choice for a holiday destination, but the bigger pain that I now face is how we have managed to consistently lose endless opportunities to talk to each other as a nation. I feel that as a people, we have allowed otherwise manageable issues to build up and blossom into full grown ‘crisis’.
I recall, with delight, intense debates we had in a dingy police cell at Pangani. While our distinguished lady colleagues Florence Mutua (Busia) and Aisha Jumwa (Kilifi) were held at Muthaiga, the ‘Pangani Six’ was a 50-50 shared cell with Senator Johnstone Muthama (Machakos), Timothy Bosire (Kitutu Masaba) and Junet Mohammed (Suna East) representing CORD and Ferdinand Waititu (Kabete), Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati) and myself flying the Jubilee flag inside Cell 4 at Pangani.
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Immediately we found ourselves in that cell, we quickly drafted some ground rules. We agreed that no matter what, we would remain in that cell as a joint team where there would neither be CORD nor Jubilee. We appointed Senator Muthama as our team leader, deputised by myself. We instructed our legal teams to merge and apply to the court to approach the case as a single unit under the able leadership of Senator James Orengo and John Khaminwa. We confronted all challenges as a team.
When the CORD leadership visited us, we insisted that either they see all of us - and inside our dehumanising cell - or no one. When the officer refused to grant the principals the clearance to visit our cell, we stood our grounds and refused to be seen in an office away from the stench of urine and hardness of cold floor.
To be fair to the officers, they at least gave us their phones to talk to the CORD principals. I talked to Governor Ali Hassan Joho, Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga on phone. Raila requested that I join him for a meal of fish once released. I accepted with a minor condition - that he assures me my favourite vegetable ‘osuga’ will be in plenty, which he committed himself to. I will hold him to his word.
Herein lies the first lesson from Pangani. What is the point of you hating or fighting with the next guy because he supports Kuria or Raila whereas they can easily fix a fish and osuga lunch on phone? Before you insult Otieno Jasuba on Facebook or Twitter, before you stone Kamau Wa Makonia or burn his kiosk, just picture in your mind how sumptuous the fish and osuga will be.
The second take-away from Pangani is the dire and urgent need to reform and improve facilities inside our prisons and detention centres. We have tasked Bosire to draft a Bill to have mandatory minimum facilities in our cells and prisons. Inside Pangani, Junet came up with a formula for having the second shoe to visit the dangerously unhealthy toilets. He negotiated a common right shoe to be allowed in to be used as a ‘pool shoe’ which he named ‘Shoe Number 10’. Obviously, as you know, we were only allowed one shoe which also doubled up as a pillow case.
Curiously, we all chose to have the right shoe. Until Junet invented Shoe Number 10, no one had a left shoe. All politicians reason the same. But the lifetime achievement award for innovation, by unanimous decision of all the ‘six judges’ at Pangani went to Senator Muthama. Tired of Karate fights every night with stubborn mosquitoes, my good friend from Machakos came up with a formula for converting a Nakumatt shopping bag into a mosquito net.
Other Kenyans go through all these hardships daily but there is nothing they can do about it. Luckily as legislators, we have the power to ensure the next occupant of Cell 4 at Pangani does not need to come up with Nobel prize innovations like Junet and Muthama.
The third lesson is on the need to bring down walls of mistrust and mutual suspicions that now define the relationship between CORD and Jubilee. Specifically on the IEBC issue and electoral reform in general, we discovered that CORD’s main fear is that a parliamentary process is a snare by Jubilee to use parliamentary strength to get our way by all means.
After many hours of debate and a meal of ugali and plain cabbage in between, we convinced them that this is not the case. On the other hand, Jubilee MPs were convinced that CORD wants to negotiate outside Parliament so that they can introduce hidden agendas into the table - principally power sharing and introduction of a parliamentary system of government.
The CORD team made a poweful presentation where they debunked these claims and managed to convince us otherwise.
At the end of the second plenary session in that Pangani cell, we agreed to support a hybrid structure of negotiations where we use parliamentary structures but involve as many Kenyans as possible in the electoral reform process while keeping away all other extraneous agenda. It is instructive to note that Senator Muthama and Junet were in the proposed CORD negotiation team while I was in the Jubilee Select Committee line-up.
Finally, the one single worry that I left Pangani with is the delicate interplay between democracy and ethnicity. We need to confront this issue. When we fought for multiparty democracy, we wanted the person who garners the highest number of votes in a free and fair election to take the mantle of our nation. Yet until our democracy outgrows the ethnic pattern of voting, successive elections will continue to produce results that will create not pleasant feelings among sections of Kenyans. It is a debate we must entertain as Kenyans. We opted for multiparty democracy but are we ready to live with and accept its unpleasant consequences?
When life gives you lemons, make the best lemonade out of it. We as the Pangani Six have discovered that when we as Kenyans talk to each other, our problems and differences are narrower than we imagine.