Sick Jubilee crumbling and taking with it young careers

In the spirit of honesty in these columns, I wondered in 2016 about the wisdom of folding several political parties into one Jubilee Party. I thought it was bad for multiparty democracy. I remained fascinated by the thought of a million flowers blossoming in the multiplicity of political parties.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator, Kipchumba Murkomen, was not happy. I was “meddling in Jubilee affairs,” he said. He took to Twitter. I was told that I belonged elsewhere. I should shut up.

Besides, I was “an old man.” A new class of dynamic youth was taking over. A few nondescript words were thrown in. I told the now growing cyber army that I did “not wish to bandy words with children.” For, when the future senator was being born in December 1979, I was an undergraduate at the University of Nairobi. The decorum in my days in school did not allow me to do some things – such as needless insolence.

Regardless of all that, I am saddened by what is happening to Senators Murkomen and Susan Kihika; to Deputy President William Ruto and to Jubilee which is now “the sick man of Kenya.” And the sick man of Kenya is crumbling. People are being hustled out of an institution they have given everything. They will probably buy some other party, get into new alliances and move on.

This is, however, not good for societies trying to build strong democratic institutions. Democracy is nurtured in robust political parties, managed by reliable and visionary leaders. If this was one of the agendas in Jubilee, it has already miscarried. What remains is finding suitable burial grounds.

Before shutting up in 2016, I suggested that Murkomen and I would someday review the overflow of excitement in Jubilee. He was advised to go easy. True to his words, he was a young man. He would see many more wonders ahead. Above all, he was counselled to respect age, for only a few people are privileged to get into old age, and to sample the fruits and challenges.

When elders speak, they talk of what they have seen and lived. It is true that age has robbed us of our youth. Yet – we now know – the alphabet of life does not change. We know this because of what we have seen. In my country, I recall where I was when the messenger broke the news that Mboya was dead. I recall the day one newspaper reported that JM Kariuki was in Zambia on a business trip. A few days later, his mutilated body was found in the forest. I remember the herdsman called Ole Tunda, he who stumbled into JM’s body in Ngong forest.

In August 1982, I carefully made my way over bodies in the streets of Nairobi. My national identity card was on my lips, my bags in the hands. A final year university student, I had had a close shave with the coup makers of 1982. These are things Murkomen has only read about, as well as what led to them. Alternatively he has heard about them.

I recall the fall of Charles Njonjo, the rise and fall of the “kneel before me” Vice President, Dr Karanja, the death of Bishop Alex Muge, the murder of Robert Ouko . . . and many more things in this world. As the biblical Nicodemus was told (in John 3:10), “We speak of what we know and what we have seen. But our testimony is not believed.”

Murkomen is only a metaphor for visibly restless and loud youthful politicians. They scorn the wisdom of age. When they should be soaring up on wings like eagles, they instead get weary. They stumble. They fall. But Murkomen has not fallen. He is still falling. He could still pick himself up and bounce back. It depends on the lessons he has taken.

As the writer of this piece, I am myself the secretary general of a political party. I have sometimes asked myself what I am doing in this space. For it is space full of disgrace, treachery and decay. There is little dignity here. The moment you get here, your value drops. You are disrespected both within the fraternity and outside.

However, I am the eternal romantic idealist. Like great scholars before me – Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Kissinger, for example – I have come into this space in the hope of making some difference.

I have found out, though, that it is difficult. The environment swallows up the finest of us. We surrender our conscience in return for the trappings of the good life. The man within us dies, like Soyinka says. Our leaders become gods, and others religions. When we should be their respectful and faithful counsellors, we become idolaters and attack dogs – fending off wisdom. In the end, we fall with them.

It was Woodrow Wilson who said, “If a dog will not come to you after having looked at your face, you should go home and examine your conscience.” Even dogs will refuse to come to most of us. Woodrow also famously remarked, “I not only use the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” And the Kikuyu people say, “Muugi ni mutaare.” This is to say, “He is wise, he who has received wise counsel.”

Only the person swimming against the tide knows its strength. Accordingly, only Murkomen knows the strength of the Jubilee tide he is swimming against. Regardless, all youthful politicians will want to remember never to scorn age. For age is wisdom, and wisdom nothing but accumulated experience. As old wine thrives best in new vessels, the old must flow into the new. Today it’s Murkomen, tomorrow someone else.

- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser.