Elections in Kenya: The season of slaps, women and panties

Defence CS Eugene Wamalwa. [File, Standard]

A slap might be nothing until it’s executed by a politician. And the hot the better, especially when it didn’t happen. ​

And them slaps, if history is believed, have been around for a long time. 

As captured in former President Daniel Arap Moi’s biography, Moi: The Making of An African Statesman, the second president of the republic was a two-time victim of a slap while serving as vice president.

The late president’s humiliation came from James Erastus Mungai, then powerful Police Commandant in charge of the Rift Valley Province and Moi’s junior by a mile.

Moi’s boss, the irrepressible Jomo Kenyatta aka Burning Spear, wasn’t just slapped. A petty criminal known as Kariuki Chotara lunged at him with a dagger in prison at Kapenguria. Fellow detainee Paul Ngei is said to have wrestled Chotara to the ground, an act, it said, that he exploited to the maximum when Jomo became President. 

“Have you forgotten it is m,e who saved your life?” he would say whenever summoned by the President for one mischief or other.

In recent years, former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero’s ringing slap across then Nairobi woman representative Racheal Shebesh’s face on national television stunned the nation. The two settled the matter out of court, saving Kidero a date with the magistrate for assault. Shebesh later revealed that he paid her a significant sum of money in the tune of millions as compensation.

Slaps shouldn’t really be big news in a society as violent as ours. As you read this, a teacher is smacking the daylights out of a student somewhere, never mind that corporal punishment is illegal in schools. A wife, or husband, is getting one across the face, cops are slapping someone or each other while men and women are slapping each other for one reason or the other. Who gives a damn?

Slaps don’t make news, but in political spaces, they warrant breaking news, and massive tweets and retweets.

For more than a week now, political competitors of the Kenya Kwanza presidential aspirant and Deputy President William Ruto have called to question his character tagging him the status of ‘a violent man’ following a leaked audio in which Ruto said he would have slapped President Uhuru Kenyatta for wanting to concede following the nullification of the 2017 presidential election results.

In his defence and in a classic political fashion, the DP stated that his utterances were just figurative language and should not be interpreted directly.

“Even If I forced him, is there any problem? Was it not because he is my friend? Allow me to ask, when Maraga nullified the elections and ordered that we should go for a repeat, did you want him to drop his bid? Would you have allowed him to leave us in the dark after all we did to ensure he wins the seat?” posed Ruto when responding to the leaked audio.

Responding to his estranged deputy, President Uhuru agreed that he was ready to leave office following the Supreme Court judgement that nullified the election, claiming that it made no sense to hold on to power when the lives of people are at stake.

“It gets to a point where I said that these positions of power are not more important than human life. You cannot take a stand and say that even if people die I will not budge,” said President Uhuru.

A week after the leaked audio surfaced, Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa weighed in on the matter on Sunday claiming that Ruto wanted to slap him back in 2018 but with the rider that, unlike President Uhuru who would have turned the other cheek, he would have defended himself.

Ruto ambiguously responded to Defence CS Eugene Wamalwa by indirectly calling him a woman, a thing that women activists online have found distasteful.

“In our community, we do not slap women, we respect them,” said Ruto during campaigns in Trans Nzoia County.

“Ruto says ati huko kwao hawachapi kofi wanawake, in this case referring to Eugene Wamalwa. Why is it that when some men want to insult their fellow men, they call them women or compare them to women? Is being a woman a curse or a terrible thing? Is it a sign of weakness?” tweeted Pauline Njoroge, an influential social media political commentator.

Slaps are not just the preserve of men though.

Former First Lady, the feisty Lucy Kibaki is said to have slapped a senior State House official in 2007 when he mistakenly introduced her as Wambui, a woman who was rumoured to be Kibaki’s second wife.

“Before he could finish, the First Lady rose from her seat at the dais, walked to him and slapped him on the face,” newspapers reported.

Former MP Gitobu Imanyara also claimed to have been slapped by the First Lady, a matter he reported to the Njuri Ncheke, the Ameru Supreme Council of Elders, who fined Kibaki a goat.

Unlike President Uhuru, Imanyara claims not to have have turned the other cheek.