NAIROBI, KENYA: Condescending, fawning and embarrassing – in the extreme. That was Central Organisation of Trade Union (Cotu) Secretary General, Francis Atwoli. The occasion was Labour Day, on Wednesday. Someone must urgently tell Mr Atwoli that there is such a thing as decorum of office and sense of occasion.
There are things you just don’t do. It’s worse if you do them in front of the Head of State at a public event. It does not matter how gifted you may be with overflow of adrenaline. You could almost hear the thoughts of the assembled dignitaries as they stared at Mr Atwoli in utter disbelief, “What is wrong with this gentleman?” Yet I have often wondered whether there could be occasions when the gentleman tag does not hold. If we should behold someone passing warm water on Kenyatta Avenue at midday, for example, would it be in order to say, “Hey, look! What is that gentleman doing?”
I don’t know. However, I know that style matters. Image is the king. Atwoli’s public relations people score badly when they don’t prepare him to comport himself with some level of decorum and sense of balance. You don’t address the President as if you are talking to some naked boy in your village. You don’t say to him in public things like, “I will show you how to do that, Your Excellency. You know there is a backdoor to your house. We shall use your backdoor! Eh, you are from God! And you are young!”
Then there was the matter of Mr Boniface Mwangi, who got a thorough beating for trying to disrupt Atwoli’s address. Mwangi’s own sense of judgment is pathetic. You don’t disrupt a presidential function. Yet, I don’t know about the wisdom in Atwoli urging on his goons in that drama, right before the Head of State and saying things like, “Let them not joke with me. I have my military which will sort them out.” Such is disrespect at its most successful.
In the end, the substance of the weighty things that Atwoli had to say was drowned in his disastrous style. He needs help, this man. He needs to keep his address short and focused, his style polished and dignified. He needs to learn how to organise and hold his papers, to try and tame his flow of adrenalin. Above all Atwoli must learn to demonstrate that he respects his fellow dignitaries, even if he does not respect anybody else. The starting point is self-respect. If you do not respect yourself, you cannot start respecting anybody else. Ultimately, however, the challenge does not rest with Atwoli. It rests with Cotu and with the authorities that allow him to brazenly have a private army.
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Something else, Atwoli’s handlers ought to know that their Secretary General belongs to a special category of people who easily comprise a national assembly of eminent persons. They ought to show him the wisdom of not getting tangled in a matter like MPs’ salaries too early in the day. For, when nothing else works, we would usually turn to such eminent persons. Their keepers must, therefore, protect the dignity of such persons and that of their offices.
For their part, the MPs have finally defied everybody. They have factored their contentious undesirable wage into the budget. Here we go. Lack of decorum, honour and dignity again. Yet who can really cast the first stone? Aren’t we just one huge community of freeloaders? Aren’t we indolent lovers of money we have not worked for? A majority of the MPs were elected after buying the voters. That’s a fact. Where do you expect these people to get the money they dish out to the electorate?
The MP is a mobile cash dispenser. Another fact. Everywhere people see him or her, they rush to them expecting freebies. Another fact. Yes, these fellows are greedy. But such is Kenya. You follow them everywhere they go, the way flies and canines follow a small boy who has messed up himself in brand new manure. Youth, old men and women alike hang around Parliament, each with a catalogue of demands. Back in the Constituency, the man is a prisoner in his own home. He cannot even have a decent cup of tea at peace in his own house. Both downtrodden and dignified beggars overwhelm in his own home. They follow him allover the compound and in the house. If he has no washroom in the house, he cannot even peacefully respond to the call of nature in the pit latrine in his compound. His followers wait for him right outside the door, shamelessly listening to the entire goings on in the little chamber. When he steps out, eventually, they don’t even allow him to wash his hands before descending upon him with handshakes and outpourings of their problems.
To be an elected leader in this country is just about the most thankless job it could ever be anybody’s misfortune to be in. If we cannot tame our greed, we should drop the hypocrisy of screaming at the Members of the National Assembly. Very few can stand up to them on matters of tame appetite and common decency.
And Atwoli has a point, as indeed do the MPs. A specific Act of Parliament regulates their salaries. The Constitution anticipated repealing of the Act – by the MPs! This has not happened. So, how does a gazette notice override the Act of Parliament?
Let the greedy public have its say and the avaricious MPs their way. In the end, we are all the same. Maybe, when this brouhaha is over, we can turn to the things President Uhuru has been talking about – moving the nation towards excellence and competitiveness. It is taking us far too long to begin moving. The putting together of Government is itself taking forever, the merits notwithstanding.
We are looking forward, some of us; to the day the President will place the promissory notes behind him and start talking of what we are doing. Let the antics end and the work begin.