Okiya Omtatah and Kwame Owino have some things in common. They are bold. They are discerning. They are thorough researchers.
They make their arguments calmly and firmly. They love the truth. Their intellect is not forced – it just flows. Just when the system was set to dominate the housing levy conversation, these two voices emerged and have taken government spokespeople by surprise.
The government debaters struggle to find counterpunches and rejoinders - their minds stumble, their lips fumble and their arguments tumble. No sooner had they assured their boss “We got this!” than it was laid bare that they have everything else but got it. The Kwame-Omtatah punch has floored and they know it.
Courage scares politicians. Kwame engages fearlessly yet still respectfully. Such boldness unsettles the politicians who think of themselves as the apex of power and everyone else should take their place beneath them. It is one thing when those in power confront their fellow legislators with fists and kicks but another altogether when confronted by their voters. A voter confrontation scares them to the core. Jeers and boos give them sleepless nights.
Truth scares them too. One thing a typical politician can protect at whatever cost is their popularity. When truth threatens popularity, politicians get restless at the thought of being known for who they truly are. Most public leaders have a lot to hide. When we hear a president ask for breathing space from an activist Senator, the senator is – as they say in golf – one up.
Even the highest office in the land is conscious of its gaps and the more concealed they are the better. But truth does not know how to keep its distance – it always catches up! There are some people in this country who subscribe to the Omtatah-Kwame school - hating lies with all their hearts. Scriptures license the hating of what is evil. It is in loathing evil with all our heats that we make room for loving God with all our hearts. Haters of evil are haters of the deceiver. To manipulate people takes engaging hypocrisy consultancy services from the one to who lies is a native tongue.
Some leaders were known for award-winning professionalism until they joined politics. They are now loud and wrong. They even became liars. Pre-politics they were admirably witty. But since politics they have turned unrecognizably deceptive and unnecessarily forceful. It is as if one of the demands of entering the political space is to leave your intellect in the cloakroom.
You need not to have been in jail to have a bad record. In Kenya, it is common that the true criminals are never caught. They roam free. The word “scandal” has lost its shock factor. Just like ugali is a staple food, “scandal” - known or unknown - is the politician’s room temperature.
When people do not trust their government it means they do not feel safe. Sometimes this mistrust even means that the people perceive the government as a threat to them. In other areas of life – like family – trust is a factor in the living or dying of a marriage.
In a business transaction, trust determines one's credibility. Mistrust kills. Lack of trust builds up doubt which may eventually lead to a winding up. Mistrust not only brings down businesses and homes but also governments. People fear government cannibalization – where government tastes the blood of its people and develops an appetite for their money.
A government can carry loads of talent and boast the best manifesto but the absence of trust becomes its weakest link. People who mistrust governments are informed by their experience. And surely, one of the ways to win the trust of the people is not by asking them for more money! Wisdom says that the restoration of public trust should follow another route that does not include walking on the already existing wound.
If a government has a history of unfaithfulness, it should not blame the people or punish them for doubting government. People who have been lied to over and over no longer listen to what politicians say. Their commentaries have evolved to what is not being said. Even after the loftiest of speeches, Kenyans are asking “Where is the lie?”
They go past the screen saver and attempt to hack the servers in pursuit of truth. Some administrations even take the restoration of public trust as the key goal for their full political season. People do not want a government that lies to them. Kenyans who live in the dark yearn for light. Not necessary that the light may light the darkness but just that they know it exists in case they need it!
One of the errors politicians make is dismissing the intellectual perspective of the masses and granting all Kenyans a stated low IQ. Mwananchi’s is labelled gullible. A few sentences spoken in a dramatic voice are assumed to just do it. On the contrary, government thinkers rate themselves very highly – many light-years from the masses!
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This self-baptism and assumption of intellectual prowess creates an intended chasm between the people and the system. This chasm is the basis of the common statement “We will go around the country educating Kenyans.” The state’s assumption in the said “going round” is that Kenyans have nothing to teach the government. This does not mean that the engagement is a monologue but that little is expected from the people. Going to the people is not an open-minded process.
It is rather fulfilling the law to pave way for what is already pre-decided. But a rich corruption history long poisoned the minds of Kenyans who upon hearing “educating” replace it quickly with “duping!” The assumption that Kenyans are a dull lot is over. Seasons of deception have quickened Kenyans to embrace enlightenment. Dullness is now not a mwananchi issue but a system condition.
The lag of government in adjusting itself to a questioning population is costing it highly. Government officers are finding themselves more and more in a heated corner when people oppose what the government is doing, case in point is the housing levy.
Now that President Ruto takes a Socratic approach to dialogue, someone should put him with his passion, Kwame with his logic and facts and Omtatah with his law in one conversation table. This Ruto-Omtatah –Kwame derby would be a master class with a standing ovation for all!