Why Sakaja's tears matter to majority poor

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja weeps during a visit to Roysambu Primary School.

American preacher Billy Graham gave many pithy sermons on the symbolism of tears. He believed tears shed for self are a sign of weakness, but those shed for others show sacrifice.

For Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets, who spent 20 years researching why and when people cry, shedding tears signifies utter helplessness. It is a silent yet powerful language. Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja comes into mind. On Tuesday, he wept in front of President William Ruto during a visit to Roysambu Primary School.

No, it wasn’t about the degree saga. Sakaja was perturbed by poor state of public schools. Most lack basic infrastructure and ‘successive governments have done bad things to children.’

The governor did not stop there. He told Ruto to his face that ‘these children deserve what your children and mine have.’ The president was pensive, and the audience seemed awestruck!

Sakaja’s administration is building kitchens to support a Sh800 million school feeding initiative called ‘Dishi na County’. The idea has attracted partners who pay Sh15 while the county meets Sh25 needed for a child to enjoy a meal a day. Some 1.4 million children are benefiting. As at January, conservative State data put the number of children out of school due to hunger and thirst at 3.5 million in half the counties. Children have borne the brunt. Nairobi is hard hit by the high cost of living that has thrown millions closer to the poverty line.

Sakaja’s was not the old sob story we see with political cons who use raw onion to tear up in search of votes. He was making a point that children deserve equal treatment before our systems. It was a stark reminder of January 2016 when Barack Obama cried over gun violence in the US.

For all its good intentions, the ambitious feeding plan should work beyond Nairobi’s 205 public primary schools. It should spread to cover the 3,000 non-formal schools across slums. Since children are the country’s future, it shouldn’t matter if feeding them isn’t a devolved function. The benefits far outweigh the rhetoric around budget red tape.

As Ruto correctly said, other counties should copy-paste Sakaja’s feeding idea. If more leaders would honestly shed a tear for our ailing health sector, unemployment, stalled police reforms, messy transport sector, insecurity, graft and the high cost of living then seek creative solutions, we would go the Singapore way.

In my view, the city governor is debunking a notorious myth – that most politicians, especially youthful ones, will vex but not fix. His resolve to fix this age-old problem of children dropping out of school due to hunger is something to write home about.

As Sakaja fights to make life worthwhile for children, there are many officials who only tout power. Their plum jobs have spurred them into bashing the media not knowing it’s a zero-some game. That the media will outlive them goes without saying. Ruto’s administration has set its agenda and least needs merchants of hate and divisive talk.

I haven’t seen the former TNA chairman gloat over nothing. Sakaja doesn’t fight with imaginary detractors. Instead, he builds bridges. At the height of Azimio-led mass protests, guns were trained on him for calling for inclusion and dialogue.

You can take this to the bank. Kenyans will find value in the city governor. This is because the man detests political sideshows. He doesn’t trivialise his office and has no post-election hangover blues. The former senator does his job at City Hall as if there’s no tomorrow.

The tragedy is that many politicians are blinded by the all-pervading big man syndrome. They are disconnected from the realities of what the so-called hustlers face in the wake of hard economic realities. The school feeding drive should lead to better education outcomes.

-The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter: @markoloo