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Politicians' art of persuasion, and the missed opportunities in teachers reaping from strike

By Peter Kimani | September 25th 2015

I’m writing this with a tinge of nostalgia, when Mexican soaps would be interrupted – usually in the dark of night – by a presidential address, and a familiar, heavy baritone would declare: “I have only one wife...”

Wifely matters can be riveting, especially when they weigh heavily against the functions of the State, so Kenyans sat to rapt attention pondering how many in our midst had the luxury of counting the women within their connections.

Wife acquisition, after all, is not an everyday event, unless of course one is King Mswati, who is bankrolled by the Swazi government to do just that. Budgetary allocations anticipate such eventualities.

So when Prezzo UK interrupted our Sunday evening, I rather hoped he would be offering tantalising details about the number of women within his connections – if at all there were – and give out their names and other personal details.

Instead, Prezzo opted to take us down the road that was all too familiar: that the Government has no money to spare to pay the teachers the enhanced pay, and if it did, it would go broke, blah blah blah.

Prezzo instantly lost my attention, and I looked in the direction of the young man of the house and his friend, the young generation whose future our Prezzo was discussing.

The two were gorging themselves on food, and once they were done, even before they could wipe their hands clean, descended on computer games available on phones and iPads. The digital generation, too, had no interest in their digital Prezzo.

So it was with a sense of amusement that I waited for Wednesday, when the Opposition descended on Uhuru Park.

None of them, of course, remembered that there was an important thing happening around the revered Freedom Corner, which Wangari Maathai, among others, helped secure in the 1990s. This week marks the fourth anniversary since Wangari’s death in 2011.

But since our politicians belong to paper parties, which means they are used and discarded like supermarket bags, none of the politicians was imbued by any sense of history.

History, in this case, applies not just in remembering the past, but conjuring lessons from yesterday that continue to shape today.

It’s only yesterday that politicians canvassed for more pay, and they did it with such menace, even the pigs hurled in Parliament refused to stay on. Our politicians’ greed had evidently put them to shame.

So when the opposition politicians descended on Uhuru Park on Wednesday with the promise to ensure the teachers were paid, all they could marshal were desultory sums – which some perceptive Kenyans helpfully reminded could afford to procure only one wheelbarrow for Bungoma County.

But the clincher was that all the politicians walked away with pledges to do more next Tuesday, when they intend to stake out outside Prezzo’s office until the teachers are paid.

Still, some did hold the attention of the young man of the house: he remembered a certain lollipop-eating man bearing a bag.

“Wait till the end,” he warned. “He is going to throw the bag away.”

The man in question was the Embakasi South MP Irshad Sumra, and while he could afford the luxury of lollipops in these hard times, his idea of solidarity with the teachers wasn’t very well thought through.

Why, it feeds to the notion that teachers feed once a week, every Tuesday, or even that they can only care for the sweet things of life.

Which raises the question: Would politicians have been this casual if it was their money that had been withheld?

Given the fujo that they displayed when demanding more money – which they negotiated and implemented for themselves, without any reference to a court ruling – it is too grave to even contemplate what could have happened if the boot was on the other foot.

They possibly could have held the pigs hurled in Parliament at ransom and threatened to skin them alive until all their dues are paid. That’s the lesson they should have extended to teachers.

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