I often fall into the illicit pleasure of savouring words put together in great elegance, even if it is often at the expense of some poor soul who happens to lend himself/herself to cruel satire that may or may not be entirely deserved.
For instance, the other day Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta used his constitutional muscle to shake up his Cabinet in what got Kenyan commentators to see a grand plan to clip the wings of would be 2022 succession contestants and their supporters.
In one case, a Nairobi daily carried this gem of a blurb on its front page: “Fuelled by an outsize ambition, courting political martyrdom, to fire career into orbit, weighed down by a very poor record of achievement in public office, (so-and-so) stuck out his neck and the President obliged and fed him to the locusts.”
I just loved this. It contained several accusations against the man who was shown the door, including inordinate ambition and a poor service record while in office, which are the common currency of most of our politicians whose desire to rise and rise is usually inversely proportional to their intellectual acuity and/or their intention to be of any service to those who they claim to serve.
So, I would be the last person to shed a tear when one of them bites the dust, for whatever reason. Still I do not understand the reason locusts are brought into the equation, unless there is a suggestion that President Kenyatta has turned Kenyan locusts into meat eaters.
Ordinarily, these insects are a vegetarian species which, when they invade, leave entire landscapes denuded of all vegetation. In fact, the food chain points in the opposite direction. It is humans who eat locusts, and Kenyan authorities have urged Kenyans to eat the destructive insects otherwise the latter will leave them hungry.
Maybe the scribe who wrote that blurb is not a keen entomologist, or scientific knowledge was sacrificed on the altar of a beautiful turn of phrase.
Nairobi colleagues are good at that kind of coinage. You will likely remember one professor who gave us “the tyranny of numbers” a few years ago? He was spot on, and his prediction worked like clockwork. Until, that is, it stopped working and other tyrannies came into play.
In the new era of ‘building bridges’, the tyranny of numbers may have been overthrown by the treachery of appetites, if not by the villainy of incongruity. One may also want to consider, in the particular context of Kenya’s recent history, the weightiness of memory.
When politicians whet their desires to ‘eat’ to such an extent that everything else becomes secondary, they are likely to step on each others’ toes more often than it is in their best interests to do so.
There is, evidently, a desire among a number of some of the leading political principals to chart out a modus vivendi by which all the competing interests and aspirations will be moderated.
The ethnic calculus on which that ‘tyranny’ was predicated may not cut much ice any longer; new pulls and pushes may be crystallising, even as we watch.
The Kenyan middle class will probably mean much more in terms of belonging than the backward ethnic straight jackets of days gone by, and the capitalists will lay greater store by how much money can be made and how much wealth created than by the spirits of the tribal ancestors.
Eventually, it is to be hoped that the contests will be informed by the philosophical underpinnings of the political formations, between those who strive for greater social justice and the others who are glued to the class privileges they inherited from their parents.
In between those two you may count as many other strands as the rainbow has colours.
This is true to Kenya as it is to Uganda and Tanzania, but Kenya has the advantage of having travelled the road of political conversations that the other two have not had the courage, or luck, to embark on.
As much as 2007 and 2008 was a truly excruciating experience, it may have had some cathartic value to help the more enlightened citizens to know how to care for the next person without necessarily knowing their tribal totems.
This way those who come from areas where locusts are a delicacy will teach the virtues of these otherwise destructive insects as culinary delights to be enjoyed by all Kenyans. Bon appétit!
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]
The world after corona: The big, bad disruption wolf is here with us
For the past few years, we preached the gospel of disruption, saying it was not a matter of if but rather, when.
We shared examples of entire industries that vanished, and of companies that were once market leaders but had to close shop. We told clients that it would shake up everything they knew to the core.
We told them about the difference between reacting and responding and how most people react to disruption instead of responding. That is why such services are called rapid response and not rapid reaction.
Well, disruption did eventually come in the form of an unseen enemy—a coronavirus —Covid-19. The world will now be classified into pre-corona and post-corona eras.
When we sounded the alarm of the impending disruption we were classified in some circles as prophets of doom. Now, we have another prophecy and this is even graver than the first.
The greatest attack of Covid-19 has been on health and life. Hundreds of thousands of people are getting infected and tens of thousands dying.
The greatest post-corona challenge will be the disruption of human behaviour. Experts say that social distancing and home-stay will go on for a while.
They are talking in terms of months and not days. By the time it is over new habits will have been established and new realities will be in place. Now why is this important for business?
In my youth, the emergence of video cassette recorders was huge. The exchange of videos among friends became common practice because it was not practical to own all the movies you wanted at home. Now this led to a whole new industry as it were – the emergence of video shops and rentals.
Blockbuster, for instance was so big that at its peak in November 2004, employed 84,300 people worldwide. Then smart entrepreneurs came up with online streaming that tolled the bells for Blockbuster. As at March 2020, there remained only one Blockbuster shop on Earth.
Business strategy is built around consumer habits. Success is largely dependent on how well to read human habits and create products and services aligned with these.
The post-corona era will be ruthless and unforgiving to organisations that are unable to accurately read the post-corona habits.
Coronavirus has forced new wine skins upon us and how we respond will determine the future of organisations.
How have customer habits been affected and how are we able to create solutions for the new ones? Human resource officers also need to ask how employees’ habits have been affected.
In spite of people not physically coming to work, interactions and business still got done via online platforms. What, therefore, is the compelling need for huge office spaces and for people to drive to work spending countless hours in traffic?
If there is no such need, money can be saved on utility bills for those spaces, furniture and security.
It is at the aftermath of war where nations are rebuilt or broken. Coronavirus has waged its war but it is the aftermath that will give birth to the corporate champions of a post-corona world.
Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks.
Make protective gear available, affordable
The government’s directive on mandatory use of face masks in public places in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 has instantly sparked huge demand for the items.
There is evidence that masks curtail the spread of the coronavirus and offer first-line protection to the wearer. The campaign will greatly help to curb local transmission of the deadly virus.
But the high demand has come at a price. Key among them is accessibility and quality. Already, the market is flooded with masks of poor quality that retail at low prices.
Our concern is the risks that abound in using such inferior products to deal with a lethal virus that defies any known cure.
Already, the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Bureau of Standards have issued guidelines to manufacturers but, clearly, these seem not to be followed — certainly not with rogue traders out to make a killing from the crisis.
This is why we need a system for enforcing standards. Leaving backdoor manufacturers and traders to do their bidding is dangerous. Quality is compromised.
Equally distressing is the cost of procuring quality masks. Good-quality ones cost more than Sh100 a piece and should be used once and properly disposed of at the end of the day.
In an economy where a majority of the population live from hand to mouth, such a high price locks out many and, worse, exposes them to infection.
The question is, can the government make the masks readily available and affordable to most Kenyans?
We note that local production has begun at Rivatex, in Eldoret, and the Kitui County Textile Centre, among other places. But its impact on the market is still minimal.
The point is that quality masks are expensive and out of reach for ordinary people, hence the onus on the government to make them affordable.
It is not lost on anyone that the government has received donations from Jack Ma that should be channelled to the needy.
Added to that is usage and disposal. We call for a public communication and information campaign to sensitise the people on proper usage and disposal of masks to avoid environmental risks.
The government’s push for personal hygiene and other protection methods should be complemented with practical measures like making available affordable masks and sanitisers.
Indeed, the government has directed the courts to release alcoholic substances being kept as exhibits to manufacturers of sanitisers to enable them to make the product affordably.
In effect, manufacturers are being cushioned and should pass on the benefits to consumers.
Stemming the coronavirus infections, now at 184, is an enormous challenge. All need government support through interventions to access personal protective gear easily and affordably.
Award a vote for justice
There is finally some good news for two families whose patriarchs suffered torture and detention without trial at the hands of a repressive regime.
The High Court has awarded late politicians Jean-Marie Seroney and Charles Rubia Sh17 million each for the injustices inflicted for their political activities.
Seroney was a firebrand MP who excelled with powerful contributions in the National Assembly. Rubia, the first African mayor of Nairobi, was a long-serving MP and Cabinet minister.
The court ruled that there was sufficient proof that the two men were illegally detained.
Both suffered incarceration and became seriously ill for only exercising their freedom of expression, a right that is enshrined in the Constitution.
Seroney was arrested for uttering words that should have been privileged, having been spoken on the floor of Parliament.
Rubia, who was also a successful businessman, successfully campaigned for the restoration of multiparty democracy.
After a long wait, justice has finally been done. However, no amount of money can fully compensate the two families for the agony they suffered from that separation.
Nonetheless, the cash award is a symbolic gesture that should go some way in bringing this matter to closure.
It is a shame, however, that taxpayers will bear this financial burden. Ideally, the leaders responsible for this miscarriage of justice and their accomplices should have been required to pay for it.
It is also a pity that the two men who suffered the injustice did not live to enjoy the compensation. This is an indictment of the wheels of justice, which turn quite slowly.
However, the significance of these rulings is that, never again should such a blatant violation of constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms occur in a democratic society whose ideals we truly cherish.
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