EXIT POLITICS, ENTER FULL-TIME WRITING

This week, I arrived in the United States to begin a one-year writing retreat.

I bade Nairobi farewell after sending off to press my second book, Dash Before Dusk: A Slave Descendant’s Journey in Freedom, which is in its last stages of production and is scheduled for release by the East African Educational Publishers before the end of July.

While the Politics of Betrayal: Diary of a Kenyan Legislator, was started at Mtepeni, Mtwapa, and completed in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 2010, Dash Before Dusk was written entirely in the United States.

The latest, yet-to-be-titled book, will be rich in historical narrations and will be of interest to both scholars and general readers. I expect the book to open new avenues for knowledge and contribute immensely to our country’s history.

Those who know me well know writing has been my passion since childhood. That passion saw me spend many years in journalism and broadcasting – interrupted only with stints in diplomacy and politics.

After more than ten years in politics I have decided to hang up my boots and dedicate my life to full-time writing. So far, the experience has been satisfying.

Unlike politics, writing is a lonely, sometimes lonesome undertaking. There are no crowds to cheer you on or to shout you down; no traditional dancers to entertain; and no constituents’ issues to solve. It’s just you, your laptop and your thoughts.

Contrary to public opinion that Kenyans do not read, I am encouraged by the growing interest in books among Kenyans; and I am sure with rising literacy and increased exposure to modern tools of knowledge, our reading culture will grow exponentially..

And that is my say.

MIRAA BAN, SO WHAT NEXT FOR MERU FARMERS?

Thousands of people in Britain who, for years, have depended on supplies of khat from Kenya will from this week be deprived of their favourite stimulant drug.

As Kenyan, Ethiopian, Yemeni and Eritrean consumers through-out Britain go without their daily dose of the supposedly habit-forming leaves, tens of thousands of Kenyan farmers in five districts of Tigania East and Igembe South will be going back to the drawing board to decide whether or not miraa farming is sustainable any more.

Britain has banned the mild drug, also known as miraa, classifying it as harmful because of the toxic ingredients it has, including anabolic steroid, which is linked to many health problems; benzodiazepine, a drug used to treat anxiety;  and ketamine which increases heart rate and blood pressure.

The dramatic action by London to ban khat, effective Tuesday, had been anticipated for some time especially after some other European countries took a similar action. For Kenyans, the prohibition should not have been a surprise.

What surprised most people in this country is the lackluster manner in which the government handled the matter and its failure to lobby adequately in Britain to prevent the ban from taking effect.

Kenya now stands to lose an estimated six-hundred million Kenya shillings a year and deprive 500,000 people of a livelihood as a result of the government’s poor response. This is a big loss to a country that is trying hard to expand its agricultural sector as a way of bridging the gap between the rich and the poor.

Some farmers are already pointing a finger of blame at Uhuru Kenyatta, who they say, promised to lobby for khat’s continued exportation to Britain while campaigning but failed to follow through after he became President. In fact, there was a noticeable silence from the House on the Hill as farmers and their representatives struggled to send emissaries to London to lobby against the ban.

It is estimated that during the past eight years, Kenya exported to Britain between 2,500 tonnes and 2,800 tonnes of miraa.

Kenya’s contention that no evidence of medical or social harm had been detected from the consumption of miraa – although researchers talk of an association between the drug and significant liver toxicity – made no impact to British legislators who went ahead and passed a law outlawing the product.

Now, the government has to find a way of pacifying the Meru people on an issue that will definitely have serious political implications in the 2017 elections.

But just as significant will be the issue of plugging the economic loss arising from the ban at a time when the country is facing a huge budget deficit.

Miraa is an important cash crop to the majority of people in the five districts of Meru county. It is through the sale of miraa that people there are able to eat, pay school fees and educate their children. The loss of income will  have an immediate and far-reaching effect on the survival of the people in the affected areas.

Meru farmers may now have to resort to growing other cash crops to survive.

In the meantime, leaders in government and the people’s representatives in Parliament must find a way of charting new income-generating avenues for those affected.

And that is my say.

 

 

POLITICIANS, WOMEN AND PATERNITY SUITS

What is it about politicians, women and paternity suits?

Some years ago, court cases involving prominent Kenyans entangled in sex scandals were a trickle. In recent years, however, they have become a deluge exposing a weak link in the behavior of our leaders who are supposed to be role models in society.

A son of a former president; a Speaker of the National Assembly; and several Members of Parliament and Senate, have all been hauled to court by women demanding support for children born out of illegal unions or by married men who refuse to fulfil family obligations after separation .

In the latest reported case in the Nairobian, a racy weekly tabloid, Josephine Wanjeri Thuku, accuses Nairobi Senator Mike Mbuvi Sonko of neglect of a child, she said, belonged to the two of them. Under the splash headline – “Old Flame Scalds Sonko With Paternity Issues,” the middle-aged woman rolls out a string of allegations against the politician, painting him as”heartless” and slighting him for abandoning “our son”.

Splashed on the front page of the same issue is the headline: “Mark Too Has Neglected Our Love Child.” The story is based on a claim by Fatuma Hassan against a one-time powerful former nominated MP and Assistant Minister in the Office of President Daniel Arap Moi.

Mark Too is the famous “Mr. Fix It,” Bw. Dawa, if you wish, who had many unofficial titles: rubble-rouser, ambassador-at-large, influencer-extraordinaire and political wheeler-dealer. He is reputed to be the one who lured Raila Odinga to jump from the National Development Party (NDP) to the ruling KANU in 2001, in a short-lived political alliance.

All paternity cases have one thing in common: the plot. A woman  is lured into sex, gets pregnant and then abandoned. Perpetrators slide into thin air never to be seen again until summoned by a court. Or, a couple separates and the man goes under the radar ignoring all domestic responsibilities.

In paternity cases involving political mandarins, offended women usually demand huge sums of money  because they know these people are not poor by any standard. However, some men view paternity suits as an avenue for financial exploitation by mischievous women, so they fight tooth and nail to avoid paying alimony.

One thing is clear though. Politicians are public figures whose every word, every action and every misdeed, is carefully observed, weighed and evaluated by the rest of Kenyans. Though human, they are not expected to display moral imperfections or engage in nefarious activities that actively and dangerously undermine their integrity.

In some countries, such unbecoming behavior by leaders attracts serious political ramifications. In the United States, Europe and even India, sex scandals have led to loss of leadership positions because illicit affairs with concubines are not tolerated by society.

If you don’t believe me, ask former US President Bill Clinton and one time Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Maybe we Kenyans get away with such shenanigans because we are Africans, and our cultures and traditions liberally permit such indiscretions. But for the sake of social order, our leaders should avoid being tagged for sexual recklessness.

And that is my say.

 

In the next thirty days, lovers of local autobiographies will be spoilt for choice as four known Kenyans hit the market with their life experiences, signaling a growing trend among citizens of this East African nation to record their life stories for posterity.

After Raila Odinga’s Flame of Freedom last October, and former Minister Joe Wanjigi’s Shepherd Boy in Search of Virtue, two months later, Jeff Koinange’s life narration under the title, Through My African Eyes, will be in bookshops in the next few weeks.

Koinange is an acclaimed international news correspondent who worked for the CNN, among other broadcasters, and now presents a popular talk show, On The Bench, on the Kenya Television Network.

In a recent review in the Saturday Nation, Joyce Nyairo, a prolific book critic said Koinange’s book “is poised to enter the realm of Kenyan biographies way up high, on the wings of eagles” because of its rich chronicle of events across Africa.

Joe Wanjui, an entrepreneur per excellence is another Kenyan whose life will be laid bare in his upcoming autobiography, The Native Son: Experiences of a Kenyan Entrepreneur. Wanjui was also a close confidante of former President Mwai Kibaki, serving in his campaign team in the National Rainbow Coalition and as his adviser. The book is full of political anecdotes.

Tom Odhiambo of the University of Nairobi who reviewed The Native Son recently says the book “captures some of the most critical political moments”

Also expected to hit the book shelves within the next month is my Dash Before Dusk: A Slave Descendant’s Journey in Freedom, a riveting story that is as much about myself as about the abominable slave trade along the East African Coast.

I trace my ancestors – from their capture by slave traders in Nyasaland and Tanganyika, their rescue in the high seas and their eventual settlement at Rabai near Mombasa; and I detail my life from birth at the Civil Native Hospital in Mombasa to an enriching professional adulthood as a journalist, diplomat and politician. This is a captivating story of failures and successes, joys and sorrows.

Dash Before Dusk will be my second non-fiction book after the successful release in 2011 of the Politics of Betrayal: Diary of a Kenyan Legislator. a political memoir that explored events in Kenya between 2001 and 2008.

Reports are also circulating that an autobiography by Jeremiah Kiereini, a former Head of the Civil Service, is on the way and is likely to be released within the next few weeks.

The sudden proliferation of autobiographies in recent years proves two things. One, that an increasing number of Kenyans want to share their life experiences with others and no longer wish to take their “secrets” to the grave; and two, autobiography, as a form of literature, is proving as popular in the country as works of fiction.

And that is my say.