Last September, Dwaine Caraway, a member of the Dallas County Council in the United States tabled a proposal to change the name of a six-mile road from Lancaster Road to Mandela Boulevard.
His reason was that the area through which the road passes has not changed for years; that the name change would not only be an honour to one of the greatest human beings – the late former South African President Nelson Mandela – but it would also bring hope and prosperity to that part of the city.
The Council sessions were stormy and tense. The majority of Councillors were opposed to the re-naming of the street after a foreigner. Area businessmen weighed in by saying they did not want to incur expenses of printing new stationery to reflect the new address.
“It is not fair,” one furious Councillor told Caraway, “that you just come up with an idea and throw it down our throats.”
Caraway was eventually forced to withdraw the proposal.
What happened in Dallas is exactly what should have happened in Mombasa before Governor Ali Hassan Joho unblushingly announced to mourners that a street would be named after Fidel Odinga, the late son of opposition leader Raila Odinga as a mark of recognition for “his outstanding achievements in life.”
Three things worry me about this roadside declaration.
One, the Mombasa County Assembly did not, as far as I know, pass any resolution authorising change of name prior to Joho’s announcement. That should have been the proper procedure to follow in a matter with such heavy political connotations as this. The County Assembly should have been given the opportunity to discuss and either approve or disapprove it.
Two, what outstanding achievements was Joho talking about?
Fidel was a private citizen. From media reports it seems he did a lot for himself and for others elsewhere, but there is nothing to show that he did anything for the Mombasa people to deserve an honour.
In any case, the opportunity of naming anything after Fidel – if that is the desire of Kenyans – should first have been given to his home region. Up to now, I have not heard anyone from Nyanza making a similar proposal.
And finally, why the haste? What was the reason the announcement had to be made at the burial ceremony instead of coming from the Governor’s parlour?
It is for these reasons that I feel the decision was ill-conceived, enigmatic, and a grotesque abuse of power. It smells of partisan sycophancy and political opportunism. Joho is the deputy leader in the Raila-led Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), and it’s possible he went through this charade to ingratiate himself with the party and the Odinga clan. That may have succeeded but the decision surely assaulted the sensibilities of the Mombasa people.
To paraphrase the Dallas Councillor, Joho came up with an idea and shoved it down the throats of his people.
Only last year, Kenyans saw an almost similar attempt to name a street in the Kenyan capital after Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero. That attempt flopped.
Finally, it appears some of our leaders are suffering from the ‘big man syndrome’ forgetting that they were elected to lead people out of their miseries and propel our country to greater heights of development and prosperity. Naming or renaming streets should not be a priority.
To Governor Joho I want to say this: there are so many Coastals – dead and alive – who played significant historical roles in making Mombasa the way it is – culturally, politically, and economically. These have not been recognised. In fact, they have been completely forgotten.
Joho has an opportunity to leave a legacy that will allow our forgotten heroes to be brought back to life, for posterity’s sake.
Charity begins at home, they say, and the place to look for heroes is within and not without.
And that is my say.