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Kibaki and an LDP nail in the wall
Story by MUTAHI NGUNYI / Insight column
Published in the Daily Nation newspaper - 9/26/2004
Those who went to High School in the mid-1970s will remember a book called Hekaya Za Abunwasi. My favourite story in this little ‘adventure book’ was about a certain Mzee who set out to buy a house from Abunwasi. There was only one condition: Abunwasi was ready to sell everything in the house, except for a nail on one of the walls in the sitting room.
The old man thought about it and concluded that he would buy the house anyway. After all, the small nail in the sitting room was nothing. Money changed hands, the deal was sealed, and the Mzee moved in. Two weeks later, Abunwasi was at the old man’s door knocking. He wanted access to his property – the nail on the wall. Shocked by the turn of events, the Mzee had no choice but to allow him in.
Relishing the moment, Abunwasi removed his smelly jacket and went ahead to hang it on ‘his’ nail. He made sure it did not touch any walls, to avoid a lawsuit of course. Then he left. The following week, Abunwasi was at the old man’s door again. This time he had bought a big fat fish, which was beginning to rot.
Without saying hello to the Mzee, he went straight to his nail in the sitting room, removed the dirty jacket and hung the bag of smelly fish. For a good one week, the entire house had a harrowing stench of rotten fish! At this point the old man discovered that he had been tricked. And of course, Abunwasi was at hand to buy him off at a throw away price!
My Form One teacher gave us the moral of this story. She told us that there are no half measures in life. If you decide on a course of action, you must take its full measure. If you settle for less, someone will be at hand to sort you out! And this is President Kibaki’s problem with LDP. He has remained double-minded in his dealings with the party. He wants them in government, but at the same time, he does not.
Retaining LDP in government and downsizing them from within is bad strategy. You can downsize them to a point where all they own in government is a nail on the wall. But knowing LDP, this is probably all they need: a nail. Like Abunwasi, and from a simple nail, these people have potential to make the entire government stink. Therefore, the president should either embrace them in total, or reject them in total. Anything in between is disastrous. Since he has started the process of firing them anyway, he should complete it and with speed.
Let us flip this argument now. Unlike ministers Njenga Karume or Chris Murungaru who are in cabinet at the pleasure of the president, the LDP brigade bought their way into government. If you fire them, you have to refund their money to the tune of 1.5 million votes. Put differently, LDP represents about 1.5 million shareholders on a board called the Cabinet. If they quit, their shareholders by extension quit with them. But what does this mean anyway?
Democratic practice would demand two things from President Kibaki in the event he fires 1.5 million shareholders through their representatives. One, he would have to conduct a plebiscite or a referendum. The idea here is to establish whether the remnants in his government enjoy popular legitimacy, or whether what he has is a bastardised government. If the Kibaki government fails the plebiscite test, it would have to go for the second option: a snap election.
The point here is to seek a fresh mandate. All this however, is not a legal or constitutional requirement. It is just what a decent democratic government would do. And if he fires 1.5 million shareholders through LDP and fails to do this, he would be seen to occupy the position of president fraudulently. This, I must add, is a moral argument.
But who cares about morals and fraud? If the president has no moral authority over the country, he will behave like a parent whose kids no longer listen to him. Inevitably, he will use force in order to be heard. And indeed, if the LDP brigade is cut off from government, we should expect increased repression.
And now a Biblical story for the LDP brigade. Once upon a time, four lepers were stuck outside the gate of Samaria after a siege by Syria. Desperate for food, they argued that if they got back into the city, they would definitely die. And if they sat at the gate, they would also die. The only option they had was to sneak over to the Syrian army camp and gamble for food. They argued that the Syrians might kill them, but they might not! And so they decided to sneak into the enemy’s camp.
As they headed there, their footsteps sounded like the roar of a huge force of cavalry. The Syrian army reasoned that the King of Israel must have hired Hittite and Egyptian troops to attack them. And scared to death, the Syrians abandoned their camp and ran for dear life. When the four lepers reached the edge of the camp, there was no one on site. They walked into the tent and had the ball of their life. Their gamble had paid off.
Like the four lepers, LDP can decide to be bullied into submission, starvation and possible death. Or they can decide to take President Kibaki head on. And like the lepers discovered, once they took the first step, God made their footsteps sound like the roar of a huge force.
In our case, however, we are not sure which side God is supporting. And this is probably why LDP should advance with caution. Like it or not, the coalition cannot be broken without the two parties tearing each other apart. But in the meantime, and like Abunwasi, LDP should maintain the nail in President Kibaki’s sitting room.
However, they should go easy on the rotten fish and the other stinky things they have been hanging on it!