Ninja Porcupines and Martha Karua

I’m a big fan of Enid Blyton, so I knew what a hedgehog was long before Sonic was born. I know they look a lot like porcupines, even though they’re smaller and generally eat bugs instead of plants. I also know that when hedgehogs are attacked, they curl up in ball, jump up and down, and hiss a lot. You can’t hurt them because all their soft bits are hidden inside their prickly spikes.

Porcupines are a little different. When attacked, they turn around and shake their rather spiky booty at you. Their spikes are longer and sharper than a hedghog’s. They’re also detachable. So when a porcupine sinks its spikes into you, it can walk away and leave you looking like a human pin cushion.

The past few weeks have been rather tricky for me. Yesterday I exploded at the office and had a dramatic (yet effective) bitch fit. I’m not sure whether I should be proud or worried. I got the desired results, but I don’t enjoy losing my temper. Either way, I got to work this morning feeling rather prickly, and I’m glad I have that chocolate and some yoghurt in the fridge.

Venomous spikes aside, yesterday was interesting. Between #OccupyParliament and #KolaBoof, #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) were rather hyperactive. I don’t log on to Twitter much these days. It lost its flavour for me. But I get information there that I wouldn’t find anywhere else, so once in a while I take a peek, mostly for work-related stuff.

When I logged on yesterday, I found a cat fight going down between two people. One of them was Gicheru Gicheru. The other was Martha Karua. The issue was the constitutional amendments passed by parliament during a late night session. Now, I don’t know a lot about politics, and I know even less about legal matters, so I let my learned friend over at DR explain the implications. As for me, I only have questions and opinions that I’m not entirely sure what to do with.

My first encounter with the constitutional amendments was logging on to find #KOT insulting our MPs. It took a bit of Googling and TL trawling to find out what they were so mad about. Next, I noticed Boniface Mwangi suggesting we protest on the 28th of June, and issuing an M-PESA number for protest material. It made me uneasy because I don’t believe in peaceful public protests. They never end well, and they rarely achieve their objectives. Still, without a viable alternative, I only risk being accused of being an arm-chair activist.

The next thing I noticed was people asking where Martha Karua and the other reformist MPs were. The questions were far from polite. Even people who are generally sober attacked Martha and the others. Cold Tusker started a TT – #Ask MarthaThursday – where tweeps ranged from calling her an idiot to asking where she was when the amendments passed. And here’s the thing. Martha responded.

In the beginning, Martha’s tweets were emotional and defensive. She pointed out that Mungatana MPs had rights too, even if she didn’t agree with them. She said the motion was not a party decision, insisted that she did not support the amendments,  asserted that she can’t control the actions of Mungatana her Party Secretary General her party members, and censured certain people for their disrespectful tweets.

At first, I felt sorry for her. By reacting in an emotional, human way, she had left her flank wide open. The internet makes us all equal, and trolls can ruffle all but the toughest feathers. But there are times when you have to put your humanity aside and be a leader. I know that’s not easy to do, and God knows I couldn’t do it, but when you’re a leader, that’s the kind of ish you need to do. I wished that she could keep her personal outrage in check and be the awesome powerhouse I believe she is.

And eventually she did. She responded to the #AskMarthaThursday tweets with quickfire precision that was beautiful to read. I wondered if she was doing it all herself. I mean, to respond to all those tweets as quickly as she did, she much have been sitting in a  conference room with multiple widescreen projections, a powerful headset, and speed-typing twitter pros.

A lot of brand accounts are run by social media personnel. Brands aren’t just corporate entities. They include CEOs, celebrities, politicians, and even HoloTupac. I know because I run certain corporate accounts as part of my 9 to 5. So I’ve always wondered whether people like Bob and Martha run their own accounts.

When I saw the earlier tweets in Martha’s timeline, I assumed it was a social media person who was outraged that anyone dared to defile her bosses’ name. But the later tweets had a professionalism and credibility that could only be voiced by the smart legal mind that I know Martha Karua to be. I was so proud to be in #CampMartha.

Regarding Gicheru, I wouldn’t engage anyone who described themselves that way. It just screams square country, and reminds me a lot of Robert Alai. It’s hard to have a constructive conversation with someone like that. It’s even harder to sift out the grains of sense in what they say. It’s difficult to hear the truth in what anyone is saying when they’re busy yelling profanities at you.

It’s a bit easier to hear what someone is saying when they explain it like this. Oliver Mathenge wrote a calm, seemingly rational blog post that justified the amendments while correcting the perceptions of online Kenyans. You can read the full post, but this is basically what he has to say:

  • (a) Our outrage was misplaced since it wasn’t based on fact.
  • (b) Most of the people that were tweeting hadn’t watched the debates or read either the original laws or the amendments they were protesting.
  • (c) The protesters hadn’t considered the reasoning behind the amendments.
  • (d) Claims that the constitution had been changed were erroneous.
  • (e) The amendments are guaranteeing the rights of politicians, under the Bill of Rights.
  • (f) A presidential candidate who has received millions of votes obviously has support, so he/she should be allowed to serve Kenyans in another capacity.
  • (g) A politician should be allowed to ditch a party that doesn’t serve or represent him.

Despite his inflammatory blog title, Oliver’s arguments were presented in a very calm, reasonable manner, and after reading the post, I started to wonder whether he might be right. This phrase in particular got me thinking:

“Very many Kenyans sit in comfort expecting the country to run itself or be run in any manner by a few individuals. Many do not bother to even find out what their MPs are discussing despite having the opportunity to do so even online as they “Facebook and Tweet.”

Still, it bothered me that these amendments were tailored for specific needs. For example, insisting that MPs have post-secondary education was intended to give us better educated leaders. I watched a Citizen TV report recently that showed a class of politicians pursuing diploma courses at JKUAT. They openly said they were only taking the course to be eligible for the ballot.

I figured it would take at least 3 years to get a degree, so by insisting our MPs should have higher education, we were eliminating a good percentage of our current August House. This, I felt, would leave the floor open to more able leaders. But if they can get the required qualification with a brief certificate course created specifically for that purpose, then the requirement is pointless. Incidentally, they reinstated the degree requirement about half an hour ago.

Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with shifting parties. But if you really disagree with your party’s policies, shouldn’t you jump ship long before elections are due? Ditching your party at election time seems awfully opportunistic. If you’re working at a certain company and you resign, you don’t get to take the company car with you. So when you quit your party, it’s only fair to let go of your parliamentary seat as well. If your supporters really believe in you, they’ll vote you back in regardless of the colour of your (party) t-shirt.

I’ve heard a lot of people say the problem with parliament is that we have the same people sitting in different chairs. We voted in the exact same MPs on different party tickets, so we ended up with the very same team. No wonder we’re seeing the same excesses we’ve seen for decades. If anything, it’s worse now, because they’ve realized they can only get away with things for so long.

I’m one of those people who thinks my vote makes no difference, and is so disillusioned that I don’t see the point of voting at all. 80% of Kenyans vote for the wrong reasons – whether tribal or financial. I don’t see how the 20% of voters that base their decisions on policies and meaningful change can really make a difference.

In fact, the only reason my voting card is intact is because I’m not sure exactly where it is. I last used it at the referendum, where I voted ‘yes’ because certain areas of the new constitution appealed to me. They addressed issues that are important to me, and they led me to accept the whole document without analysing its potential flaws – like election dates set in March 2013.

At this point, I don’t know what to do, how to help, or how to fix things. I’m not taking to the streets, and I’m not hiding behind my laptop. I’m just wondering what can be done to make a meaningful difference. Some people say doing anything is better than doing nothing. They say asking questions is pointless when I’m not giving answers. They say my helpless stance is an excuse for not finding solutions. They accuse me of poking holes in their actions while doing nothing myself.

I don’t have a response to that. I just don’t believe a bad idea is better than no idea at all, and street protests are always a bad idea. Any good they achieve is eclipsed by the damage they cause. So I guess I’ll keep hoping, praying, and racking my brains for a way to really stop this parliamentary nonsense. Meanwhile, I’ll fight the urge to burn my voter’s card. After all, I’d have to find it first.

Mountains O’ ThingsTracy Chapman

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