Sunday, June 10, 2012

Kenya, where politics courts death, an early June morning Sunday crash

Internal Security in Kenya

Nancy Gituanja and Luke Oyugi were the pilots. Thomas Murimi and Joshua Tongei were bodyguards. Orwa  Ojode and George Saitoti were ministers. All died a crash early Sunday morning of June 10, 2012 in Kenya. There were some eyewitnesses. The accident described as a horrific police chopper on fire mid air and then plunging down, a crash in which as often happens, nobody survived.    

A selfless family rushed to the crash site to save lives. But they were only equipped with soil. Every few minutes there was an explosion. Now experts say the explosions were likely to be from the guns of the bodyguards going off. But press reports also told of witnesses that came out of their houses in Karen to see what was happening as craft flew low at the start and made a strange noise. Again we are told that the craft was smoking and therefore burning while up in the sky. The guns should have been smoking too by then, not exploding but then, the experts have the final say. We are told this was a new chopper. There is great fear that this was sabbotage. 

The Internal Security ministry is a sensitive one. The minster, George Saitoti, will be the main focus of what happened on that day.  There was even a strange story that the chopper had landed somewhere else, but this is being investigated. The young man who said that was taken for questioning by authorities. From the description of the crafts trail, it appears like the pilot was turning back to the airport when the crash happened at Kibiko Forest, a part of Ngong Forest. But then the pilots did not make distress calls. Did the pilot and the co-pilot both that turning back was possible and a perfect solution only to be shocked by explosions? Were they for some reason drowsy already? Kenyans are asking many questions. What happened? Aviation accident experts have been called in.

Some sources say that a bodyguard sent a message to a friend who had dropped them at the airport to report trouble but nothing went forth from the pilots to base as far as we know. The chopper had only taken off and flown a short distance before it burst into flames. Kenya is in national mourning. It is a sad time even for some who are not Kenyans. The accident is tragic.Lucas Oyugi and Nancy Gituanja are said to have been competent pilots and not like the pilot from a European country, a young man, who plunged Members of Parliament Lorna Laboso and Kipkalya Kones to death in a very similar situation. So similar as both trips were going to fundraisings and money was strewn around the site of both accidents.

Now the media is referring to George Saitoti most as he was indeed in high posts for a long time. A difficult time. BBC and local media too say he was "a most visible politician". One could say so. We saw him. He attended church services and other functions but honestly one has to admit that George Saitoti was an unknowable politicians in Kenya. In response to his political situation he once told journalists,  "read my lips." He did not express what ailed his times when he was in power. He referred to those times in November last year when explaining his quest for the Kenyan presidency but his talk was not in how Kenya was shortchanged by the Moi regime but how he was a target of schemers for power. It was about people in general and not about individuals or about Kenya. Some say that is because he spoke little, if that is what they mean by his gentlemanly ways.

He was tight lipped. He was literally brought to power by Moi. Yet was overlooked for KANU nomination for natioanal presidency in 2002 by the same Moi and he felt slighted in public.  Responding to a feeling of having been let down, he said, "There come a time (sic) when a in indvidual is less important than the nation. " I have to say it sounded strained in its pronounciation and a philosophy that covered much else that was going on behind the scenes. He was sad to be that individual. It would have been easier to just say, "I am angry... you have overlooked me... " But George Saitoti Kinuthia Muthengi is said to be humble. He would not call anybody names. And yet, to be powerful in Moi's government was to know a lot. He was a Vice president, and finance minister in the cabinet then.

Churches in the mix

I know Kenyan politics and churches when it comes to elections and electioneering. I used to go to the minor Basilica in Nairobi and find some free pews, a complete one on the right at the very top. That was before President Kibaki started to visit this church and The Consolata Shrine too in Westlands, namely when elections were coming up. One day, I and some others wanted to sit there as there was no one there and all the other pews above were filled, but we were told it was reserved for George Saitoti who was regular on Sundays there at the time. On that day, he did not arrive. The pews remained free. 

 In my experience, churches throw away all dignity at election time, making money shamelessly. The plane that crashed was headed to a fundraiser, in a Catholic church and some Kenyans have rightly asked, why is that an official journey made on an official craft since it is about propelling particular political candidates? Others have asked why do Kenyan MPs fly to their destinations all the time? Well, they fly to avoid dying on our dangerous roads. Others have said that aviation rules have to be checked in Kenya, but have not added that too may people have died in tragic road accidents this year and that the matter is urgent also on the roads. 

There are many churches in Kenya. Much of what religious dialogue is promoting in Kenya and elsewhere comes to stand out during times of tragedies and elections in Kenya have often been tragic. Kenyans need to examine why we are so vulnerable in our beliefs. This applies to the city, the rural areas and beyond borders and not without some fundamentalism from America. Watch it here... and hear "Or something, something, something..." It gets hotter with prohets claiming they knew to the name who was going to have which misfortune and when, but they say no names before the tragedy. It is as if prophecy is not more about interpreting reality to the people but about being super. 


Some scholars say that the jump into what we cannot touch or proof, the spiritual and metaphysical, when here it refers to that which is beyond what we can see,  is the behaviour of desperate people. The poor. And to some extent, our land is often mourning. Many young people have died, others have been disappeared and many are jobless and hopeless. Most politicians complain that they are too often asked for money to assist in burials. Once one is elected to Parliament, this becomes one task that one has to do to keep the votes safe. Njenga Karume, who recently died and was Member for Kiambaa was popular and then unpopular for being so often at funerals.

Some Kenyans are upset about those who are commenting on the Sunday accident. But this is a form of mourning too. Saitoti and Ojode were public figures. People want to know what happened. We still talk about the deaths of many politicians in Kenya. In most of these cases, there has been something mysterious. Kimaathi, Gen. Mathenge, Mboya, Ouko and J.M. Kariuki to name some of them.  We are always trying to find out, all the time, what our elected leaders are doing and what they are experiencing because they are accountable to the people. This moment does not change that.  The intention is not to deepen the pain of the family but to try and keep the truth in sight, for  the truth is something that accompanies us today and ever after. 

 A posting by Mars Group Kenya has reminded Kenyans that George Saitoti had questions to answer on the Goldenberg billions and some say this is not a question of the moment. Mars Group have sent condolences to the families of the bereaved, and they like many of us also noted we must not overlook the others who died in the accident. I believe that it is important for them to put out their statement. They do not do it to slight those who mourn. It is a delicate time. Many will be seen not to have come to mourn Ceasar, let alone bury him. 

Accidents and Burials in Kenya

I loathe to call this accident normal but it may well be. If it is, and that is what I think so far, and if it is not both ways our insecurities are confirmed. They come from far too many levels. Political insecurity, infrastrucure that lacks safety, laxity at the highest of levels, and a resistance to read situations and change. The fact that the craft was new and where it was manufactured being beside the point since all indicators are that elsewhere the same make is used safely in the most difficult geographical areas and in difficult weather. What is important is that now that this has happened, were all the regulations on maintaince followed? Did the crew have enough rest, just in case this test found them at their worst? In the last ten years, many Kenyan politicians have escaped such situations by a whisker. Others have died. President Kibaki was once airborne in a chopper that showed signs of trouble but landed.  We are not happy to lose these dedicated Kenyans including the crew that saluted their bosses and tried to do their job but never came back to their loved ones. 

In Kenya, politicians normally make burials very political, so political it is unbearable. They make burials of politicians and the people political sometimes tempers rising high as at a recent one in which Mudavadi and Raila Odinga differed that all dignity gets swept off. But when politicians die in an accident with their co workers, these get easily forgotten. The media focus has already upset some Kenyans. These are the Kenyans who put themselves in the boots of the families that lost Oyugi, Nancy, Tongei and Murimi and they see inequality. But that is another story.  We still have to follow a little bit on the life of a person who has affected the ordinary peoples lives for better and for worse. George Saitoti was aspiring for the presidency and he was on the Kibaki side. Some people in Kenya have already made comments that show how negatively tribal leanings are affecting Kenya even in this. We have to be vigilant. These two leaders did not seem to play open tribal politics. We cannot turn this moment to a contest between the heavy weights of politics from different Kenyan regions. Yet, nothing is clear or has been transparent as we often say in Kenyan politics. It is well nigh impossible to have been part of it for years and to be left clean.

Social media is the new Special Edition

Before the news of this accident filtered in, early morning of 10th June 2012, I was reading Kenyan newspapers on the internet. I decided to skim through more press before a jog and an easy Sunday, or so I thought. I turned more pages. As it has become normal now, one is reading and is on fb. Then one finds comments on this and that. One goes on to read an article and thinks to share it. You hit the 'share' button and easily, you begin to control your moves or let them control you over social media. I was following some future possibilities in the presidency keenly.

I am concerned about Kenya's future for many reasons, least of which is not the fact that I would like all people to be secure in Kenya. I live in exile in Oslo, Norway. I saw the latest from a couple of articles that touched on aspiring candidates for the presidency. It was all pretty much the same servings. It was about what so and so has done to the other and how each candidate is selling 'shelf'. But mainly, it was about how President Kibaki is now working with Musalia Mudavadi. It was about questions on why he has not endorsed Raila Odinga. It was about how Martha Karua is now talking about her role in the coming of the Kibaki second term which has made some people distant to her candidacy. Facebook comments fleeted by and I saw her comments on  about Mother Teresa and our duty to love strangers.

I saw an article about Kiraitu complaining about Uhuru Kenyatta playing foul and deserting him in an accord where Kiraitu thought he would be the kingmaker. The pact had been signed by George Saitoti, Internal Security and Public Administration minister. I thought about George Saitoti and the persistent trait that politicians have to stay in power. I thought about him more because I know he has been long in office since Moi plucked him out of the university and turned the Professor of Math and lecturer into George Saitoti the politician. I have to be honest here and say, I thought about him because I feared that we do not know him well enough as Kenyans after all these years. I have met him. I have seen him in functions. At the Norfolk Hotel (innapropriate) launch of End of Brutal Empire, Britain's Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins we were walking around to see the exhibited pictures, Amos Wako, Attorney General then, nudged George Saitoti and they came towards where I was and greeted me. I took it that they had seen me in Agenda Kenya or Development Through Media debates on TV. I remember the Goldenberg scandal and other conversations in which one learns that Kenya is deeply corrupt. How fast such knowledge can evaporate when one becomes familiar with names that are mentioned can be frightening. I know I asked an investigative journalist some questions about powerful persons in business and he told me that some things could not be touched.  

So that on that morning I thought to put a question to  a few groups on social media, simply ask, "Who is George Muthengi Saitoti?" I was thinking of sharing it on the sites that seem to be keen on watching out for Kenya and seeing how the debate turns, when I saw a new article just posted on the newspaper I was reading and this is what I remember of it: Minsters Saitoti and Ojode feared dead in a chopper crash...I held my breath. Well, I had not posted my question yet and now it would not be appropriate to do so. I thought the best thing would be to remember the focus of my day, the death anniversary of my brother in 1989, and to think of those who had died calmly.  I also know that on this same day, Lorna Laboso who had come to visit me one cold July and sat and chatted and laughed died in another chopper crash with Kipkalya Kones. 

Al Shabaab threatens to bring down all tall buildings in Nairobi

Threats. Grenades in Nairobi. The direct concern of Internal security have increased since October 2011 when Kenyas military made an incursion into Somalia. It is not the first time that Al Shabaab has threatened to bring down all tall buildings in Nairobi. It is the third. Two days before this accident, Nairobi was put on high alert. These threats come after a terrible event which reminded Kenyans of the bomb attack on the USA embassy on August 7/98. On 28th of May 2012 at around 1pm when most Kenyans are having lunch, a huge blast hit a popular street.  Kenyans who were near reported cars shaking on the streets and next door buildings being affected too. It was a sad day. One person died, but later it was reported the ones in critical condition 5 also succumbed. There were 33 or more injured. From how the news broke, it was clear to many that this was a bomb as we have had several of them since 2011 October when the Kenyan military invaded Somalia to exterminate Al Shabaab. Only the police thought it was an electrical fault. This was on facebook immediately of course. I was on and I followed keenly. There were strong feelings that the security of the ordinary Kenyan is seriously at risk. Some asked the Minister for Internal Security, George Saitoti to step down. This would be seen in Kenya as just strangespeak. Saitoti was said to be very hard working and to have been doing a sterling job by government. This ministry was ranked highest in terms of performance 2009. It has always been said to do well, even when so many people died in Kenya, or disappeared. Last week Saitoti spoke about his good work and vision for Kenya and dwelt at length on police reforms. He always assured Kenyans that Kenya is safe and that the government is always on its toes doing its best to keep the country completely secure. 

We must keep on asking questions

Kenya's General Election has been moved to March 2013. The months ahead are critical. Everything is completely swayed by politics in our understanding of reality as Kenyans. Not ideology. Not what policies and agendas the politicians have, but what they are doing and saying. And where they come from. And honestly, in election years we come out more clearly for who we are. This is the time when people- including the leadership of conservative or mainstream churches - embrace politicians openly and mainly with money coming into play. One hears the strangest of things. Opponents are said to be devils who worship snakes. It is a dangerous time when reason is tested severely as much happens that can drive minds to a hyper level.

Every ministry has a powerful office of the Permanent Secretary who is said to be the one who really does the work. This has been a good thing where the PS, as we call them is focused. The death of senior politicians where institutions are weak in can lead to serious trouble in weak democracies. We are not too strong. But our energies are challenged and so divided by political and ethinic affiliations, something that the late ministers seemed to try and go against.  I do not think that this crash will have the impact of the Rwandese crash of 1994 in which the president dies and the people begins a genocide. The impact of the violence we had in 2007 has been the tearing down of trust in the country and bridges are not easy to build. The late Orwa Ojode was said to have been a quiet bridge builder. He has died with Saitoti. Already here has been tension about remarks made by dififerent people around these deaths.  There have already been calculations which in my view fail, that Saitoti had an untenable political position and that this is against a certain group. How come Kenyans are not noticing that in six people we had many from different ethnic groups? Is it that the ordinary Kenyan and where he belongs does not matter? Why are we stuck on the origins of politicians but would so easily forget their actual deeds?

Flags at half mast mourn on poles

I would have wished that the three days of mourning would have been days in which the Constitution of Kenya was read by Kenyans in their families and on radio. There is no reason why this cannot be done even in mother tongues. This would seem to mean much more than flags flying at half mast. Sometimes we do nothing creatively or together for fear of raising tension. We have to be more daring. Singing the national anthem is not enough. We need to invest in our mother of all laws and less on persons and how they get on and what they say. Of course I know they have their place, but the more I live in the west the more I see that the place we give ourselves as politician, rich bosses or whatever calibre of importance we consider ourselves to be in, is old fashioned and out of place. It is time for us all to consider how safe we are in all modes of transport for all Kenyans including, those who walk or cycle to work. 

I have to keep on asking my question if only to be honest. I have to change the tense: Who was George Muthengi Saitoti Kinuthia?

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