By Wana Khamuna
The murder of the Member of Parliament for Eneoflani had, in a way, brought the country to a standstill. Beneath such sensational titles as ‘GRUESOME SLAUGHTER OF CORRUPT MP’, ‘EMBATTLED MP STABBED TO DEATH’, ‘CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST: LANDGRABBER SLAIN!’, speculation ran rife. Papers had flown off the presses and sold out before dawn, and people tuned into hourly radio news bulletins to keep abreast of the developing story.
Under the bright lights of Taifa TV’s newly refurbished studio, Joey Mwanahabari, the Spotlight Kenya host, listened as his guest dismissed the possibility of an assassination by political enemies, pointing out to the viewers that the deceased’s political style had been too benign to engender enmity. He had never given a rousing speech in his entire career, said the guest, and had been in the habit of slumbering through the few parliamentary sessions he attended. Joey Mwanahabari inched closer towards his special guest on the plush white leather couch and asked him to shed more light on the murder.
The special guest, Doctor Professor Msomi A. Timamu, was an elderly man of substantial girth dressed in a long, flowing golden kaftan and a matching cap. The television appearance had materialised at short notice but that was no excuse not to shine. Lately he had been feeling the stirrings of political ambition within him, and he had to seize this day. He would stamp himself indelibly on the nation’s minds both intellectually and sartorially. Vitalis Makasi Esq., his personal tailor, crowed and strutted like a rooster when he saw his golden confection on national television. Doctor Professor was clearly a self-respecting African man who understood both the power and potential of African attire.
Doctor Professor adjusted his thick spectacles and cleared his throat. By national standards, he said, the late mheshimiwa had indeed been a most boring politician. But he had not been felled by his lack of flair. It was common knowledge that the people of Eneoflani had despised their mheshimiwa quite fervently, he said.
“You have seen the opinion polls. I hate to speak ill of the dead but truth be told, they viewed him as nothing but an apathetic sycophant. Look at the land issue. His reluctance to formulate a position on how to resolve it did not endear him to his constituents at all.”
He also drew attention to the accusatory fingers pointed at the wife. He speculated on whether Madam had finally had enough of the bitter suffering and humiliation occasioned by her husband’s adulterous ways and decided to end it all.
Joey Mwanahabari nodded thoughtfully and, ever mindful of his ratings, he made a mental note to ask his producer to give Madam a call.
In a dark room within the departed mheshimiwa’s mansion in the leafiest of Nairobi suburbs, Madam ended a telephone conversation with an unctuous hanger-on as quickly and as politely as she could. She replaced the receiver gently and turned the sound back up on the television and listened to the pompous posturing of the two men on the screen for a few minutes then turned it off. She adjusted the soft cashmere shawl that draped gracefully around her regal frame. She cracked her knuckles loudly then picked up her champagne flute and went to stand by the window. After a few moments of silence, she took a long, luxurious sip.
“Ati condolences!” she smiled.
She looked at the exuberant burst of colour painted by the neat rows of well-tended roses beneath her window. Mzee had been nothing but a political mediocrity. Why were people acting as if he had been a hero of the struggle for independence? She felt revulsion creeping up her throat like a wave of nausea. She drained her drink in one thirsty gulp and turned back for a refill. After the sun’s brightness at the window, the room’s darkness rendered her momentarily blind. She panicked and flung her flute against the wall. She stood still for a minute then was immediately overtaken by loud heaving sobs.
A robust old woman padded softly into the room.
“Madam! What is wrong?” Praxidis, the loyal househelp firmly propelled the distraught woman onto the bed and propped a stack of pillows behind her.
“Madam, I am sorry,” she said quietly in her raspy voice, rubbing her rough calloused hands over Madam’s soft immaculately manicured ones.
“Please pass me the tissues,” Madam was never one to break a sweat, or a nail.
“I am sorry about Mzee,” said Praxidis.
“He really should have done more to help those people of his; they did vote him into Parliament after all. With all his education, he was still so stupid. He was nothing but a villager in a suit,” said Madam, her face contorting in a sneer.
“I am sorry,” repeated the perpetually apologetic Praxidis.
“Do you think I have not heard what they say about me?” Madam’s voice rose again, ascending into the familiar shrill angry pitch that struck terror into Praxidis’ old bones.
“So you have heard what they say and did not tell me?” Madam peered at Praxidis, harsh lines forming around her mouth.
“I told you about Sweet Diamond,” replied Praxidis fearfully.
Madam let out a long wail and blew her nose loudly into her tissue.
“That stupid socialite! Nothing blurs a gold digger’s eyesight better than the prospect of money. Why else would she fail to see Mzee’s shortcomings? Like that kitambi of his, Jesus! He looked like he was about to give birth!”
She moved about the bed cantankerously. “How could Mzee humiliate me like this? I need another drink.”
“Madam, we are having guests later. You shouldn’t…”
“Pour me a drink!” screamed Madam. Praxidis scrambled to her feet and obliged. “Everybody knows that Sweet Diamond sells herself to MPs,” ventured Praxidis, as if that was supposed to make things better. “Regardless of region,” she further elaborated, handing Madam’s drink to her.
“I suppose we must commend her lack of tribalism,” said Madam, taking a long sip. “Thank you Praxidis, you are an angel.”
Praxidis’ face lit up with joy.
“Can you imagine, Madam? Mzee would have run for president! I would have made tea for the Obamas in State House when they came to visit! Eh!” a dreamy look stole over her face.
“Pour me another drink, please.”
Praxidis’ hand paused halfway on the journey towards the outstretched hand of her boss, the wheels in her mind cranking away at full speed. “Madam, you should run for Mzee’s seat.”
For the first time that day, Madam smiled.
“Maybe I will.”
Joey Mwanahabari’s mellifluous baritone, oily smile and perfectly arched eyebrows welcomed his ten million faithful viewers to the evening’s special edition of Spotlight Kenya. As always, his guest was dressed to kill. She wore a wine-coloured sheath dress that showed off her well-preserved figure. Her hair was coaxed into a sleek ponytail that accentuated her high cheekbones. Her lips had been expertly filled in with a tasteful shade of red lipstick that complimented her mahogany skin. A narrow gold watch shone at her left wrist and her wedding band was on prominent display. She smiled into the camera.
“Good evening, Joey. Thank you for having me.”
Joey inched closer to the guest on the couch and caught a whiff of the Chanel No 5 that emanated from Madam’s person.
“Please allow me to express my heartfelt condolences on behalf of myself and our entire team here at Taifa TV. “
Madam dabbed the corner of her eyes delicately with tissue. “Thank you, Joey. I appreciate it, I really do. “
Madam, always one to lead, started, “I am aware that some people were unhappy with my late husband.”
Joey opened his mouth to speak but Madam continued.
“Many people do not know this but he cared very deeply for the poor in our society,” she paused for effect. “He shared the government’s commitment to clearing illegal settlers from the forest.”
Joey nodded thoughtfully.
“This made him very unpopular, as I’m sure you know…Joey, my dear, anyone opposed to the resettlement is just playing politics and interfering with the process.”
“How do you respond to allegations that your husband possessed thousands of acres in the forest?” Joey gave his best piercing stare.
“Those are just allegations.”
“He founded Eneoflani Rural Cooperative Society which owns the biggest parcel of land in the forest,” said Joey.
“Like I said, Joey my dear, those are merely unfounded allegations from disgruntled elements.”
“Your tea estate was supposed to be a settlement scheme for the landless. Where does the government expect the evicted people to go?”
“What we need in this country is responsible leadership,” side-stepped Madam.
“Are you considering taking up a leadership role?” he uttered the words slowly, careful not to let his rural upbringing creep in and dash his CNN aspirations.
“I don’t see why not,” her eyes met Joey’s with a challenge. His producer had told him that Madam would be an easy one but she was turning out to be in possession of a spine. He faltered momentarily but quickly gathered his wits.
“As a woman, do you think you will encounter problems in your quest?”
“Leadership is not about gender,” snapped Madam. “There were fifteen elected women MPs in the Tenth Parliament. It is women leaders who will propel the country to prosperity.”
“Will you be seeking to fill your late husband’s shoes?”
“If the people of Eneoflani will have me, I’d be most honoured to represent them in the august house.” She once again beamed her smile at the camera for the people of Eneoflani most of whom had neither television sets nor electricity.
THE CLARION, February 5
Battle for Eneoflani seat heats up / Story by Sara Bellamu
Revolutionary People’s Movement (RPM) faces a test of its popularity in Thursday’s Eneoflani by-election. The constituency’s 25442 voters will go to the polls next week to vote in a successor to the deceased Thomas Mlafi-Kupindukia. The late Mlafi-Kupindukia’s widow, Madam Immaculate Mlafi-Kupindukia, returned her nomination papers to the Electoral Commission of Kenya two weeks ago.
The battle is between Mrs Mlafi-Kupindukia and Dr. Professor Msomi A. Timamu from United Party for the Liberation of Indigenous Forest Tribes (UPLIFT). The two have been conducting numerous rallies both in village and urban centres. Both candidates have pledged to find a speedy resolution to the land conflict in the tea-growing region. “We in UPLIFT are doing everything to improve the welfare of the people of Eneoflani,” said Prof. Timamu. He advised the people not to be fooled by the antics of RPM. “RPM is plotting to cling to power in order to protect the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the many poor people of our constituency.”
Madam Mlafi-Kupindukia in a telephone interview affirmed her confidence saying that she was well aware of the people’s expectations and that local issues should not be ignored at the expense of national politics.
Meanwhile, chaos erupted when two rival groups clashed earlier in the week during a political rally whose chief guest was veteran politician and RPM founder, Ebenezer Mlafi-Kupindukia. Stones, sticks, bottles, and vegetables flew as the politician struggled to reassure the Eneoflani rally goers that RPM was still strong despite the loss of a key figure in its leadership. The police rushed to the scene and arrested several youth who had started looting shops in the nearby trading centre. Mlafi-Kupindukia accused Prof. Timamu of marshalling the youth to stir up trouble in the constituency.
Thomas Mlafi-Kupindukia’s murder has thrown the country’s ruling class into panic. The fate that has befallen this key political figure shows how rapidly the country is evolving and the dangers that will be faced by those legislators who refuse to address the issues faced by their constituents.
A deceptively frail old man with thinning hair, Ebenezer Mlafi-Kupindukia had been a fixture in national politics for four decades. Detractors of the indomitable politician often said that his party, the Revolutionary People’s Movement, consisted solely of himself and members of his extended family.
Mlafi-Kupindukia had been born into a world of wretched poverty in the parched frontier town. Detractors said that the daily struggle for survival had robbed him of his childhood and made him cold and calculating. He had carried this rapaciousness with him his entire life and even elevated it to an art form. Mlafi-Kupindukia had made his entry into politics at independence seeking to redress the indignities visited upon the black man by the white man. However, like others he revisited the very same indignities to his fellow black man. He had skimmed billions from the public coffers without remorse and had never been made accountable for his actions.
Children with runny noses, hollowed cheeks and halos of flies chased his shiny motorcade as he accompanied his daughter-in-law on the campaign trail. Mlafi-Kupindukia was deeply contemptuous of the poor as they reminded him of the past he had fought so hard to erase over the years. He scowled at the small boys selling freshly harvested honey in recycled soda and vodka bottles. He pitied the passengers in the shuttle buses who were waylaid by hefty women peddling drooping cabbages and potatoes made yellow by the sun.
Madam sat beside the godfather recalling her first school trip to Parliament twenty years ago. It had been a sunny morning like this when she and her classmates had eagerly clambered into the school bus for the ten-hour trip to Nairobi. She refused to partake of the village snacks such as roasted maize, sugarcane and groundnuts that her classmates feasted on and delicately unwrapped her sweets, a snack she considered more fitting for a trip to the capital city. The children sung loudly as their bus trundled along the potholed road. The driver swerved madly to avoid the daredevil motorcycle operators with their precariously perched but equally unfazed passengers. The cyclists rode as if they owned the roads, only to be forced out by the drivers who had more power at their disposal. Madam had never pondered on how this scenario mirrored the country’s overall situation, nor on why the potholed road could still swallow a lorry whole same forty years later.
Parliament. How its pomp and sheer theatre had awed her then. She had been amused at the costumes and parlance, resilient ghosts of empire. She had wandered across halls and floors, up and down staircases, her sweet-sticky fingers running over marble and polished woodwork. Yes, one day she would belong here, she had promised herself. She remembered the address the godfather had made to the wide-eyed group of schoolchildren.
“You are the leaders of tomorrow,” he had said.
Oh, how that speech had stirred her. I too will become an MP one day, she had told the civics teacher, Mr. Timamu. He had simply laughed and told her that she was too ambitious and that she should set her sights lower, plan to marry one maybe. She had cried for two days. Now her chance was here. The elusive dream she had all but given up on could be fulfilled. Who would have thought that she would be seated at the right hand of the godfather as his chosen one? Tomorrow was finally here.
“You have done nothing but project an image of strength throughout this entire ordeal, dear. The people will love you for that. Timamu does not stand a chance,” the old man said reassuringly.
Immaculate mulled on this piece of advice for a few minutes and said, “You are absolutely right.” Just because Timamu had purchased a doctorate degree and attached prefixes and suffixes to his name did not change who he was. She could not wait to win so that she could say to his face, “I told you so.”
They arrived at their destination, a dusty playground adorned with colourful posters depicting Madam in a compelling yet becoming pose. A substantial crowd had already gathered. Mlafi-Kupindukia’s face broke into a gleeful smile.
“Now dear, let us go and charm the great unwashed. We must keep this seat in the family.”
Wana Khamuna is a Kenyan writer.