I want professionals in politics

Eric Obino

Former NMG Managing Editor Eric Obino moments after he was installed as an elder at his Bobaracho home in Kisii on January 21,2021. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • If journalism were an army, the reporter-writer types like myself would be the canon-fodder infantry while the natural-born ‘subs’ would be snipers.
  • People like Obino bring to politics skill sets, training and attitudes which have the potential to change the way we run institutions and politics.

Last week, I saw a short video of my friend and colleague, dressed in traditional armour, carrying a raw hide shield and a flywhisk after he was declared an elder and fit to lead. 

Having spent two and a half decades sitting across the table from Eric Ogoti Obino, the Editor-in-Chief at Mediamax, then Group Managing Editor at Nation Media Group, among others, I noticed three things (because I am the kind of guy who notices those types of things). 

First, he was wearing genuine African, raw hide leather and carrying a real shield, made of cowhide as hard as steel but, in some places, deformed by warping. This is not some fancy, PR optics type of thing — he’d have gone for prettier Chinese stuff — this is a man going for the raw thing.

And the expressions on his face captured the contradictions professionals meet when they leave the clean, orderly, rule-governed world of work and venture into the chaos of Kenyan politics. I saw how he lowered his face, as he would when a decision is taken and an issue settled, or relaxed, holding forth at the Trump Casino in Atlantic City at 3am in the morning, looking for the appropriate word to punchline a funny story. But also how his chin would snap up, his face angled and jaw defiantly squared, as he’d do facing down some bully trying to kill his stories.

Finally, I think if it is a battle of wits, the other aspirants preparing to run against him in Kitutu Chache Constituency might have a problem. A big brain, hardened by decades of facing daily crises, finding creative solutions to a thousand problems, big and small, coldly objective, rational, ethically guardrailed thinking honed by the best business schools, encased in the soft-spoken, calculating, observant patience of the professional sub-editor is a phenomenal instrument when applied to the simple tasks of political campaigning and public opinion management. 

Benefit to democracy

If journalism were an army, the reporter-writer types like myself would be the canon-fodder infantry while the natural-born ‘subs’ would be snipers, completely at home lying still for a week, gently fondling their trigger, waiting for the shot.

People like Obino bring to politics skill sets, training and attitudes which have the potential to change the way we run institutions and politics. You may not like former Finance minister Amos Kimunya; you might think he is a dynasty-worshipping, Muthaiga Golf Club-type toady. But there is something you know for sure: If Mr Kimunya, a Bachelor of Commerce graduate of the University of Nairobi, CPA (K) and former chairman of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) sat down to go over the national budget with a calculator and pencil, by the time he was done, there would be no logical or computational error in it. Unless, of course, he wanted it there. The same with Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya.

The involvement of managers and professionals in politics, at the very least, lends sympathetic expertise during debate and law making. Agricultural economists bring passion and knowledge about agriculture that a politician who came up through pyramid schemes can’t summon; a doctor will look at health differently from a tithe-fed prophetess and former witch whose expertise is in another realm.

The orderliness and work ethic of people who spent their lives building careers contrasts sharply from those who have spent their lives dozing in the House for a couple of hours three days a week and the rest of the time at a bar shooting the breeze. 

Editors in the House will give journalism and the causes we represent — the public interest, rights of all, good government and integrity in public office — a strong voice and will be of great benefit to democracy. I know somebody will point out that Boris Johnson was a journalist, but may I remind you that he attended Eton and that’s where the rain started beating him.

Let designers, judges, tailors, nurses, soldiers, engineers and every shade of career and trade find a voice in the government of our country so that the diversity of views and skills can strengthen it and save it from becoming the preserve of professional failures, wash-wash sleight-of-handers, fast-talking con men and lifelong ambassadors of graft and palm greasing.

***

I saw Nameless, the musician, on The Trend the other night and I had such a strong sense of being dislocated in time. 

When we worked on Lifestyle magazine with Andrew Ngwiri and some other geriatrics a long time ago, Nameless and E-Sir were stars (although that bare fact is unremarkable; there were many stars and there have been many since). 

The remarkable thing is how Nameless has not changed one bit in all these years — the same durag, the same tower towel tucked in the waistband. How does he do it? How does he remain the same, with the same look, over the decades?

Talking entertainment, I take my hat off to the fellow(s) who write the music for Sauti Sol. There is a gift in the imagery and linguistic flair which is quite rare. I might venture into that business myself, now that nobody would vote for me.

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