In the throes of a presidential election campaign persistently requiring each frontrunner to continuously give their best, all sorts of gambits, gimmicks and sleights of hand are proving irresistible.
It was therefore a matter of time before the Raila Odinga campaign assumed its putative dimensions and resorted to a default narrative.
Odinga fancies himself the great liberator of this country, whose immense sacrifices are the principal reasons we enjoy any measure of freedom.
This is an inherently problematic proposition for anyone, let alone a regular Kenyan politician to make, and Odinga’s audacity in propounding it is truly remarkable.
A ‘Second liberation’ narrative industry has established itself around this astonishing claim, which selectively affirms some veterans of the heroic agitation for the restoration of democracy during the Nyayo years, depending on how they happen to align with the exigencies of Odinga’s momentary politics.
Last week, Odinga took a tremendous political gamble; he made the second liberation narrative a pillar of his campaign by nominating Narc Kenya leader and former Justice Minister Martha Karua as his running mate.
For the moment, according to Odinga, Karua is a decorated heroine of the second liberation struggle, although this has not always been the case.
On the numerous occasions that Karua and Odinga have been at odds, the second liberation industry has been activated to profile her as a reactionary, parochial ethnic chauvinist and even Mt Kenya mafioso.
The calculation behind Karua’s selection took several factors into account.
Foremost for Odinga was the female demographic, which he hoped could be rallied to decisive effect against a rival whose commitments to that constituency have been nothing short of lavish.
Secondly, and perhaps even more urgently, Odinga hopes to substitute political mountaineering with a ticket firmly anchored in the history of anti-Nyayo agitation, through a running mate who is arguably fluent in Odinga’s consuming pre-occupation – the second liberation narrative.
Thirdly, the selection of Karua bestowed Odinga’s campaign with a godsend: a fellow politician who has no qualms whatsoever propagating the politics of self-righteousness.
Without a doubt, Karua and Odinga are Kenya’s most sanctimonious and self-regarding politicians, going by their interventions with respect to governance and the war on corruption.
Both project themselves as absolute paragons, and each arbitrarily claims authority to profile everybody else as clean or corrupt.
Although there have been moments when the profiling worked at cross-purposes, it is fair to say that for this campaign, the duo is aligned.
Regardless of whether Karua and Odinga are in fact the exemplars they so smugly claim to be, there exists an intractable aesthetic difficulty with a self-righteous politics.
The convention all over the world tends towards modesty and chivalry in giving account of one’s virtue and merit, and the opposite with respect to others.
That is why a lawyer cannot pay herself the compliment implicit in that charming courtroom courtesy by describing herelf as ‘learned’, any more than a Member of Parliament can call herself ‘honourable’( although, of course, our legislators long kicked the traces of basic shame and actually do so without blinking).
Moreover, every society has institutions – values, processes, forums and councils – which investigate, adjudicate and determine facts and norms according to which persons and actions are formally profiled in normative terms.
The right to profile oneself (positively) and others (negatively) belongs to the community, exercised through offices formally designated for that purpose.
Uncomplimentary claims about others can only be admitted if they disclose a complaint for investigation of wrongs suffered at their instance, in the expectation that formal profiling can only ensue after due process.
It is, therefore, as inappropriate to mount the sap box and proclaim our righteousness as it is to fulminate about another’s shortcomings.
This explains the existence of robust formal and informal sanctions against libel and charlatanry.
Indeed, positive self-profiling is only an invitation for others to impugn boastful exaggerations and sanctimonious bluster.
Accounts of one’s faults become admissible upon gratuitous declaration of virtue.
In a court of law, testimony that one is an accomplished engineer, for example, renders both relevant and admissible evidence that one is indeed only a welder. In general, societies have low tolerance for swaggering conceit.
Self-righteous politics therefore unites two reprehensible propensities; charlatanry and libel.
Both tendencies extend beyond merely unseemly shortcomings and constitute unilateral misappropriation and perversion of a community’s exclusive right of profiling pursuant to due process.
In proclaiming themselves to be reformist, weupe kama pamba, and suchlike, while categorising their rivals as anti-reform, wezi, and so forth, Karua and Odinga overthrow the people from their sovereign adjudicative mandate, opening the way for a clamorous helter-skelter of charlatans and libellers.
In the end, anything goes and the truth about anyone’s true character and credentials is rendered utterly meaningless.
Moreover, this type of discourse comprises an emphatic invitation to investigate its proponents’ unsavoury aspects, which would be honoured with unbridled gusto.
Mr Ng’eno is an advocate of the High Court and a supporter of William Ruto’s presidential candidacy. @EricNgeno