Mr President, you really do not need these ridiculous court poets around you

What you need to know:

  • Dictatorship always starts with the building of a personality cult.
  • You really want to be wary of people who post newspaper advertisements on your behalf.

Dear President Kenyatta,

I know that your days are filled with a strictly controlled regime of meeting upon meeting.

However, one of these days, cancel everything and play "Easy", written by Commodores’ lead singer, Lionel Richie, on the State House surround system. I will tell you in a moment why that song is a valuable soundtrack for your day of introspection.

Next, reach for a copy of Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. You do not have to read it all on that day. If you just read the first two chapters, you will grasp the gist of the matter.

Namely: how well-intentioned men like His Excellency Sam morph into monsters, aided and abetted by shyster types like Prof Reginald Okong.

You will note the ironic reversal of clothes. Sam abandons his military uniforms and dons danshiki mufti. Members of his Cabinet abandon suits and adopt the jungle fatigue style. Which brings me to the next text for your day of cultural edification.

Once you put aside Achebe, please find a documentary called Mobutu: King of Zaire. You can dispatch a State House rider to my house to borrow my copy.

We really cannot have our President’s IP address tagged for illegal downloads on the host of websites that have provided employment for dozens of young people selling Sh50 DVDs in backstreet stalls and highways.

The documentary is 135 minutes long, but it covers Mobutu’s 32 years at the helm quite thoroughly.

Did you know that Marshal Mobutu was never trained as a military man? He was actually a journalist.

Imagine that! So how did he become this overbearing dictator who ruled Zaire, clad in a curious mix of leopard skin caps and epaulette-filled shirts?

I thought about this documentary the second time I saw you dressed in jungle fatigues.

I have not had time to watch it again to find out why I instinctively made that haunting connection, though I do know we are still at war in Somalia.

But as with Achebe’s book, I think you will find a link between jungle fatigues, fawning politicians, and roadside declarations.


Dictatorship always starts with the building of a personality cult. That cult is partly built through the fashioning of unlikely gowns, funny fimbos, and off-key songs of adoration. That brings me to our beloved Senator Sonko.

You really want to be wary of people who post newspaper advertisements on your behalf, especially when those notices relate to inane populist gestures such as wishing you a happy birthday and Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates success at the national exams.

Not only can you do that for yourself, but the money splurged on newspapers that the children of Kapedo, Kangemi, and Khorof Harar will never see can be better spent giving them posho, penicillin and pencils.

I never thought I would demand a commission of inquiry. Call me cynical — I usually call them omissions of inquiry — but the day I saw Senator Sonko and a band of graceless dancers yelling and prancing about on the streets of The Hague, that was what I wanted — a commission of inquiry whose terms of reference would simply be: “Who let the dogs out?”

I do not intend any crass insult. I am musically inclined, so the words from that song by Baha Men popped into my head the moment I saw Sonko and his friends in that tasteless jive.

It was not just the insults that Sonko was wearing on his branded chest. I was struck more by the utter lack of wisdom.

How does a government that wants to promote tourism market itself through a tone-deaf choir with bodies as stiff as wood? Ahn Ahn. They were a truly bad show.

And yet, ironically, Kenya is known to stage some absolutely electrifying performances.

So, the reason you will be listening to "Easy" is because you need to draft an equally sweet “Dear John” letter, or ballad and bid some folk around you goodbye.

You can find far better company than this mix of shrill poets and militiamen. Theirs is too narrow a view of the world to allow you the room to truly think about what most people in this country need.

PS: Please do not forget to return my DVD once you are through with it. You know how Kenyans are incredibly adept at keeping what is not theirs!

Dr Nyairo is a cultural analyst. ([email protected])