I often hear from my readers how dirty politics is. That politicians are lying, thieving and treacherous beings. I concur that honour is a hard thing to find among Kenyan politicians, but then again Kenyan politicians are in a class of their own. They have been called “M-Pigs”, “A fellowship of thugs”, “The cream of all crap”. More tellingly, they do not just steal from the people, they have no honour among themselves, and they are always tearing at each other with insults.
From the highest level of political relationships between Presidents and their appointees, Coalitions partners and Party honchos, to the Governors and their Deputies, from the National to the Ward level, we are used to stories of treachery, arm-twisting, threats, grandstanding, betrayal, jealousy, undermining, undercutting and sleaze amongst politicians. One can therefore understand the disillusionment of Kenyans with our politicians.
But our democracy is crafted in such a way that change will have to come through the political class. We are not a theocracy, nor a military dictatorship nor a monarchy. We are a democracy and these elected politicians are here to stay. And therefore, we need some hope in politicians, the political class and the democratic process. We need hope, something that tells us that we will one day get the right crop of politicians and that our democracy will not always be undermined and the people held hostage by the “fellowship of thugs”.
It is in search of this hope, that I am sharing my own view about the Obama-Biden relationship. There is honour here.
In the formal news conference where Obama was paying tribute to Biden, he said things that I would one day hope to hear a Kenyan politician say about his colleagues. Obama said:
“To know Joe Biden is to know that love without pretence, service without self-regard, and to live life fully. As one of his long-time colleagues in the Senate who happened to be a Republican once said, if you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you’ve got a problem. He is as good a man as God ever created.”
In his final farewell speech, he said this about Biden:
“To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son, you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.”
Can you ever imagine Kenyan politicians saying this about each other? Except maybe for the hypocritical stuff they go to say in their funerals, happy that the dead don’t tell tales, neither do they hear any?
With the exception of the Kenyatta 1-Moi, and Kibaki-Awori Presidency, the relationships of Presidents and their Deputies have ended in ignominy and claims of treachery and disloyalty. From what I have read, it is hard to say what Kenyatta 1 thought about a youthful Moi, his then VP. But he remained protective of him amid huge pressure to drop him. It is is generally agreed that Moi was fiercely loyal to Kenyatta 1 and remains so until today. Ask Uhuru how he became President. I doubt that young Kenyans can recall such a relationship among politicians. There seemed to be respect between Uncle Moody and Kibaki though. I don’t know that there was much else.
In an earlier article, I talked about the current political class in CORD and Jubilee and the fact that all of them have been together in KANU, in the blood-soaked coalition government and beyond. Yet they have little respect for each other. They are frenemies. The words they use to describe each other are a testament that there is no honour among our politicians; thief, mole, anarchist, traitor, hypocrite, tribalist (this is a favorite of them all), grabber, Judas Iscariot, dishonest, dictator, Kimundu, bully, Jamaa wa vitendawili, ile mtu wa risasi moja, chameleon, water melon, abunuwasi, mganga, high priest of corruption, etc etc.
Even the fact that Obama held a press conference to honour Joe Biden is itself a special thing. As one of his last acts as President, he went further to convey to him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, the highest civilian honours, a gesture that brought Biden to tears. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/obama-awards-biden-presidential-medal-of-freedom/2017/01/12/93de2e1a-d90b-11e6-a0e6-d502d6751bc8_video.html.
The event touched the very core of humanity in everyone who watched it. I have to admit I have watched it again and again and again. I am a sucker for human loyalty and devotion. I do not think there is any higher value in human relationships than this. It trumps everything else, it goes beyond respect, love, beyond sharing and beyond trust. Loyalty and devotion mark the pinnacle of the possibilities of human relationships, beyond that can only be heaven.
And Obama-Biden relationship is pure humanity without pretense, friendship without bounds, loyalty without ego. Humanity at its best. And this from politicians. There indeed can be honour among politicians and there is hope for us still. Biden faithfully shadowed Obama for eight years, and in return has great things to say about his boss. He was his real support without being intrusive. He just asked to be a footnote when the story of Obama’s great legacy is finally told. Ours is a situation where I sometimes wonder whether we have a Deputy President or a Co-President. But that is a story for another day.
For those of us still hoping and believing for a new non-ethnic political narrative, let us hope that the new narrative will not only inspire the country differently, but it will inspire a new class of politicians. Let us hope it will engender a political class guided by honour, loyalty, service, grace and selflessness. Something that our children can look up to, admire and emulate. A leadership that will not disillusion us and make us lose faith in ourselves, but one that will inspire us to the highest possibilities of human achievement and human relationships. For a world used to politicians behaving badly, the Obama-Biden relationship was a class act and a reminder, there is hope for us still.