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Baba deserves to be proclaimed Kenya’s Man of the Year 2018



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Around this time of the year, it is customary for publications, be they newspapers or newsmagazines, to name the person who, in their collective wisdom, they consider to have contributed most to their country’s well-being be it in politics, constitutionalism, jurisprudence, economic management, arts, athletics, innovation, entrepreneurship, and so on. The judgement to that end is usually subjective, and on many occasions, half of the readers quarrel with the choice, while the other half nods in complete agreement.

However, it is rare for individual columnists to pick the person who, in their view, has helped chart the destiny of their country in a significant manner. I intend to do so today, and if I offend anybody’s sensibilities, I seek their indulgence. The man of the year 2018 is, in my opinion, ODM leader Raila Amolo Odinga. His handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 9 this year changed, and possibly saved, this country, but more on that later. Before that, it is necessary to recognise the efforts of three other individuals who could also, one day, make it to the hall of fame.

Those who immediately come to mind are Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his sidekicks in the ongoing effort to root out corruption — the Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr George Kinoti, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Noordin Haji. These last two are easy to dismiss right now because they are a work in progress so to speak, and their contribution has not borne much fruit so far despite working diligently to have corrupt ne’er-do-wells incarcerated.

However, the creature known as due diligence in legal jargon has become a formidable hindrance to their efforts. Nothing much can be done about it though, because ours is a democracy where the rule of law must always obtain. In short, since very few of the most notorious lords of corruption have been punished so far, the two gentlemen cannot be granted the accolade of “Men of the Year”. More is the pity.

The same thing should be said of Dr Matiang’i. This robust minister who rarely smiles came into the public limelight when he wrestled to the ground three mighty media houses — the Nation Media Group, the Royal Media Services and the Standard Group — over the issue of digital migration by their respective television networks. It so happened that the deadline for the worldwide switch from analogue to digital had approached, but the media houses were loath to lose their investments in infrastructure and wanted a gradual process. But ICT minister Matiang’i would hear none of it.

He was to become equally adamant in the Education ministry and clean up an examination system that had become a scandal. This was when he instituted tough rules to curb the rampant national exam cheating which had turned into a cruel joke. The situation had become so bad that complete dunderheads were transiting to secondary school and to university. He put a stop to it. Today, runaway exam cheating is unheard of.

However, of more importance in this discourse is what he has done this year. Dr Matiang’i was appointed acting Interior Cabinet Secretary after the death of Mr Joseph Nkaissery on July 8, 2017. His appointment a month from the August 25 General Election came in the middle of protests by the opposition against the electoral commission which was deemed to have been compromised. He responded vigorously through the liberal use of tear gas and water-cannons.

He was to fall afoul of the opposition even more when he was confirmed as Interior minister in January amid continued protests by the opposition over disputed elections. The persistent crisis came to a head when elements in the opposition decided to swear in Mr Odinga as the “people’s president” on January 30. A great deal had gone on before that, including a disputed election which was eventually nullified by the Supreme Court, a repeat election which was boycotted by the opposition, and a general ferment which had by then made the country almost ungovernable.

Besides the President, the doyen of the opposition has received more media coverage than anyone else in Kenya. What must be said is that Mr Odinga commands such a loyal following that to try and wish him out of Kenya’s politics any time soon as some are doing out of fear, would be unwise. Indeed, when the record of Kenya’s socio-political and economic reforms is written, he will have already earned his rightful place in history. His change from a leader who, in many eyes, always symbolised agitation and chaos to a statesman, has been nothing but remarkable. He has helped transform this country through negotiations and compromise with President Kenyatta and now Kenyans are more at peace with themselves than they have ever been in the past.