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Monday, June 8, 2009

Loose tongues in high places

Reckless talk is dangerous, and for people keen enough to control what spews out of their mouths, the guiding principle is: “It is better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubts.”

But the men are at it again, talking recklessly and behaving badly. We all saw them on Madaraka Day. During the celebrations at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium, it was all testosterone as no woman was given the chance to say anything, not even prayers.

No wonder, such a festivity has over time been fully expressive of fading national pride, as more and more Kenyans find themselves without an iota of dignity and respect either for one another or from the governing institutions.

As the powers-that-be addressed their followers, their trusted administrators read the presidential speech in different parts of the country. One such is Nyanza provincial commissioner Paul Olando. In his address in Kisumu he made some uncalled-for, shameful, despicable, offensive and outright abhorrent remarks.

I did not hear the same utterances in the Kibaki speech, but Mr Olando’s words amounted to justifying the violation of women’s rights. Had I been his employer, he would have gone home the very same day. The PC was quoted by the media as having said that since male police officers stay away from their wives for long they were likely to rape. He also appeared to say that the rape of a woman by a policeman is better than that of criminal gangs.

There are some things one must speak about from personal knowledge, and if the PC is saying that he would rather be raped by a policeman than a gang of criminals, so be it. But he cannot in any way subscribe the same for others. Surely, how can such a senior government official make this remark?

But this is Kenya with its peculiar leaders and habits. I recall minister Kiraitu Murungi, a Harvard-educated man and once renowned human rights lawyer likening something a few years ago to raping a woman who is only too willing.

People must be very careful about what they say, especially in public.

At Rwathia village in central Kenya, the story is told of a homeguard during the independence struggle. He was his group’s decision maker. Whenever he was asked: “Do we shoot that one?” in reference to a local, he would not even bother to look up and would always answer: “That’s exactly what I thought”. The poor fellow would be shot for no reason. One day the same question was posed to him and it elicited the usual answer, and a bullet was fired. When they got closer, they realised that his only daughter had been killed.

Does PC Paul Olando have no self-control when away from his family? Does it mean that women have more self-control? If this is the case, perhaps women’s policing role should be elevated.

The point I am making is that PC Olando will most likely have a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister or any other female relative. He is also in charge of security forces in the province and is guarded by administration police officers who may be far from their spouses. According to him, it is excusable for these officers to rape his wife, mother, daughter, sister or other female relative. What I fail to understand is why his masters and MPs are not bothered by such comments, yet they are also guarded by policemen. The kind of policeman we have in Kenya is not one to hear of such comments, especially from a senior administrator. A PC is not an ordinary person and the policeman will literally put such encouragement into practice.

But gone are the days when a PC wielded so much power. The provincial administration traces its origin to the colonial era, when its main functions were to collect taxes, maintain law and order and pacify the natives.

After independence, due to the Kenyatta regime’s Western and capitalistic orientation, everything, including Parliament, the civil service, police and the provincial administration, remained largely unchanged. Through working closely with the provincial administration, the Executive became more powerful than the ruling party Kanu and Parliament. The government was run from State House in conjunction with senior members of the provincial administration loyal to the Executive, particularly due to close ethnic ties. They were the days when a PC dared slap Vice-President Daniel arap Moi.

Police are expected to be responsive to the public demand for services and the protection of individuals’ rights. As individuals they must remain accountable to social norms and to the citizens. But Mr Olando’s remarks are offensive to both men and women. Why should they be confined to the policemen only? It is not only they who work away from their wives. Apparently, he means that men have no self-control when away from their families so they start acting like animals. Does PC Paul Olando have no self-control when away from his family? Does it mean that women have more self-control? If this is the case, perhaps women’s policing role should be elevated.

The PC’s insensitive remarks show that he is an embarrassment and a risk to society. He does not deserve to be a leader.

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