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Friday, July 30, 2010

Kibaki vs Moi: 'Mchongoano' for grown ups

For the better part of this month, Kenyans have been treated to a pressure-cooker referendum campaign with fisticuffs reported between supporters of the Greens and the Reds in some areas.

But the last leg of the campaign is evolving into a fairly light-hearted affair as the rival camps lock horns in the political version of Mchongoano, the hilarious Kenyan art form in which contestants try to outwit each other with words, not fists.

Americans call it ‘Yo Momma’ jokes.

Bifwoli Wakoli, the lands assistant minister who has publicly played clown a few times in the past, recently tickled a crowd in Eldoret when he wondered: “which man would want to marry me?” That was in response to allegations by the ‘No’ campaign that the Proposed Constitution allows same-sex marriages. Former president Moi, too, has given a good account of himself with quite some sharp tongue on the campaign platform. Last week, Moi retorted to the popular reference to his former political allies as “Moi orphans” by questioning the wisdom of doing so as if “I am dead”.

Well, all this has just been part of the curtain-raiser. The big show is the clash of the presidents, and it is as mouthwatering as it can probably get.

It started on Tuesday when President Kibaki uncharacteristically gave his predecessor a tongue lashing while addressing a ‘Yes’ rally. In typical casual Kibakispeak, the President aimed a jibe at “Wazee wengine (some old men)” moving around “wakisema katiba ni mbaya (claiming the Proposed Constitution is bad)”. He rubbed it in by terming Moi’s behaviour “a shame” and sought to finish the former president off by suggesting that he (Moi) “deserved sympathy”. If Kibaki appeared to land a heavy punch, he certainly fell short of a TKO. On Wednesday, Moi came out in a fighting mood poking some fun of his own at President Kibaki as having failed to deliver on his lofty 2002 campaign promise to give Kenyans a new constitution within 100 days of assuming power. And so it continued well into Thursday, with the old timers having a back-and-forth. This  weekend will no doubt see them trying to win the war of words.

For people who prefer to see themselves as statesmen, it might not degenerate into the quick-fire personal or mother insults like they do on the American Yo Momma. But from their long history as political friends-turned-foes, there are sufficient character and leadership flaws for either man to use as fodder and win this other contest in the referendum.

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