Over the past few days the Kenyan media has had a lot to say about our â€œFirst Ladyâ€?, Mrs Lucy Kibaki. Most of what has been said has not been very nice. On a personal level I am indifferent to Ms Kibaki and her activities. What troubles me are the deeper issue(s) that underpin the current anti-Lucy sentiment.
Firstly I am concerned by our national mediaâ€™s obsession with the personal aspects of Ms Kibakiâ€™s life. This is not to say that I am against coverage of the Kibakiâ€™s. Be it to curb our voyeuristic tendencies or to give us greater insight into another aspect of our leaderâ€™s life â€“ it is good to be kept informed. What is not right is when our national media resort to tabloid style journalism.
Kenya does not have a wide range of written press to cater for all audiences. The written news that the majority of Kenyans read, on all matters global and national, is provided predominantly by two newspapers – The Nation and The Standard. We do not have the â€œluxuryâ€? of choosing whether to opt for the tabloid or broadsheet version of a story. When any newspaper holds as much power as that held by Kenyaâ€™s big two I feel they need to be responsible in what they cover and how they cover it.
Most of their coverage on this recent issue regarding Mrs Kibaki revolves around how she dealt with the level of noise emanating from her neighbourâ€™s/tenantâ€™s house. Her neighbour/tenant happens to be outgoing World Bank country leader Mr Makhtar Diop.
Mrs Kibaki has already challenged the accuracy of their information. The manner in which she challenged the media has also been the subject of debate. Mrs Kibaki is said to have “stormed” the media offices and there have been allegations that she slapped a journalist.
At present there is so much she said/he said I do not know who to believe. I can however speak confidently on two things, if Mrs Kibaki did slap the journalist then this aspect needs to be dealt with appropriately. Secondly this is not the first time that our press have got it wrong.
I recall a few months ago when Kenyan bloggers and readers of Thinkerâ€™s Room spoke out against the Nationâ€™s decision to print without sufficient credit an item taken from Thinkerâ€™s blog. On more than one occassion people the media was labelled as unreliable and unethical, quite a few said they were not suprised by the actions of the press.
Further to this, if Lucy did behave in manner that was inappropriate then surely our nationâ€™s media should be raising the level of debate and focusing on the implications of her behaviour and how it affects Kenyans.
- How does Mrs Kibakiâ€™s behaviour affect us and the daily struggles that we go through?
- Will her reaction affect relationships between Kenya and the World Bank?
- Will Senegal (Diopâ€™s country of origin) sever all ties because a member of our country was (allegedly) rude and offensive towards him?
- Should we be reviewing our Constitution and setting guidlines on the roles and responsibilities of “First Families”?
- What exactly is the correct cause of action when dealing with noisy neighbours and how many Kenyans are aware of their rights in relation to this?
This , a long with questions raised by Kenyan Pundit are a few examples of some of the things that I would like to see in our papers.
Writing this has reminded me of a time when Tony Blairâ€™s son was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. The Guardian an English broadsheet paper raised the level debate while most of the tabloids opted to focus on the fact that Blair’s son told the police his name was Mickey Mouse.
The Nation and The Standardâ€™s preoccupation with whether Mrs Kibaki was wearing pyjamas at the time is in my view very similar to the tabloid’s Mickey Mouse approach.
The pyjama aspect leads me on to something else that disturbs me about this anti-Lucy sentiment. This is not the first time that Mrs Kibaki has come under attack for how she looks and dresses.
In my view Mrs Kibaki has an â€œevery womanâ€? look to her. We may not like the fact that Mrs Kibakiâ€™s weave is not cool. Or that she owns one of those buttock hugging woollen cardigans with brash embroidery. Or that in 2005 she still wears those patent leather â€œpumpsâ€? complete with the stick-on bows. Some of us may still be wondering why she bothers to razor shave her eyebrows only to redraw them (twice as thick) with a charcoal coloured pencil. We may never know the answer to this one. What I do know is that most if not all Kenyan families have an aunt, mother, sister, daughter and/or cousin who proudly leave the house sporting the Lucy Kibak look. I also have a sneaky suspicion that if Mrs Kibaki did get a make over there would be many who accuse of her misspending our money.
Itâ€™s not just Mrs Kibakiâ€™s look that is under attack. The way she speaks has been the subject of many jokes. Apparently Mrs Kibakiâ€™s â€œshrubbingâ€? is one that amuses many of us. I have failed to find an English equivalent for the word â€œshrubbingâ€?. The best I can do is offer a comparison. In the same way that Japanese people, owing to the nature and structure of their language pronounce â€œLâ€? as â€œRâ€? and vice-versa when speaking English, so to does Mrs Kibaki.
Laughing at people who shrub is common in Kenya, yet so many Kenyans shrub and many of those who do shrub, are conscious and at times embarrassed by this. While on the surface it may appear as harmless fun, underlying this â€˜humourâ€™ is the racist, classist, elitist notion that an inability to speak and pronounce English like the Queen means that you are backward, illiterate and stupid.
Mrs Kibaki, with her weave and her shrubs in many ways embodies the Kenyan woman.
So while we may laugh and ridicule Mrs Kibaki for her appearance and her â€˜badâ€™ English we are effectively laughing at ourselves. In our jest we reinforce, encourage and perpetuate racist, classist and elitist stereotypes that so many of our people have been fighting against.
Lastly, there has been mention of her husband, our President, Mwai Kibaki being told to take â€˜charge of his familyâ€™. Am I the only who is incensed by this blatantly sexist and chauvinistic attitude? When a few male politicians were caught kerb-crawling on Nairobiâ€™s Koinange Street I do not recall anyone calling for their wives to step in and take charge of their family. Apparently, there are some who feel that President Kibakiâ€™s inability to control his woman is a sign that he is not a good leader. Excuse me? Since when was a marriage about control?
I am not excusing, defending or encouraging what Mrs Kibaki is alleged to have done or said. I feel very strongly about denying the media their freedom. I also feel strongly about the fact that Mrs Kibaki (allegedly) slapped a reporter. I do not condone violence. I also feel that as Kenya continues to grow and evolve we should examine what we expect from our public figures. But I refuse to be part of those discussions that focus solely on personality, rely on information that may be inaccurate and that is littered with sexist, elitist and often times violent language.