By Shem Mukalo
It is a show that has been graced by players who occupy the pantheon of Kenya’s best in the world of politics and policy analysis.
The Speaker’s Gallery has seen them all from the Iron Lady Martha Karua to embattled Bungoma senator Moses Wetangula, from renowned academic Prof Peter Kagwanja to former IEBC commissioner Mercy Cheptoo Keino. Even revered Economist David Ndii has feature in one of the episodes.
Given the caliber of previous guests, fans of the show were somewhat skeptical about Speaker Farah Maalim’s invitation to the ‘controversial’ writer, blogger, sociopolitical commentator and former ODM Deputy Communication Director Dikembe Disembe.
Born Seth Odongo to a pre-school teacher, Dikembe trudges the issues of the day with a cognitive limpidity rare in his peers.
He rejects the notion that he is a blogger, perhaps, aware of the negative connotations the word now evokes in public psyche in Kenya. He is right. He is more.
“In another world, I would be happy to be called a blogger but in our socio-political setting, a mental picture of a blogger is some mindless social media mercenary with internet bundles and a Facebook account. That’s not who a blogger is and that’s not who I am,” he once told me.
On Farah’s show, Dikembe was himself acutely conscious of his own inadequacy.
“I have been watching the people who come here. I admired the group that have made it to this seat I am sitting on right now. When you told me I should be here, I felt inadequate, ” he told Farah.
Donning a crisp bespoke navy blue suit, Dikembe exuded a lot of confidence, bringing admirable intellectual rigour and emotional maturity worthy of a seasoned policy wonk as he chipped away at issues. It seemed as if Speaker Farah Maalim, the host of the show, was keen on gauging the intellect of the young man, asking questions that demanded an understanding of history and sociopolitical dynamics.
A bewildering array of issues around youths in leadership, the role of ethnic mobilisation in Kenyan politics, the place of the university in manufacturing credible leaders, the future of jobs (for young people) were canvassed. Every question had a response. Every response was delivered in a deep, thoughtful monologue.
Sometimes the interview took to discussing abstracts. Sometimes the discussions revolved around historical figures. Dikembe seamlessly navigated the contours. An hour elapsed.
Dikembe contended that the time of young people had come, citing Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Ahmed Abbiy as an example of young leaders who were making systems work. He rejected the notion of a “revolutionary takeover” in Kenya, blaming tribalism, yet still oozed the hope of a better future through deliberate organization.
He rejected the notion that the failure in Kenya was a “youth failure”, and pointed to other examples. Ethiopia.
“In Ethiopia, PM Abby just came in the other today but if you look at all world (news)papers they are talking about ‘Ethiopia after Abby’ and ‘Ethiopia before Abbiy’. It means that this young person somehow ended an era. It could have been an era of incompetence, an era of human rights infractions… We are not saying that Ethiopia is perfect but it is a shining example of what a young person, futuristic, visionary can do to change a nation, ” Dikembe averred.
To Dikembe, Jubilee regime is a kakistocracy…”this is a government of the least qualified, the most incompetent…”. He saw the handshake as not helping change the way the government is run, saying most top government officials cannot change their worldviews.
“Nothing convinces me that the handshake will change how this government behaves,” he said.
On young Kenyans who are currently in politics, Dikembe had serious reservations, saying that they lacked the progressive credentials to steer the youth agenda.
Universities were engaged in a deliberate effort to stifle progressive and politically conscious youths, he charged, waxing historical examples of moments when progressive and politically conscious students were expelled from the university. He sees this as the reason the current crop of young parliamentarians are a bunch of yeomen.
He honored Wafula Buke, the University of Nairobi student leader of the ’80s, and Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, who was expelled, and after relentless student agitation, readmitted, at Moi University.
But despite the difficulties facing the young people in Kenya, Dikembe was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the Kenyan youth in what is happening elsewhere in the world.
Uganda. South Africa. Sudan. And Algeria.
For all the doubts that viewers might have had, they were dispelled after the show.
Watch the FULL interview here