By Shem Beverton Mukalo
“Shem,do you know the team that fired Obama to the presidency? Have you heard of David Axelrod?”Dikembe Disembe queried as we pounded the dusty squalor-ridden alleyways of Kasarani. I panicked not knowing what to say in response to that question.The truth of the matter is that I had never bothered to know deeply about the circumstances surrounding Obama’s meteoric and historic rise to the presidency.”Am afraid I don’t,”I responded shamefully.
“Eish,Mr.Shem,you should know these things. David Axelrod was a campaign adviser and strategist to president Obama. I will give you a book to read to familiarize yourself with him.”he said rather disarmingly as we ambled into a nearby gastronomic temple where we sampled the delicacies on offer. Sadly,to Dikembe’s chagrin,the pinnacle of his gastronomic pleasures,nyama choma,was not on offer.My heart was craving for roasted goat testicles but that was not on the menu either, to my utter disappointment.We settled on fried beef,vegetables and Ugali.He didn’t call for a cold beer and I silently wondered if he had morphed into an overnight teetotaller.
Chatter on matters of national significance ensued with Dikembe quipping that Kenya was experiencing a middle-class bulge and sharing his insights on the political events of the day.That was vintage Seth Odongo,always brimming with insights on topical issues and itching to spit out what was in his mind.
I had learned,on previous meetings,that engaging him on intellectual matters was never an easy undertaking.You never new what topics he would bring up during a discussion and that made me all the more nervous.Meeting this man, conscious of his scholarly credentials,is not only a social affair but also an opportunity for intellectual exchanges.
Here was a man with whom I had rubbed shoulders in the reeking toilets of Moi University as we peed during his spell as a fiery student leader.At the time an imposing figure with a fine taste for virtually everything.His abrasive disposition had earned him adulation and revulsion in equal measure with campus propaganda purveyors expending reams of newsprint on his exploits.
There was a unanimous observation among pundits that his election was “a stunning upset” with one columnist describing it as “a mind-boggling victory.”At one point during his chequered spell he engaged in a public spat,that nearly turned physical,with University event organisers over what he believed was a carefully orchestrated scheme to fleece students.”You will steal from comrades over my dead body,”he blurted out with mounting indignation.
Thanks to this intervention that smacked of unprecedented bravado,students were saved from extortion. That incident gave me the impression of a bloke vehemently opposed to corruption in all its manifestations:a utilitarian principle that he deeply embraced and one that had led a swath of the student population to vote for him.
Interestingly enough,my relationship with him was never established in the premises of Moi University but rather forged on social media.I had become inexorably enamored of his intellectual writings that revealed an orgasmic command of the Queen’s language;I sometimes wondered if the Queen of England was his mother.
There is little argument even among his bitter ideological opponents and critics that Dikembe oozes talent with the compelling ability of churning articles couched in controversy that have made his contemporaries look like minnows.When I paid him a courtesy call at his office in “Capital Hill”,I saw lots of intellectual literature neatly arranged on his desk.Among the radical readings was Michela Wrong’s ” It’s Our Time to Eat”;a book exploring the scourge of corruption in Kenya and one that was banned for adversely mentioning powerful government operatives.
Some of the literature was acquired during his trip to the U.S.,a worthwhile junket that helped broaden his perspective.The highlight of this transformative trip was a visit to the Martin Luther King jr. Memorial located at West Potomac Park in Washington DC.A picture of himself meditatively staring at the towering monument of the famous civil rights leader was posted on his Facebook page.It was captioned with powerfully poignant words:
“I stared at the monument and felt deeply that our struggles at home echoed those of the civil rights movement.Dr.King’s world became my world.”
As we voraciously molest our meal,Seth Odongo alias Dikembe Disembe digs a handset out of his pocket to check how things are playing out on social media:a sphere that has defined his contemporary existence and plunged him into mounting controversy and seen him spend time behind bars.He sees social media as a validation of scholarly narratives of shifting battle fronts.”If the left is serious about capturing power in the next elections,then social media ought to be central to our strategy,”he avers. According to him,the opposition is yet to tap into the great promise of social media;a serious anomaly which,if not addressed,could prove fatal for the left.
I take advantage of the moment to ask his opinion on the chances of the opposition in 2017.A wide grin plays on his lips.”The agenda of the government is backfiring.Does the president even know that Nadome exists?The dynamics of the game are shifting,I think we have a chance here.”he says rather confidently.”But here’s the caveat,we have to play our cards.
Is running for the presidency part of your longterm political calculus?What happened to your Afro hairstyle?Where did the nomme de guerre Dikembe Disembe emanate from?
All this questions play in my mind and before I pose them,Dikembe rises to pay the bill quipping,” I was born in the village and I believe in God.”
Follow the conversation HERE