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How to succeed as a politician in Kenya

Apr 04, 2004 Humour, Sunday Nation

This week I would like to continue my occasional series offering free career advice to the young and ambitious. Last time I outlined the sure-fire ways to make money in this country. This time I’d like to focus on the big one: becoming a politician in Kenya. So pay attention, youngsters – you could make more money and command more power than you can dream of.

The wonderful thing about becoming a successful politician in Kenya is that, unlike in other ventures, you require little start-up capital. Many of our leading lights have emerged from the grimiest ghettos and the remotest rural wastelands. Today, they own vast (and undeclared) tracts of land, ride around in chauffeured limousines and have dozens of sycophants at their beck and call. You, too, can have all this. To start, all you need is a certain type of personality.

Do you have a violent, overwhelming desire to control others? Did you always rule over your siblings (including the older ones)? Were your parents always a little scared of you? Do you fly into uncontrollable rages when you can’t have your own way? Do you believe, with absolute and unassailable certainty, that you are always right? If you answered an emphatic ‘yes’ to most of these questions – perfect! You are top politician material. You will go very far indeed.

Still on personality: do you want it all? Do you find yourself salivating in public as you daydream about huge four-wheel drive vehicles with curtained windows? Do you believe a successful Kenyan should own at least five houses? Will you stop at nothing to achieve these goals? Do your intestines twist painfully when you see people who already have these things? Again, if you answered ‘yes’, you’re made of the right stuff.

If you passed the personality test, you’re already on your way. All you need is a strategy. Fortunately, this is not difficult. Just follow a few straightforward steps, and the kingdom of wealth, power and glory is yours.

First and foremost: focus on tribe. Tribe is the defining political unit in Kenya. To succeed in politics, you must control your tribal vote. Hopefully, you belong to one of the larger tribal groupings. If not, never fret – even smaller tribes are always needed in political equations. The key thing to remember is that you must stop your tribesmen from thinking of themselves as Kenyans. Any tendencies towards national unity must be stamped out immediately. The reason is simple: you will lose control of your votes if people start identifying with others. You will lose the emotional pull of tribal sentiment. Heaven forbid, you may even have to start campaigning on issues! No politician wants this. It is far, far easier to win votes on ethnicity.

The key, however, is fear. You must make sure that your tribe is scared stiff of all other tribes. You must instil the fear of irrelevance and even of annihilation in your brethren. You must constantly make dark references to the ethnic clashes of the past, and convince your people of the vast conspiracy that is assembled against them. If your tribe has already provided a president, you must talk of how the presidency naturally belongs there. If it has not, you must agitate that it is now the ‘turn’ of your people to ‘eat’. Think tribe, and you’ll go far.

Secondly, please remember: you go into politics for yourself. It is the most self-centred of careers. Yet you must never reveal this. You must always wear a pious expression that shows you carry the pain of the people in your bosom. You must avoid your naturally belligerent expression that probably frightens little children and dogs. When appearing at a commission of inquiry to explain your sins (as you very probably will at some stage in your career) you must avoid having the visage of a cattle rustler. Some professional training by media consultants would be a very worthwhile investment for you.

The third key factor: you must lose all sense of shame. If you are considering a career in politics, the chances are high that you will not be in possession of this emotion in the first place. But you must make sure that you remove all traces of this unnecessary feeling, for you will find it a great burden in years to come.

After all, you will have to do many, many shameful things as a politician. You will have to make friends, swear unshakeable loyalty to them, and then drop them like hot potatoes at a moment’s notice. You will have to tell lies in public in the presence of cameras and microphones, and then claim you were misquoted. You will have to put your signature to many memoranda of understanding, and then deny their existence.

If you feel even an iota of shame when you do these excellent things, you will be hopelessly handicapped as a politician. It will cramp your style and reduce your effectiveness. The only sure way to rid yourself of this problem is to seek medical intervention. The mysterious doctors who inhabit the shadowy corridors of big-name hospitals offer a discreet operation – excision of the ‘shame gland’. This little-known gland is located close to the prostrate gland, and is easily removed. The operation is painful and expensive, and you will have to lie on your stomach for a week to recover – but it’s well worth it. Many luminaries have had it done before you. It is rarely fatal.

The fourth critical success factor in politics: assemble the right sort of family. A good, wholesome and photogenic family is vital in Kenyan politics today. There are, however, some simple rules to follow. If you are a man, it is a good idea to have at least two wives. Of these, one should be young, lissom and glamorous. The other should be robust and matronly. It often helps if one is of foreign extraction- this confers a certain cosmopolitan status on you. European wives are preferred in this regard; Americans are to be avoided.

If you are a female political aspirant, having two husbands – in any sense whatsoever – would be an unmitigated disaster. A quiet, sensible, professional man who stays away from the limelight is preferred – a doctor or accountant would be perfect. If your husband is a bellicose drunkard or a scheming lawyer – dump him now. He will ruin your career one day.

So there you are, four simple rules to follow. Follow them well, and you will certainly go far. Of course, not all politicians are like this; some are gentle, well-meaning souls who join politics for the good of the common man and to develop the nation. By and large, they fail. The sure way to succeed is to dismiss all thoughts of doing any good. In fact, you and most of your colleagues will be the single biggest impediment to development in this country. Prepare to join a celebrated procession of politicians who have adorned this nation since independence.

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