Thursday, January 17, 2008

the job i don't envy

As a child, I dreamt about being a journalist. I loved the voice of Robin White on the BBC African Service, though many times then; I did not fathom what exactly he was saying. Then as my love for the profession grew, I learnt of people called spokesmen. I was impressed when some time in the mid 90s, I watched a NATO spokesman, during the siege on Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, address a press conference and answered questions from journalists in five different international languages!!
I immediately knew where my heart wanted to go—spokesmanship. I did not matter really what I should be speaking for, but all I wanted was to be a spokesman.
Then came the American invasion on Iraq in 2003 and the thrust into international spotlight of a man, we later termed Comical Ali. Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf was the Iraq information minister when the Americans descended over his country.
He, overnight, became a star when through comical interviews; he rubbished the attacking forces, even when it was clear that Baghdad was falling to the occupational force.
“There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad,” he declared to journalists on the roof of the Palestine Hotel as gunfire echoed across the city and tanks fired from the banks of the Tigris just a few hundred yards away.
As the audience of bemused reporters pointed out the fierce firefight across the river, he continued: “There is no presence of the American columns in the city of Baghdad at all. We besieged them and we killed most of them.”
“Today, the tide has turned,” he continued confidently. “We are destroying them.”
And after an American tank shell hit the hotel, killing two cameramen, he moved to reassure the world’s press corps. “We are not afraid,” he proclaimed, adding paternally “And don’t you be afraid”.
After such theatrical performances, I knew that speaking, especially for governments can be indeed tough business. Matters are not made any better, if it is a dictatorship you are speaking for.
You may be wondering what has suddenly forced me go through these archives. But it is events in neighbouring Kenya. You see, since election results were disputed in late December, there has been one man who has tried to defend an outrightly illegitimate Kibaki government. This man goes by the names of Dr. Alfred Mutua—the official government spokesman.
Small in build and rather tall, listening to him makes one remember the tragi-comedy sub-genre of drama. I was ‘privileged’ to hear him speak to a group of Kenyan students in 2005 at Makerere University just before his government was defeated in the referendum on constitutional amendments; I concluded that theatre had missed an asset.
In a bid to impress students, he took to mimicking accents of several Kenyan tribes and obviously, you could see a man who did not recognise the gravity of events.
This week, Mutua was again in the news. After several western nations threatened to cut aid to Kenya, unless it got its political act together, Mutua said the threat was idle, adding: “You are not here to threaten us. We have gotten ourselves free from the yoke of neo-colonialism and dependency.”
Poor man, he may be right, considering that only 5% of the Kenyan budget gets foreign funding, but little does he know that the western masters still wield influence, too much of it that no amount of independence can let you cross their paths. He should ask Mugabe, Saddam and a couple of African states. He is obviously overstepping the bounds.
But what makes me see the real Comical Mutua is his remark in relation to opposition leaders, who called for mass nationwide protests.
“They are just waking up at 10 o’clock, eating eggs and sausages, giving interviews and planning how to disrupt people's lives,” Mutua told reporters.
Of course, I no longer dream of being a spokesman. Am comfortable being a blogger!!

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