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January 19, 2019

G-Spot: Taming the big beasts using the prestige of sitting in the ‘owner’s corner’

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, NASA leader Raila Odinga and NASA deputy leader Kalonzo Musyoka
President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, NASA leader Raila Odinga and NASA deputy leader Kalonzo Musyoka

During my recent travels to Nairobi and back home to Cape Town, I found myself in the unusual position [for me at least] of not being able to choose my own seat on the aircraft.

My first choice is always to sit by the window. Mainly because when confronted by over-friendly strangers on a plane, I find that if I put on the headphones and stare out of the window while pretending not to hear them, I am usually successful in avoiding death by small talk.

If the window seat is not available, I will be quite happy to sit in the aisle, because even though then I have to dodge every time the crew haul the drinks cart, etc., up the aisle, and have to get up quite a lot if the passengers next to me have tiny bladders, when it comes time to disembarking, I will be quicker off the mark.

The seat I try to avoid at all costs is the middle seat. As luck would have it, on my flight to Nairobi I found myself stuck in the dreaded middle seat next to a large man who competed with me to take more than our fair share of space, and a lady who thought she would calm her flying nerves by telling me all about her corporate mission to Nairobi, as if I cared.

As children who had the privilege of growing up in a home where there was a car, my sister and I had a running battle about who would occupy the front passenger seat and thus appear to be more adult. When I became a teenager, I read in some West African novel or other about the “owner’s corner” — the seat diagonally opposite to that of the driver’s — and suddenly the front seat was no longer special. In Kenya, this was known as “back-left.”

When you strip it all down to the very basics of it all, the political realignments in Kenya since March 9 this year have appeared to be about getting back to the owner’s corner privileges. It seems that the President and his advisers have found the secret to keeping their main political opponents from being flies in the ointment is to let them sit back left and ensure everyone knows it.

Give the former PM a high-sounding international title, restore his motorcade and security privileges, and Voila! You have him eating out of your hand. The same with his erstwhile sidekick Kalonzo Musyoka. Since his long ago stint as Foreign Minister, and later when he carved himself out a position as VP after the abortion that was the 2007 election, he has always fancied himself a peacemaker. So stroke his ego a little, create a regional diplomatic position for him and Bam! Another pain in the neck gone.

Meanwhile, the Deputy President, who has been uncomfortable in the middle seat, may begin to think about making his way to the aisle seat, now that the so-called Big Beasts find themselves occupied elsewhere. The question is, will being in the aisle seat be preparation for the cockpit or to disembark? Please continue to watch this space.

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