The recycling of politicians who are past sell-by date

If you recycle anything this week, may it be something useful

In Summary

• The political scene is filled with leaders who go through a revolving door

VP Kalonzo Musyoka and DPM Musalia Mudavadi
VP Kalonzo Musyoka and DPM Musalia Mudavadi
Image: FILE

The recycling of politicians seemed to be the theme of the news this week, from South Africa to the US, to Mali and even in Kenya.

In South Africa, the ruling ANC found itself having to defend its appointment to the KwaZulu-Natal provincial cabinet of former eThekwini (Durban) mayor Zandile Gumede. 

The problem was Gumede faces a litany of serious criminal charges. These include corruption, money laundering and fraud for her alleged involvement in a R430 million Durban Solid Waste tender, dating back to 2016.


On hearing about her appointment to replace a fellow ANC member who died from Covid-19, Gumede said she said she was “born to be a leader” and was looking forward to embracing her new role in government.

If voters have a long enough memory, this will come back to haunt the ANC at next year’s local government elections.

(As an aside, she reminds me somewhat of Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, but perhaps that's a story for another time).

Over in the US, Joe Biden was busy finishing a race he began way back in the 1980s.

I first heard of Biden in 1987, when he was running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. It wasn’t because he was particularly in with a great chance of winning, but because of a speech he plagiarised from a British politician’s campaign advert. 

The British politician was Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, who was running against Margaret Thatcher in the 1987 British elections. Kinnock, who came from a poor working class background, had made a stirring campaign video in which he highlighted the fact that he and his wife were the first in their families to get the chance to attend university.

Biden, who was from what was comparatively a middle class background, copied Kinnock's speech pretty much word for word, including parts uniquely about Kinnock’s life that just could not apply to Biden’s.


When the scandal came out, Biden pulled out of the race before the primaries. It took many years of hard work rebuilding his career before a young senator Barack Obama chose him as his running mate.

Has Biden learned his plagiarism lesson? I guess we’ll find out soon enough. However, because he’s running against Donald Trump, people might not notice.

In Mali, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, often known by his initials IBK, found himself arrested, detained and out of power after his people had had enough of his inaction on a crumbling economy, inter-ethnic violence that has killed thousands and poor delivery of public services.

However, it would appear his erstwhile colleagues in the African presidents’ club, also known as the AU, want IBK to be recycled and placed back in the presidential palace, no matter what the majority of Malians think or feel. Because, of course, leadership is never really about the people’s wishes, is it?

In Kenya, I see Kalonzo Musyoka is still harbouring hopes of being President, despite the fact that realistically, he has about as much hope of being elected president as a crocodile in the Mara River has of starving to death during the wildebeest migration.

I suppose I have to own up to my small part in making Musyoka believe his dreams of a life in the State House are valid. Back in January 1993, I wrote an article in which I suggested that both Kalonzo and Mudavadi were the personalities to watch in the Kanu party.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that both had been promoted to high office with precious little experience — a classic tactic of President Daniel arap Moi’s. They were Moi’s original “projects” before the famous one in 2002.

If you recycle anything this week, may it be something useful and not a politician past their sell-by date.

Edited by T Jalio