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Politicians and public figures ought to develop thicker skins

Rather than deifying them as more equal than others, we should show no mercy

In Summary

• Insults come with the territory once you are in the limelight

President Uhuru greets Mama Ngina Kenyatta at the Nyayo National Stadium on October 20, 2015
President Uhuru greets Mama Ngina Kenyatta at the Nyayo National Stadium on October 20, 2015

When I was aged about five or six, there was a chant we had on the playground at kindergarten that went something like this: My mother’s better than yours/So, nye, nye, nye, nye, nye!

At some point, my mother heard it and would use it to taunt me. At that age, the concept of teasing as a sign of affection had not occurred to me and I would get very confused as I could not understand why she would say her mother was better than mine, and yet she was my mother.

As I loved my grandmother, I could not dispute this claim either, and that led to even more confusion for five-year-old me. Today I see what she was doing and I laugh at the silliness of it all.


The point I’m trying to make is many of us are sensitive at a young age about our mothers (more so, somehow, than about our fathers). But by adulthood, many of us are expected to have grown out of that schoolyard mother fixation, in which there is an exaggerated reverence for one’s mother.

Clearly after the kerfuffle in Kenyan politics last week, the mantra sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, is not for everyone.

Some of the older readers may recall the days of the all-powerful Kanu disciplinary committee back in the late 1980s, when Karisa Maitha referred to Shariff Nassir as Mwana Haram (illegitimate child or bastard). Nassir, who was used to the cut-and-thrust of political exchanges, lost his composure and wept.

In many cultures, insulting a person’s mother is crossing the line, and I get it. However, when it comes to politicians, bandying about insults is second nature, and frankly, they need to develop thicker skins.

If, as one of my friends pointed out the other day, the political discourse in Kenya is like the conversations one might hear in a loud, noisy bar full of drunks, then our leaders must either raise the tone of the conversation, dive straight into it or ignore it completely.

Anyone who has ever had to deal with noisy drunks, or rude children, for that matter, knows that sometimes, the best response is to ignore them. 

There may be some calls from the more sycophantic voices out there to change the laws with regards to public insults, but really, that would be silliness.


In 2012, after I'd been living in South Africa for a year and was getting used to the politics here, there was briefly a move to institute laws to forbid people from insulting the president.

The move came at a time when an artist had painted a picture of President Jacob Zuma in a suit but with his genitals sticking out.

One commentator at the time pointed out that older democracies, such as France and Spain, have insult laws. So do countries such as Turkey and most of Latin America.

However, the calls for the introduction of insult laws made others uneasy. They were afraid this might endanger the constitutional principle that no one is above the law or more equal than others.

I’m from the school of thought that believes public figures, and especially politicians, deserve to be mocked, and mercilessly so at times. They have placed themselves in the limelight and if the people want to laugh at them, curse them or insult them, they should accept it as being practically part of their job description.

Ordinarily their parents, siblings, spouses and offspring should be safe from such comments. However, if they, too, are public figures, then, they should develop thicker skins and learn to grin and bear it all, whatever is thrown at them.

You probably disagree, but all the same follow me on Twitter @MwangiGithahu