Sakaja: Mea culpa, or sorry you got caught?

Alcohol, like power and money, do not change a man. They simply reveal and amplify the man you truly are

In Summary

• Some things demand answers not apologies. For instance, why was he not charged with resisting and evading arrest?

•  Why was he not chastised for threatening to transfer police officers who were merely doing their duty?

Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja.
Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja.

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry ‘cause you’re not

When I know you’re only sorry coz you got caught

But you put on quite a show

Really had me goin’

Curtain’s finally closin’

That was quite a show

Very entertaining

But it’s over now

Go on and take a bow 

These are the lyrics of the song Take a Bow by Rihanna, the Barbadian singer,which she released in 2008. It became number one on the US Billboard Hot 100.

The song is about a girl who lost interest in getting back together with a cheating ex-boyfriend. The boyfriend was apologising and wanted to get back to her, but she refused to give him a second chance. She tells him you are not actually sorry that you were unfaithful. You are sorry that you got caught.

Mea culpa, on the other hand, is a Latin phrase meaning 'through my fault'.

It is an acknowledgement of having done wrong. It is an admission of having made a mistake that ought to have been avoided. Its origin is a Catholic prayer of confession of sinfulness called the Confiteor. It is used in the Roman Rite at the beginning of the Mass, or when receiving the sacrament of Penance.

When Rihanna sang the song, nothing would have prepared her of how apt it would be in the political times we live in.

This week, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja apologised for flouting Covid-19 curfew rules. Ironically, he was until Monday, July 20, the chairperson of the Senate Covid-19 Response Ad hoc Cmmittee mandated to oversight enforcement of measures to curb the spread of the disease. Observing curfew hours from 9pm-5am is one of those measures.

He flouted this rule when he was caught revelling in one of Nairobi’s bars at 1am in the company of 10 other people. It is reported he resisted and evaded arrest and only appeared in court two days later when he was charged and fined Sh15,000 or three months in jail.

He apologised through a press conference and resigned from being the  Covid-19 committee chair.

Begs the question, was Sakaja’s apology a sign that he was truly contrite, or he simply regrets that he got caught?

I submit that his apology and subsequent resignation is simply virtue signalling. He took a publicly conspicuous, but essentially useless action to ostensibly support a good cause, but in essence, what he did was to show off how much more moral he is than everybody else.

Not surprisingly, his apology has won him some myopic accolades, including from his lawyer, who admitted that not many leaders apologise. Can we set the bar any lower than for us to celebrate a leader who apologises? Shouldn’t this be second nature to one with real leadership traits?

To merely say you are sorry, is not to truly apologise. Genuine apologies are hard. They are personal. They take a special combination of bravery, humility and vulnerability to look others in the eye and admit your mistake. Not to do so surrounded by a barrage of lawyers and fellow senators tweeting they will not accept your resignation.

A heartfelt apology should cost you so that the bad behaviour is not repeated again. So had Sakaja truly regretted his actions, he would have resigned from his Senate seat because resigning from being chair of an ad hoc committee costs him nothing.

Some things demand answers not apologies. For instance, why was he not charged with resisting and evading arrest? Why was he not chastised for threatening to transfer police officers who were merely doing their duty? Who is the senior civil servant who shielded his arrest, and why is he not under arrest for aiding and abetting? Sadly, we may never know the answers to these questions because of Sakaja’s Teflon effect.

Sakaja’s apology is an insult to many Kenyans. Some might argue in his defence and blame his belligerent actions on the alcohol he was imbibing, courtesy of our taxes. But alcohol, like power and money, do not change a man. They simply reveal and amplify the man you truly are.

His was not an apology. It wasn’t a mea culpa. It was a faux apology arising from the compulsion to exhibit the Hawthorne effect, which is a phenomenon in which individuals alter their behaviour in response to being observed.

Sakaja knew all eyes were on him. This is why he offered a vague and incomplete acknowledgement of his offence by telling us he was outside his home after 9pm. No! He was out engaging in risky and irresponsible actions that could easily spread Covid-19 to undeserving Kenyans.

He should not try to trivialise this offence. And to cap it all, he only got a slap on the wrist with a fine that is merely five per cent of what acting Health director general Dr Patrick Amoth told us it costs to treat a coronavirus patient. Should we still consider his an apology?

While issuing his non-apology apology, he was very quick to deflect the blame to the police, whom he alleged were at his house harassing his family by brandishing guns. And yes, his observation was accurate. His children did not deserve this show of force because they had done nothing wrong. But had Sakaja been in his house, instead of allegedly hiding away in another man’s house, his children would have been spared this traumatic scene. He caused it all.

Therefore, his apology should be to his children, not to the public. The public requires a higher price to be paid if he indeed was remorseful.

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to Senator Sakaja. Like Rihanna sang, you are not sorry you were wrong. You are sorry you got caught. And with your empty gesture that masqueraded as an apology and resignation, you put on quite a show.

However, we didn’t really have to squint that hard to see that your hollow penance is like barbed wire. It served your political purpose without obstructing the view. It did not pass the smell test, and we saw right through it. If you are indeed remorseful, we dare you to take a bow.

Apology is only egotism wrong side out – Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr.