I stand by my interview with Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria on Saturday night. All of it. If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
For every action, there is a social media overreaction and this was no different. I was amused by the anger because most of the outraged people forgot that we’ve been here before.
After my conversation with MPs Alfred Keter and Sonia Birdi in December 2013, the condemnation was just as widespread and cacophonous. Then, like now, I refused to apologise, and for good reason.
Politicians in Kenya are handled with such fragility that any serious pushing back on their rhetoric is met with resistance from the same public it harms.
That is why we continue to call former MPs and failed aspirants “mheshimiwa” even when they never merited that honour, to begin with.
The other reason is that political journalism in Kenya is still seen from the “your tribe betrays you” ethnic school of thought.
Al Jazeera English’s Mehdi Hasan did a much-praised interview with Cord leader Raila Odinga in May. If he were Kenyan and the outlet a national one, the outrage machine would have kicked in and duly vilified him.
This home stretch to the 2017 General Election is starting to feel a lot like the last cycle. The same political narrow-mindedness and stereotyping of reporters is back in full swing.
This is not my first rodeo. I have been demonised after every interview that went against the grain and held power to account.
Kenyans hold their leaders with such undeserved reverence, yet they are also deeply dissatisfied with their performance, according to just about every poll you can find. It is exactly because of the former that the latter still holds. You can’t give god-like status to your political leadership and still keep them in check.
“I didn’t win tonight, but you failed,” Kuria told me on phone after our interview. “Your own-goal was my gain,” he said, but agreed he would join me again in future.
Many viewers of NTV Weekend Edition were scandalised. The Nation Media Group switchboard was inundated with calls and at least two board members got in touch to express their displeasure.
Their main gripe was that the Gatundu South legislator had struck a conciliatory tone, yet I kept pressing him on his history with hate speech.
They were right, of course. We did battle about why he couldn’t speak about his four different ongoing cases. Three, he corrected, saying that was a 25 per cent overstatement, a sign that I was poorly trained and did not research properly.
The lawmaker couldn’t respond to why he repeatedly said incendiary things that were likely to offend one community and fan tribal animosities. He maintained that to do so would be sub judice, as the matters were still in court.
I figured that was a convenient excuse and told him as much, especially since he had not refrained from making further “dangerous utterances” despite those ongoing suits.
To his credit, Kuria has always been a good sport and accepts my interview invites even when he knows it will not be a walk in the park. I have always promised him to a tough but fair vigorous debate about the issues that divide us.
Long after many of my colleagues and viewers complained that he was a hateful, divisive figure, we kept inviting him to comment on various issues. He represents an area that includes President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family among its constituents and seems to have the ear of the country’s leadership.
Surely a man like that is worth listening to, even when he has made a name for himself by being offensive? And if he is worth listening to, it is completely fair game to hold him to a higher standard.
“Larry Madowo did a brilliant job on Moses Kuria; He saw through the sickening joke of “we are ONE”. We are just gagged by LAW, give it TIME!” tweeted journalist Dennis Onsarigo. He was in the minority as most of the comments looked a lot like this one from Malcolm Kangwara on Facebook: “still not matured as a journalist..bure kabisa.”
The same people who had criticised us for giving a hatemonger airtime in the first place were now overwhelmingly on his side. That is why I dipped into the feedback only briefly. And with good humour.
“Larry, that was your worst interview when I really saw you consistently BULLY Moses Kuria,” Daniel Argut told me. If that is bullying, colour me surprised. Incidentally, the condemnation came from both sides of the political divide. So Moses Kuria was right in one thing: our differences are much narrower than we imagine.
By LARRY MADOWO