A First From a First Lady

Published on 3rd May 2005

It’s not always that a president’s wife goes berserk, scales the stairs of a media house adorned in a jeans pair of trouser. That’s why we break from tradition to comment on something political this week. It’s the story of a first lady pulling a first one on the media in recent history. Here we go.

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki\'s wife stormed into the offices of a Kenyan newspaper on Monday night, slapped a cameraman and demanded to see the journalist who had written a story that criticized her recent behavior.

In a development that coincided with the World Press Freedom day, the First Lady, Mrs Luck Kibaki, threw caution to the wind and braved the 11pm chill to storm the Nation Centre, which houses the Nation Newspapers Group, where she gave a five-hour dressing down of journalists.

\"I\'m here to protest and I\'m not leaving until I find the reporter who has been writing all these lies,\" Lucy Kibaki said on a televised recording of her screed. But, in her rage, she seemed to have picked the wrong newspaper to complain to, as it was the Nation’s rival, the Standard daily, which published the article angering her.

The Standard published a report on Monday that said Mrs Kibaki had interrupted the farewell party of her neighbor and the outgoing head of the World Bank mission in Kenya, Mr Makhtar Diop, three times, complaining about the noise. She is said to have interrupted with the farewell party thrice, dressed in pajamas and went to police the next day in shorts, demanding Diop’s arrest.

Brandishing a copy of the Standard newspaper, Mrs Kibaki burst into the Nation\'s offices flanked by several security officers and the Nairobi police chief, Mr Kingori Mwangi, where she reportedly confiscated notebooks and pens from reporters. Mrs Kibaki was caught on camera as she slapped a cameraman from KTN television network, a sister company of the Standard newspaper, who had arrived at the scene, demanding that he stop filming her.

\"The media keeps on telling lies about me, about the president and about my family. You don\'t want the president to rule this country, you hurt my family a lot, you hurt the president,\" she said as reporters listened intently and alert, just in case.

The incident was the latest in a string of high profile run-ins involving the president\'s wife. Last year, she publicly upbraided Vice-President Moody Awori, a gentleman known passionately as Uncle Moody, for referring to her in a speech as \"second lady\" in a slip-up that saw her boycott New Year celebrations at the coastal town of Mombasa. Awori\'s gaffe came amid press revelations about the president\'s private life, including his relationship with Mary Wambui, a woman many say is his second wife.

Lucy Kibaki also squabbled with her husband\'s powerful former personal secretary, Mr Matere Keriri, and many say she hounded him out of office. Critics say she is a meddler, interfering in official affairs. However, her supporters say she is fiercely protective of her husband following a car crash in late 2002 that left him with a broken arm, a dislocated ankle and a neck injury.

She might be admired as a vigorous HIV/AIDS campaigner in Kenya, but her five hours of fame was, to say the least, obnoxious. Her storming of Diop’s party was enough to grate even the most uncivil person on earth. Her reference of other first ladies in her speech came up short in defending her family from media glare.

When a former vice-president of Uganda was slapped by her husband in a domestic brawl a few years ago, the press had fodder on the news and she came out and admitted as much. So when a woman of the highest caliber in society reduces herself to an activist, as Lucy did on Monday, then there is cause to worry, because on the horizon we see the dark days of muzzling the press.

In whatever manner Kenya’s Office of the President reacts to matter, the damage has already been done and it may take long to erase the stain.

Perhaps African governments should move, and urgently so, to forestall such incidents by drafting regulations, nay roles, for wives of presidents, or first ladies as they are called. This will prevent people like Mrs Kibaki from maligning and demeaning the presidency.

She might have had a genuine complaint against the newspapers, but taking the law into her hands wasn’t the best way to go around the problem. Seeking court redress if the story was false, for instance, would have made her a stickler of the law and an honorable First Lady.


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