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Nairobi’s palaver men

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Nairobi’s palaver men

At the junction where Mama Ngina and Wabera Street’s meet in the Kenyan capital’s central business district, a group of people converge every day, congregating in small pockets and involved in animated discussions. Their main focus has always been the politics of the day and on poring over the most adventurous conspiracy theories in Kenyan political chatter, Wanjohi Kabukuru writes.

From morning till evening these men discuss nothing else than intrigues within the corridors of power. They never fight but they argue from sunrise to sunset. These men, who are mostly political lackeys and the hatchet men of leading politicians, and come from Nairobi’s economically challenged neighbourhoods, are robust in their discussions.

These men embody Kenya’s body politic and also Kenya’s worst security nightmare as Nairobi teems with all sorts of spooks and political spies. Other than political court jesters, some of the men who mill around are said to be intelligence operatives whose sole aim is to plant wild-goose-chase political conspiracies. Some journalists, too keen to get the “view from below”, occasionally eavesdrop to hear the latest political gossip.

And just like these men have become part and parcel of Nairobi’s and Kenya’s body politic, so have politicians embraced them to purvey their agenda. In the past these parleys were largely pro-Odinga, however lately they have changed and some among them are now largely pro-Kenyatta.

It is an open secret in Nairobi that Odinga enjoys the support of the west while President Kenyatta commands comradeship from the region and the Far East. This East-West love-hate relationship, which was the main divide during the elections, has yet to subside and has been heavily debated here.

Over the years these men have become “political analysts” in their own right. If you want to know the readings of Kenya’s political barometer, the pulse will be in the nattering of these men. Whenever the crowds of these “political pundits” increase it is clear the political temperature has risen.

And so a week before former premier Raila Odinga returned to Kenya, it was easy to gauge that something was in the offing in Kenya’s political landscape as this group grew larger and debate got intense.

Long before talk of a “Kenyan Spring” had trended on social media, it had been planted here among the palaver men and tossed around, before echoing online.

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