Apart from when I am dealing with conspiracy theories and speculation, I generally like to have my facts straight.
Getting the facts straight means getting as much background information on a topic as you can so as to give a proper picture of a person or a situation.
Of course in the news business this is not always possible for reasons of space, time and keeping the reader's interest. Even in conversations too much background and detail can ruin a good tale. Over the years I have come to learn that the facts often stand in the way of a good story.
That said, my quirky sense of fairness sometimes drives me to come to the defence of even people I don't particularly like or support when I feel they have received a raw deal. Of course this is totally subjective, irrational and unscientific but I have never pretended otherwise.
So when I recently read an analysis of President Mwai Kibaki and the current political situation in Kenya written by a social media acquaintance of mine, Simon Allison, I found myself in general agreement with what he was saying except that when it came to President Kibaki's oratorical skills, which he made fun of, I felt I had to say something just to balance things out a little.
Allison is a South African freelance journalist who specialises in Middle Eastern and African politics and his analysis was published on the Daily Maverick website and also on the Guardian newspaper's website. Allison began his piece by quoting a KTN presenter who said, "Many historians will perhaps say that the president has not been particularly good with reading speeches."
Allison went on to say that the presenter was "being coy. We don't need to wait for the historians to deliver this particular verdict. Kibaki is an awful speaker: ponderous, monotonous and entirely unconcerned with eye contact. His public addresses can be so excruciating at times that I find myself longing to listen instead to Jacob Zuma deliver a budget report. Fortunately for weary audiences all over Kenya, Kibaki has few speeches left to give."
While I agree that the Kibaki of most of the last decade has been an atrocious public speaker, I feel compelled to point out that this was not always the case. In fact there was a time when Kibaki was considered amongst Kenya's best public speakers particularly when he was speaking off the cuff or during a parliamentary debate. During my stint as a junior reporter back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I occasionally visited Parliament and sat in the press gallery during debates.
In those years Kibaki had been dropped as vice president but was still serving as Health Minister and would soon become one of the leaders of the opposition. Kibaki was respected by many parliamentary colleagues but even those who did not particularly like him or where he stood on certain issues, would find their way to the chamber just to hear him speak. In those days Kibaki was always coherent, made cogent, intelligent arguments and was even described by one observer as "A gifted orator with a courteous mien."
Up until shortly after he was sworn in as president in December 2002, Kibaki seemed set to continue being a great speaker. Then in late January 2003 the president suffered a blood clot and what many believed to be a stroke and was hospitalised for a while. That, sadly, was to be the end of the days of great oratory from President Kibaki in fact for a while his speeches were so incoherent that I thought the poor fellow would have to quit, but I guess I did not reckon with his will to survive and the power of modern medication.
Of course the stroke (and rumours of yet another stroke) was never publicly acknowledged and perhaps even now the president's spin doctors are crafting a response to this column denying it, though frankly I think they should have better things to do.
In a month or so Kenya should have a new president and I hope whom he or she is, they do the country proud in the oratory stakes at least, if nothing else.
As for Allison's comments about President Jacob Zuma's speech making abilities in comparison to President Kibaki, some time ago, in an article headlined 'Zuma's speech-making: Grasping in the dark,' the South African journalist Gareth van Onselen wrote: President Jacob Zuma's speech-making has, for some time now, been the source of much criticism. Not only is it dull and dreary but the content - particularly when it comes to matters of state - is so generic and vague as to render it almost meaningless. In a nutshell, he says nothing and he says it in painstaking fashion.
Personally I thought that was a little harsh, but then again when compared to his predecessors Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela President Zuma doesn't come off so well except for when he is speaking in Zulu where he seems to have the same excellent common touch that President Moi had when he spoke extempore in Swahili to cheering crowds.