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CS Murkomen vs CNN’s Larry Madowo on viral JKIA beef: Watu si wajinga, buana

The war of words between Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen and CNN correspondent Larry Madowo over the inefficiencies and glaring problems at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has entered its second day.

The viral online clap-backs and subtle shadings have gone viral as a number of public figures have also weighed in on the matter.

However, the general consensus is that Larry Madowo appears to have won the war of words before CS Murkomen resorted to the Bible in defence of his lack of handling of the JKIA issues.

On 16 April 2024, Nairobi News reported that CS Murkomen had shaded Larry Madowo for pointing out mistakes at the airport simply because he had tasted life abroad; and was wrong not to use his platform to amplify the positives in Kenya.

“By the way, I saw one of your friends (Larry) taking videos at the airport and he said ‘Oh, you know this airport, it rains on people at the exit’. And you know I laughed because Larry has been with us in the country for the last 50 years when this airport was like that, but suddenly because he is now living in majuu (abroad), suddenly his eyes are open and he realises that there is no shade when you exit JKIA.

It happens to all of us when we travel. These questions should have been asked a long time ago – since 1978. It is not news that JKIA does not have a canopy to protect passengers, it is a fact. There is a plan. I promise the country that we will use private sector investment to build a new terminal. I want to tell Kenyans that by the time we go to the next elections, we will have a new terminal at least completed or almost completed that will make JKIA a more competitive airport with facilities that will be enviable and make us an aviation hub,” CS Murkomen defended during a live news programme earlier this week.

In response, Larry Madowo said, “Premium gaslighting, deflection, and trivialisation of the issues: 1. JKIA is 66 – 30 years older than me 2. You don’t need a pre-election terminal to build canopies for the existing ones 3. I didn’t “suddenly” discover how bad JKIA is, I’ve been complaining about it for 10 years when the escalators haven’t broken down in ages, the toilets don’t work, or the roof leaks. The incompetence is legendary”.

And so the war of words continued on the second day. On April 16, 2024, CS Murkomen responded to Larry Madowo with a lengthy defence of his thesis, which did not lack for sarcasm.

“I don’t think our forefathers and my predecessors were mediocre. I think they did the best they could under the circumstances. When Mzee Jomo Kenyatta commissioned this airport in 1978, he must have looked at what he had done and it was very good. That’s what has served us over the years. What makes us different is that we celebrate our milestones even as we strive for excellence. We don’t just whine. Are you telling me that there is nothing good about JKIA? Are you telling me that the only good thing you saw on the express way was the few minutes of blocked drainage? Stop amplifying the negative and have a balanced attitude towards life and progress.

Bro, being a recognised Kenyan working for a top global media house comes with a lot of responsibility. You and I already know that we have our areas of improvement and that’s why people like me occupy such positions. But bro, don’t use your global voice to amplify negativity. Your colleagues who work for CNN don’t do that when they visit their home countries. You are a big brand now, you are not just followed by people from Nyalgunga or Embobut. Every time you visit your country or continent and you amplify negativity, you create a false, unbalanced image of your motherland. I have shared what I think should help you. As for me, I promised Kenyans a new terminal on the day I was appointed. There is nothing new to change that resolve. I wish you well. Go and be successful,” said CS Murkomen.

It was at this point that Mr Madowo decided to adopt a scorched earth policy on CS Murkomen, going as far as pulling out receipts of the politician, who had also complained about the airport in 2014 before his appointment to the Cabinet.

In the screenshots, Mr Murkomen complained about traffic jams at JKIA’s main entrance gates and that the airport “doesn’t look international”, that JKIA was a disaster and you’d never know it “unless you work, do business or travel through it”, and that the airport was experiencing delays because air traffic control personnel were on a go-slow at the time.

Murkomen tried to laugh off the screenshots, accusing Madowo of “justifying his misdemeanours” and that he should read 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, to which Mr Madowo responded: “Just pointing out how you’ve changed because you and I were on the same page in 2014 bro, you’re the one who still doesn’t get it. Read James 1:5”.

Madowo also took a swipe at CS Murkomen for comparing Nairobi’s rainfall to that of Dubai, which saw its airport flooded, saying it was wild to compare Dubai’s “75-year record rainfall” as wild.

Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina chimed in at this point saying, “This problem is all over CS Murkomen. I wonder what my friend Larry Madowo would say about the airport of this first world country…”.

Mr Madowo finally shot back at CS Murkomen, telling him that “Watu si wajinga buana (people are not stupid)” in reference to comparing Dubai’s airport problems with flooding to Kenya’s JKIA.

JKIA is the largest airport in Kenya and East Africa and, according to CS Murkomen in past public briefings, handles about 7.5 million visitors per year.

According to African Air Hub, JKIA is one of the busiest airports in Africa in terms of scheduled departures, ranking fourth after OR Tambo in Johannesburg, South Africa, Cairo, Egypt, and Bole in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In recent months and years, however, the airport has been plagued by glaring problems such as leaking roofs, broken escalators, and broken lifts, as well as faulty generators that plunge the airport into total blackouts whenever there is a problem with the national power grid.