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Kenya’s ex-vice president misquotes a famous quote

This article is more than 5 years old

Kenya’s former vice president Kalonzo Musyoka ducked a question about his political future with a quote.

“It was the prime minister of wartime Britain, the famous [Winston] Churchill, who said: ‘A week in politics is a very long time’,” Kalonzo said in an interview with Citizen TV on 2 October.

A screengrab of former Kenya vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka in an October 2018 interview on Citizen TV.

The quote is an observation on the unpredictability of politics. Kalonzo was hinting at possible political alliances before Kenya’s next general election, due in 2022.

The actual quote is: “A week is a long time in politics.” But it wasn’t Winston Churchill who said it, but Harold Wilson, Britain’s prime minister from 1964 to 1970, and again from 1974 to 1979.

It was probably first said during the sterling crisis of 1964, the Oxford University department Oxford Academic notes in an entry on notable misquotations.

But Wilson couldn’t remember when he said it

Citing prolific British writer and broadcaster Nigel Rees’s book Brewer’s Famous Quotations, the entry adds: “Interestingly… Wilson himself, when asked just after his retirement as prime minister in 1977, could not pinpoint the precise occasion on which he first used the words.”

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations gives more context, this time from another Rees book, Sayings of the Century.

Former British PM Harold Wilson at a NATO summit in May 1975 in Brussels. (Photo: AFP)

“Inquiries among political journalists led to the conclusion that in its present form the phrase was probably first uttered at a meeting between Wilson and the parliamentary lobby in the wake of the sterling crisis shortly after he first took office as prime minister in 1964. However, Robert Carvel… recalled Wilson at a Labour Party conference in 1960 saying ‘Forty-eight hours is a long time in politics.”  

The British parliament uses the quote to headline a page on images of Wilson in its art collection, and the BBC also attributes the quote to Wilson.

The quote may be old, but in Kenyan politics its meaning is not. 

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