By Washington Osiro
I would like to think of myself as the quintessential peacenik – the operational words being “I,” “think,” and “of myself.” I am also sure that there are many who disagree with this self-assessment. Heck, I lost a childhood friend shortly after one of my pro-Raila/Kalonzo articles leading up to the comical elections of 2017. In their views, my “articles poured petrol on the tinderbox that was the 2017 presidential campaign.”
The fact is there was nothing inflammatory about the pieces I wrote in the Huffington Post. The articles simply called out the corruption and ineptitude of the ruling Jubilee Party AND offered as an alternative, qualified support for the opposition and then-challenger NASA Coalition. Nothing in my articles advocated the murder of Chris Msando or the siccing of violent marauding mobs of the “Business Communities” members to deputize for the country’s law enforcement agencies – against Kenyans exercising their democratic rights.
I thus find it convenient, disingenuous, and oxymoronic when Kenyan voices that are supposed to be objective, measured, and reasonable talk about the “divisive and highly charged rhetoric” engulfing the country while simultaneously touting development of its infrastructure, technological advancements, along with one of the “world’s most progressive constitution” – in successive sentences.
It is convenient and disingenuous because the two – development and so-called “divisive and charged” political rhetoric – are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Both can occur simultaneously and unencumbered by the other.
Is it ideal for society to develop while its politicians toss heated words at one another?
Of course not, but both can and do occur concurrently.
Complaining about Kenya’s political temperature while also touting its economic development – in the same environment where temperatures are supposedly high – is oxymoronic because the core argument or claim these voices are making is that the two – a highly competitive body politic and economic development – cannot occupy the same space.
While the country’s security and law enforcement agencies should be eagle-eyed for incidents of violence, these incidents should not be used as excuses to muzzle those expressing their democratic rights or holding views counter to the ruling status quo. If one national leader can tout their “tigretude” and “roar” about being in charge, then those vying to replace said national leader or who hold opposing views can do likewise, i.e., verbalize their views without being accused of inciting chaos or propagating “heated rhetoric.”
I do not remember where I first heard the expressions that politics is not for the faint-hearted; that vying for political office is a “contact” or “blood” sport. On the other hand, I know that former Governor and Secretary State of New York and one-time presidential candidate Mario Cuomo offered the nugget – that candidates campaign in poetry but govern in prose. An article in the online magazine American Spectator says this of Cuomo’s dictum:
“The poetry of campaigning is lofty, gauzy, full of possibility, a world where problems are solved just because we want them to be and opposition melts away before us. The prose of governing is messy and maddening, full of compromises and half-victories that leave a sour taste in one’s mouth.”
Even more relevant to Kenya’s on-going Dynasty vs. Hustler debate is a truism about political discourse and campaigning in general:
Less is more.
If a candidate is explaining or defending their position, an issue, or why they are not what their opponent claims they are, that candidate has lost the narrative. These examples from American campaigns of yore succinctly explain, in less than twelve words, the campaign platform or ethos of the eventual winner of each of the presidential race:
- Are you better off today than you were four years ago? – Ronald Reagan – 1980
- Willie Horton – George H.W. Bush – 1988. Bush I followed the racist Willie Horton millstone around Michael Dukakis’s neck with the hubristic “Read my lips! No new taxes!” pledge just as the US economy begun tanking due to falling tax revenues. He was forced to break the pledge and raise taxes. This provided an in for his upstart challenger whose campaign came up with bumper sticker #3.
- It’s the Economy, Stupid! – Bill Clinton – 1992.
- Swift boat – George W. Bush – 2000.
- Yes, We Can! Hope. Change! – Barack Obama – 2008 and 2012.
- Make America Great Again – Donald Trump – 2016.
- COVID – Joe Biden – 2020.
Since independence, Kenya’s political discourse has been captured in pithy and lofty words and slogans even as their purveyors, much like their American counterparts, struggle to embody said words or expressions during their time in office.
- Harambee! – Jomo Kenyatta.
- Nyayo – Daniel Moi.
- Yote Yawezikana bila Moi and Kibaki Tosha! – Mwai Kibaki.
- Wembe ni ule ule and Tano Tena! Kumi Fresh – Uhuru Kenyatta and until 2018, William Ruto.
- Hustler Dynasty – William Ruto.
While Kenyans know that they did not all pull together or follow the footsteps of their fearless leader, most of them embraced these calls-to-action – some to the point of sycophancy while others did so out of sheer terror.
Was everything possible once Moi left the scene? Your guess is as good as mine, but hey, Kenyans embraced the claim – along with the bluster embodied in the spitfire unbwogable and the starry-eyed claim that President Kibaki was enough – for some abstraction Kenyans desperately wanted.
These same group of Kenyans were then told that Tano Tena would set the stage for Kumi Fresh. Assumed in this thinking was that the same coalition that thwarted the ICC for the first five years of the Coalition of the Accused would survive and bequeath the pedigreed senior half of the incumbency another set of fives, i.e., another five-year term. This was then to be followed by a fresh set of two five-year terms, albeit for its working-class junior half of the duo. Unfortunately, things begun to unravel shortly after the blue-eyed member of the coalition was assured of his tano fresh even as the group was left deconstructing which razor blade was that one – not once, but twice.
Suddenly, the deni or debt promised the up-by-the-bootstrap deputy appeared headed into default!
It is a progression that brings me to the metaphoric war of words now pitting the scions of Kenya’s establishment (Dynasties) against the self-styled upstarts who claim that they are not as monied or connected as their challengers, i.e., Hustlers.
Of course, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, and Gideon Moi, along with their lower-tiered cohorts Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka, belong to or are connected to Kenya’s establishment. The first three last names – Kenyatta, Odinga, and Moi – afford their owners a Carte Blanche and Get-out-of-Jail Free Card while opening many doors sans any introduction.
The same applies to Mudavadi.
Kalonzo, for his part, has a CV that has given him a front-row seat to these original members of Kenya’s post-independence elite.
Therefore, it is not difficult to see a seething and feeling betrayed William S. Ruto conjuring up a reason why he has been double-crossed out of his Kumi Fresh stint atop the country; this by two scions of the country’s leadership: He does not have their pedigree, storied background, or blue-chip name.
Simply stated, the Dynasty tag has stuck and struck a chord among Kenyans, not because of any vitriol or inflammatory campaigning by Ruto’s side. It has resonated with the country because shudder the thought, it is true!
Dynasty: A succession of rulers of the same line of descent; a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.
For their part, the so-called Hustlers could have come up with any label claiming that they were not trust-fund babies or heirs to the throne that is the Kenyan Presidency, and given who they were up against, it would not have mattered.
Hustle/r: to obtain (something) by energetic activity or hard work, i.e., one who obtains something by energetic activity or hard work.
Given how hard the average Kenyan hustles to put food on the table, a roof over their head, and clothes on their back, it is unsurprising that they can relate to the term Hustler.
And the bonus?
The tag stuck while simultaneously highlighting those responsible for creating the dire conditions that compel them to jostle and grind to survive: individuals whose names have ruled the country since independence, i.e., the dynasties born with a silver spoon in their mouth.