Why Matuga is the Small Kenya


Chirau Ali Mwakwere is the elemental Kenyan politician. He is a master reader of his audience and will cunningly talk fast and sweet when he deems it fit for his immediate audience’ consumption. At other times, he will spew uncensored vitriol and still get his audience wholesomely jazzed. On yet other occasions, Ali Mwakwere will steal our imagination by singing his way into our hearts and leaving us incredulously breathless. That is as it is with Kenyan politicians. And that is as it is with the typical Kenyan citizenry. 

We are ever so ready and willing to be duped, to be wowed, to be jazzed and to be mesmerised even at those times when our intellect ought to win over our emotion. The Kenyan citizenry appears forever hooked onto the antics of the caricatures of opportunists that we parade as our political leaders. If ever we needed confirmation that we are forever married to mediocrity by political standards, the Matuga by-election provided the reality dose. What happened in Matuga is replicated in our country over and over again with such recurrence and standardisation that it has become normative.

Judging from radio call-ins and opinionated commentaries from the Kenyan public, Kenyans seem to hold a rather dim view of Chirau Ali Mwakwere. Such perception is not totally misplaced as the ‘Dzipapa’ man has tended to give Kenyans liquid reason not to rank him very highly amongst the list of Kenyan honourables. The terminal tragedy of the Kenyan nation however is that such are the fellows we elect and re-elect over and over again into the August house.

Matuga is Kenya in microcosm. We yell and scream against ineffectual leadership then re-elect the same band into Parliament to represent us. Even in cases where we pretend to replace our MPs, we do so with characters of not too dissimilar traits. In Kenya, quality and substance are not primal fundamentals in the search for a leader. Instead, we settle for those who are able to whip us into a state of collective emotional amnesia as well as ethnocentric subjectivity.

When I saw news clips of Chirau Ali Mwakwere working his crowd with openly ethnocentric derisions and throwing verbalised ear candy to his constituents about the ministerial flag and other such like sweet-nothings premised on the ‘we’ versus ‘them’ tradition, I immediately knew he would be re-elected. His closest rival was in the meantime trying to play politics by the book. Were he in Canada or in the USA, Hassan Mwanyoha would have effortlessly wrenched the Matuga parliamentary seat away from Mwakwere. But this is Kenya and it is a wonder that seasoned masters of the game in the names of Professor Anyang’ Nyong’o and James Aggrey Orengo who pitched tent in Matuga failed to inculcate the basics of Kenyan politics into Mwanyoya’s head.

When it sits well with them, Kenyan politicians will incite and excite without bothering with the immediate consequences of such tactics. The typical Kenyan politician will never hesitate to retreat into the clan shell when he finds his goose cooked. The elemental Kenyan politician is well aware that he may always resort to clownish theatrics and that we will laugh along. He knows that when he leads in song, however tunelessly, we will chorus along; that when he says jump, his audience will not ask why but will seek to know how high.

From the results of the Matuga by-election, it would appear that the Kenyan citizenry is irredeemably twirled around the index finger of the wily Kenyan leader. In Kenya, civic education need not focus on issues. We would much rather adore the messenger than the message. Ours is to glorify today and moan tomorrow. Scream today and moan the days after.

(Dr Ken Ouko is a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Nairobi)

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