The season of fat creaky men dancing out of tune is nigh. Rallies and mikutanos, meetings and road shows will be filling our streets with colours, loud musics, pseudo-politics and incoherent men and women screeching for our inflamed ears. Gone are the days of the choirs, chiefs herding reluctant people to open spaces and all waving a single finger. What we have now are choppers, Hammers, V8s, custom made clothes, especially composed hit songs of praise and gyrations of the hand in all sort of manners. Although the audience will, in the while, be wondering where the next ugali is coming from, come they will for who shall fail to enjoy the self-degradation of the powerful? Can one miss the only moment when the fats men and women descend upon the street with bagful of small change?
Every election cycle, we ponder to ask if this madness is essentially Kenyan or if the feelings we all suffer or express is only peculiar to Kenyan voters. Do we have similar parallels elsewhere in the world? Can we find any similar political circus anywhere else in the world? or is Kenya’s electoral politics a unique Kenyan interpretation of democracy? Apart from Africa, have other older democracies have similar developments, or feelings or perceptions on the ups and downs of politics as we are experiencing in Kenya? We have been taught that history has a tendency of repetition as expounded by Heine and Nietzsche or similar to the Indian doctrine of eternal recurrence.
It seems politics and music are strange bedfellows. Both activist and politicians in Kenya and elsewhere have used the medium of music and poetry to advance their agenda or express their deep takings of the politics of the day. It is my limited view that there are keys areas where we all share common perception or interpretation of our rational and emotional experiences in our interactions with electoral democracy. These includes the question of voter bribing, regret and defiant support of one’s champions.
Empty promises and cash-dangling has been part of Kenya’s electoral process and despite repeated legislation it has grown in exponential craziness. The frustrations of Kenya’s voters can perhaps be summarized by the wailing of the members of the Farmers’ Alliance following the failed promises of the well-oiled and elite propped campaigns of McKinley. In the words of L.P. Cummins’ in his song That Prosperity Wave, following the close victory of McKinley in the 1896 presidential race,
Mark Hanna, like robber and pirate-
The henous old villain and knave-
He lied like the devil in Sheol,
McKinley to bolster and save.
From utter defeat and disaster,
He promised, he pled, and he gave
Many millions of ill-gotten money
To hire, corrupt, and deprave
The voters, the rabble, and suckers
And whoever might happen to crave
A bowl or a spoonful of old party soup-
Old Hanna’s more devilish than brave
Regrets of Voters in Patched Pants
The silent frustration with politics in Kenya, though palpable, is always camouflaged by the well-attended pompous but comical rallies and the tribalised conversations that crowds out reasoned discourse. The irony of celebrations with deep inner guilt is one of the defining oddity of our voting behavior. Every voter in Kenya will privately lament his choice in the the previous elections but paradoxically vote the same in similitude of the futile struggles of addicts who cannot fight off their demons. A regretful song by a backer of Harrison in 1888 US presidential elections, in which he backed the victorious Republican Harrison over Cleveland captures well what majority of voters in the country suffer in silent murmurs.
Of all the years since I began
To mix in politics,
The one that tries my inner man
And as this aching void I feelings
I cast a wistful glance
And count them all from hip to heel-
The patches on pants.
My mind runs back to ’88-
When first I tried them on
I walked with proud and joyous gait
To vote for Harrison.
Had I prophetic eyes to see
They’d swim with tears, perchance,
To find that vote brought out on me
Those patches on my pants.
Voters’ Defending of their heroes
In Kenya’s polarised politics of identity, few individuals command almost prophetic followings and are treated as infallible. Uhuru, Raila, Kalonzo, Rutos have solid political bases in their tribal backyards. They can say or do or not do anything without risking any significant fall out.
Class politics in Kenya seems to be mirage. As JM Kariuki found out in his struggle to champion the voices of the poor, the suffering majority who cut across the tribal divide and crowded in semi-human habitations in slums are yet to find a collective voice. The flamboyant Mbuvi Sonko, who despite is crazy lifestyle, is currently perhaps the only one who is trying to continue JM project of sharing his wealth with and fighting for the poor. His success in clinching Jubilee’s nomination against a well orchestrated campaign to discredit him provides some indications of emergence of a growing number of voters, especially amongst the young urban poor to defy tribal politics in favour of class interets.
The establishment unison criticism of Sonko misses the point. Sonko is increasing becoming the face of caring politics that the majority are yarning for and no amount of intellectualized degradation of Sonko as a person will help. To the masses who are behind his candidature, the elites who are criticising him a just but the Dickensian ‘sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, overfed, apoplectic, snorting cattle…whom they care less to listen to.
Perhaps a song by similar activist following another kind of campaigner for the poor will suffice to warn those fighting Sonko. The politics of of the spring of 1894 is forever preserved by the song of Mrs. J.T. Kellie which captured the feelings of the activist who followed Jacob Coxey match of the unemployed to Washington CD to petition for federal aid and his subsequent arrest for trespassing.
The song includes the words:
There is a deep and growing murmur
Going up through all the land,
From millions who are suffering,
Beneath oppression’s hand;
No charity, but justice;
Do the working poor demand;
And Justice they will gain.
The song chorus song goes
Rally, rally, all ye voters,
Rally, rally, all ye voters,
Rally, rally, all ye voters,
And Vote for home and right.
It goes on to warn those in power who are bent on harassing and sneering at the leaders of the petitioners who were seeking economic justice and insisting on the salient truth and resilience of their cause and no amount of intimidation can derail their cause.
They may sneer at General Coxey
And may call his plans unwise,
May style him a fanatic,
And his followers despise;
Yet Coxey’s cause is righteous
And above the wrong ’twill rise-
The Lord hath spoken it.
You may ask what has the songs of voters in yester America have to do with the current elections in Kenya? At the moment our artists are hired by the jesters, corrupt and powerful to sing them sycophantic rhymes but somewhere in the silent corners of the slums there are men and ladies who are quietly singing their frustrations with politics and the decadent leadership we all suffer. In not very far a time off we shall read stories, poetry and yes songs that will expose the mockery of the stupidity and pompousness of the current political leadership.
Axmed Caydid is a Namanga based contributor of Nep Journal