Until a week ago, not many people knew Kennedy Ombima. Better known by his stage name King Kaka, he is a Kenyan rapper specialising in spoken word, a mix of music and poetry. His new release, done in this genre, has generated overwhelming excitement on social media platforms. Surprisingly, it has won the approbation of Kenya’s stern 'moral policeman', Ezekiel Mutua, the chief executive of Kenya Film Classification Board.
King Kaka’s latest offering, ‘Wajinga Nyinyi’ (You are fools), is a stinging rebuke of Kenyan society. It is a castigation of the country’s collective foolishness in knowingly electing leaders responsible for the erosion of its mores. Kaka’s language is raw, emotive and in six minutes provides what is arguably the most comprehensive coverage of the haemorrhage of the country’s values, customs and conventions.
Kaka’s rap starts off deceptively as a prayer. Thereafter, he launches into a diatribe against a broken education system, perils of gambling, with betting being the only solace for unemployed youth even as retirees are brought out of the woodwork and given prime State jobs.
Kaka further talks of various scandals, including cheap maize imported at the expense of local farmers, and sugar contaminated with mercury. The latter still finds its way to retail outlets.
This is not the first time arts have been used to protest government excesses. Dr Joyce Nyairo in her seminal book Kenya @50, talks of protest music of the 70s. She singles out musician Joseph Kamaru saying, “Kamaru’s reputation as a spokesman for the oppressed was established by songs like ‘Ndari ya Mwarimu’ and even more so by his songs of political protest.
In March 1975, he recorded a stinging indictment of the Kenyatta regime, calling on it to carry out a thorough probe and tell the people the truth about the murder of Nyandarua politician JM Kariuki.
That Kamaru challenged the State and survived its wrath made many believe he was, indeed, on the underdogs’ side.” King Kaka’s performance has found resonance in Kenyans because it succinctly captures the angst of the vast majority.
It publicly articulates what citizens feel but can only whisper in safe spaces for fear of State reprisals. Instructively, in a country riven by ethnic divisions, nobody is asking what tribe Ombima belongs to. A common uniting thread has been woven borne of shared adversity rather than ethnic affiliation.
Critics have lambasted King Kaka for having supported the re-election of Jubilee a few years ago. They accuse him of being a turncoat who only got off the train when the gravy stopped flowing. But others have come to his defence, stating that many were taken in by the administration’s promises of a rosy future for all. They recourse to a popular adage that, ‘wise people change their minds’.
They claim, not without good reason, that communities that voted overwhelmingly for Jubilee have fared the same, if not worse off, than those that didn’t. These have now begun to consider their destinies apart from leaders whose trump cards lie in the inflammation of ethnic passions and incendiary rhetoric.
Questions arise. Is this the beginning of a revolution? Is Kenya finally witnessing a shift from politicians who leverage on ethnicity to a new united country driven by issue-based leadership? Author David Mugun says, “revolutions usually find inspiration in songs and that the resonance of King Kaka’s music should not be underestimated”.
Indeed, Kaka’s music has penetrated the previously impervious shield of millennials indifferent to politics. And because these demographic cohorts have the numbers, they could significantly alter outcomes in the next set of national elections.
But there are fears. For one, that Ombima’s masterpiece may be a one-hit wonder, incapable of catalysing similar protest songs. Second, that though the song captures the pain and powerlessness of poor electoral choices, still, the abiding impression is not of citizen angst, nor of the abuse that they have one way or another suffered.
Rather, it is in the sense that, for all these ills spoken, sang and debated ad nauseam, come the elections of 2022, Kenyans will still make choices based on parochial interests of tribe, nepotism and cronyism; as if bewitched; as if in foolishness that cannot be unbound!