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Something's lost in translation, as hustler is Prezzo

President William Ruto after his swearing-in at Kasarani on September 13, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Prezzo Bill Ruto has been on the move, gliding seamlessly through world capitals. It’s hard to keep track of him, really. One moment, he’s dining with a king, or burying a queen in London, before surfacing in New York for more talks with fellow Prezzos. Next, we heard he was in Kampala, meeting the father of the lad who threatened to invade Nairobi, before he surfaced in Dar es Salaam.

And trust me, all these sojourns are possible from a kitty with paltry Sh93m, which is all the last administration left in the national Treasury! I’m starting to believe that those prayer sessions at the State House are starting to bear fruit, for the national reserves have turned into that biblical bushel of oil that never runs out.

From his recent sojourns, it appears Prezzo Ruto has acquired new tastes. Although he doesn’t speak English through the nose, yet, he has developed a disdain for Kiswahili. So, when he arrived in Dar, he apologetically indicated his preference for English.

“Nimeng’ang’ana sana na Kiswahili asubuhi, lakini kidogo inanichanganya,” he told his hostess, Mama Suluhu Hassan, to indicate he had struggled with the Kiswahili language all morning and was a little confused. That’s a claim worth fact-checking: Did Prezzo Ruto make his “hasola” forays, selling chickens in the wide paths of Sugoi, while speaking in Queen’s English?

Well, he was once a hustler, for sure, now he’s Prezzo, so lugha za mtaa might be getting a little rusty, after a month in power. Even his posture appeared demure. He held onto the sides of the lectern, massaging its sides with his hands, as though seeking to grip on something.

He concluded in that soft cadence that he’s developing: “Utaniruhusu niseme kwa Kiingereza ndio nieleweke vizuri.” It means he’d speak in English so that he’s well understood. Then Prezzo Ruto proceeded to make his introductory remarks, recognising the warm welcome from Dar.

He was about to proceed when the presidential translator stepped in. “Mheshimiwa Rais, kwa niaba ya ujumbe wangu…” Right before our eyes, the man hugging the lectern underwent an instant transformation.

First, he shot a hand at the translator. “I don’t think it’s necessary to translate,” he growled. “Kuna mtu haelewi Kiingereza hapa?” he posed. We know Dar is neither London, nor New York; so, what was our hustler Prezzo talking about? Has he been flying around the world so often that he’s lost his bearing?

He was translating for the media, the translator responded, twice, indicating his service was for the benefits of the citizens of Tanzania who don’t speak English. Twice, Prezzo Ruto did not hear him.

“Wee, wachana nayo,” he said dismissively. The aggressive politician had returned. There was a wave of the hand, assaulting the idea that there was any need to access his speech to anyone who didn’t understand the white man’s language. Instead, he would offer sound bites in Kiswahili afterwards — to summarise for the hoi polloi who don’t speak English.

They say a man who doesn’t understand a language is bound to betray his ignorance; in Dar, Swahili language occupies a hallowed place, thanks to its founding father, Julius Nyerere. He understood the place of language in cultivating a national identity. So, this was a teachable moment for Prezzo Ruto to pick useful lessons that Kenyans could use.

But what was remarkable was his own translation, from “hustler” to Prezzo. Flailing of arms should be minimised, if at all, because his word now bears more power than it ever did.