Of colonial 'bwana' masters and modern-day pretenders to aristocracy

Politician J.M. Kariuki [second right] talking to NYS servicemen at seven fork road Machakos. [File, Standard]

Pretensions to high class or aristocratic feelings are common to people who acquire some wealth irrespective of how they did so. They change, 'develop airs' and tend to look down on others.

It happens even in the 21st Century Kenya where a new breed of newly rich, the Hustler Grandees, flash wealth in the midst of growing poverty and adopt aristocratic tendencies.

Back in 1899, Thorsten Veblen published his ‘Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions’ trying to understand how wealth changes human behaviour'. The same question still applies in the 21st Century even in countries, like Kenya, that did not exist in the 19th Century.

Kenya, a creation of British imperialism competing with Germany, Italy, and France is among those new entities. It is a colonial implant where the inheritors of the colonial state struggle culturally to be like the colonisers, with the airs of pretenders to aristocracy.

Pretensions to aristocracy was common in the colonial state, dubbed ‘white man’s country’, in which every white person was ‘bwana’ and the Africans were ‘boys’ - irrespective of age - doing errands for various bwanas.

The language of engagement, as captured by writers like Ernest Hemingway or Atieno Odhiambo, reflected the entrenched bwana-boy mentality.

The internal resentment of that exploitative relationship culminated in the Mau Mau War which shocked the domestic and global bwanas and opened the gates for post-coloniality in Africa called independence.

As Mau Mau Country, Kenya was proud to have contributed to that transformation but its inheritors also inherited the aristocratic pretensions of their departing ‘bwanas’.

The inheritors were generally happy to continue with colonialist structures as long as the occupants were black. They embraced neo-colonialism that catered for the individual interests of the master states and of leaders in the client states.

They retained the mannerisms of the mzungu in exclusive clubs where big money talked and frowned on things African. Independence benefited those who had opposed it.

As such, just like the wazungu, the inheritors wanted little to do with the Mau Mau legacy or its fighters. They subsequently attracted the wrath of concerned commentators.

Politician JM Kariuki, a Mau Mau detainee, grumbled about 10 millionaires in the midst of 10 million beggars; he was found dead in Ngong Hills.

Musician Joseph Kamaru sung about ‘JM’ and condemned the promotion of socio-cultural illiteracy that made children confuse goats for dogs. Novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote on the neglect of ‘freedom fighters’ and the political cheating on land matters.

In Nigeria, Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters ridiculed a rich man scolding his wife for not wearing white gloves like the queen of England. The media advertisement stressed the beauty and goodness of whiteness which the inheritors liked.

There arose political and cultural resistance to colonial exploitation in black skins and it led to political pluralism. The emerging feud over the future, however, was ‘international’ and not confined to African competitors for power.

As in the fight against racially based colonial rule in specific territories, the fight for pluralism benefited those who had defended the despised one party rule. The crafted new constitutions were so broad that they favoured crafty people with money to throw around.

Such was the case in 2022 when William Ruto’s Hustler Brigade stormed Kenya, grabbed power while singing ‘Mwathani agocwo’, and settled down to promote the Hustler Grandees as they competed to show off their access to public coffers.

Ruto leads the Hustler Grandees in creating aristocratic imagery of displaying conspicuous consumption. He sets the standards for aspirants to aristocratic pretensions with his sartorial elegance, reluctance to promote Kenya Airways in order to hire expensive jets to fly to America and Europe, and seemingly not caring about the cries of those living in poverty.

Subsequently, the repeated exposure of high level financial misdeeds does not affect the 'Mta-do?' attitude of the Hustler Grandees. They are immune.