Hustler movement - Hustling government

President William Ruto arrives for a function at Kegati in Nyaribari Chache, Kisii County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

What if your name is Pain and life decides to live up to your name and become a real pain? Imagine Jabez,  the man in the Bible with a name issue, in a meeting where a political party is seeking a popular name for its movement.  Many names are floated, and one is the “hustler movement.” 

Jabez raises his hand. He tells his own name story, how at birth he was named “Pain” and his experience of a life trapped in his given name. In conclusion, he says, “Life can play strange sometimes and make you a demonstration of your name. This is not everyone’s experience but, it has happened to me.“ 

Someone raises their hand and says, “Calling ourselves “hustlers” sounds good and connects excellently with the masses.” Jabez responds, “I would tell anyone who has a chance to name themselves to choose a name that has life in it.”  He adds, “When I look around this table and assess your lives, hustling was in your past. You are people of means. Why you would choose to locate your identity in your suffering and not in your blessing?” 

A voice interjects, “This is about making the lowly masses feel like we relate with them – like we are where they are.” Jabez asks, “But are you really where they are? Are you who they are?” Silence fills the room for a moment as the people come face to face with the manipulative reality of their sloganeering.

An influential voice states, “Well, that’s it with the morality class. This game is about what gets the votes in. Hustler does it.” Jabez then closes, “Alright, let’s just pray that life does not pick the hustler movement to demonstrate a hustling administration.” 

Naomi means pleasant– the co-starring character in the book of Ruth.  The story begins by setting up a tragedy of Naomi losing her husband and her children in a foreign land where they had moved to shelter from a famine at home. From the pain of this tragedy, she renamed herself Marah – which means bitter.  She stripped herself of the “pleasant” name and insisted that she must be called “bitter.”

Naomi, because of what she saw as desertion by the divine, was rebranding into Jabez.  Jabez was Marah and was seeking divine assistance to become “Naomi.”  

As Marah’s story unfolds, things - to her surprise - turned for the better. Thanks to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who dared to hope against hope. She refused to sit back and die. Life was bitter – she was widowed young - but she went up and about to keep Marah alive. The absence of pleasantness did not mean resignation. Ruth means compassion. What a name! Bitterness was compassion’s housemate and compassion won bitterness over! When Naomi deteriorates into Marah, compassion interferes through Ruth, and by the end of the story, the bitter one is pleasant again.

Rarely will someone call themselves an evil name – or a negative one. Back to the “hustler” as a self-given name. What does wearing a hustler badge really depict? On the surface, the hustler brand connotes solidarity with people who are lowly, struggling, and often stranded even with the basics. But while movers of the hustler narrative claim solidarity with the struggling, they already left the hustler zone.

Like those who left the village seasons ago and settled in the city, the once-a-year December appearance in the village only serves to emphasize the widened gap between the former villager and the real villagers. Once-upon-a-time does not necessarily imply togetherness today.

Former hustlers arriving in big cars in the camp of actual hustlers and waving banners of love is suspect. Were it not for their desire for power, the visit may not have happened. The acquired Western accent betrays your claims to be a villager! Your roaring guzzler is not even a distant relative to the wheelbarrow.  

Proceeding to brand the people “villagers” affirms their economic, social, and even geographical location with no vision of relocation. “Villager” may look fancy on the surface, but underneath is a sarcastic aspect. Unlike Jacob - the deceiver – was renamed by God to Israel because he struggled with God and humans AND OVERCAME. The hustler lacks this overcoming dimension. The hustler philosophy glorifies the bottom.  It needs rethinking to make it clear how the wheelbarrow evolves into an earth-moving Caterpillar.

 Unlike a term like M-Pesa which has taken a life of its own and its usage organically expanded beyond its original meaning, hustler remains descriptive of a struggling person and has defied baptism. Wealthy people who call themselves hustlers look insincere. This struggler tag has a bearing on hustlers as a political category and a voting bloc. People did not vote in the hustler movement because they were proud of their lowly status. What is loudly silent is that those who voted for the hustler movement did so because they wanted to be hustlers no more! Like Jabez, Jacob, and Marah they want to overcome their deficits.

Of interest, concern, and curiosity is how the hustler administration has found itself in a hustling situation, literally. In the first few months in office, the hustler government has, against its expectations and promises, found itself embodying its own hustling narrative. With fire-fighting approaches, ceasefire strategies, erased gains, and a difficult opposition in the streets, leaders are having to put up a face to look in control. But behind the scenes uncertainty lingers as they pray that the unpredictable wind will graciously blow in favour of their sails. 

A significant material anxiety hovers:  if the hustling machine yields an unconvincing impact, the hustler voting bloc will scatter. Next time the hustling politicians come looking for hustlers to vote for them, the hustlers may be nowhere to be found. Why? Because their prayer was they not be found in the same hustler spot. They hoped to move somewhere up the road, a little away from the hustler quarters. No one wants to be a hustler forever!