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Kenya is a republic, we don't need 'kingpins' and other 'kingly' titles

By Macharia Munene | October 25th 2021

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) and DP William Ruto during past elder coronation events. [File, Standard]

Kenya, a constitutional ‘republic’, might slide into a virtual monarchy. As elections approach, expressions such as kingpin, kingmaker and even ‘king’ acquire usage frequency to give separate communities claims to unique political identity.

Along the way, adventurous people emerge to claim the kingmaking role for different communities. In the process, their statements acquire semblances of authoritative permanency. They imply that creating ‘kings’ would be good, especially for the Mountain

The very idea of creating ‘king’ for the Mountain is strange but it happened recently, as Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru declared that William Ruto was ‘king’ of the Kikuyu and Royal Media mogul SK Macharia actually crowned Raila Odinga ‘king’ in a hotel. An elated Raila declared, "I am king and Ida is queen", sat on kingly seats and wore ‘royal’ attires and crowns.  

Both Waiguru and Macharia went against the common grain for the Agikuyu who, in the Iregi generation, had rejected the idea of king as being inherently oppressive. Both did dis-service by purporting to import their favourite ‘leader’ into the Mountain as ‘king’ without consulting the potential subjects.

The styling of select outsiders as ‘king of the Kikuyu’ came with the onset of the colonial state, as evidence of a new world order in the Mountain. An English adventurer, John Boyes, had self-styled himself ‘King of the Wakikuyu’, and had run Tuthu area as if he was the government. Nicknamed Karianjahi, Boyes collected taxes, increased local population, and had Karuri wa Gakure as his handyman.

Karuri, very close to another symbol of a new colonial order in Kinyanjui wa Gathirimu, quickly switched sides from Boyes to Francis Hall, Wanyahoro, when Hall arrested Boyes. Karuri became ‘chief’ under the new colonial governance dispensation and then made Wangu wa Makeri ruler in Weithaga.  

ODM leader Raila Odinga was crowned as ‘king’ in a hotel by Royal Media mogul SK Macharia. Right, Ida Odinga. October 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The Waiguru and Macharia assertions are therefore reminiscent of the onset of colonialism in which Kinyanjui, Karuri and Wangu symbolised the new governance colonial order. In that new governance, the people lost rights as citizens and became ‘natives’ and subjects of the British monarch.

Waiguru and Macharia may not be aware but talking of ‘king’ in the Mountain inadvertently arouses colonial eeriness, which Kinyanjui, Karuri and Wangu represented. People of the Mountain then wonder whether they will be made ‘subjects’ of either potential royals and whether Waiguru and Macharia are the 21st-century Kinyanjui, Karuri and Wangu.

Of the two potential ‘kings’, Ruto may be catching up in ‘royal’ attractions but Raila appears to be experienced in displaying royal tendencies. 

Raila is seasoned in underground politics, manufacturing euphoria, and appears to have a political magical wand, which mesmerises people into adoration and to give him a peculiar hold on the underclass.

Deputy President William Ruto, Turkana, 2019. [DPPS]

Starting as a small chant of ‘ndiyo baba’ from organised followers, for instance, the ‘baba’ chant acquired semi-official status as politicians in trouble paid homage to ‘baba’. Calling Raila ‘baba’ became mandatory for politicians seeking favour in high circles.

Encouraging potential presidents to have kingly thoughts threatens republicanism, national security, and the state. A president might internalise the egotism of Louis XIV of France to claim that he is the state and ravage the country into financial and moral bankruptcy.

He would discard the constitution as a piece of paper, adopt ‘my property’ mentality Leopold/Mobutu style, and encourage ‘royalty’ references as signs of loyalty.

Kenya’s interest, therefore, is in quashing ‘royal’ proclivities while defending and promoting the spirit of republicanism. Entertaining ‘royalist’ thoughts is ultimately dangerous to both Kenyans and the Kenyan state.

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