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Madaraka Day: Musicians get 'little bread' as politicians win through 'big circus'

By Tony Mochama | Jun 1st 2021 | 6 min read

Gospel artist Ben Githae performs onstage during the inauguration of former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko at Uhuru Park on  August 21, 2017.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

This year’s 58th Madaraka Day celebrations has lined up both established and upcoming musicians from the region. They are Suzanna Owiyo, Freddy Jakadongo, Iddi Achieng, Dola Kabarry, Jose Langa, Lizzy Seme, Linet Aluoch Pamba, Koffi Macadory, Dr Osito Kalle, Odhis Toto, Musa Jakadala and Odongo Swagg. 

Others are Javoh Kamica, Eng Wuod Fibi, Ati Sanna, Ongoro Jakarachuonyo and Apesi Mnyama Mkali, Commandos, Orchestra Super Haki Haki Band, Nyowilla Ohangla Band, Konyango Live Band, Jamnazi Afrika Band, Berhumba Group Band and Blessed Ohangla Young Turks.

On the afternoon of June 1, 1963, as the Nyakinyua traditional women dancing group was entertaining guests in an open field following Jomo Kenyatta’s victory speech on the country’s first Madaraka Day, the heavens opened up, spoiling the party for the assembled dignitaries.

As politicians like Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki made their way to continue celebrating at the nearby Muthaiga Golf Club, still a sanctuary for white settlers like Colonel Ewart Grogan, the dancers sought shelter from the Saturday afternoon storm in the abandoned VIP tent, waiting for the bus that would take them from the now muddy Madaraka Day grounds.

Fifty-eight years have passed since that rainy Madaraka Day, but on every national occasion, you will find entertainers, mostly comedians and musicians, at these events.

Even last week, at the National Prayer Breakfast, where President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Deputy William Ruto, ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi among other leaders were, they had invited former Tusker Project Fame Academy Principal Hellen Mtawali to entertain the guests. 

Ruto left after the event for his Karen home, to give away his daughter June Ruto’s hand in marriage to Nigerian tax consultant Dr Alexander Ezenagu.

This was the same palatial mansion that, in the last week of April, the DP had met a few bigwigs local musicians at the request of artists led by rapper Khalligraph Jones (Brian Robert Ouko).

“I met artistes for discussions around art and Covid-19,” the DP said at the time.

As it turned out, the troupe of artistes that also included popular female VJ Pierra Makena, DJ Joe Mfalme, radio-host and comedian Jalang’o and veteran Herbert Nakitare aka Nonini were meeting the DP to discuss a special government fund to support artistes.

They also wanted the State’s help to re-engineer industry/digital spaces to facilitate online music concerts, because, it goes without saying, that other than the hospitality industry, entertainment has been economically decimated both by Covid-19 and the lockdown measures to contain it.

The musicians who visited the DP offered to, in a quid pro quo, promote the Ministry of Health’s corona protocols.

Other artists, like Octopizzo, read mischief to this visit than mere health goodwill.

Controversial female rapper Noti Flow went all out on a ‘call out’ rant, raving on social media:

“These tumbocrat-artistes should stop being sellouts. So cheap. Think of the many artistes suffering underground. We want something substantial for the people like jobs for the youth to sustain us in the long run. Not some peanuts to silence us for now...”

Her critics would aver that the creation of online spaces and State fund for artistes are long-term, and that asking to ‘eat’ something to promote health protocol is not peanut monkey but ‘money business.’

But Noti was determined to show that the visit wasn’t about Covid-19, but Politics 2022.

“How can people be so blind?’ she raged. ‘We clearly know after the General Election, you will never see these people (politicians) pretending to be with us now EVER AGAIN...”

During the campaigns for the 2017 General Election, a masterpiece — Tano Tena — was crafteda crowd banger at the time by gospel musician Ben Githae. The song was used to woo voters to hand Jubilee’s dynamic duo of Uhuru and Ruto a second term in office that some are now calling the ‘Tano Terror’ era. This as economic fallout from corruption dragons and coronavirus claws at the common wo/man in both city, county, country and the countryside, leaving wananchi with little to cheer about on this 58th Madaraka Day.

Indeed, the guest speaker at last Friday’s National Prayer breakfast lawyer Peter Waiyaki bluntly told the president that “nearly 60 years after independence, we remain largely poor. People lack food and are struggling to pay school fees to educate their children”.

Power crowns

Four years down the line, Githae’s Tano Tena, which stands at over half a million YouTube views, is used to mock the supporters of Jubilee.

“I still support Uhuru and I still strongly believe in the lyrics of my song. Even with the backlash that I have received, I have no regrets whatsoever,” he said. 

As a French writer and political philosopher put it, “to elect leaders, all the people want is a little bread and a big circus.”

He could well have been talking about Kenya, where handouts and a circus in the form of entertainers like bards and comedians at political rallies are enough to put power crowns on the heads of political clowns.

Dr Joyce Nyairo, an academic, said of this phenomenon, upon observing it in the 2013 political campaigns in the Eldoret zone:

“Prayer meetings, branded helicopters, trademarked cars, music concerts, leaders adorned in fashionably tailored shirts in screaming party colours; and a teeming sea of party caps and T-shirts for the electorate. These were the hallmarks of the loud pomp and material extravagance that defined the campaigns in Kenya’s 2013 General Election.”

Travelling Theatre political stages were never a static site, but was diffusely and multi-fold, spread out across streets, markets, televisions, computers and smartphone devices.

Jubilee picked Big Ted Kwaka to head their Creative Department and act as the MC at all of their major events. CORD retained John Kiarie (KJ) of the famous Redykulass trio of comedians. Kiarie would in 2017 become an MP within the Jubilee.

Even the name ‘Jubilee’ itself was strategic in an artistic manner for a multiplicity of reasons. It sounded both political and religious. It appeared to celebrate our country’s Jubilee (50 years) of Jamhuri.

As for the CORD alliance, at the last campaign rally at Nairobi’s Nyayo Stadium, ODM’s Otieno Kajwang’, aspiring for the Senate seat in Homa Bay, led the immensely popular chorus Bado Mapambano.

How can Kenyan politics be steered away from the blitz and extravagance that peaked in the last two elections, adding to the list of dubious considerations such as ethnic brokering that have thus far shaped Kenyan politics?

There was plain gullibility of voters in the face of entertaining political orators as well as nimble-footed entertainers, leading vulnerable folks on a merry song-and-dance to the ballot box.

Marking the gap between what needed to be addressed and what was being offered, the popular musician Juliani (Julius Owino) spun humorous poetry as he said: “Ufisadi, ubinafsi, ukabila; kuuza sura, wataki kuuza sera”.

Fast forward to Jamhuri Day, 2019, when musician King Kaka unleashed Wajinga Nyinyi on Kenyans for believing those national day promises.

The views on Wajinga Nyinyi are way past the three million mark today, but that does not mean that Kenyans will be six pence the wiser when 2022 comes.

Additional reporting by Grace Ng’ang’a.

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