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Why hustler-dynasty narrative sounds so persuasive, addictive

By XN Iraki | January 24th 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Traders pull handcarts at Marikiti (Marigit) open-air market. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The hustler-dynasty narrative is trending, particularly in rural areas. The ruling class or elite has also taken note of this narrative going by their recent pronouncements.

It’s not clear why the narrative found such a fertile ground in Central Kenya. Covid-19 may have unintentionally amplified the hustler-dynasty narrative.

The economic meltdown has made the hustlers, read the poor feel the weight of poverty, deprived the means to livelihood by a virus they know nothing about.

Under such circumstances, it’s easy to buy into a scapegoat for your socio-economic circumstances, dynasties.

The proponents of hustler-dynasty narratives fail to separate the real dynasties who made their money from an inheritance or political connection, sometimes by historical accidents and the those who made their money through bootstraps.

This creates the impression that anyone rich or affluent made his money the easy way.

They are creating an impression that being rich or affluent is wrong or sinful; a view supported by some religions.

Never mind that’s lots of hustlers aspire to be rich and affluent. Where do they place our personal responsibility?

Is making money not an interplay of our own effort and the environment? The narrative gets more support from the belief that dynasties made their money corruptly. The headlines in the media add credence to that. Few hustlers are ever hauled to court for corruption.

The narrative is messianic, proponents suggest without saying loudly that if they got power as hustlers, they will replace the dynasty on the high table. It’s not clear what will happen to those who fail to get seats on the high table.

The promise of a golden future time is implied. The promise of the end of work and drudgery is implied too. It’s a very messianic and Orwellian message that is leaving the political class on the edge.

It’s a fact we know so well that behind the 2007/8 political violence were economic or if you want, class issues with houses burnt and lives lost. It was made worse by hustlers and perceived dynasties belonging to different tribes.

Given time and space, it’s easy to build narratives based on hearsay, stereotypes and even rumours. These are more believable than the truth.

That is what is making hustler narrative very powerful and receptive. It’s feeding on our fears and stereotypes.

The ruling class, to be fair foresaw this narrative and responded with Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which promises to bridge the gap between the hustlers and dynasties, without using the terms.

But the BBI and hustler narrative leaves no doubt that we have not handled our economic issues the right way since we lowered the Union Jack.

We seem to have embraced a brand of capitalism without a human face. This brand of capitalism provides a fertile ground for hustler-dynasty narrative.

In capitalist countries such as the US, which we use as a benchmark for our politics, pro-hustler policies have muted the excesses of capitalism and bridged the hustler dynasty gap. Let’s be real, which country has no political and economic dynasties? Even communist countries have their dynasties. It seems self-perpetuation is in our DNA. Why else are children so valued?

Bridging the gap between hustlers and dynasty is one of the hallmarks of progressive nations. Noted how the US federal government is mailing cheques to cushion American citizens against the economic ravages of Covid-19?

Give credit, we tried our stimulus package too. A well-functioning welfare system is one of the bulwarks against the hustler dynasty narrative. But the welfare must not encourage dependency.

Giving stipends to the elderly was a great start for our government. We dream that one day we shall give stipends to our unemployed. Some have argued that abolishing Harambees fed into hustler-dynasty narrative. Harambees made the hustlers feel the dynasties cared. What do you think?

The headlines on graft have made lots of citizens angry. They are likely to listen to anyone offering a solution, they can debate later on how realistic the solutions are.

Perhaps, the potency of this narrative will make the political class act. How comes they do not have a counter-narrative? Will they put taxes into the tight use, for the hustlers to feel that their lives are improving?

Will the taxes be focused on where it matters, the social services like health, education and job creation? Will they finally act decisively on corruption, real or perceived?

Can the State make it easy for the hustlers to earn an honest living, making it easy to take their produce to the market?

County governments

Can they run their small businesses in peace with national and county governments being facilitators providing roads, sewage, power and other services?

A third approach is to show how we are intertwined irrespective of whether we are hustlers or dynasties. Dynasties employ hustlers, hopefully for fair wages and salaries.

Hustlers are the key market for the services and products from enterprises owned by dynasties. Finally, we must make it possible for hustlers to join dynasties through a fair education system, hard work and a workable incentive system. Can we “Obama-rise” our social-economic system, making it possible for one to rise from stables to stars?

Paradoxically, it’s such a rise that is giving hustler narrative lots of traction. Let us be blunt, as long as the underlying issues from poverty to inequality and joblessness are not addressed, the hustler narrative will keep getting traction.

The leaders must address the perception that the ruling elite does not care or is cut off from reality on the ground. Suppressing the narrative will just give it time to ripen.

Do you recall post-election violence in 2007/2008 took place when the economy was very vibrant? Finally, the hustler dynasty narrative and its promises is not the first one.

Uhuru, multipartism, a new constitution, communism and some religions did the same.

It’s time we confronted our national problems head on to deflate such narratives.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi

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