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The Hustler Nation could be short-lived

By Macharia Munene | February 1st 2021

Few political movements have excited Kenyans as much as the ‘Hustler Nation’. It is a phenomenon to watch as it expands and eventually implodes because it contains incompatibles that temporarily coalesce around Deputy President William Ruto.

It attracts assorted political malcontents in three ways. First are those who are unhappy with the current political and socio-economic trends in the midst of growing hardships in the country.

Second are those who inherently do not like President Uhuru Kenyatta and constantly look for a chance to release their inner antipathy towards the president.

Third are those who, believing Raila Odinga to be mischievous, get goose pimples at the idea of a Raila government. All three are reasons enough for people to gravitate towards an alternative to Uhuru and Raila; Ruto.

This attraction has disconcerted Uhuru and Raila so much, they have to respond by playing political catch-up.

Rattled that his purported political sphere is slipping away, Uhuru has reacted forcefully. Besides addressing the Mount Kenya region through Gikuyu media and calling leaders for meetings at Sagana State Lodge, Uhuru has to face three challenges of weakness perceptions.

First, is the perception that the handshake and the BBI were concessions to Raila.

While Raila seemed like the driver of the BBI bus, Uhuru was a passenger. In words and actions, Raila did not disabuse that impression. Second, is the perception that Uhuru ran into the people of the mountain’s tradition of demanding reason before accepting anything.

Third, there is the perception that Uhuru might have taken the mountain for granted as he concentrated on winning the Rift Valley, Lake region, Coast, and the arid zones.

The belief that he has looked after other areas more than the mountain has generated feelings of unhappiness. What is more, Uhuru is increasingly subject to attacks by self-rehabilitating Raila.

Raila’s attacks on Jubilee are partly because Ruto’s ability to exploit weaknesses rattles him.

For long, Raila has had command of the underclass as the ‘baba’ confronting the ‘system’. His comfort in the handshake and the created impression that the BBI was ‘his’ vehicle to a powerful presidency, however, removed him from the environment of the underclass.

The system, as Oburu Oginga asserted, was on Raila’s side. This reality of Raila as a man of the system distanced him from his previous image of a championing the down-trodden.

It opened the way for Ruto to punch holes in Raila’s political armour so much that the effect was for Raila to seek ways of deflating Ruto. Raila claims Ruto has a hustler background; which implied acceptance of the hustler ideology.

The only problem that Raila has with ‘hustlerism’, therefore, is that Ruto leads it. To reclaim leadership, Raila attacks the Jubilee government only for Ruto to link the attacks to Uhuru. The two are just beginning.

Raila, however, is the least of Ruto’s worries. The real threat is the possibility of the ‘hustlers’ turning into Jacobins and Ruto ending up as Kenya’s Maximilian Robespierre. Neither is good for either Kenya or Ruto.

It is the struggle among the players within the growing ‘hustlerdom’ more than attacks from outside critics that threaten the hustler movement.

Spies within

In the French Revolution, Jacobin elites exploited peasant grievances to mount a reign of terror against opponents and then turned the guillotine on each other. Ruto’s movement, if it succeeds, is in danger of following the same pattern of leaders turning against each other.

Hustler leaders are united in opposing the Uhuru/Raila political camaraderie - little else - and create the impression that the Uhuru/Raila ship is sinking. They attract disgruntled politicians to seek shelter in hustlerdom. Suspicious of each other, survival instincts make them jostle for party positions. Already, there is talk of spies within, which indicates lack of mutual trust, a characteristic of Jacobinism.

Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko has asserted that the ‘system’ plots to kill opponents. Moses Kuria, self-respecting firebrand, then dismissed Sonko as unfit to address political rallies. Samson Cherargei, another hustler firebrand, believes Kuria spies for Uhuru. Although Caleb Kosittany and Kipchumba Murkomen dismissed the allegation as propaganda, bitter tastes of suspicion linger.  

-Prof Macharia is a senior associate, Horn International Institute for strategic studies

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021
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