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What next for Atwoli after BBI setback?

COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Following the shock ruling by a five-judge bench that declared that Uhuru Kenyatta violated Chapter 6 of the Constitution by seeking constitutional amendment through the Building Bridges’ initiative (BBI), attention now again shifts to Francis Atwoli. Whither now for this indefatigable defender (some say founding father) of the BBI seeing that his pet innovation has been declared null and void? Is this a temporary lapse of his ‘prophetic’ accuracy, or a clear defeat in battle?

For Atwoli’s bulging public image had been significantly bolstered by his uncannily accurate predictions revolving around Ruto and the BBI. Despite his deceptive veneer of a rotund querulous irritant, or a temperamental blabber-mouth (depending on one’s viewpoint), this has forced us to finally take him seriously. In 2020 for instance, he predicted that county assemblies would pass the BBI Bill and that Parliament and the Senate would vote unanimously for it. These two events came to pass.

Snatches wife

His other daring performances include his 2014 impugning of Deputy President William Ruto at a public rally where he claimed the DP would not be the next president. Invoking his own home-spun wisdom as quoted in his biography Fame Force and Fury, to the effect that, “once someone helps you to get a wife, you do not continue keeping him around lest he snatches that wife from you”, he also admonished President Uhuru Kenyatta matter-of-factly to sack his Dr Ruto in order to ‘save the country and his legacy’.

Pundit Herman Manyora believes Atwoli possesses extraordinary savvy in numerical analysis which helps him to read Kenya’s political calculus almost unerringly—not too far-fetched for a man who claims a patent to an early electronic device which he designed during his days as a telecommunications technician, and which was allegedly used throughout the telecom world.

The hordes of big names trooping in choreographed cohorts to Atwoli’s palatial abode off the Kajiado-Namanga highway for weekend nyama choma and ‘consultations’ complete the aura of an increasingly important ‘political seer’ serving hopeful clients. This imagery tallies well with early Maasai religious practices, where prophecy and seeing visions revolved around the laibon, a revered figure whose many roles included being the chief medicine-man, diviner, rain-maker and seer, besides his primary role of uttering blessings over morans proceeding to war. Lenana and Batian- for who the two loftiest peaks of Mount Kenya are named – were among the most renowned laibons.

The corrosive forces of modernity alongside emergence of a dominant political class has diluted the ancient traditions of Maa speakers, and those of most other Kenyan communities as well, and shifted the ‘laibon’ roles to modern-day politicians whose tool kits no longer include the mandatory calabashes and fly whisks. Rather, today’s political descendants of the laibon don designer-wear, drive V8 guzzlers and are as politically street-wise as anybody else. At times, they wear a token Maasai ‘shuka’ to pay homage to the community’s colourful past.

When Thomas Spear and Richard Waller wrote their book titled Being Maasai, they discussed the concepts of identity and ethnicity as static. Thanks to the remarkable hospitality of the Maasai which readily assimilates a worthy supplicant as long as he undergoes some intricate initiation rites, and grants him complete ‘citizenship’, heroic ‘Saitotis’ and ‘Ntimamas’ have emerged from immigrant class of the Maasai. It is in this mold that Atwoli, this enigmatic man who resides among the Maasai, and who has a knack for outshining the real political practitioners while seated on the ringside, fits.

‘Visiting laibon’

Upon his arrival in Kajiado, the region seems to have received a ‘visiting laibon’ in the context of a ‘visiting professor’-a scholar from outside a university’s own borders, hosted in the hope that he or she will infuse new experiences into its systems.

So, what will happen to Atwoli himself now that the BBI has been revoked by the High Court, an act that moved Ruto to tweet triumphantly that “there is a God in heaven who loves Kenya immeasurably”? For how long can Atwoli last as kingmaker and dreamer? Will he go out by the benevolent way of the Apostle Peter, or by the shameful route of Gregory Rasputin, the court jester of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia? The answer to this weighty question needs an equally gifted diviner to pin down! But one thing is sure. This untiring son of Alubala will remain politically relevant in 2022 and beyond.  


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