REFLECTIONS

The barbershop panel of citizens

Barbershop banter in downtown Nairobi

In Summary

• Debate stirred by perceived rift between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto

President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto in celebratory mood. The UhuRuto ticket took Kenya by storm in 2013
President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto in celebratory mood. The UhuRuto ticket took Kenya by storm in 2013
Image: FILE

I have just come from my barber’s before sitting down to write this, same place I’ve been going to for a haircut for decades. It’s one of those old-school barbershops one finds in downtown Nairobi that have old-fashioned, round-based, solid-looking barbers’ chairs, and where barbers call themselves barbers, not hairstylists. No male-grooming pedicures and manicures in this barbershop, they just cut hair, no frills.

 

The barbershop’s clientele, mostly men, are long-time regulars from all walks of life, cutting across all ages and backgrounds. They see each other regularly at the shop and end up sort of knowing one another. And so this barbershop is the kind that not only cuts hair but serves a social function, providing a space where customers engage in good-humoured heated conversations related to gossip, politics and social issues. It is the quintessential barbershop where you get a good haircut, vociferous discourse and sometimes unsolicited advice.

On this last visit, the talk was politics. Someone sparked a debate by putting forward the hypothesis that this perceived rift between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto is not real. The proponent of this theory further went to state he suspects this so-called fallout between Uhuru and Ruto is an act, a Machiavellian performance, hatched by the duo to assure Ruto’s ascension to the presidency and keep the opposition in check by dangling the carrot of the handshake, BBI and the possible opportunities that can be exploited from this supposed rift.

Half the room was in agreement, the other half vehemently disagreed. Those opposing were quick to retort, firing in quick succession examples of signs there is indeed an UhuRuto split. They cited the elevation of Dr Matiang’i to Cabinet Secretary in-charge that seemed to undermine DP Ruto. They mentioned UhuRuto no longer hang out in matching outfits like they did in their first term. And how about this sacking of Ruto allies and locking them out of a presidential function? Then there’s the reported Mombasa incident where the DP’s personal possessions were removed from an official residence.

Those supporting the hypothesis acknowledged all these signs but they had a question. Does all this tamasha hurt or help Ruto? Their contention was it helps the Deputy President by distancing him from government, insulating him such that come 2022, when he’s campaigning proper to lead, no one will be able to hang any failures of the Jubilee government (the economy, debt, taxes, unemployment, any of it) round Ruto’s neck. The man was sidelined, cast out, they even throw his cloths out of a house and locked it like he had defaulted on rent — a scenario, by the way, many wananchi can empathise with.

The room was now leaning in support but there were some holdouts, who piped out that Uhuru hasn’t committed to backing Ruto as his successor. “And how did that work out for Uhuru in 2002, when he was backed by Moi to succeed?” was the swift rebuttal. It ended the debate.

Of course, all this was barbershop banter, exhilarating chin-wagging because once in a while, it’s good to take your brain out for a walk by engaging it in some think-out-of-the-box discourse. It’s good exercise.      

Reading makes a full man, meditation a profound man, discourse a clear man – Benjamin Franklin