Why we should stop glorifying hustlers

Many hustle after failing to get jobs and do not become rich from it

In Summary

• We seem enamoured by millionaires who always talk about their hustler beginnings 

• But struggling to find success is not something we should wish on the next generation

Deputy President William Ruto buys chicken
Deputy President William Ruto buys chicken
Image: FILE

A couple of weeks ago, as I went through the Star website, I came across an article titled Why hustling is the way out for youth by Godfrey Kimega.

Before I even clicked on the link to read the article, my blood boiled just by looking at the title. I found a rage I did not know existed welling inside. “Why must we always speak of hustling as the means to end all our economic problems?”

In his article, Kimega referred to another feature that was originally published in the Star newspaper. The feature was that of a 36-year old boda boda operator pursuing his PhD in hopes of becoming a lecturer. While Kimega refers to this story as “inspiring”, I remember reading that article deeply saddened by how much we have been let down by our own failed system.

The obsession we Kenyans have with the term hustler has always perplexed me. From millionaires who always talk about their hustler beginnings to unemployed youths, we seem to be enamoured by the term.

To be clear, there are multiple definitions and understandings of the word, and not all of them are positive. Merriam Webster gives multiple definitions, one of which is “one who obtains money by fraud or deceit; scammer, swindler.” A hustler also refers to a prostitute. defines a hustler as an enterprising person determined to succeed. Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary describes a hustler as a person who uses their skill, talents or instincts to make a quick buck. Adding that a hustler is very ambitious when it comes to their survival.

The latter is the best way to describe Kenyans’ understanding of the word. While the notion of the word itself is not entirely negative, the way we promote the ideology is not entirely promising.

As a millennial member of the youth who had one formal employment and has been out of the job market for 10 years, I can attest that there is nothing great about hustling. Like the boda boda operator, I found myself on the hustle side of life even with a postgraduate degree to boot.

Most of my peers have faced hardships and have had to make even harder decisions to survive. For us, hustling was a happenstance, not a choice. We are victims of circumstances resulting from generations of failed leadership.

Instead of being the leaders of tomorrow we were promised as children, we are the building blocks of a society that seeks to milk us dry. We were failed by an oppressive system that lures us with grand promises, chews us up and spits us out in a barren land of no hope. That is how we ended up hustling… for survival. However, there is nothing glamorous or braggadocious about hustling.

I get worked up every time I see politicians try to connect to the unemployed youth with their ‘hustler days’ stories. The fact of the matter is, even if politicians were hustlers once upon a time, they did not manage to break out of poverty by simply hustling. These politicians and self-made millionaires have glorified the hustler ideology and brainwashed the youth into believing that they, too, can reach their level.

Rarely would one make it big from simply hustling. Going from unemployment to millionaire status is a rare accomplishment for one to achieve, especially if they do not accumulate the wealth by stealth.

Hustling should not be a career choice; it is only a means to survive for those who have come across unexpected hardships until they get back on their feet. Hustler is not something we aspire to be; hustling is not something we wish to see on the next generation. We can avoid hustling if we implement a better system that serves the unemployed. A system that encourages employment and youth empowerment.

As a country, our main goal is to build an empowered nation, not a hustler nation.

Edited by T Jalio

Hustler Narrative

Star Archives

Hustler: What's in a name?

Ruto has created an ideological brand.


Atwoli tears into DP Ruto, says he isn't a hustler

"Google who a hustler is... a person who employs fraudulent means to obtain money".

Business Reporter

'Hustler' – Title or name, it is working for DP Ruto

Raila has found himself flatfooted. Unlike Ruto, his political name-tags have always placed him high


Jomo and Jaramogi were also hustlers - Raila

"Even Kibaki was a hustler. He served as a bus conductor to become a President."

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star