POLITICS

Of 'pata potea' card tricks and the succession game

These games show us, the voters, that we don’t have a say in who becomes president.

In Summary
  • The real choice will be made in the proverbial smoke-filled back rooms and we will be presented with it as a fait accompli.
  • The real trickery however, is in the succession game that is currently being played out, amidst all the theft of public money and resources.
Crowd gathers around a group selling coupons and offer tickets on Moi Avenue
Crowd gathers around a group selling coupons and offer tickets on Moi Avenue
Image: COURTESY
Kenyans still show up to vote, but often see the process of democracy as abstract performance art.”
Writer and thinker Nanjala Nyabola

The three card trick, also known as pata potea, has been a classic scam on the streets of Nairobi for as long as people have been gullible.

Despite this fact, or perhaps because as King Kaka famously said, “Wajinga Nyinyi,” people continue to lose their money to the street corner tricksters.

Ordinarily with pata potea, three cards are shown. Typically a red queen and two black cards. The cards are placed face down on the table and the spectator is asked to find the lady. Each time the cards are mixed up the spectator is asked where the red queen is, each time the spectator is wrong.

Occasionally to demonstrate that luck can change, the dealer will have an accomplice in the crowd, who pretends to be just another bystander.

When the accomplice is called upon and wins a couple of rounds for show, the marks in the crowd think to themselves, they can make it too. A fool and his money, as the saying goes, are soon parted.

Whenever I think of Kenyan electoral politics, the phrase pata potea and the whole three card trick comes to mind.

In the words of the Kenyan writer and thinker Nanjala Nyabola: “Kenyans still show up to vote, but often see the process of democracy as abstract performance art.”

We like to think that because we have the vote, we have a real say in the governance of our country and its affairs, but in actual fact more often than not we are gullible punters trying to win at a game that appears to be permanently rigged against us.

When we vote we think, tumepata, but sure enough we find tumepoteza, and lo and behold it was all a get rich quick scheme.

In President Uhuru Kenyatta’s game while everyone was focussed on the Ruto card he shuffled in the Raila Odinga and BBI cards to throw people off the scent. Since then other names such as Fred Matiang’i, Peter Kenneth and Mukhisa Kituyi get shown face up in the deck of cards to show the public that there are other outcomes they could consider in the game.

The real trickery however, is in the succession game that is currently being played out, amidst all the theft of public money and resources.

This is where the “pick a card, any card” comes into play.

Back when UhuRuto was still a thing we were programmed to believe that Deputy President William Ruto would automatically become president after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s term ended. Because of course, no matter how much we vote, we really have no say.

Then came that handshake and the games began in earnest. We’ve been here before of course.

The Jomo Kenyatta succession took about 15 years to sort out. Jaramogi was shunted aside from the beginning, Moi came along but nobody thought he would last, everyone was focussed on Tom Mboya.

And then that shot rang out on Government Road and changed everything.  But still Moi seemed like such a no hoper for the succession and those who did think about him, referred to him as a passing cloud. We all saw how that played out.

In the Moi succession, everyone knew a game was afoot when Saitoti was cast aside for 18 months after the 1997 election. Moi seemed to be test driving some of the younger members of his cabinet.

At one point even the placid Katana Ngala was being whispered about as a potential successor. Then came the Kasarani kiserani that changed everything.

In President Uhuru Kenyatta’s game while everyone was focussed on the Ruto card he shuffled in the Raila Odinga and BBI cards to throw people off the scent.

Since then other names such as Fred Matiang’i, Peter Kenneth and Mukhisa Kituyi get shown face up in the deck of cards to show the public that there are other outcomes they could consider in the game.

These games are being played almost as though to show us, the voters, that we don’t have a say in who becomes president. The real choice will be made in the proverbial smoke-filled back rooms and we will be presented with it as a fait accompli.

Of course we could take control and upset the card table and make our own choice, but that’s too much work, isn’t it.