HAVES VS HAVE-NOTS

Hustler Nation: Class struggle danger that lies in Murang'a

In Summary

• On September 27, two youths lost their lives during a confrontation before a fundraiser at Kenol

•  Two rival groups clashed as one tried to stop Ruto from accessing the venue, while the other tried to ensure the event took place.

AIPCA Church in Kenol on October 4, 2020 when two groups of youths clashes, leaving two dead
AIPCA Church in Kenol on October 4, 2020 when two groups of youths clashes, leaving two dead
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

On September 27, two youths lost their lives during a confrontation before a fundraiser at the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church in Kenol, Murang’a county. It was presided over by Deputy President William Ruto.

Two rival groups clashed as one tried to stop Ruto from accessing the venue, while the other tried to ensure the event took place. A lot has been said and written about the tragic events of that Sunday afternoon.

For me, it was a culmination of a simmering socio-economic and political conflict that, if not resolved quickly, may cause mayhem at a larger scale.

A few years ago, I published an oped article titled, ‘Everything that Could Go Wrong in Murang’a County Has Done So; Which Way Ahead?’

Since then, a number of important developments have taken place, most importantly the operationalisation of devolution. This has brought development closer to the people, and Murang’a is no exception.

In addition, the national government has initiated various development initiatives, among them roads, the elevation of Murang’a University College to a fully-fledged University and the upscaling of water supply projects.

However, despite this progress, unfortunately, most of the socio-economic and political challenges have persisted.

Murang’a is unknown to many. A county of deep contradictions: On one hand, some of Kenya’s most wealthy owners of capital in the financial, media, industrial, agricultural and insurance industries are sons and daughters of Murang’a. On the other hand, the county is a hotbed of Mungiki and other criminal groupings, which are a product of broken families, poverty, and lack of identity among many youths.

Unemployment, drug abuse, and alcoholism remain major challenges. This is the county that produced the first PhD holder in Kenya — Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano, the fathers of Kenya’s Second Liberation, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, and one of Kenya’s finest public servants John Michuki.

In a tragic turn of events, the giants of yesteryears have mostly been replaced upon their demise by a retinue of charlatans and pretenders to leadership. Because of this leadership vacuum, Murang’a naturally becomes the battleground for unending, and often trivial, political contests.

The character of the typical Murang’a person is of a tough, resilient, and uncompromising individual. This may have come from the challenging environment that is found in the county, where unlike other parts of Central Kenya, the topography is extremely hilly.

Moreover, due to massive subdivision over the years, land sizes have shrank to uneconomic sizes and, therefore, the vast majority of the people are barely surviving, obviously below the poverty line.

Their common redress is to relocate to Nairobi and engage in menial jobs, live in informal settlements, and because of the dire circumstances they find themselves in, gravitate towards crime and other social evils.

Sadly, its low-income diaspora population living in Nairobi provides ready fodder for any would be troublemaker within Nairobi and the surrounding areas. There is a Kalenjin proverb that says that lions can give birth to dogs, and dogs can give birth to lions.

Lions can give birth to dogs: That past leaders who had amassed a lot of wealth and upon their demise their legacies (and often their assets) are torn to shreds as their children battle over inheritance.

Dogs that give birth to lions: That people who had been brought up in abject poverty but who, through sheer hard work and determination have been able to change the fortunes for themselves and their families, and in the process accumulate wealth and capital.

In my reflection, it seems the proverb of the lions that are the sons of dogs is the philosophy behind the Hustler Nation: A narrative that is popular with people who may be poor, disgruntled, desperate, and have very little to lose.

Many people in Murang’a, unfortunately, fall in this description.

It explains why on the tragic Sunday, the opposing sides were so easily able to mobilise youths who did not think twice about attacking each other, to the point of death. There is risk this can be replicated in other parts of the country, and that is why we should all be concerned.

As I reflect on the Hustler Nation, I fear that although it may currently look like a populist (and popular) political move, it can very easily turn into a violent class struggle between the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots’.

In the ensuing violence, thousands of people may lose their lives and untold damage caused to infrastructure and property.

History shows violent class struggle has happened in many places across the world. Examples include the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Mass Killings of Landlords in China in 1946-48. I think what most of those propagating the Hustler Nation narrative forget is that they easily fall in the category of ‘Haves’, and in a violent class struggle, they too would be targeted as oppressors.

Georg Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

As a nation, let us be a people who to learn from history.

The writer is a senior official at the Executive Office of the President. [email protected]