The Mtu Wetu Syndrome: A Brief Analysis… and a Warning

Raila Odinga was a bogeyman in Central Kenya and among virtually all of the so-called GEMA in 2007. He and William Ruto were public enemy number one. Uhuru Kenyatta spared no effort—or insult—in preaching this. To Ruto, Raila was the man. He was an immaculate patriot who had suffered for the country and who was owed a great debt of gratitude. The time for repayment had come. Like his counterpart in the opposing camp, Ruto breathlessly listed the reasons why Raila was best suited to be given Kenya’s reins of power and explained why Kibaki was supposed to be shown the door.

Anyone would have vowed that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto could not ever see eye to eye. Uhuru was among Mwai Kibaki’s right-hand men while Ruto was indispensable to Raila Odinga – the then archenemies of Kenyan politics. The two antagonistic camps rallied their respective tribespeople to be wary of each other and to view the contenders as saviors who would rescue them from some sort of impending attack. In the Rift valley and Nyanza, Ruto’s whispers reverberated in every nook and cranny while GEMA believed every word Uhuru breathed about the unfitness of Raila. It was as if five years had erased Kenyan electorate’s memory clean—in 2002, Raila had been akin to a god to GEMA populace, having been in the then central Kenya kingpin’s good books.

Come 2013 and 2017, the players switched teams once more and their magical words made perfect sense to their respective tribespeople. Ruto, who had a case to answer at the ICC for his deadly defense of Raila, now became best friends with his fellow accused – Uhuru. The number one lieutenant who once was full of praise for the former prime minister invented new names. Mganga wa risasi moja “the single bullet witchdoctor” and Jamaa wa vitendawili “the riddles guy,” among others, in ridicule of Raila’s age and his style of speech, have not left Ruto’s mouth to date. The rift valley where Ruto commands following almost to the last man found no flaws in their kingpins’ new reasoning. Similarly, Kalonzo Musyoka’s view of Raila Odinga as mweupe kama pamba “as white as cotton,” did not shock his people in Ukambani despite having held an opinion that made his listeners view Raila as diabolic previously.

Now, things are different again. Different but… well, the same. Again! Uhuru and Ruto are the greatest of antagonists. Their former common foe is Ruto’s adversary but Uhuru’s best friend. All this with nothing having changed: the corruption issues that Raila used to castigate Uhuru’s government for have not been resolved and Ruto is still Uhuru’s deputy having been his treasured running mate twice! But Raila’s current opinion is that Ruto is corrupt, and Uhuru a good president. Uhuru now echoes Raila with the claim that Ruto is a thief.

Intriguingly, Kenyans do not question these opinion changes. Raila’s supporters celebrate Uhuru’s endorsement. Where they lamented the president’s failings, now they sing his praises. Ruto’s followers who have been proudly taking their hats off to Uhuru now chastise him as a traitor.

We Kenyans sing the song each of our respective kingpin sings the lead without asking why the tune has changed. Why has Uhuru changed sides? Why does Raila now remain silent about all he had demanded for? Does his endorsement by the president render reforms in IEBC unnecessary for instance? How about Ruto’s Bottom-Up concern for Wanjiku, how genuine is it?

Like in previous times, the Mtu Wetu “Our Person” syndrome has seen us trade logic for emotion. Consequently, our public coffers will continue running dry the moment we replenish them. Our people in drought-stricken regions will continue suffering loss and death each dry season. Our teachers, doctors, and other civil servants will keep downing their tools hoping for a better slice of the national cake. Unfortunately, our elected leaders will continue gobbling the lion’s share of that cake. It will be so until we stop defending suspects and rewarding them with elective seats just because they come from the same tribe as ourselves. Just because wao ni watu wetu!

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