Ganja and hustler nations’ epic scramble for the bottom

Roots Party presidential candidate George Wajackoyah

Roots Party presidential candidate George Wajackoyah.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The ‘Hustler nation’s’ populist narrative held sway in the battle for Kenya’s poor.
  • Wajackoyah's entry has forced the hustlers on the back foot in the battle for the bottom.  

On the evening of June 30, two populist manifestos were unfurled. Deputy President William Ruto, the Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate, launched the ‘Hustler manifesto’ at Kasarani Stadium as Prof George Wajackoyah, the Roots Party presidential flagbearer, unveiled the ‘ganja manifesto’ at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.

Ruto’s ‘Hustler nation’ and Wajackoyah’s ‘Ganja nation’ are locked in an epic battle for the soul of what Paul Collier, Professor of Economics at Oxford University, dubbed “the bottom billion” – the struggling masses in poor nations. 

As President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second and final term got under way in 2018, Ruto was the ‘crown prince’. But Ruto openly revolted, accusing Kenyatta of betrayal after the latter cut a deal (‘handshake’) with his erstwhile challenger, former prime minister Raila Odinga, on March 9, 2018.

Ruto stridently took to populism, shrewdly framing his feud with Kenyatta as a moral contest between “hustlers” (struggling Kenyans of low birth) and “dynasties” (the alliance of wealthy families that has monopolised state power in Kenya for two generations).

The ‘Hustler nation’s’ populist narrative, which shifted the axis of the 2022 presidential contest from ethno-politics to class struggle, held sway in the battle for Kenya’s poor.

However, the entry of Wajackoyah into the presidential race has forced the hustlers on the back foot in the battle for the bottom. Wajackoyah, who likes describing himself as an ‘underdog’ in Kenya’s 2022 presidential race, is a deep thinker, not your typical comic effect candidate.

In early June, the law don launched a peculiarly norm-shattering campaign for the Kenyan presidency that is normalising the abnormal. His strategy’s gist is to bring shadow economies, mainly the marijuana underworld business, into the light. His manifesto launch, attended by hundreds of Rastafarians and hustlers, sent a chill down the spines of many Kenyan parents and irked faith-based communities. It resembled a conference on legalising weed.

Wajackoyah's Ganjanomics

The manifesto, which has veered into ‘Ganjanomics’, inspired by the philosophy of anarchist economics, is now shrilly stealing the thunder from  ‘bottoms-up economics’.

Marijuana is as old as human civilisation. The medicinal properties of the plant genus cannabis, which has three main species: sativa, indica and ruderalis, were known since ancient times. 

Ancient civilisations hailed the herb as the ‘Sister of man’ and ‘gift sent from god’ to mankind. Ancient Indian doctors used weed to treat epilepsy, asthma and diabetes. Their Chinese counterparts prescribed cannabis for malaria and rheumatism and soldiers used it to heal their wounds due to its antibacterial properties. Perhaps William Shakespeare used it, too. Pipes dug up from the garden of his home in Stratford-upon-Avon “contained traces of cannabis”. 

Ganja is outlawed in Jamaica, but this island nation, where  Rastafarians and legendary reggae icons like Bob Marley entrenched it into the fabric of their faith and culture, is “the mecca of the cannabis”. 

The herb’s medicinal value and demand have expanded after 1964 when the Israeli organic chemist, Dr Raphael Mechoulam, discovered the most active compound of cannabis: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Today, the medicinal attributes of the herb include anti-inflammatory, anti-ischemic, analgesic, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, anti-cancer, anti-HIV, appetite stimulant and sleep apnea reliever.

Legalisation of marijuana

Despite this, ganja is illegal across the world. According to the 2018 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, cannabis is the most trafficked drug in the world. It is used by more than 190 million people. It is the third-most-abused substance in Kenya.

The most profitable herb in human history, marijuana thrives in societies caught up in economic crisis. Once a poor logging region, California’s Emerald Triangle today makes a profit of US$1 billion a year from cultivating the herb.

Last year, American states generated more than $3.7 billion in tax revenue. Netherlands, where cannabis is still illegal but de-criminalised for personal use, earns 400 million euros through coffee shops that draw over 3.66 million international visitors annually.

The global market for legal cannabis is expected to reach almost $43 billion by 2024. By 2027, the demand for legal cannabis in Europe alone is expected to hit $37 billion. Closer home, Africa’s legal marijuana trade could be worth as much as $7.1billion by the year 2022-23.

Wajackoyah, despite his unabashed anti-China rhetoric, is pushing for legalisation of marijuana for both recreational and medical uses to pay off Kenya’s Sh8.4 trillion debt.

But with more than 162,000 children in Kenya below the age of 18 years using cannabis in school, Ganjanomics lacks the necessary moral foundations.

The Ganja nation is using marijuana and snakes farming to win publicity and eclipse the hustler nation. The ploy is paying off. Wajakoyah seems to be eating into hustler nation’s support base especially in urban areas. Inexorably, the silent winner in the clash of populists might be Odinga and his Azimio coalition party.

Prof Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute and Adjunct Scholar at the University of Nairobi and National Defence University, Kenya