What you need to know:
- In every election cycle, political camps frame the contest with messaging designed to win the hearts and minds of voters.
- In Kenya, this political messaging can be traced back to the independence.
‘Hustler’ could be the major campaign slogan in the 2022 elections, highlighting the changing political messaging every election cycle from the times of ‘Unbwogable’ in 2002.
Since independence, each election cycle has seen rival political camps frame the contest with messaging designed to win the hearts and minds of voters.
University of Nairobi lecturer Herman Manyora notes that messaging has greatly shaped the outcome of elections the world over.
“The campaign message is packaged to sway the conviction of a voter against a rival candidate while portraying the owner of the message as the only hope to save the masses from problems they are facing,” notes Mr Manyora.
In 2009, Mr Barrack Obama became US president on the strength of the “change that we can believe in” mantra.
And in 2016, Mr Donald Trump won the presidency on the slogan of “make America great again”.
In Kenya, this political messaging can be traced back to the independence.
During the first multiparty elections in independent Kenya in 1963, the contest was between the Kenya Africa National Union (Kanu) and the Kenya Africa Democratic Union (Kadu).
Fearing that the big tribes -- the Kikuyu and the Luo (that were largely in Kanu) would dominate the smaller ones, Kanu believed that the only way out of this was for the country to go the Majimbo (Federalism) way.
Slogans like Uhuru na Kanu (Freedom and Kanu), Uhuru na Majimbo (Freedom and federalism) emerged, propelling Kanu to victory in the ensuing elections that saw Kenya go Majimbo as Jomo Kenyatta became the country’s founding president.
Former Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, after falling out with his former ally and boss, Kenyatta, formed the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) in 1966 with an eye on the top seat.
However, KPU would be banned in 1969, leading to Odinga’s house arrest instigated by Kenyatta.
In 1992 and 1997, President Daniel Arap Moi, the self-declared professor of politics, managed to easily divide the opposition, and won. He had said the opposition meant nothing good for the country.
In 2002, Moi was retiring from power after serving 24 years since 1978 when he became president following the death of Kenyatta.
Once campaign messages have assumed the hate angle, it becomes dangerous.
Mr Manyora notes that this messaging has mostly revolved around detestation, where politicians identify and focus on objects of hate and anger.
“Once campaign messages have assumed the hate angle, it becomes dangerous for the country,” says Mr Manyora.
For instance, during the 2002 presidential campaign, the first election in the country where power was being transferred from a retiring president to a new one, the late Moi was identified as the object of hate and anger because of whom he had anointed to succeed him -- Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the founding president.
Slogans such as Yote yawezekana bila Moi (everything is possible without Moi), which symbolised years of misrule and economic and social decay under Moi, were coined in support of the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki.
Governance expert Barasa Nyukuri notes that this song became the voice of defiance against Moi and the Kanu regime in clear determination to institute change.
“The song was basically meant to rally Kenyans against Uhuru Kenyatta, then a novice who had risen exponentially through the country’s political system,” notes Mr Nyukuri.
Mr Kenyatta was nominated to the National Assembly in 2001 and became Minister for Local Government under Moi. At the time, Mr Kibaki was on his third attempt at the presidency.
Despite his political inexperience, Moi still favoured Kenyatta and handpicked him as his successor.
In picking Kenyatta, Moi overlooked his Vice President and Minister for Transport and Communication Musalia Mudavadi, Cabinet ministers George Saitoti (Home Affairs), Kalonzo Musyoka (Tourism and Information) and Raila Odinga (Energy).
Mr Saitoti, who later died in a helicopter crash in 2012, Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka would resign from Kanu in protest to join Mr Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) team that had Michael Kijana Wamalwa, who was then Saboti MP and Ms Charity Ngilu, then Kitui Central MP, to create the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc).
The song Unbwogable (unbeatable), by the band Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, had become a hit before the 2002 General Election.
Although it was composed for entertainment, it was taken by Narc politicians and turned into a campaign slogan.
Under Narc, Mr Wamalwa became Mr Kibaki’s running mate.
Mr Mudavadi opted to stay with Kenyatta, becoming his running mate, but they lost the election to Mr Kibaki, who at the time was confined to a wheelchair after a road accident during the Narc campaigns.
This loss effectively ended Kanu’s 39 years of power since Kenya’s independence in 1963.
Mr Kenyatta went on to become the leader of opposition in the National Assembly.
"Unbwogable" is a mix of English and Luo words. “Un” is the English prefix that means “not”, giving negative or opposite force in adjectives and their derivative adverbs and nouns. Bwogo is a Luo word that means scare, while “able”, an adjective, is an English word, which means capable of doing something. Put together, they formed “Unbwogable”.
“Who can bwogo me” (Who can scare me), therefore became a euphoric rallying call that swept the country during the 2002 campaigns showing Narc was not scared of Moi’s Kanu that was in power then.
Indeed, Kanu would be swept out of power, and on the afternoon of February 19, 2003, “Unbwogable” became a parliamentary word, courtesy of the Wamalwa Kijana, a few months to his death.
The late Wamalwa, who also served as Minister for National Reconstruction, was at the time, the leader of government business in the House.
He introduced the word “Unbwogable” while moving a motion for debate President Kibaki’s address delivered to the House from the chair on Tuesday, February 18, 2003.
“I can assure the House of this because the man (President Kibaki) is determined to heal quickly, and as we all know on this side of the House, the man is absolutely "unbwogable", Wamalwa is captured in the Hansard, the official recording of the House proceedings, as saying of the president who was recovering from the accident.
But then West Mugirango MP Henry Obwocha (Kanu) now deceased, on a Point of Order, protested to Speaker Francis Ole Kaparo, that “Unbwogable”, the word Wamalwa had used was unparliamentary.
Obwocha: “Mr Speaker, Sir, the Vice-President is known for his good English. But is it in order for him to use unparliamentary language? Is the word "unbwogable" parliamentary or not?”
Speaker: Order! For the Vice-President to respond, I think you must understand that there are only two languages known to this House - those are English and Kiswahili. Pray, what is the word "unbwogable?"
Wamalwa: Mr Speaker, Sir, I respect the Speaker's ruling, but I also happen to know that English is a growing language. If that were not so, then, you could not find a word like "chai" in the dictionaries today. So, "unbwogable" has become so well accepted in this country, and it captures the mood so correctly that I am sure eventually it will be accepted as an English word.
Speaker: Order! Order! Order! Proceed, Mr Wamalwa! Could we now leave that away? If you think that you are "unbwogable," probably, you will get a bigger match here!
Wamalwa: Mr Speaker, Sir, I am quite sure that everybody here understood what the word means, and during the results of the last General Elections, I was surprised to hear the BBC itself use that word -"unbwogable,"- and, therefore, it is accepted even in England so long as the BBC uses it.
During the 2007 election, the contest was between the Party of National Unity (PNU) leader President Kibaki and ODM leader Mr Odinga, the man who singlehandedly propelled him to the 2002 presidential victory.
The campaigns assumed a dangerously tribal tone, with the underlying narrative, which was never spoken about openly in rallies, being 41 against 1 – the Mount Kenya region against the rest of the country.
“PNU accused ODM of propelling the narrative to divide the country though ODM had not brought it out. It was one tribe against the 41,” Mr Manyora noted.
But even as the drumbeats for the 41 vs 1 continued, President Kibaki’s side successfully demonised Mr Odinga in the Mount Kenya region irrespective of the reality on the ground.
President Kibaki would be declared by the electoral commission as winner, plunging the country into a post-election violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives, with thousands others huddled in internally displaced people (IDPs) camps and the destruction of property.
The poor had united in poverty.
According to Mr Nyukuri, by the time the international community was coming in to broker peace, what may have started as a 41 against 1 mantra had picked serious momentum and had become a contest of the haves and the have-nots.
“The poor had united in poverty and were now targeting anyone they believed was well off. They attacked the affluent neighbourhoods near slums to cart away valuables,” says Mr Nyukuri.
In the 2013 elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta was making a second stab at the presidency.
Mr Odinga, the ODM leader, was his main rival. Going by the events of the 2007 post-election violence, the campaign messaging had to be carefully crafted so as not to plunge the country into another orgy of violence.
However, Kenyatta was coming in with the baggage of having to deal with The Hague-based International Criminal Court.
President Kenyatta and Mr William Ruto, his running mate, had been accused of crimes against humanity following the events of the 2007 post-election violence.
While ODM propagated the narrative that the two were unfit to lead the country, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, under the Jubilee Coalition that brought together their respective parties – The National Alliance (TNA) and the United Republican Party (URP) – were not left behind. The two sold the digital vs analogue mantra, to show that Jubilee was more tech-savvy. More suitable to push the country into the new digital age. They wanted to tap into the youth vote.
At the same time, their narrative portrayed Mr Odinga as a political dinosaur and that his group, which included Mr Musyoka, his running mate, symbolised the old political order.
To show their digital transformation of the country, President Kenyatta made a pledge in one of his campaign rallies that in the event there was no run-off voting, the Sh5 billion that had been set aside for the exercise would be committed to buying laptops for pupils in public primary schools to enhance their digital literacy skills.
The exercise was to be done progressively every academic year, starting with Standard One pupils.
President Kenyatta would go on to be declared winner by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
In the 2017 election campaigns, the contest was between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
Mr Kenyatta had maintained Mr Ruto as his running mate and Mr Odinga also retained Mr Musyoka as his.
President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto had coalesced their parties, among others, to form Jubilee Party.
Mr Odinga had his ODM party, Musyoka’s Wiper, Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC and Ford-Kenya of Moses Wetang’ula come together to form the National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition.
While the Jubilee Party continued to preach digital transformation, double digit economic growth and youth employment, Nasa’s slogan was Nasa hao, which means catch them (Jubilee).
President Kenyatta would go on to be declared winner by the IEBC in an election that would later be annulled by the Supreme Court following a petition by Nasa.
In the fresh presidential election of October 26, 2017, Mr Odinga boycotted, after claiming that the IEBC, as constituted, was not committed to a credible process.
Although the country is barely two years to the 2022 election, the campaign sloganeering is already gaining momentum.
Dr Ruto, who has announced that he will run for president in the election, has already come up with a campaign slogan.
The “Hustler Nation”, which the DP, with the help of Jubilee renegade MPs helped to craft, is a campaign narrative advanced to pit the “Dynasty vs Hustlers” or the haves against the have-nots.
The “Dynasties” are the affluent, where President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga have been taken to belong.
The “Hustlers” are the downtrodden in society. Those who toil to eke a living. It is this group that Dr Ruto claims to belong to.
The “Dynasties” therefore symbolises oppression against the “Hustlers”.
The slogan is meant to endear the DP to a majority of the unemployed youth in the informal settlement in urban areas and in the countryside.
Mr Manyora notes that in the “Hustler Nation” campaign mantra, the DP has singled out the “Dynasties” as an object of hate that he is selling to the masses ahead of the 2022 election.
“The Hustler campaign is a very serious thing. You may have chosen casually to play around with the mantra but it may take a course of its own and by the time it takes a life of its own, you may not control it!” notes Mr Manyora.
“Those pushing ought to know that if allowed to continue, at some point, the hustlers will close rank. They will target even those pushing it as happened in the 2007 post-election chaos.”
“With the dynasties being singled out as objects of hate, Dr Ruto wants to make the country see and believe that the problems facing the poor in the society were caused by the dynasties and that he is the only person who can fix it, which is not true.”
Mr Nyukuri notes that the DP is taking advantage of naïve and gullible Kenyans to sell a dangerous message that he knows may have devastating effects on the peace and stability of the country.
“In fact if anything, he is part of the issues facing Kenyans. The only problem is that Kenyans don’t like the truth and may therefore, not know the truth,” says Mr Nyukuri.