‘Hustlers’ versus ‘Dynasties’: Ngugi’s prophesied apocalypse - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 13 February 2021

‘Hustlers’ versus ‘Dynasties’: Ngugi’s prophesied apocalypse


Most Kenyan politicians are swashbuckling, exuberant and incorrigibly loud; seemingly drunk on the adoring crowds, the splendour and dazzle of it all — always on a gargantuan scale.

Jagged and baffling, Kenyan politics is like a mad painter who keeps changing his mind about which colours to use — sometimes taking the country on a dangerous trajectory, careening off the rails like a car on a slippery road. At those times, the country — broken, upended and splintered — has walked on razor’s edge, shuddering near the abyss where death, violence and paranoia jostle.

There were times when the country came close to being unhinged like an unstoppable train hurtling towards inevitable disaster but, just at the last minute before plunging into hell, somehow catastrophe was averted.

As we move towards the next election cycle in 2022, the battle lines are getting drawn in a new narrative of hustlers versus dynasties — with increasingly aberrant behaviour like the recent physical blows exchanged by MPs in Kisii and the almost daily, testy verbal exchanges.

 Already, politicians are behaving like frightful leopards unsheathing their claws, pawing the air and snarling fitfully. The hustler narrative — with its attendant wheelbarrow symbol — like a wrecking ball of insurgent political energy on the political status quo barged unannounced, in feral brute force, rampaging like an injured, charging buffalo.

Hustler narrative

The proponents claim that, for the first time, the hustler narrative is not mobilising politics along the usual tribal lines. However, detractors of the hustler narrative counter that it is fomenting a dangerous class war between the haves and have-nots and that once that war is in motion, it will be riotous and unstoppable. History will judge which side is right.

However, in the hustlers versus dynasties narrative, there is an unmistakable echo of Ngugi’s despairing wit, especially from his 1977 novel, Petals of Blood, which is a dark, angry, prophetic and sprawling novel — grimacing, gloomy and gruesome in its stinging message. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, as a committed

Marxist, has always warned in most of his works that one day the ruling class (and the capitalist class who own most of society's wealth and means of production) will be in trouble for accumulating their wealth through exploiting the masses of their workers. Karl Marx, the founder of Marxism, called this ursprüngliche akkumulation (primitive accumulation) of wealth.

William Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto during the presentation of buses to Immaculate Ndavaya Boys and Mackinnon Girls  at Kinango Boys Secondary School in Kinango, Kwale County, on February 11, 2021.  

File | Nation Media Group

On the other hand, the workers (“hustlers” in today’s language) are the masses of people who have no property and their significant economic value is their labour. Ngugi always prophesied that one day, matters will come to a head and that the workers will rise against the ruling class. It was a terrifying prophecy and seemed very far-fetched but with the hustlers versus dynasties narrative, we have suddenly come face to face with the reality of Ngugi’s prophetic writing.

Political rulers

Petals of Blood is especially suited in shedding light to the present hustler versus dynasties narrative. The novel highlights a society full of betrayals of the peasant class (hustlers) by the powerful ruling elite.

The author highlights the fact that the political rulers hoodwinked the peasant class (hustlers) into a position where the rulers enjoyed all socio-economic privilege while the peasants remained in poverty.

Petals of Blood is set in a remote village called Ilmorog. Heroic characters like Abdulla, Karega, Munira, Wanja and Nyakinyua are people that the Kenyan peasant population (masses of hustlers) can identify with.

The critic Mũturi Njeri writes that, “peasant characters such as Nyakinyua and Muturi are praised as the guardians of the people’s history but who are oppressed by the ruling class and who should, therefore, act together to change their situation.

Karega, the son of a peasant Mariamu, is shown as the force behind the resistance of the Ilmorog people and workers against an oppressive regime and a profiteering capitalist class.

This leaves no doubt that Ngugi seeks to provoke the have-nots in Kenya to see themselves in the characters and their struggles and realize their power to rise against the tyranny of the haves.”

Puzzling murder

Unfortunately, however, in Petals of Blood, there is also the puzzling murder case of three capitalists: Chui, Kimeria and Mzigo. This highlights the danger of violence and we should avoid it in politics at all costs.

Since literature mirrors real life, with the hustlers versus dynasties narrative, it seems that like in Ngugi’s fiction, the peasant (hustler) class could be ready for a political tussle with the ruling class in attempt to take political power from the elites.

What is interesting is that Ngugi has been read all over the world but now some of his ideas of Marxism are being tested in his motherland in the runup to the political duels of 2022.

It’s democratic and healthy to tussle over ideas and the best ideas should carry the day for a better Kenya. However, we should rein in our worst impulses of resorting to violence, intimidation and force. We should remember Chinua Achebe’s words, “let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch”.

We are different; some people will subscribe to a different side in the hustlers versus dynasties narrative but we are all Kenyans who deserve to be heard. May the best ideas win.

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