On Freedom of Speech, Presidential Gravitas, Donald Trump and Uhuru Kenyatta.

By Dorcas S

You cannot make this stuff up.

The president of the United States goes to one of the most racist states in the union – Alabama – and in front of a mostly white crowd, calls the protesting and predominantly African-American players of the National Football League (NFL) “sons of bitches”. Mr. Trump did this because some players, led by former Super Ball quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have been, since 2016, kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice perpetrated against African American men.

Approximately seventy-two hours later, some eight thousand five hundred miles south-eastwards in Kenya, one Babu Owino, less than eight weeks into his term as the member of parliament (MP) for Embakasi East goes off on an unnamed person calling them “mtoto wa mbwa” – translated by the Standard newspaper to mean “son of a bitch”. Babu’s speech is in response to a host of issues ranging from police brutality against supporters of the opposition (NASA), the intransigence of the IEBC commissioners in the wake of their incompetent handling of the August 8th election and slights & abusive language including “mganga” and “ule jama wa vitandawili” – mostly directed at Uhuru Kenyatta’s nemesis Raila Odinga.

In both countries, America and Kenya, one could have seen the reactions to either utterances taking shape miles away.

Americans love their freedom of speech – almost more than they love their guns, hamburgers and fries. Even a whiff of an attempt to suppress said freedom will be met swiftly and sans equivocation. Forty-eight hours after abusing NFL players (and by extension, the teams’ ownership and worst of all, the players’ mothers), the erstwhile enemies – NFL players and club owners – stood side-by-side, arms locked in unison, teeing off on President Trump.

Kenyans love their tribe and their hypocrisy – almost more than they love tenderpreneuring. Less than twenty-four hours after Babu’s utterances, he had a visit from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) over yet-to-be-formalized charges. If memory serves me well, it took almost 7 days for the DCI/NCIC to act against Moses Kuria’s late evening tribal rants some 2-3 weeks ago.

In both countries, the fracture occurred along the very predictable tribal and racial lines with the president of either country demonstrating their love for firing up their base and knowingly or otherwise, exacerbating already fractured polities.

The foregoing chain of events got me thinking about the similarities between Donald Trump’s America and Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kenya. I’d argue that the similarities are eerily spot on.

1. The most obvious similarity is the privilege and sense of entitlement that pervades both leaders (and I use the term “leader” very generously). In either case, the privilege and sense of entitlement is a function of their birth – race in DJT’s case and tribe in UMK’s.

2. The two men have fathers with seedy pasts. Trump Sr. has been linked to white supremacists and the KKK and Jomo has been linked to – take your pick – land-grabbing, assassinations, tribal-based governance, oathing, setting Kenya on its current path of ethno-kleptocracy and kakistocracy.

3. Both countries are beholden to China!

4. Both leaders have incompetently discharged their duty as their country’s chief executive. In Trump’s defense, he has only been in office for nine months.

5. Both have past lives as “playboys” – and the impact of said hard living of yesteryear is only too evident. DJT and RAO are septuagenarians and while “black don’t crack”, Raila looks markedly younger and full of vitality when compared to the rotund pale-skinned and slothish orange-haired POTUS.

Uhuru Kenyatta and Barack Obama are the same age – enough said.

6. The nepotism and use of state resources as familial piggy bank is yet another similarity between the 2. Whether it’s use of national resources to further personal/familial wealth or hiring family members into positions of power, the two men have “zero chills” about using their office to line their pockets and those of their families and friends.

7. Their repeated use of language unbecoming of a president only to display thin skin when the tables are turned. Whether it’s calling an opponent “mganga” (UMK) or their foil de jour “sons of bitches” (DJT), the two leaders oftentimes spout abuse at their opponents – perceived or real – only to cry foul when someone responds in kind; in some case, siccing government agents at said opponents!

8. The use of xenophobic and bigoted symbology in the Machiavellian tradition of dog-whistle politics – at once appealing to their respective base while “otherizing” opponents or those who disagree with either.

DJT cannot help himself winking at and nodding towards America’s worst angels: KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

UMK is only less atavistic but has been known to default to the calling card of tribalism and ethnic chauvinism like he did on June 1, 2017 in Nyeri when a national (Madaraka Day) holiday degenerated, unapologetically, into an ethno-cultural event replete with language and entertainment.

9. Both leaders are morbidly terrified of their predecessors and/or opponents.

Donald Trump wakes up and falls asleep thinking of, in order, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Uhuru Kenyatta is a tad more fortunate. He wakes up and falls asleep worried about only one person – RAO – and that alone has driven the one-term president batty!

The irony in either case? Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Kenyatta ARE the presidents of their respective countries i.e. they have the power – symbolically and literally – and their nemeses are private/public citizens.

10. Tacit support of police brutality against minorities. Only their respective support base believes otherwise.

11. Both have used faux nationalism/patriotism to galvanize their fast-dwindling base. Whether at a campaign rally in Alabama or seeking support at the Big Man’s Club (AU), DJT and UMK have perfected the art of appealing to “patriotism” and “pan-Africanism” while abrogating the rights of others who disagree with them.

“You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.” – Rwandese proverb.

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