Demagoguery is a time-honoured chicanery every opportunistic politician has had in his or her playbook since the 4th Century BC. At its core, it seeks to drive a wedge and exploit the masses’ ignorance against the ‘elite’ to the demagogue’s political advantage.
No one knew this better than Julius Caesar, who in 60 BC deployed this weapon of mass persuasion through trickery and appeal to emotion to ascend to power.
Caesar knew what the masses wanted to hear, and he gave it to them with charisma that made it even more pleasing to swallow the chicanery hook, line, and sinker. Being a man of immense wealth also meant he could take on and crush anyone in his way to the top, including the ‘old guard’—or ‘the system’ as we know it in Kenya.
As Havard scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt remind us, “The old guard politicians of Rome were horrified at his rise and did everything they could to stop him, but nothing worked. The more the establishment spoke against him, the more the common people loved him.”
It was, therefore, not surprising when the masses cheered as Caesar crossed the Rubicon River in 49 BC and swept away the career politicians. The new sheriff in town promised to shake things up and clean house, which he did. Those who cheered him, however, found themselves with the short end of the stick as it was not long before the man proclaimed himself dictator for life.
As fate would have it, Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC, by a group of senators who had had enough of his dictatorship.
History is replete with examples of wannabe Julius Caesars and many who succeeded and took demagoguery to unmatched levels such as Adolf Hitler.
Most recently, the one-term and twice impeached former US President Donald Trump took a stab at demagoguery and succeeded beyond his wildest imagination. Like Caesar, he looked forward to turning America into a full-blown dictatorship and nearly succeeded.
In Kenya, we have Deputy President William Ruto, who has no doubt been reading up on, and methodically applying tricks from the demagogues’ bible.
His narrative about hustler vs dynasties is classic demagoguery that, if successful, would directly lead to a dictatorship worse than Caesar’s because demagogues are insatiable when it comes to power: The more you give them, the more they want.
The hustler vs dynasties is nothing but a charade intended to hoodwink the ignorant into voting en masse for someone who would do nothing for them and certainly nothing to heal the nation from the ills identified by the BBI task force.
This divisive talk must stop or be forced to stop.
We are tired of pitting one group of Kenyans against others.
We are tired of pitting one tribe against others.
We are tried of pitting one class of people against others.
The hustler nation narrative is nothing but a farce.
By everything he has done politically since decamping from ODM has the telltale signs of Ruto being no different from past and present demagogues.
When Ruto came to power with President Uhuru Kenyatta and had a pact to share appointments on a 50-50 basis, the former chose to give all appointments to Kalenjins.
It is exactly what he would do as president — looking after his own and the rest be damned. We have had enough of that and it is time we reject leaders like that.
Where were the wheelbarrows when he was in the first term of the of his co-presidency with Uhuru? Did he suddenly discover wheelbarrows after he was shown the door he has yet to exit?
Like Trump, who fooled and lied to a large swath of struggling and poor white Americans that he was one of them, Ruto is trying to do the same. He is not, of course.
Enough of these clever rhetorical shenanigans. President Kenyatta and his team, including his handshake partner Raila Odinga, must correct the country’s course lest, like Rome, during Caesar’s rise to power, it may be too late.
Samuel Omwenga is a legal analyst and political commentator