The value of a unique po­lit­i­cal nick­name

The Star (Kenya) - - Opinion Political Shifts - @god­freysang GOD­FREY K. SANG

Over the years, po­lit­i­cal monikers have added colour and much needed hu­mour to the Kenyan po­lit­i­cal scene. Politi­cians know that a good nick­name used well, will be a pow­er­ful tool for ral­ly­ing sup­port and build­ing po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal. Nick­names are based on ob­serv­able traits or ten­den­cies some of which may be real or imag­ined. If well se­lected, nick­names will bridge the gap of per­cep­tion thereby warm­ing up the in­de­ci­sive voter. They can also be used to de­stroy an op­po­nent. They say if you want to kill a dog, give it a bad name. The same is true in pol­i­tics. We are en­ter­ing the sea­son when po­lit­i­cal nick­names ap­pear.

‘Ag­wambo’ is ar­guably the most rec­og­niz­able po­lit­i­cal nick­name in Kenya. Given to Raila Odinga by his mother, the name means ‘the enig­matic one’. It how­ever sounds more of a nom de guerre than a mere moniker. If you lis­ten to an ar­dent Ag­wambo fol­lower, he will add a boom to the name in­fus­ing power and com­mand to it. Raila’s other nick­names in­clude Jakom, Tinga, Ag­wash, owadgi Akinyi and are used pro­fusely by dif­fer­ent groups of sup­port­ers de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion. He also has re­gional nick­names such as ‘araap Mibei’ given to him by the Kalen­jin. It means ‘the man from the wa­ter.’ This name made him wildly pop­u­lar among them but once he fell out of their graces, they gave him an­other – ‘araap Labei’ (the man who was car­ried by the wa­ter).

To Oginga Odinga, ‘Jaramogi’ was the name that linked him to the mighty Luo fore­fa­ther Ramogi. It pow- er­fully es­tab­lished his author­ity and le­git­imized his lead­er­ship. Him­self a pro­lific nick­namer, he named his ri­val Tom Mboya ‘Og­wang’ which is Dholuo for ‘ra­bid dog’. He also de­scribed Daniel Moi as a ‘gi­raffe’ for his fore­sight. Among the youth, Moi was known as MO1 in ref­er­ence to a joke said to have been made about him by US ac­tor and co­me­dian Eddy Mur­phy. To the older folk, he was sim­ply ‘Nyayo.’ Mwai Kibaki was once re­ferred to as ‘Gen­eral Kiguoya’ in ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to his po­lit­i­cal trep­i­da­tion. It gained cur­rency at the height of his ri­valry with Ken­neth Mat­iba who was seen as more coura­geous. Uhuru Keny­atta also had his own - ‘Kamwana’ or ‘lit­tle boy’ in com­par­i­son to his fa­ther whose po­lit­i­cal name was ‘Mzee’ or the ‘old man’. Re­gion­ally, Uganda’s Mu­sev­eni goes by the name M7 which sounds more of a code as does MO1. When he is in a bel­liger­ent mood, he will call him­self ‘Ss­a­bal­wanyi’ (fighter of fight­ers) and that should scare op­po­nents. In Tan­za­nia, Pres­i­dent Magu­fuli is ‘Tinga Tinga’ (the bull­dozer) for his way of do­ing things. Nick­names are all about per­cep­tion. It is about how you want to be seen or how you want oth­ers to see your op­po­nent. Op­po­si­tion lead- er Kalonzo Musyoka was nick­named ‘Wa­ter­melon’ for seem­ing in­de­ci­sive dur­ing the 2010 Ref­er­en­dum. Those who in­vented the name are now his close friends so they don’t use it. Nairobi Sen­a­tor Gideon Mbuvi was nick­named ‘Sonko’ which is Sheng for ‘the mon­eyed one.’ It worked magic and he has now for­mally adopted it. Wil­liam Ruto has a pro­cliv­ity for nick­names mainly to ridicule his op­po­nents. Re­mem­ber his ‘Ana­log vs. Dig­i­tal’ moniker? He painted ri­val Cord as ‘ana­log’ there­fore out of touch and un­fit to rule. It turned out to be a great po­lit­i­cal la­bel which worked against Cord. It did not help that Cord had age­ing politi­cians and were the worse for it. He has nu­mer­ously used ‘ja­maa wa vi­ten­daw­ili’ on Raila Odinga in ref­er­ence Odinga’s pen­chant for po­lit­i­cal rid­dles. Ruto got a dose of his own medicine when he was called ‘tume­tenga’ for his pro­fuse use of the word to say Gov­ern­ment has set aside so much money for this or that. ‘Hus­tler’ was an­other name that bounced back to him when he used it to try to rally the strug­glers of Kenya. The lat­est is that Mombasa Gover­nor is now Has­san ‘Joyo’, which is Dholuo for ‘the one who shows the way.’ Lets see how far that goes!


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