The value of a unique political nickname
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!
NICKNAMES ARE ALL ABOUT PERCEPTION. IT IS ABOUT HOW YOU WANT TO BE SEEN OR HOW YOU WANT OTHERS TO SEE YOUR OPPONENT