The Star (Kenya)

Of pata potea card tricks and the suc­ces­sion game

Th­ese games are be­ing played al­most as though to show us, the vot­ers, that we don’t have a say in who be­comes pres­i­dent

- BY MWANGI G Nairobi · William Ruto · Jomo Kenyatta · Uhuru Kenyatta · Raila Odinga · Tom Mboya

The three card trick, also known as pata potea, has been a clas­sic scam on the streets of Nairobi for as long as peo­ple have been gullible.

De­spite this fact, or per­haps be­cause as King Kaka fa­mously said, “Wa­jinga Nyinyi,” peo­ple con­tinue to lose their money to the street cor­ner trick­sters.

Or­di­nar­ily with pata potea, three cards are shown. Typ­i­cally a red queen and two black cards. The cards are placed face down on the ta­ble and the spec­ta­tor is asked to find the lady. Each time the cards are mixed up the spec­ta­tor is asked where the red queen is, each time the spec­ta­tor is wrong.

Oc­ca­sion­ally to demon­strate that luck can change, the dealer will have an ac­com­plice in the crowd, who pre­tends to be just an­other by­stander.

When the ac­com­plice is called upon and wins a cou­ple of rounds for show, the marks in the crowd think to them­selves, they can make it too. A fool and his money, as the say­ing goes, are soon parted.

When­ever I think of Kenyan elec­toral pol­i­tics, the phrase pata potea and the whole three card trick comes to mind.

In the words of the Kenyan writer and thinker Nan­jala Nyabola: “Kenyans still show up to vote, but of­ten see the process of democ­racy as ab­stract per­for­mance art.”

We like to think that be­cause we have the vote, we have a real say in the gov­er­nance of our coun­try and its af­fairs, but in ac­tual fact more of­ten than not we are gullible pun­ters try­ing to win at a game that ap­pears to be per­ma­nently rigged against us.

When we vote we think, tumepata, but sure enough we find tume­poteza, and lo and be­hold it was all a get rich quick scheme.

The real trick­ery how­ever, is in the suc­ces­sion game that is cur­rently be­ing played out, amidst all the theft of pub­lic money and re­sources.

This is where the “pick a card, any card” comes into play.

Back when Uhu­ruto was still a thing we were pro­grammed to be­lieve that Deputy Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Ruto would au­to­mat­i­cally be­come pres­i­dent af­ter Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s term ended. Be­cause of course, no mat­ter how much we vote, we re­ally have no say.

Then came that hand­shake and the games be­gan in earnest. We’ve been here be­fore of course.

The Jomo Keny­atta suc­ces­sion took about 15 years to sort out. Jaramogi was shunted aside from the be­gin­ning, Moi came along but no­body thought he would last, ev­ery­one was fo­cussed on Tom Mboya.

And then that shot rang out on Gov­ern­ment Road and changed ev­ery­thing. But still Moi seemed like such a no hoper for the suc­ces­sion and those who did think about him, re­ferred to him as a pass­ing cloud. We all saw how that played out.

In the Moi suc­ces­sion, ev­ery­one knew a game was afoot when Saitoti was cast aside for 18 months af­ter the 1997 elec­tion. Moi seemed to be test driv­ing some of the younger mem­bers of his cab­i­net.

At one point even the placid Katana Ngala was be­ing whis­pered about as a po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor. Then came the Kasarani kiserani that changed ev­ery­thing.

In Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta’s game while ev­ery­one was fo­cussed on the Ruto card he shuf­fled in the Raila Odinga and BBI cards to throw peo­ple off the scent.

Since then other names such as Fred Ma­tiang’i, Peter Ken­neth and Mukhisa Ki­tuyi get shown face up in the deck of cards to show the pub­lic that there are other out­comes they could con­sider in the game.

Th­ese games are be­ing played al­most as though to show us, the vot­ers, that we don’t have a say in who be­comes pres­i­dent. The real choice will be made in the prover­bial smoke-filled back rooms and we will be pre­sented with it as a fait ac­com­pli.

Of course we could take con­trol and up­set the card ta­ble and make our own choice, but that’s too much work, isn’t it.

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