You have heard it repeatedly that the unveiling of the cabinet secretary nominees was refreshing. No protocols were observed and President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto relaxed demeanour was the major talking point. Their matching dress code, informal speech delivery and openness overshadowed the debate on the credibility of the nominees. We are not used to a president dressing down during a live state function.
Traditionally, presidents only lost the suit when they went to the coast. I have to admit, they looked cool and cool sells.
It is quite obvious that they are big Obama fans. Ever since the Obama effect took over America, many Kenyans have behaved like jilted lovers who felt dumped. “That should have been our president!”
Invariably, there has been a secret longing for a cool president and Uhuru and Ruto joined at hip like Siamese twins are bleeding the prospect for all its worth. Uhuru’s casualness, calling journalists by name, inviting them to tea had the media corps gushing.
When you have lived through the stereotypical African big men presidents, Uhuru and Ruto’s buddy swagger in public engagement becomes something of mouth gaping spectacle.
However, there is a conservative wing of the country, mostly the older generation that are finding this new image hard to adjust to. I foresee an opinion poll question soon enough on “whether you think the president is too casual?” Is the country ready for a president who downplays standard ceremonial procedure? What are we to expect at this rate? President Uhuru sitting in the stands with a beer in hand at a rugby sevens final? Free booze at state functions, DJ Adrian spinning at the New Year bash, President on the beach in shorts with family, Sheng jokes, pink shirts!
A president in the Kenyan psyche is a man who rarely smiles or loosens up in public because presidency is serious business.
Uhuru Kenyatta’s predecessors played to script. Founding President Jomo Kenyatta epitomized fatherly grandeur that sanctity of old age accords one in Africa. The father of the nation enjoyed such authority that he allegedly caned errant ministers. The young Moi started out with youthful vim and vigour, rolling up sleeves to build gabions, drinking tea in roadside kiosks, attending football matches before drifting right to dictatorial tendencies. Kibaki was the stiff old man from Nyeri and conservative to the letter. He did not seem the least bothered by what anyone thought or said, so long as it wasn’t about his family.
50 years of rigidity in Statehouse makes Uhuru Kenyatta a bit of a peculiarity. Uhuru’s charm offensive has spectators fawning enough to draw pundits on TV tasked with analyzing his body language. The psychoanalysis can get as contrived as “When Uhuru scratches his left eyebrow, it shows he is having difficulty seeing your point”.
Kenyans love rich guys who appear down to earth. But there is a thin line between genuine humility and posing as humble (reference Kalonzo files). Politicians are usually showmen. Fame is the drug and popularity the high. Kenyan politicians have a knack for failing to last the distance and therefore, one learns to be ‘cautiously optimistic’ as one Leonard Mudachi on twitter framed it.
Nonetheless, we have to be thankful to have president who has so far refrained from wearing a khaki hat and dishing out cash in sacks as we witnessed next door in Uganda.
BROMANCE FOR THE PRINCIPALS
Bromance is a term corrupted from romance applied when two straight men display a level of coziness that is typical of girl friends on a night out. Recently, President Uhuru and Deputy William Ruto became the hot subject of a bromance episode. After announcing their nominees for cabinet secretaries and fielding questions, the two walked off jovially holding and swinging hands.
Uhuru and Ruto have since their campaign tended to act like bosom buddies in public. They hang like regular guys on a night out and they hold hands more often among themselves than with their wives. All said and done, the facade served a purpose. Behind the scenes they were probably haggling hard over the nominees but the general public was left with a fuzzy feeling that takes the stiffness out of hard nut politics.
The country has been in an electioneering mood for five years and the tolerance levels for cheap shenanigans have been stretched beyond limit. We are accustomed to hawks from opposing camps foaming at the mouth, itching to score political points totally incapable of ‘disagreeing without getting disagreeable’.
A little bromance is a welcome change even as skeptics continue read this affair as the inevitable calm before the storm.
From the archives: Article first published in April 2013.