My older brother who was a decade my senior, had a collection of unusual stories. In his stories, the humour was found in the irony of life. Once he told a story of a motor mouth character he knew of at the Kisumu bus park. A gifted hustler who could talk the hind legs off a donkey. His stage name was Olago Queen Cake aka Olago Q.C. He could be entertaining but most of his notoriety came from his regular display of crass behaviour. His insults were straight out of the book of an underpaid and overworked cane cutter in Awendo. People avoided a verbal spat with him for the fear of a public humiliation. He was an aggressive man who never passed up an opportunity to get into an argument. Over time, he had built up a reputation as a guy who liked to stir trouble and some came to admire his audacity.
One day he would meet his match, in form of a stranger who did not tolerate ‘ujinga’. The nature of the disagreement was never revealed but everyone suspected that the hot tempered Q.C escalated the confrontation with his insults. The stranger thumped the living daylights out of Q.C. No one thought it was a fair fight. The angry man was twice his build and he moved like a trained fighter. But nobody intervened to save Q.C. They all stood aside, fascinated by Q.C’s ability to maintain a steady stream of insults even as he got slugged. It was a thorough beating that the onlookers agreed he deserved. He had been running his mouth for too long and eventually crossed the wrong kind of guy. But Q.C was not one to lose face and he had to have the last word. He picked his battered frame off the tarmac, steadied himself and faced the sniggering gathering, “I agree, I was beaten good but you must also agree in the contest of insults, I buried the bastard!”
Another story he would tell was about a worried lion called Simba in the savanna who was experiencing an identity crisis. So he decided to roam around the grasslands of Tsavo seeking a second opinion. The first animal that Simba met was a monkey, “Who is the king of the savanna?” he roared. The monkey lowered its gaze and replied, “You are”. That is right, responded Simba and he strolled on. He bumped into a giraffe, “Who is the king of the savanna?” and the giraffe bowed its head and replied “You are”. Simba was on a roll then he saw a bull elephant walking towards him and stood in his path. “Who is the king of the savanna?”
The elephant let out an echoing trumpet sound, wrapped its trunk around Simba’s belly, swung up in the air and hurled him against an acacia tree. After a few stunned minutes, Simba got up, dusted himself up and limped back to the elephant, “Just because you do not know the answer, is no reason to get pissed off?”
The moral of both stories is that male bravado can only carry one so far. It has a shelf life. Yet, in the contemporary Kenyan reality, bravado carries more weight than a good character. The irony is that the loudest trash talker in country are not to be found in packed country bus parks or at a Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards Shemeji derby. They hold important political offices with the power to affect millions of lives. We have seen men rise from obscurity by skillfully applying buffoonery or florid verbosity to become serious political contenders. Men who were once considered comedic punchlines are cleaning out fields of seasoned contenders. The ability to spew drivel is a highly efficient weapon in a politician’s arsenal. This should not make sense but it does.
I once asked a political strategist why his candidate did not bother articulating his policies, yet he was known as a man of solid intellect. He said on the campaign trail, it is the roasts that people remember.
In this scenario, the political super stars or idols have risen to dominate the masculinity standard of achievement. There is no need to work on your character when you can fake it by puffing your image like a blow fish. The politics of bravado have come to define how the Kenyan man carries himself. Men would rather project a sense of false bravado to cover up for feelings of inadequacy than admit vulnerability.
A friend, who worked in the diplomatic service and lived in different countries around the world shared an observation about African men. Men from all races have great similarities in behaviour but in African men she noticed a stronger pressure from their social reality to prove themselves, to show that they are men.
In search for self-identity, excessive bravado is a red flag for insecurity. Until a man can own his story, name the hurt and forgive, he will never confront the dark parts of his inner self and grow. This crucial detail has been forgotten in pursuit of manliness. It is our character that defines our true worth and not the bravado.