Emmanuel Juma, that droning drawl of a voice behind NTV’s political satire show Bull’s Eye, introduced me to MOHAS, the Movement of Hustlers and Sufferers. I rolled my eyes at first glance. MOHAS talking heads had several issues to protest about but their main beef was the job experience requirement that employers insist on. I could empathize with them on that point solely. For anyone fresh out of school, experience is like some bogey man that stands in the way of earning a secure employment. Hustling historically has been about breaking from tradition and upsetting the status quo in search of new and unexplored opportunity for profit. But the word ‘hustler’ means different things to different people.
What’s in a name you ask? In the 80s, Hustler was the title of a famous American porn magazine published by the super sleazy Larry Flynt. Hustler was considered a lot trashier than the tasteful erotica that graced the up market Playboy pages run by equally sleazy, Hugh Hefner, the original dirty old man. Playboy passed off as an intellectual read with substance but the main lure was the artistically photographed nude center fold. Hustler on the other hand, made no attempt at standards and bared it all.
The word hustler would evolve to find association with pimps who were glorified by blaxploitation movies that became trendy with the proliferation of video cassette recorders. In movies like Shaft, I encountered pimps and drug dealers who refined the smooth hustle into an art form that seduced audiences. By the late nineties, hustle had graduated to struggling to earn living because no one could survive with one job during the Nyayo era. As a college student my side hustle was as a part time gym instructor and newspaper contributor. It produced barely enough to cover my basic needs with little spare change to afford my own drinks on the weekend. For many of my ilk, the side hustle ended up becoming the main gig. At the heart of the hustle was the ethic of hard work and eventually the experience of unemployment despite valid papers strengthened our resolve to succeed. The consequence of not knowing the right people, kept us on the sidelines hustling until it became a more lucrative fixture through patience and resolve.
During those formative years, suffering was something we learnt to endure with a smile on our faces. Our struggles for survival were captured aptly in a popular song (Shuffering and Shmiling) by Nigerian Afrobeat maestro Fela Kuti and Afrika 70 that had this memorable line, “Every dey, my people, shuffering and shmilling, inside dey bus forty nine sitting, ninety nine standing… shuffering and shmiling”.
Everyone was suffering and smiling because suffering then was the shared African condition caused by systemic oppression. The difference was no one overrated their suffering because no matter how deprived our present conditions, they were people doing far worse that we could ever imagine.
The glorification and entitlement sentiments behind hustling and suffering that seem to rule the airwaves lately stem from a political class that legitimized the ‘our turn to eat’ narrative. The Jubilee government needs to tone down the rhetoric and bluntly tell the country’s young and restless that there are no shortcuts to success. But they probably won’t be listening because showy hustlers’ are hyped daily in mainstream media while good ol’ pride in earning an honest living is dismissed as failure and suffering.
The Tyranny Of Legalese
At the turn of the 20th Century when the natives of Siaya first encountered British civility, many were captivated by their snotty speech mannerisms. The Brits were the ruling authority and those who learnt to mimic their ways prospered in the new colonial system. Invariably fluency in English became such a status elevator that even illiterate grannies picked up meaningless phrases as proof that they too had read some books. The emphasis was not so much on the content of what was said but rather on how it was said. One had to adopt a manner, head slightly corked, shoulders hunched and a pouted mouth that was barely opened to give the impression that one was speaking through their nose. To this day, you will find village drunks who did not have the benefit of formal schooling insisting on conversing in English that leaves the Caucasian visitor confused. The happy drunk will utter weird statements they imagine are English sounding. Stuff like, “How do you pede pede?” Or in response to the greeting, “How do you do?” the reply becomes ‘fit fot, fit fot’.
Last week on Tuesday the 16th April, the Supreme Court of Kenya published a ruling on the contested general elections that featured such legal verbosity that it might as well have been written in Amharic. I felt very much like an illiterate villager trying to make sense of the ruling. For a man who is not averse to reading long text, 113 pages of legal jargon was an intimidating prospect. I quickly called my lawyer friends for a summary. I understand that the rule of law has to rise above personal feelings but the basis of the judgment was lost in translation.
The joke is that a lawyer would never say anything in a straightforward manner, if they can throw in some Latin for twice the price.