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Kenyans must reject populist conmanship

Populism is the belief in the power of ordinary people to have control over their government as a right and not having a small group of political insiders or a 'wealthy elite' hog the power.

The existence or rise of populism is not a partisan issue, but it is can spring up on either side of the political divide.

Regardless of whether it springs up from the right or left, a common denominator in all populist insurgencies is having a leader who holds himself out'.

Another common denominator is that these “common people” feel and loudly proclaim that they have been alienated, disenfranchised, and forgotten by other politicians.

The reasons given for their struggles are “political elite” tipping the scales in their favour at the expense of these common people and through political schemes, while ignoring the constituents they were elected to represent.

Populism comes in different flavours, with the most common being where the leader of the populist movement (and there is always one who emerges from among a pack) pits the 'common man and woman'” against the despised elite.

In Kenya, a common reference to this common man or woman is 'Wanjiku,', though Moraa or Akinyi can do fine as an alternate reference.

Populism is nothing new or recent in politics as it has its historical origins going back to the early 19th Century.

However, scholars agree modern populism is a different breed from its earlier version. The modern version is more widespread owing largely to technological advancement in social media that reaches far and wide.

Much of the transformation of European politics in the 1990s happened largely as result of spontaneous grassroots political movements.

The Arab Spring that transformed — or at least tried to transform much of the Arab world in the 2010s — too was the product of social media-based populism.

Perhaps there will never be a more vivid example of the power of combining populism with social media than what happened in the US in 2016.

When then businessman Donald Trump descended an escalator to announce he would run for president, he did so by simply going into a tirade attacking immigrants, specifically Mexicans, who he said were murders and rapists.

It was a shocking racist charge for most Americans, but they were not the target of the vile message.

Rather, the target was racists, nativists and others who would rather keep America white and the horde bought the attack on immigrants, hook, line and sinker.

The horde was ready to devour the racists attacks because Trump had served an appetizer in his racist badmouthing of then President Barack Obama, about whom Trump thuggishly lied that he was born in Kenya and therefore not eligible to be US president.

This was demagoguery unlike anything America had seen before, and in hindsight worse than Europe and America combined had witnessed.

So much such that when Trump combined this racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric with anti-establishment rhetoric and projected himself as an outsider who would “drain the swamp” in Washington as president, he found the winning formula that propelled him to the White House as president to the shock of the nation and the whole world.

As a befitting a book's ending, Trump was trounced at the polls in November before he could damage America any more.

Despite his riding into power as a populist to save the hoi polloi, he only used the office to enrich himself and reward his cronies.

That is what lies ahead if Kenyans make a mistake and allow themselves to be fooled by our version of Trump trying to ride on the populism based on hatred of Raila Odinga in certain parts of the country - and giving false promises of being the deliverer of Wanjiku from her misery. He will not do such. And I do not wish to be here telling you I told you so.

This article was published by The Star.


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