BY PROF. DR. HALIMU SHAURI
“Symbolic interactionism views people’s selves as social products, but that these selves are also purposive and creative……the true test of any theory was that it was “useful in solving complex social problems”
~ George Herbert Mead &Charles Horton Cooley
Could Uhuru be handing over power to the alleged people’s President? This is the million dollar question that every Kenyan is asking after the famous handshake at the steps of Harambee House March 9th last year.
This issue has also hit the academic discourse with one of my students while lecturing on Symbolic Interactionism topic challenged me to use the theory and educate Kenyans and the world, on the symbolic meaning of the Uhuru-Raila handshake.
In fact, the student dared to ask me “could the handshake sir and what is happening in the country mean that the president could be handing over power to the people’s president? The student jokingly cited the NASA semantic “Wakiiba tunawaNASA, NASA Uhuru” insinuating probably NASA made their threat good by “Nasa-ring”Uhuru!
Laughing it off, I mentioned that Kenya is a democratic country governed by a constitutional order and as such, such thoughts remain a figment of individual’s imagination. The latter belongs to the subjective domain of reality, which can sometimes be more real than reality itself.
Kenyahas had a very dynamic history full of allusions and hocus-pocus with regard to our roadmap towards mature democracy.
From independency to the era of multiparty democracy to the Post Election Violence (PEV) with the late Dr Kofi Annan mediating for peaceful co-existence, to the stand-off between Jubilee and NASA on the presidential election that was nullified by the Supreme Court leading to a repeat presidential elections with NASA leaders boycotting.
The ad abracadabra and innuendos of NASA team are fresh in our minds as exemplified by popular semantics such as “Wakichora, Tunachora” (When they plan we plan) “Wakipiga, Tunapiga” (When they vote we vote) “Wakiiba Tunawa NASA-NASA Hao! (When they steal the votes we catch them, Catch them!) and “Wakiapisha, Tunaapisha” (When the swear a president we also do so).
Two things happened in Kenya’s history. First, a presidential loser wins a case against the incumbent through the nullification of the presidential election by the Supreme Court. Second, the fact that the presidential election loser, Right Hon. Prime Minister Raila, goes ahead to swear himself as the People’s President (PP) in public.
The country is then treated to unhealthy salient tension that affected the way it transacted business within and without its borders triggering attempts by internal and external forces to make peace between the opposing parties for the sake of a united and greater Kenya.
From foreign ambassadors, to the African Union, to local and respected dignitaries, the quest for peace oscillated from the presidency to the NASA leader, aka branded loser. Amidst of all these efforts, in a characteristic enigmatic surprise, the Right Hon Raila and his new found brother Uhuru Kenyatta, The President, excited the nation with what has become audacious Handshake, which has attracted accolades in and outside the republic. This brings me to the analysis of the handshake to shade light to its meaning and impact for Kenya.
Now, from symbolic interactionism, which is a school of thought in Sociology, my discipline, social behavior is explained in terms of how people interact with each other via symbols and in this view, the Uhuru-Raila (UhuRaila) handshake is best understood in terms of such individual interaction.
In this regard, Uhuru and Raila stroke a deal, albeit, secretly in the confines of Harambee House which has left us speculating what could have been the real deal. But looking at the glue that binds the new brotherhood, from symbolic interactionist perspective, the deal may have entailed more than meets the eye, probably with some oath of confidentiality to ensure the secrecy of the pact is kept tight between the former adversaries in their hearts and souls.
The fact that the two met secretly, coupled with their public behavior of late, is clear testimony to some Speculative Science of Imagination in the realm of Metaphysics. They are stuck in their secret pact and have currently become “birds of a feather flocking together”. Herbert Mead believed that one’s self develops through social interaction. In our context, the new selves of Raila and Uhuru have developed from this interactive handshake.
Going by the first core principle of symbolic interactionism, we realize that the theory holds meaning as central in human behavior. Humans act toward people and things based upon the meanings that they have given to those people or things. In UhuRaila handshake, the President is clear that he ready to shade many current friends to protect the pact, aka in the, handshake. We all know, friends are made and maintained for a cost, material or non-material with heavy investment in time and social capital, especially trust. Thus, for one to agree to shade them there must be a strong conviction to do so. What is the conviction? Your guess is as good as mine.
Looking at the second core principle of the symbolic interactionism, which is language used to communicate meaning, in other words, communication through actions, in our case the handshake, which is non-verbal communication. Contextually, the UhuRaila pact appears to be stronger than Uhuru-Ruto (UhuRuto), leading to the labelling of the verbal spurt of Tangatanga, literary meaning wondering aimlessly.
The Ruto brigade is thus labelled and in Sociology labelling is the beginning of stigmatization and discrimination under the labelling theory. Does the stigmatization work for Ruto? Your guess is better than mine, yes!
The desertion of the Ruto camp by the Mt. Kenya power brokers is a case to cite in support of the impact of the “Tangatanga” stigma. Worse is that this team converges around Raila and make scathing attack on the Deputy President dismissing his candidature under the famous no Madeni (literary translated as no debts to pay) slogan for 2022. To demonstrate seriousness, David Murathe, the Jubilee deputy chair resigns acrimoniously.
From the interpretation of gestures and verbal communication from the two new buddies, UhuRaila, one gets to have a deeper insight of the meaning of the handshake. However, in understanding meaning, we must be live to the reality that there is objective and subjective meaning in human symbols, actions or words.
In summary, the Uhuru tour of Nyanza, especially the visit to Bondo, Raila’s birth county and the tributes to Raila’s father and the meals they enjoyed in Raila’s residence speak of something deep. The return of Uhuru to attend the final rites of Bruce Odhiambo and the alleged merriment between the two in a Kisumu joint probably remembering their yester years or solidifying their pact, speaks volumes. For sure it’s only them who know why and what was the content of their conversation that day?
The rest of us are like what my late friend Prof Richard Zigler (RIP) once said to me “We are like Mushrooms, being kept in the dark and fed with bullshit”; of course from the gutter press on the events of that day!
To cap it all, the brother of Uhuru visits Raila’s village making an interesting turn of events, especially the knowledge that this is the guy who manages the Kenyattas’ wealth during the JaramogiOgingaOdinga memorial. Was this trip symbolic? To some degree yes! Because it followed immediately after the presidents exit from the region. Were there any discussions or was it just a friendly visit? We the “mushrooms”, inter alia, cannot tell supporting the assumption for continuation of oiling the secret pact by UhuRaila.
In my curious attention to the media reports, I was also flabbergasted by the allegations that Raila saved Uhuru’s life! I mean in the contest of symbolic interactionism, not political but real life! Am still asking myself several questions, alias in the subjective domain and am sure you are too, let’s compare our answers soon.
In conclusion, the recent reshuffle with regard to government projects supervision through the presidential decree (executive order) to make Dr Fred Matiangi, the Interior Secretary, the de-facto supervisor of Uhuru’s administration’s projects, a function hitherto or de-jure under DP Dr Ruto.
From my analysis the later was moving around the country reaching difficult and remote corners to supervise government projects, efforts that surprisingly earned him the label, inter alia, Tangatanga. Whether Dr Matiangi will earn a similar or better label is still too early to answer?
However, analysts, social and political, especially need to answer whether there was more to the 10 points handshake truce or not?
Whether the unfolding events signify power sharing or over for UhuRaila? Whether NASA Hao is happening in the handshake? And whether baba is already in Canaan, albeit alone, leaving his followers speculating and in the words of the late Hon. Kijana Wamalwa “wallowing in the miasma of deceit”.
Thus, symbols are culturally derived social objects having shared meaning that are created and maintained in social interaction. Thus, through language or communication, the symbolic handshake between UhuRaila provided the means by which new reality in Kenya is being socially constructed. Wake up Kenyans and wake up Dr. Ruto to smell the “new coffee” in town for a new reality is in the process of being socially constructed.