• Irungu Houghton

#WajingaNyinyi is classic protest music designed to keep us awake



Speaking at the Annual Human Rights and Democracy Festival a fortnight ago, I publicly predicted our artists will drive the demand for justice and first-class citizenship. Further, citizens will become more skilful, powerful and influential in 2020. Kennedy Ombima alias King Kaka just actualised the first prediction. It remains to be seen whether the second also becomes true.


Artist King Kaka was a legend to many before he released “Wajinga nyinyi” (You fools). Son of Eastleigh, trained accountant and owner of Kaka Empire studio and clothing line, the rapper has associated himself with a range of causes from youth employment to menstrual hygiene. Frustrated by endless corruption scandals, joblessness, poor services, botched corruption convictions and the loss of our economic sovereignty to China, King Kaka has brilliantly catalysed a national conversation. In so doing, he reminds us that the state of the nation today is neither normal nor desirable.


The rap song oddly occurs to me as a more powerful remixed version of President Uhuru Presidential List of Shame released in 2015. The inability of the state to use that moment to draw a line against corruption and impunity gave King Kaka the impetus to write this song in 2019. For this reason, the state is advised to leave his right to free expression alone. By declaring no law had been broken, both the Kenya Film Classification Board and the Directorate of Criminal Investigation got it right this time.


Listening to the song, a few politicians and a Pastor caught feelings. The wise ones have heard the real message in the way that “Wajjinga nyinyi” has resonated with mass audiences. The piece is a classic reminder to the nation. Even in our poor electoral choices, the public has felt the sense of betrayal by our representatives. Although we all have been thinking it, it sometimes needs an artist to wake us up.


I remember listening to a 1980s BBC radio broadcast that broke the news of a South African poet who was first isolated and then arrested alone on a platform of COSATU and Mass Democratic Movement (code for ANC) leaders. That poet was Mzwakhe Mbuli, the people’s poet. By then, he had survived four assassination attempts, eight detentions and spent six months in solitary confinement. His sacrifice and music helped shape a free and democratic South Africa.


It was also Nina Simone’s Mississippi Goddam that exposed the violence and brutality of racism in the American south. Where would Kenya be without the melodies of Daudi Kabaka and D.O. Owino Misiani? They, among others, built our national consciousness and a sense of justice for a generation of Kenyans in the sixties. It was Eric Wainaina’s Nchi ya Kitu Kidogo that defined the grand corruption of the 1980s. It is not only politicians that define and inspire generations but today’s artists Muthoni The Drummer Queen, Juliani, Sauti Sol and the younger Anthem Republik, Dorphan and Fena Gitu as well.


Writing ten months ago, cultural sage Oby Obyerodhyambo argued that the power of protest music has been muted by an over-reliance on digital platforms. Hidden on social media and behind bundles, the masses have had no access to the vibrancy of today’s protest music. King Kaka offers another lesson. By reading and speaking directly to the public mood, Kenyans will find ways of listening to and sharing your music. Already a case-study for musicians, art scholars, justice advocates and intelligence officers alike, Wajinga nyinyi” will predictably be a matter of interest for years to come.


Now more socially relevant, King Kaka and other protest artists must fiercely guard their independence and defiance. They must avoid being captured by the same interests they seek to expose. It is a well-rehearsed and tested strategy of the corrupt. Identify the critic and buy their loyalty. Channel public anger into praise and support and the public becomes foolish again.


Perhaps it is time that King Kaka and other people’s artists publicly declare a charter of non-cooperation with politicians and state officials who have fallen short of Chapter Six. Let this also be the framework for the 2022 campaigns. It is also time for the bold thought-leadership coming through spoken word and rap music to extend to photography, murals, dance and drama. While this is not the quickest way artists will get rich, it will inspire a nation to defend itself, the artist included, from being impoverished by a politically corrupt electoral system and bad governance. Merry Christmas all.


First published Saturday Standard, December 21, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group


In between writing and publishing this article, in a better sense of judgement, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru withdrew her threatened law suit.

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