In the Luo song “Jater Onyono Paka”, the singer captures the tribulations of an unwanted widow inheritor in a most dramatic way.
When the poor man accidentally steps on Paka, the household cat, the animal turns angrily and hurls a mouthful.
“Swayni, kaw ongedi idhi (You swine, pick your blanket and leave),” says Paka.
The singer doesn’t explicitly tell us how Jater (the widow inheritor) reacts to this embarrassing eviction notice from the household’s presumably lowliest member.
But the message couldn’t be much clearer. Jater has simply outlived his usefulness. His stock in the household has fallen below that of the cat.
And his time is up. The reason behind the falling-out could be anything from Jater’s services being no longer needed to a deep resentment about him trying to claim more rights than he has and overstep some boundaries.
“Jater Onyono Paka” gives us a glimpse into the power relations, the communication patterns and the illusions within a cultural relationship that best typifies a marriage of convenience.
RUTO’S SHELF LIFE
But whoever composed that song could well have had the drama that accompanies the falling-outs in Kenya’s fragile political coalitions in mind.
Like the widow inheritor who is welcomed to the bedroom so long as his cultural services are needed and dumped when he outlives his usefulness, a politician could enjoy power bliss today and wake up a desperate outsider tomorrow.
Take Deputy President William Ruto, for example.
For the better part of the Uhuru Kenyatta administration since 2013, Dr Ruto has been something of a co-President.
As the ruling Jubilee Party’s presumed standard bearer in the next elections in 2022, he has all along conducted himself as the President-in-waiting.
The media might have in the past even used that cliché about the Deputy President being only a breath away from State House to show how powerful he was.
But reports in recent days suggest that, like the poor widow inheritor, Dr Ruto has been having illusions of power all along.
It turns out that his alliance with Mr Kenyatta, despite winning the last two elections, was no more than a marriage of convenience.
That incident in Mombasa in which he was reportedly stopped from spending the night at the Deputy President’s official residence is straight from the “Jatero Onyono Paka” composer’s book.
He is said to have arrived at the recently renovated home only to find his personal effects had been removed by the staff there.
His people understandably had little problem finding alternative accommodation at English Marina.
But being made to carry your personal effects or blanket around at night is the kind of treatment reserved for unwanted wife inheritors and other low-lifers, not powerful people.
If the Deputy President still wants to understand exactly what his partner in the Jubilee administration thinks about him, he needs to listen to “Jater Onyono Paka”.