By Kevin Omwanza
CROWD PSYCHOLOGY: INSIDE THE MIND OF WILLIAM RUTO’S “TRUE BELIEVERS”
The latest big Hustler signing is Nairobi Governor Mike mbuvi Sonko.
If elections are held today, there is no doubt William Ruto will win, going by the number of politicians decamping to his side. The question in everyone’s mind is how he’s managed to enchant Kenyans so much.
He’s bagged more than half of Gusii’s big boys – Charles Nyachae (if photos doing online rounds are anything to go by), Kisii County’s Deputy Governor, Maangi, South Mugirango’s MP, Sylvanus Osoro, West Mugirango MP, Vincent Kemosi, North Mugirango’s MP Joash Nyamoko, Kitutu Masaba’s MP Shadrack Mose.
He’s making inroads in the Mt. Kenya region. His interview at Weru TV, where he first vowed to fight for the Jubilee Party and save it from hijackers such as Raphael Tuju and other deep state mandarins, was a great unburdening because, for the first time in ages, he was upfront on his wishes for the party and the nation. Thereafter, he hosted leaders and pastors from the region in his Karen home. In Central region, there is a divided opinion. More than a few MPs with significant clout have pledged to work with Ruto, and they include Nyoro, Alice Wahome, Kuria, Gachagua, etc.
The same thing can be said of Western Kenya (the Luhya tribes), and some parts of the coast region.
Today the DP will be at Muranga, and will be there for the most part of the weekend in a series of public engagements.
To what does he owe his fast increasing popularity? Especially since, almost a year ago, he was one of the most discreditable and reprehensible politicians in Kenya, tainted with scandal, and often derided as the high priest of corruption? How did the man Ruto reinvent himself to become a darling of the electorate?
In 1951, a longshoreman by the name Eric Hoffer wrote a book called “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.” If you have a university education or are in university, I recommend you find the book and read it. In the book, Hoffer shrewdly analyzed the forces that spark nationalist and totalitarian movements. The major occupation of the book is how vulnerable groups can be manipulated by misleading rhetoric.
I thought back to this book when I saw someone loudly wonder how a man as disreputable as Ruto can attract so huge a following, with his followers having forgotten that he was indicted in the ICC for crimes against humanity, that he took part in the YK92 and was part of a youth outfit that was essentially propping up a dictatorial regime, that he is suspected to have fleeced public coffers in his tenure as DP, and that virtually all the promises he gave in the campaigns in 2012 have not been realized. Just by the power of rhetoric, we’ve forgotten all that and we are now wondering after him.
Thankfully, Eric Hoffer’s True Believer has the answers.
Eric Hoffer says that mass movements begin when discontented, frustrated, powerless people lose faith in existing institutions and demand change. Feeling hopeless, such people participate in movements that allow them to become part of a larger collective. They become true believers in a mass movement that “appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.” Pg 12.
As such, therefore, the leaders of mass movements go for the low hanging fruits. For the frustrated, the marginalized, the discontent. True to book, the hustler movement’s chief client is the economic outsider – the hustler. The hustler struggles day in and day out. He obviously dislikes the establishment because he projects his own economic impotence on the actions or inactions of the establishment.
However, the hustler does not know he is impotent. He knows, deep down, that he is impotent, but he does not want to admit it. He has lost faith in himself, but does not know it. He wakes up, proceeds to his grind, makes peanuts, wastes all of it in liquor, weed, and hoes, goes home to stale ugali, sleeps, and wakes up the next morning, and repeats the cycle. He is dead but does not know it. He is impotent. He cannot pull his weight. He cannot actualise himself.
Eric Hoffer says that “the true believer’s faith in a mass movement is to a considerable extent a substitute for the loss of faith in ourselves.” He says that while leaders inspire movements, the seeds of mass movements must already exist for the leaders to be successful. And that while mass movements typically blend nationalist, political and religious ideas, they all compete for angry/or marginalized people.
Does the movement depend on facts? For instance, do you expect Ruto’s hustlers to critically interrogate the ideas of Ruto and his history? Hoffer said that the true believer is rarely concerned with facts. He wrote “it is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises.” Like Trump, Ruto’s campaign is largely dependent on Alternative Facts. Trump promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Ruto, in 2012, promised several stadiums and a 15k stipend for every university graduate. Today he promises to topple the dynasties and usher a golden era of hustlers in Kenya. Empowerment, he calls it.
Talking of the hustlers vs dynasties binary, Hoffer said that a mass movement can rise and spread without a belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil. He said “hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without a belief in a devil.” It is indicative that in Ruto’s universe, the dynasties are the problem, and the solution, the panacea, the silver bullet, is toppling them. He does not give a comprehensive, sustainable, tenable solution, he just simply diagnoses the problem as the deep state. The devil is the deep state, the dynasties, and their acolytes.
Hoffer profoundly renders it in this manner:
“A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness, and meaninglessness of individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves – and it does this by enfolding and absorbing them into a closely knit and exultant corporate whole.” P. 41.
Lastly, Hoffer speaks of the potential converts to a mass movement. He says that the destitute are not usually converts to mass movements as they are too busy trying to survive to become engaged. The potential converts are the “New Poor.” These are people who previously had wealth or status but who believe they have now lost it. Such people are usually resentful and blame others for their problems.
In the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic, many people have lost jobs, their sources of livelihood, and have had to downgrade. They have had to find cheaper houses, cheaper schools, and cheaper means of transport. There is a lot of discontent waiting to be whipped up. The true believer is not a critical thinker. He won’t see that his problems are an act of God, but will want to blame the establishment for it. The establishment is obviously the convenient devil that any movement needs to rally against.