Hyena Politics: Lessons for local voters from Donald Trump Win

Originally posted on Daily Nation on February 3 2017

 As Trump settles in office, his triumph entrenches the view that politics is a dirty game and the dirtier one is the more likely one is able to win. In Kenya, the hyenas, opportunists and scavengers are in charge of our politics! ILLUSTRATION | FILE

As Trump settles in office, his triumph entrenches the view that politics is a dirty game and the dirtier one is the more likely one is able to win. In Kenya, the hyenas, opportunists and scavengers are in charge of our politics! ILLUSTRATION | FILE

By Dr. Chris Wasike

So, finally after defying all expectations, disapproving figures of election pollsters and literally trumping all the posturing’s of political scientists and media pundits, Donald John Trump was duly sworn on January 20 as the 45th American president.

As Prof Chris Wanjala rightly puts it “politicians are sometimes writers of no mean repute themselves and if not they are good fodder” for provoking novel ways of examining societal phenomena. In many ways therefore, even as polarising as he is, Trump and the rise of Trumpism (or Trumpology if you like) is a clarifying intellectual and theoretical moment that dares us to explore and do things differently even as we constantly search for new theoretical grammar and vocabulary to help us make sense of a fast changing neoliberal world.

Interestingly, as a student of orature, Trumpism has echoes of the hyena motif in African stories. For starters, animals in African folklore are symbolic personifications of human character types ranging from the hare as a trickster, the hyena as the foolish oaf and the lion as a cruel tyrant.

The hyena in our narratives is consistently typecast as a clever but rapaciously opportunistic villain whose appetite for food, instant gratification and sheer greed to scavenge and turn friend and foe into a meal is legendary. Whether as fisi in Swahili, namunyu among the Babukusu fables hiti of the Gikuyu folktale, lalur of the Luo or even nkita ofia of the Igbo mythology in Nigeria, the hyena is roundly reviled across African cultures and even beyond.

Among classical European cultures, hyenas were scorned for being vile grave-robbers that scavenged tombs just for a morsel of human carcass. But in African communities where witchcraft is practiced, folklore has it that hyenas are used as helpmates and rides by sorcerers, night runners and all manner of weird night sports and totemic practitioners.

Mafisi Sacco

In many African cultural discourses therefore, the hyena doesn’t have a good name, just like Trump, and any social metaphor or imagery loosely linked with human personality is always seen as casting aspersions about one’s character.

With the emergence of the techno-savvy generation or what we now popularly call the millennials, the word fisi in Kenya today has acquired very ‘Trumpy’ online etymology so to speak. For the past three or so years, Kenyan youths have repackaged, coined and embraced the hyena motif or Trumpism into an online sexual identity that they cheekily call Team Mafisi Sacco.

A kind of technology-mediated sexual citizenship that alludes to feminist film critic and scholar Laura Mulvey’s concept of the ‘male gaze’ and scopophilia, the Team Mafisi mantra is a celebration of men who derive pleasure in sexually objectifying female bodies, the love of ogling at them and basically salivating and yearning for female bodies the way hyenas size their prey.

Through social networking sites and media platforms such as Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others youths have taken to sharing and even transforming sexuality and gender through the internet. Complete with a group symbol/letterhead and anthem, the Mafisi group is not only naughty in its commentary on social ideas online, but has since morphed into an internet outfit for ventilating everything sexual and political to satirising the Kenyan society using tools of sexuality.

The concept of users deploying cyberspace to generate new formations and citizenships of an otherwise fluid sexuality is what scholar Ayu Saraswati calls ‘wikisexuality’. From a Trumpist perspective wikisexuality alludes to a collaborative, fluid and interactive online sexual identity in progress.

Through social media platforms and their website Mafisi youths and even like-minded adults continue to share all manner of viral raunchy, cheeky and sexually suggestive photos and videos including leaked sexual tapes, photos of prominent male figures surreptitiously caught ogling at female backsides, nude photos or sometimes audio recordings of sexual acts such as the “Mollis I Sullenda” case.

Sexual Predators

What is significant in all these exchanges is that the men, just like Trump, appear to celebrate sexual predatory escapades, masochism and general glorification of their chivalry, chauvinism and sexist bigotry. Unknowingly or deliberately, Team Mafisi members crudely sanction the gross notion that female bodies are always available for men and the male species is tacitly egged on to grope and grab every opportunity to devour their catch, the same way fisi the animal dismembers its prey.

This attitude cuts across all spheres of Kenyan public life and especially in politics.

But during the recent US election campaigns the Hyena mantra was clearly at play when a few days to the voting date Republican candidate Trump was roundly condemned when an online video of him boasting about groping, grabbing and sexually assaulting women circulated in all forms of media.

In the video Trump was shown openly gloating and bragging how he could grab women’s private parts and get away with it because he was celebrity. Now that he has been sworn in as president, one can argue that the American people tacitly legitimised his actions for being a typical sexual predator (hyena) enjoying what any Mafisi member would love to do.

As Trump settles in office, his triumph entrenches the view that politics is a dirty game and the dirtier one is the more likely one is able to win. In Kenya, the hyenas, opportunists and scavengers are in charge of our politics! The Hyena that never wins in our folktales won in America. Should we be wary of the rise in Trumpism in our midst?