Letter from America #11. 11.11.11 Rein in the Mob Rule
By Margaretta wa Gacheru
The mob mentality knows no bounds.
The disgust I feel for the foolish fellows who assaulted the Raphael Tuju entourage early this month is only matched by my dismay over protesters in Pennsylvania who this week behaved in mob-like style when they physically, verbally and violently complained at Penn State over the University’s decision to dismiss the school’s emeritus football coach, Joe Paterno, who was found complicit in a child sex scandal which had been going on for many years.
In both cases, the mob’s irrational behavior was violent to the point of endangering people’s lives.
And what for?
Nobody was defending a noble ideal, or a patriotic cause. A parochial cause yes, and a very personalized one as well.
In the Tuju case, what was implicit in the mob mentality was the mobsters’ territorial defense of their demi-god, Raila Odinga. There is no escaping that motivation, whether it is explicitly stated or not, and whether it was Raila himself who called out his attack squad to defense his Nyanza turf or not, who can tell.
Either way, the mindless mobster mentality reflects an emotionalism, even a hysteria that ought to be either clinically scrutinized for elements of insanity or criminalized so that not just two guys get blamed for the despicable conduct. The whole lot ought to have been arrested and charged. Why that didn’t happen, I say the Kenya police ought to answer for that.
And in the Penn State Joe Paterno case, most of the same observations apply. The mob came out, not to defend the rule of law, not to pay respects to the eight primary school boys who were sodomized by their school coaches and who have been psychologically damaged for life. No! That mob went on the rampage on the University grounds because the President sacked one old man who, like Raila, holds demi-god status on that college campus.
And like Raila, Joe Paterno was not present when the mob came out to defend the old man’s turfed reputation and legacy. But like Raila, Paterno has been revered for decades as the one man who has saved their community from obscurity. Like Raila, Paterno brought fame, status, and victory to the community. His field was not politics per se; it was sports, college football to be exact. But as most news commentators have noted, there is a ferocious brand of politics in American sports that has clearly become obsessive, possessive, and downright dangerous.
But it isn’t just politics in the Penn State case; it’s also economics, since Paterno (who’s in his 80s) has historically been an incredibly successful sportsman, leading team after team to the championship. And as we know, everybody loves a winner. We also know, the public loves to watch winners perform, at least they do in America where college football has become not just Big Business, but a kind of religion, and weekend football matches an established ritual to be attended just as some Christians attend their daily mass.
The big difference between attending mass and attending a football game is that one is free and one is not. Bottom line, Penn State has made a fortune off of Paterno’s winning performance, and the school, the town and even the state have benefited from one man’s mastery of the Spectacle, the weeken college football match.
One could say that politics and economics were also implicitly involved in the mob scene when Tuju came to Nyanza to campaign for the presidency. For there are a multitude of Nyanza-ites who are banking on becoming beneficiaries of the Raila win in 2012. As we know in Kenya as in many parts of the world, patronage is alive and well, and everybody’s relation expects to be rewarded for their blood ties to the King.
In fact, in Nyanza, one wouldn’t be wrong to call Raila the reigning monarch. Of course, we technically don’t have monarchies in Kenya. They were supposed to have died with the demise of British colonialism and the arrival of Independence in 1963. Yet the British still have their monarch, the “reasoning” might go. So do the Swedes, the Dutch, the Spaniards, and even the Japanese. So why not the Luo, the Kikuyu, or the Luhya or the Kamba for that matter?
In Kenya today, we are all supposed to be true believers in Democracy and the rule of law. The same is true in America, where sadly the mighty Dollar seems to be King, and those with the big bucks are either kings or king-makers. Just look at the way the Republican front-runner is the richest contestant, Mitt Romney. And just look at the way President Obama is busy raising millions from fat cats on Wall Street as well as pennies from peons who still pray he will come through on all the promises he made in 2008.
So in a sense, if we understand the mobs to be dutiful minions looking after what they perceive to be their self-interests, then the violence meted out in Nyanza and Pennsylvania no longer look quite so insane. They were defending their man, fighting to protect the guy who, despite all his flaws, foibles, and occasional ‘fatal’ errors of judgment, is the one whose status is nearly sacrosanct.
In most of Nyanza, Raila can do no wrong, and in most of Penn State city, Joe Paterno ranks just as highly in the minds of the vast majority.
It doesn’t make the mob conduct any less disgusting to me to see how hierarchy operates both in Nyanza and Pennsylvania, but at least I can now see how far removed we have run from our democratic ideals and from the right to self-government. Nonetheless, I will continue to detest blind obeisance to a king, which to me is just another form of servitude. Let’s hope the mob wakes up to higher ideals before the 2012 elections roll around.