Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Paranoia and social class

I read the following remarkable editorial this morning and nearly gave myself a stroke because I was laughing so hard.
Society operates on strict social rules, some of which are unwritten. Sociologists talk of social distance defining relationships. There are invisible lines that must never be crossed. That line was crossed at Saturday’s launch of the Jubilee Party.
Bahati, a reputed gospel singer, had the audacity to not only move President Uhuru Kenyatta from his seat and occupy it, but also to place his feet on the President’s side table on which his drinking water would normally be placed. Bahati may have been well meaning. Perhaps it was entertainment. In all fairness, it was obtuse and highly disrespectful of the youngster, his fame notwithstanding. 
The public outcry this has raised is understandable if only because Mr Kenyatta is the Head of State. Because of the symbolism of the seat he occupies, at all times the security of the Head of State is cardinal, even if he himself has sought to demystify the Presidency. For since taking over as the President, Mr Kenyatta has adopted an easy demeanour, his panache is admirable; he is sociable and loves performances, but that is no licence for such breaches. 
It would help if organisers of such functions gave participants a rundown on the dos and the don’ts to avoid embarrassment and the obvious breach of security. Singer Bahati's bad showing, The Standard, September 13 2016
Social distance may be defined as "the perceived or desired degree of remoteness between a member of one social group and the members of another, as evidenced in the level of intimacy tolerated between them." President Kenyatta is highborn, of high social standing; after all, his father was a founding member of Kenya's Independence government, Kenya's first Prime Minister first President. President Kenyatta's family is landed and wealthy and exerts enormous influence in politics, banking, farming, tourism and real estate development. 

In other words, President Kenyatta's social class has all the hallmarks that Mr Bahati's does not. At least that is what the Standard would crudely remind Mr Bahati, and Mr Bahati overstepped his bounds to not only sit in the President's special chair, put his feet on the President's special table but he endangered the safety, possibly the life, of the President by both being too familiar with a man out of his social league and doing so with impunity. How dare he?!

First, it is important to remind the social-class-obsessed Standard that the social classes might play a crucial role in keeping the peace and reminding the proles of their station in life, but in the Digital Age, not only may a cat look at the king, it may also take an almighty piss in the king's cup. This is not feudal England where social classes were defined by how much land one controlled and, by extension, how many serfs served the feudal lord, but an age where ones and zeroes exert sometimes greater influence than the earth beneath our feet. If you doubt this, remember that Mark Zuckerberg exerts greater influence on more young Kenyans than President Kenyatta and his government even though Mr Zuckerberg probably owns a fraction of the land President Kenyatta's family owns and neither he nor his father has ever been a president of anything as Mr Kenyatta and his father have been.

Second, the Standard is wailing louder than than the bereaved. Why? President Kenyatta attended the launch of the Jubilee Party as a politician and, I mean no disrespect, politicians have no social status than is higher than that of the hoi polloi. Not today and certainly not in Kenya. The one person who should have been offended at the effrontery of the gospel artiste is the one in the mother of all hot seats, President Kenyatta. If you look at his face, you will see a man who is genuinely, in the parlance of [disrespectful] youngsters, feeling it.

You would expect a seasoned aristocrat, raised all his life as a prince of the city, expected to conform in all ways to his status in society, to recoil in horror, aghast at what a young, gauche whippersnapper has attempted to do: sit in the king's seat! Instead, President Kenyatta does what comes naturally to a man of great stature: he goes along with the moment because he knows his status does not derive from chairs or tables but from his position in the world, a position that is not cemented by symbolic chairs or tables. Even if President Kenyatta were not the President of Kenya, his social status would remain highborn.

Finally, did the Standard forget that President Kenyatta has a highly trained praetorian guard watching out for his security at all times? Did they really believe that Mr Bahati made a spur-of-the-moment decision to eject the President from his ceremonial seat and put up his feet on the President's ceremonial table with the president's guard idly twiddling their thumbs? In the world of high-octane political combat, nothing is left to chance anymore. Chance encounters are choreographed. Spontaneous seat-ejections are pre-planned. Nothing is as it seems. And assuming that the President's minders allowed a potential assassin to get close enough to the Commander-in-Chief, so close he had the temerity to demand to sit in his chair, is raising demons where none exist. Why is the Standard so paranoid?

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