I met Babu Owino three times when he was still a student leader at UoN. The first time I met him was in February of 2015. He was in Parklands (UoN School of Law), having lunch with Jim Akach (former SONU Secretary General) and other students’ leaders I cannot remember.
I went to greet him and he was so intrigued by my accent he bought me lunch and told me to sit down so that we could converse.
What I can remember about this conversation is that I was very open with him and told him that I was not such a huge fan of his politics. He laughed it off casually. I then asked him what plans he had for his future, where he would be in the next ten years. Babu Owino looked me straight in the face (his eyes were bloodshot) and told me that he would be President of this country one day.
Later that day, I shared this encounter with a few of my classmates. We were so convinced that after College, Babu would cease to be relevant. We thought that his politics only appealed to students. I mean, Babu had no agenda, no ideology, and no substance. The only product he sold to students was Riaaaaah, Tibim, and Tialala. He was a demagogue, and rightly so. No Kenyan, in his right mind, would vote Babu Owino to public office.
When he announced that he would go for the Embakasi East parliamentary seat, we thought Babu was biting more than he could chew. Then as fate would have it, Onyango Jalamo released the NASA campaign song a few months to the election.
Like Babu Owino, the song was one the greatest jokes of the 2017 election. Echoing no form or substance, it was the most atrocious piece of music ever created in the history of Ohangla.
What we didn’t realise is that Onyango Jalamo nationalised Tibim and Tialala. And in the months leading to the general election, Tibim had evolved from a war cry that Babu Owino utilized in rallying students to harass innocent motorists along State House Road to an expression that would be used over and over again in NASA rallies. In a nutshell, Babu Owino redefined campaign stratagem for the NASA coalition. I knew at that point that he would win the Embakasi East constituency parliamentary seat by 9am.
But who is Babu Owino? What is his politics? This is a question that the Jubilee administration is finding too difficult to answer. If they could answer these questions, they would leave Babu alone. Because at the moment, Jubilee is playing a game whose script Babu Owino wrote several years ago.
Babu Owino has nothing to lose in life. That is who he is. Babu was raised in the worst of Kisumu slums where getting anything was through sweat, blood, and tears. He mastered the art of thriving in chaos. Babu Owino is at his best in hostile environments. Take him to prison; he comes out refined and better than he walked in.
Use violence against Babu Owino –he is violence. Intimidate Babu Owino –he doesn’t cower. Put a gun to his head –Babu will probably laugh at you and ask for a bottle of Black Label (his best brand of alcohol).
Further –and most importantly- Babu Owino practices populist politics. To understand what populism is, you have to critically analyse the Freudian philosophy of mass psychology. A populist doesn’t need an agenda –Babu has no agenda. What a populist needs is an understanding of the ideas of repression, ego, regression, and the unconscious. Thus, a populist studies the society and what ails it, looks for ways in which he/she can tap into these ailments, then stirs emotions and collective energies into explosive directions.
A politician like Babu looks at a crowd and realizes that there are certain archaic regressions –primitive and animalistic instincts- that reside in all of us.
Once he has made that discovery, he looks for ways through which he can awaken these primordial and archaic instincts. And so when Babu insults Uhuru Kenyatta, it doesn’t mean he has a problem with the man. Babu has studied the crowd and realised that there is widespread dissatisfaction with this government.
The next question he asks himself is how he can appeal to this sense of dissatisfaction. And this is where he really gets it. You cannot be rational with a dissatisfied young person who’s been jobless for the past ten years. You go back to Sigmund Freud who tells you that it is impossible to win the masses through rationality. To appeal to the dissatisfied masses like Babu does, you mobilize the irrational, unconscious, and regressive processes. You come up with phrases like Tibim and Tialala.
As Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe says: “the age of humanism is ending and the world is welcoming the age of anger.” The future of global politics lies in the hands of people like Babu who carry no sensible political aims. If Jubilee is not careful with how they handle Babu Owino, he’s going to be Nairobi Governor in 2022. For the past two days that they have had him in custody, he’s been more relevant politically than ever before. And like he told me so many years back, Babu Owino might just be President in the years to come.
By Governor Fsk