The funny side of Kenyan politics

Comedians take the laughter route to persuade country’s youth to vote.

Kenyan crowd

Redykyulass seeks to bring a new
generation of Kenyans into politics

Kenya’s president has dissolved the country’s parliament, starting the countdown to elections in December.

Al Jazeera’s People and Power programme recently visited the country and met a comedy group trying to engage young people in Kenyan politics – an area normally the preserve of an older generation.

Thousands of young Kenyans turned out recently for a concert in Nairobi aimed at getting them out to vote in the country’s upcoming election.

Kenya’s biggest music acts were there and it was all fronted by a comedy group called Redykyulass.

Getting young Kenyans engaged in politics has often been an uphill task in a country where the area is dominated by an older generation – mainly elder men whose power has been based on patronage, tribal loyalty and, for decades, on corruption.

But with an election looming, the comedians are determined to bring a fresh generation into Kenyan politics, using something you do not hear much in the offices of the political class – laughter.

Political satire

Redykyulass first made its name in political satire under the one-party regime of the then president Daniel Arap Moi, but they have continued to lampoon Mwai Kibaki, the current leader and Lucy, his wife.   

The group memorably staged a spoof at a rugby competition when Redykyulass arrived by helicopter dressed as the president and his wife, momentarily fooling the crowd and the press into thinking they were the real thing.

“I landed the unenviable role of playing the First Lady of Kenya,” KJ, a member of the comedy group, said before launching into an immitation of Lucy Kibaki.

“When the helicopter came down people were actually fooled it was the president himself whose come here.

“What we get to do is make believe… make believe comedy where we get into character,” KJ says. “We’ll get the right costumes, get the right props.

The stunt made Redykyulass a household name in Kenya.

Tony, another of the group said: “‘Lucy” said ‘I can play Rugby, who is your mother?’ and tried to tell the team how to play… she took a ball from Walter [another member of Redykyulass] and went to score a try.”

“The crowd liked it, the TV guys liked, but she [the real president’s wife] did not like it.”


Mwai Kibaki faces an election in December. He was elected on a tide of hope in 2002 and is still popular but there is also disillusionment with the pace of change, the state of democracy and continuing corruption. Young Kenyans speak of feeling “stuck”.

“We’ve been out there talking to young Kenyans just asking them realise you have to vote because you are putting in power the person who is making decisions about your life today and tomorrow”

“We’ve been out there talking to young Kenyans just asking them to realise you have to vote because you are putting in power the person who is making decisions about your life today and tomorrow,” KJ said.

The men who work on Nairobi’s ubiquitous mini-buses are the kind of people Redykyulass has to reach.

Yang Otieno is one such driver.

“Kenya has to change, but it’s hard to come by, the same guys want to get back in, when they get back they’ll go back to their old ways,” he said.

“We should not be re-cycling politicians or ministers, we should be getting some new young guys, at least we can give them a shot.”

But George Waititu, a political pollster, says “the chances of a youthful person winning an election, particularly a presidential one is remote.”

“The general public tend to trust the more elderly, the grey haired, big-bellied type of people more than they trust the youth.”

Mobilising youth

One of the main problems in mobilising younger people politically has been that many do not even have a voters card.

Anne Njeri makes the equivalent of $80 a month braiding hair in a local market. The last time she tried to vote there was a problem as you need ID in order to get a voters card.

She said : “I went to look for an ID.” 

“I just got harassed so I left it, they asked for a birth, or school certificate. The thing is, my dad died and we had a fallout with his family, there’s too much bad blood to go back there to get those documents.”

KJ from Redykyulass says Anne’s story is not unique.

“Your voters’ card  is the instrument to put someone in power… But out of 33 million Kenyans, only 6 million voted in the last general election.

“Statistics are telling us 17 million young Kenyans are eligible to register as a voter, but you need an ID card. But not all the 17 million have an ID card, their voice can make a big difference.”

Big Kev, the event manager for the concert in Nairobi says the thing that makes Redykyulass special is they have been at the forefront of increasing the democratic arena for a lot of Kenyans.

“They have smashed all the taboos, and beliefs, and the mystique that surrounds politics,” he says.

Playing the president

The first job given to Walter Monga’re by the Redykyulass team was to play the character of former president Daniel Arap Moi.

“Walter played the character of the former president so well, it was amazing,” KJ says.

“Today there are small kids in Kenya who can’t draw the line between the former president and Walter.”

The concert was a highpoint of an 18-month campaign by the group which has covered all parts of the country. 

But there is an edge to it that makes it more than entertainment.

The comedians, the DJ’s and the rappers say they speak for a generation that wants to see change happen fast, and they display the thing they say is going to make it happen in front of the crowds – a voting card

The concerts have been a success. Youth voter registration is up in the areas where the campaign has been. Redykyulass continue their mission.

For further details on People and Power click here

Source: Al Jazeera