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Eric Wainaina makes comeback after 19 years of political blacklist

By Mercy Simiyu December 18th, 2023 2 min read

Eric Wainaina’s battle with the “powers that be” began back in 2001 when he dared to call out powerful political figures for corruption.

The acclaimed Kenyan musician is best known for his song Nchi Ya Kitu Kidogo, which calls out the powerful fat cats.

In his hook, Eric sings: “Ukitaka chai ewe ndugu nenda Limuru (If someone asks you for chai, tell them to go to Limuru)” – a major tea-growing area in Kenya.

He advises in another lyric: “Ukitaka soda ewe Inspekta burudika na Fanta (If a policeman asks you for a soda [bribe], offer him a Fanta)”.

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The song did not sit well with the powers that be, and Wainanina and the hit tune were banned.

Things came to a head when in September 2001, Wainanina performed at a music festival attended by the late Kenyan Vice-President George Saitoti; the organisers tried to stop Wainaina from performing Kitu Kidogo.

They disconnected the loudspeakers when he was halfway through his performance and someone also grabbed his microphone.

Only after an outcry from the audience did the band continue their performance.

Speaking to the BBC at the time, Wainanina said: “My thought process was, I’m not going to stop because a few people are going to be upset. I had the vice-president in front of me and it’s important that this message gets across.”

As a result, Wainanina was blacklisted from state functions, and his song was banned from being played on state media platforms.

Fast forward 19 years later, Wainanina took centre stage on Jamhuri Day, captivating the audience with his soulful melodies and powerful patriotic lyrics from Daima.

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This performance marked a poignant moment for Wainanina, who had previously been banned from attending government events under the previous government.

The controversial ban, revealed by activist Boniface Mwangi in December 2021, was linked to Wainaina’s public opposition to the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto in 2013.

Mwangi revealed that Wainaina, in an op-ed for The Star newspaper, had expressed reluctance to support the political duo, who were then facing charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

“Eric [Wainanina] wrote an op-ed for The Star newspaper in 2013, saying he couldn’t vote for two men accused of crimes against humanity. Uhuruto’s government blacklisted him,” Mwangi revealed on social media.

The revelation sparked debate within the artistic community, with concerns raised about the impact of such restrictions on artistic freedom and expression.

However, at the recent celebration of Jamhuri Day as Kenya @60, Wainaina emerged as a symbol of the perseverance and enduring spirit of Kenyan artistry.

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The event, graced by the presence of President William Ruto and other political leaders, became a platform for Wainaina to share his music with an even wider audience.

Celebrated for his socially conscious lyrics and innovative fusion of traditional Kenyan sounds with modern influences, the musician used the opportunity to deliver messages of unity, hope and resilience.

Wainaina’s set list featured a mix of his classic hits and newer compositions, showcasing the evolution of his craft over the years.

The artist’s return to the stage was a significant moment, signalling a shift in political alliances as former president Uhuru Kenyatta backed the opposition, while the current president, who was previously deputy president, joined hands with Ford Kenya party leaders Moses Wetangula, Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Deputy Rigathi Gachagua.