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Rap Song Boosts Kenyan Candidate

December 25, 2002

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ The front-runner going into Kenya’s presidential election Friday has been buoyed by a campaign anthem that even supporters of his chief rival admitted to liking.

The Kenyan hit ``Who Can Bwogo Me″ did exactly what Mwai Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition set out to do and past opposition campaigns failed to accomplish: bridge tribal divides with a message of resistance to corruption and oppression.

``Bwogo″ means ``scare″ in the language of the Luo tribe of western Kenya, and the tune is about somebody ``who doesn’t want to be oppressed, to be kept down _ to be harassed,″ said Julius Owino, one half of Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, the duo who wrote and recorded the song.

The song is called ``Unbwogable″ by its fans, a word that loosely translates as ``unbeatable.″

That appears to be the case for Kibaki, who wants to turn out the Kenya Africa National Union party after 39 years in power.

According to a recent poll commissioned by the Washington-based International Republican Institute, Kibaki had a 47-point lead over Uhuru Kenyatta, the 41-year-old candidate picked by President Daniel arap Moi, who is stepping down after 24 years.

Neither Owino nor his partner, Joseph Ogidi, set out to make a political song. ``We were recording a song we thought people would like,″ Owino said.

The song was released in September and within days was soaring in popularity. A little over a month later, an opposition candidate for parliament declared that the National Rainbow Coalition was ``unbwogable″ and the song became the campaign’s rallying cry.

Like Kibaki’s campaign, the message of ``Unbwogable″ resonated with voters tired of corruption and economic decline.

Young Luo men in the Nairobi slums blasted it from boom boxes. Middle-aged women from the Luhya tribe sang along with it at concerts. Elderly Kikuyus sported ``I am Unbwogable″ T-shirts. When Gidi Gidi Maji Maji launched into the rap-like chant at opposition rallies, the crowds roared.

In comparison, Kenyatta’s campaign had only a few old standards that elicited little enthusiasm among supporters _ even those paid to attend rallies.

``Unbwogable″ was ethnically unifying despite being sung mostly in Luo, said Mutahi Ngunyi, a political consultant.

``It essentially translates a Luo word into English _ it rises above the Luo ethnicity,″ he said. ``The National Rainbow Coalition needed a symbol, something that spoke for all ... this particular song seems to be that symbol.″

Anna Kwatemba, a 38-year-old housekeeper in Nairobi, the capital, doesn’t like most hard-driving ``newer″ music. But she is an Unbwogable fan _ it ``is the story of the day,″ she said.

Cutting across tribal lines is key in Kenya’s tumultuous and often tribally divided political scene.

Moi hasn’t been popular since he reluctantly brought multiparty democracy back to Kenya in 1991 under pressure from Western donor nations. But he managed to win two elections because tribal divisions split the opposition.

This year, however, ``Unbwogable″ has provided ``the unity needed to win, given people a sense that they can be unbeatable,″ Ngunyi said.

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