Kenya: Setting the people’s agenda for 2012
The very first plank of the Kenyan people’s agenda should be a departure from elite pacting: the noxious, personality-driven “succession” political maneuvering.
In the Kenyan milieu, 2012 is the year that a lot of momentous events will gestate before bursting out in new births, new beginnings, or conversely, serve as the harbinger of the dissipation of certain ethno-class dynasties, corrupt tendencies and parochial proclivities.
This is the year that Kenyans await anxiously the next phase of the ICC process. Will The Hague bound Ekaterina Quartet finally, balefully, have their opportunity to embrace responsibility and cuddle accountability in court rooms far removed from the familiar savannah jostles, ensconced in climes temperate alternating quarterly with frigid interludes?
This is the year Kenyans push and pull, toil and moil, mulling over the identity of the fourth president- who most certainly will be donated from the ranks of the rapacious, ideologically bereft elements of the spineless, vacillating comprador/bureaucratic bourgeoisie.
2012 is destined to be punctuated with national constitutional milestones as parliament, the Commission for Implementation of the Constitution (CIC), the media, the voters put in place more concrete indicators in the zigzag trajectory of the constitution’s plodding odyssey towards full and diligent implementation.
Pregnant with multifarious and multilayered possibilities, threats and opportunities this year is determined to be a watershed, a defining moment in Kenyan contemporary history.
A famous, grizzled and disheveled, mentally gifted but impoverished refugee who spent a lot of his time in a certain library in London where he honed his knack for churning out tomes on philosophy, history, ideology, economics and politics, quipped eons ago that the dominant concepts, fashions, trends and ideas in any society tended to be those associated with the men and women who controlled the economy, supervised the politics held sway in the social sphere-in other words the ruling class.
WHO IS THE RULING CLASS IN KENYA?
Some people think it is the president, his friends, family members and fellow tribespeople. Others think it is Kibaki, Raila, Kalonzo, Uhuru, Mudavadi, the cabinet ministers, their assistants, members of parliament and top civil servants. Some will whisper to you that is actually the NSIS, the top of the Armed Forces, the Police and the Prisons.
In my own view, you cannot talk of the ruling class in Kenya without reference to the so-called “international community” which is nothing but a nickname for the leading Western monopoly capitalist powers (and Japan, geographically located in the East is part of the geopolitical West). Or did you for an instant, for instance, imagine that the “international community” includes such muscle bound states like Lesotho, Swaziland, Rio Muni, Sao Tome and Principe, Mauritius, Mauritania, Gambia, South Sudan, Bhutan, Bangla Desh, Paraguay, Antigua, Iceland, Vanuatu, Nauru, Kiribati, Guam, Papua New Guinea or East Timor?
Without delving into a convoluted historico-ideological exposition, Kenya has been a neo-colony since it received flag independence from the United Kingdom in December 1963. We are part of the “empire” led by the United States and her allies like Britain, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, the European Union, the Scandinavian countries and so on. They control our economy, determine our politics, and stage-manage our ideology and influence our culture.
They give us the illusion that we are “independent”, “sovereign” and “free” and perpetuate the myth that our head of state is the president and that the prime minister is Kibaki’s equal.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
In the first place we do not have just two “principals” we have three- Kofi Annan completes the triumvirate.
The ambassadors, high commissioners and emissaries to Kenya from the United States, the UK, Japan, Germany, Canada, France and the EU are not merely high ranking diplomats from their respective countries. They are viceroys.
The top financial person in Kenya is not that goofy lawyer from Kirinyaga called Robinson Githae. It is somebody from Bretton Woods – the home of the World Bank as well as the IMF.
Emilio Mwai Kibaki and Raila Amolo Odinga are nothing but the senior managers of this tea plantation; this coffee farm; this banana republic called Kenya.
The Kenyan neo-colonial state has got certain structures – the executive, the judiciary, the legislature and related to those, organs such as the army, the navy, the air force, the police, the prisons, the security intelligence service there to protect the interests of the transnational corporations, safeguard the geopolitical zones of influence of the key imperialist countries in terms of their strategic interests in the east and central African region, not forgetting the volatile Horn of Africa region particularly because of its proximity to the Middle East and the Indian Ocean.
As a reward for protecting these interests for US-led imperialism, strata and contingents comprising the Kenyan comprador/bureaucratic bourgeoisie- the mainstream politician/tycoons- are given considerable leeway in SUPERVISING and even benefitting from operating the levers of state power.
The United States, NATO, EU and Japan do not care really whether it is PNU or ODM or any other grouping forms the next government – what they care about is “stability” – not for the sake of the struggling Kenyans.
In order to achieve this relative “stability” our so called “development partners” will pour millions of dollars, Yen, Euros and even Yuan into “civic education campaigns” “public/private partnerships” “micro enterprises” “sensitization seminars” through ministries and government departments, parastatals, commissions, NGOs and CBOs.
Thinkers like James Petras have in turn demonstrated how Western funders like Open Society, Ford Foundation and others have consciously or inadvertently hijacked/softened or diverted the objectives and activities of grass roots organizations and social movements which were initially radical or militant.
Kenya is no exception.
I have recently seen proposals and position papers right here in Nairobi from USAID and other like minded institutions creating donor friendly templates for setting up harmless middle-class CBOs for corralling youth militancy based on the Bunge la Mwananchi concept. I have come across two documents on a so called “Youth Bunge” and another one dubbed “Ni Sisi” both funded by USAID.
The Ekaterina Quartet (Joshua arap Sang, Francis Muthaura, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta) crisscrossing the country through “prayer rallies” want the agenda for this year to be “Anybody BUT Raila for President”.
Raila Odinga’s agenda for 2012 is, unsurprisingly, “Raila for President”.
The folks who support the ICC process want 2012 to be a year for holding people accountable.
MPs want to remain in power, whether as parliamentarians, senators, governors or even presidents. Then there is a whole of bunch of people who want to be part of that eclectic elective mix.
Elements in Kenyan civil society aver that the implementation of the 2010 constitution is the key national priority.
Do any of these agendas reflect, coincide or echo what could be the Kenyan People’s Agenda?
Most of these positions – even the most progressive ones – are being articulated by the country’s elite.
Let us commence with the notion of a “Kibaki Succession”. The last time I checked, Kenya was defined in Chapter Two of our constitution as “a sovereign Republic…a multi-party democratic State …”
We are a republic folks. We elect presidents, not anoint kings and queens, traditional chiefs and sultans who are then “succeeded”.
Yet every Sunday evening in Kenya during prime time news, there is a segment during Sunday Live, the weekend newscast hosted by Julie Gichuru on the popular Citizen television channel dubbed “The Kibaki Succession” which is devoted to speculating about which particular individual will take over the mantle of power when Kibaki is compelled by law to stand down having served two terms as president (the second one considered illegitimate by a large swathe of Kenyans who are convinced that he stole 2007 results and was foisted on the populace through a civilian coup).
But why “The Kibaki Succession”?
Is he a King, a Sultan, a Nabongo or a Nairobi based Asantehene? Should he be called Shaka Emilio or Kabaka Mwai the First?
If Kibaki is not a king or a queen, then how come there are plans to “succeed” him?
Kenyans have been bamboozled to accept the canard that the outgoing third president is being succeeded – a truly menacing and chilling thought. It is because of this preposterous idea that pundits anxiously look to Kibaki to solemnly “anoint” his “successor”.
Kibaki who is widely believed to have been implicated in massive electoral fraud a mere five years ago is now being venerated as a demi-god with not only a divine right to rule, but further with a royal duty of picking the next head of state of this allegedly “sovereign multi-party republic” where presidents are democratically elected.
This outlandish notion of a “Kibaki Succession”, this reprehensible idea that there are certain elite families in Kenya who have the preserve of calling the shots in particular constituencies and counties, is something totally out of sync with the emerging constitutional dispensation.
The very first plank on the Kenyan people’s agenda should be a departure from elite pacting: the noxious, personality-driven “succession” political maneuvering. The elite are the numerical minority in Kenya, yet the majority of Kenyans let them set the agenda for the country.
The Kenyan Agenda for 2012 should be set by the Kenyan people; yes the wananchi, the ordinary woman in the village, the ordinary man in Kawangware, Changamwe, Shauri Yako, Kondele, the ordinary resident in the working class estate, the regular slum dweller- the matatu passengers and boda boda commuters.
It is an agenda based on their everyday socio-economic realities.
The occupants of the Mathare 4A informal settlement woke up the other day with boulders on their makeshift roofs and rocks cracking their skulls. Over in Umoja, mechanized caterpillars were bulldozing shell shocked artisans from their three thousand shillings a month shacks even as frenzied populist politicians were staging made for television street theatre to bolster their looming gubernatorial bids. Twenty shillings only gets you three tomatoes and regular milk in a sachet is almost fifty shillings these days- we are told that there is a milk shortage even though I have not seen the dairy cows padlock their udders in a nationwide strike for better living and working conditions.
To a Kenya that has long forgotten its militant trade union traditions and the legacy of the Makhan Singhs, the Cege Kibacias and Fred Kubais, the recent work stoppages by health workers, teachers, airport and other public sector workers should be a harbinger of more assertive actions by Kenya’s working people to demand a living wage and more humane conditions.
No one captures the anguish, the agony and the angst of the ordinary Wananchi better than the musicians, actors, comedians, poets, spoken word artists, hip hop and genge stars. Not forgetting the graffiti specialists using the walls, streets and interiors and exteriors of the matatus as their tapestries and canvasses. The recent attempt by Philip Kisia-a wanna be Governor of Nairobi- to stifle the aspirations of a budding graffiti artist with a militant social consciousness speaks volumes of the fear of the establishment about the subversive messages from the subterranean loins from Kenya’s untidy metropolis.
Do ordinary Kenyans really care if Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi or any of the elite chieftains becomes president?
It is crucial to pose these questions in the context of an ongoing quest by fractions and factions of the Kenyan comprador and petit bourgeoisie to consolidate consensus on regional and ethnic grounds as a precursor of a more embracing elite pact on how to divvy up the spoils of the increasingly privatized Kenyan neo-colonial state which still serves as the conduit of patron-client systems of rewards and punishment. The 2010 Constitution seen within the prism of contemporary realities will provide the juridical and legislative super structural framework of devolving corruption, nepotism and cronyism from the national to the county levels.
Already many suspected drug lords, ethnic kingpins and notorious war lords of yesteryear are lining up with stolen, licit and illicit swag to crown themselves governors, senators, members of parliament and county representatives.
The jewel in the Kenyan neo-colonial crown is definitely the presidency, despite the legal checks and balances outlined in the constitution.
The recent indaba of GEMA tribal chieftains in Limuru; the just concluded encuentro of the Kalenjin big wigs in Eldoret; the ongoing internal fracas in ODM pitting Musalia Mudavadi against Raila Odinga are but three manifestations of just how desperate different fractions and factions of Kenya’s bureaucratic and comprador bourgeoisie are to position themselves to capture state power in the next few months.
Into this mix one must throw in the recent surreal cabinet reshuffle that rewarded the anti-ICC forces of impunity that threw out the increasingly independent minded Mutula Kilonzo, replacing him with Eugene Wamalwa who is a high profile member of the so called “G-7” faction that is fronted by Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto the two most prominent accused persons in the upcoming Hague trials.
Aside from these elite contestations the simmering issues revolving around historical injustices at the Coast symbolized by the protests of the Mombasa Republican Council are not just about to go away. The MRC cannot simply be snuffed out through undercover police death squads, or as many observers are beginning to suspect special state dirty tricks consisting of blowing up innocent Kenyans and blaming the carnage on MRC- or Al Shabaab.
Stubborn social problems like systemic and endemic gender based violence cannot be solved through media generated hype that attempts to blame women for the spike in cases of domestic battery when the reality of the matter is that on a daily basis far more girls and women, as opposed to boys and men, are victims of defilement, rape, physical assault, arson and murder.
Almost two years after the promulgation of the constitution we notice that human rights violations, increasingly by the police, the military, city council and municipal askaris continue unabated. Often it is the police who are the first on the scene to harass, brutalize and evict poor urban dwellers. The forces of impunity do not hesitate to use riot police to break up peaceful protests, demonstrations and rallies. Corruption continues unabated.
What are Kenyans to do then?
Hurtle to our untimely doom from the revolving restaurant atop the Kenyatta International Conference Centre?
That would be foolhardy and futile.
To recycle a quip from Trinidadian revolutionary Kwame Toure and Nigerian born Pan Africanist Dr. Tajudeen Abdul Raheem who have both rejoined the ancestors: Don’t agonize. Organize.
Progressive Kenyans must seek each other out, compare ideas, learn from the lessons from Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Venezuela, Bolivia and other parts of the world as they try to cobble together a grass roots national democratic movement to capture state power- if not in 2012, certainly within the next five years.
Onyango Oloo is a Kenyan social justice activist, writer and former political prisoner and exile. He blogs at Democrasia Kenya, where a longer version of this article was first published.