[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Kiama Kaara on Kenya
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri Feb 8 03:54:21 GMT 2008
The events in Kenya after the much criticized and controversial
elections of 27th December 2007 have exposed the planned failures of our
nascent democracy and both the ideological rot and inadequacy across the
Kenyan body politic. While this has left many wondering what actually
went wrong, I posit that an ideologically bankrupt political process
that revolves around access to power, its consolidation and use to
accumulate wealth is a recipe for failure. A bastard political economy
founded on self preservation ushers in not only a ‘bandit’ economy but a
flawed political process that at one hand is divorced from the
aspirations of the citizenry (based on a ‘social contract’ typology) and
appended to the global capital class typically for its service and act
as a transmission line for resource extraction and capital flows best
espoused by Walter Rodney in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.”
With a relative calm and stability since independence and ground gained
as the economic powerhouse and beacon of peace on this eastern sea board
of Africa, Kenya’s unraveling has confounded many.
Resultantly, as a haven of peace in the midst of warring neighbours;
across all its borders, Kenya has attained and played a significant
strategic role within the global political, financial and economic
architecture. It is arguably the most dependable and consistent gateway
to Anglo-American imperialist interests on these shores.
But with the aftermath of the December 2007 elections, it has shown that
calm doesn’t necessarily mean peace. And that suspicion, mistrust,
competing, contested and contentious interests especially on the
question of access to resources and ability to secure livelihoods is a
glaring innate conflict that threatens to tear the social fabric of the
Kenyan nation apart.
Commentators and observers alike are differentiated in their approach to
the analysis of the underlying issues and the emergent aftermath (albeit
all too often based on their persuasions along the warring sides). But
across the board, all are united in the fact that this was not just a
one off affair and the effects while tangible in the number of deaths,
internally displaced persons (IDPs), razed houses, forced displacements
and forced occupations, collapsed businesses and infrastructure,
lawlessness, rapes, animosity, mutual suspicions and the general rapture
of the social fabric will have a wide ranging effect, with monumental
influence on the character, pace and nature of the emergent Kenyan body
In this paper, with the hindsight of various presentations, discussions,
talks and comments made on the Kenyan situation, ( notable talks are at
the Centre for Civil Society, UKZN Kenya Seminar, 22/01/08, World Social
Forum, Day of Action, Durban, SA, 26/01/08, email Communication with Lee
Strauser for the Socialist Register, GENTA – Africa Trade and Finance
Linkages Meeting, Johannesburg, 30/01/2008, Jubilee USA Newsletter), I
strive to answer the question: “The Crisis in Kenya: The accident of a
fraudulent elections outcome or a deep-seated structural problem of the
country’s political economy and history.”
In this quest, I will focus on the class structure of the political
economy in Kenya; The root of the conflict and its contemporary features
and Lessons for the African countries particularly Zimbabwe and
Swaziland who are to hold their elections this year and the potential
for such conflict is real.
“We are a nation of ten billionaires and twenty million beggars…”
Statement attributed to J.M.Kariuki. A populist politician murdered in
the 1970’s ….and whose murders have never been arrested or brought to
Do you know?
A one percent increase in Africa’s share of trade would deliver seven
times more than Africa receives in Aid?
In 2005, the UK imported 20,700 tonnes of cut flowers from the North and
Sub-Saharan Africa! This had a declared value of around US$ 110 million.
Of these, the majority came fro Kenya (18,650 tonnes) with a value of
“Msafiri”, Kenya Airways In-flight Magazine, November-December, 2007.
The above quotations give a glimpse of the construct of the Kenyan
political economy. J.M. Kariuki, while a vocal ‘populist’ voice for the
poor, squatters and the landless was very wealthy in his own right. But
his outspokenness lifted the veil of the inherent political, economic
mindset of the ruling elite in post-independent Kenya.
The second quotation speaks for itself. Forty five years after
independence, the pride of our economy, carried through our aptly named
airline, “Pride of Africa” is that we are a raw material producing,
export oriented economy. Our share of global wealth is on the basis of
how best we feed the pursuits and desires (romantic or otherwise), of
our western counterparts. Any person with a slight idea on horticulture
farming (our second most important exchange earner after tourism) will
attest, it’s a sweat shop business littered with blood of the faceless
poor, especially young women who never get to Valentine day candlelight
dinners! But again, we must not be left out on the globalization train.
These are the social costs of our march to economic development, we are
I argue that Kenya’s problems today are a result of the planned failures
of its development paradigm. With a well entrenched bureaucratic state;
a relic of colonialism, the dominant neo-colonial patrimonial state
founded on patronage has only served to deepen a perverse brand of a
“winner takes all” rabid brand of capitalism.
As the guiding ideology, this has undermined both nation formation and
integration and only served to perpetuate the state as the site of
competition for an anarchic “primitive” mode of accumulation.
In this collage, a distinct ‘elite’ of those who control both the
instruments of the state and the economic machinery has gelled to
continue the perpetuation of a control and domination typology best
manifested in the rise of an imperial presidency.
I posit that it’s the dysfunctional nature of this Political and
Economic “elite” in its blind pursuit to concentrate power amongst and
between itself that has plunged Kenya in the current abyss.
In quest of an “Elite Transition”, the political class has ignored the
resistance of the people to domination, the increasing inequality,
poverty and penury, unemployment and push to hopelessness and despair.
Kenya’s crisis today, lies in this historical malady and the
perpetuation of the concentration of power around the presidency, means
that this “imperial” presidency is built on patronage and nepotism, and
has access to power as the driving motif of any political persuasion and
Thus, the state is the site of accumulation of personal wealth, its
protection and an assurance of a free rein to multiply it. This has been
the perverse legacy of the Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki regimes. Networks of
patronage deepen, a powerful cabal of individuals runs the state
persuading a strong, pervasive corruption network, whose interest is to
use state coffers both for its enrichment and to perpetuate its hold
onto power by any means.
This has been coupled by the ascription to the dictates of the global
political and economic architecture with the overall embracing of
deregulatory neo-liberalism as the dominant economic model.
Democracy has functioned as a mere facade to facilitate access to power.
People’s development and notions of the state as the pivotal development
agency allocating values and resources in society takes a back seat.
Resultantly, the gulf between the rich and the poor continues to grow
exponentially. With Kenya ranking both as one of the most unequal and
corrupt nations in the world.
But to hold the edifice together, the powerful and dominant class has
deliberately used the identity of ethnicity to persuade and entrench a
notion of collective responsibility. Mirroring their gains in the
context of their tribes and any criticism as an onslaught on the whole
tribe(s) holding power at a particular moment. Kenyatta set the fertile
ground for this with the rise of the infamous “Kiambu/Kikuyu” mafia that
held sway in his government while Moi and Kibaki have only managed to
deepen this, albeit in different shades.
Hence, valid discussions around equality, equity, social development and
societal wellbeing are projected as a primordial competition of one
tribe trying to gain the upper hand over the other. A misnomer that
unfortunately even the international journalists, commentators and
observers of Africa seem to buy hook, line and sinker!
The 2007 election has to be seen in the backdrop of sustained pressure
to correct these historical injustices. Whereas the import of this is
still debatable, I am of the opinion that the 2007 election afforded the
opportunity when the Kenyan people were united in the conviction that
they could correct these historical injustices through their democratic
power. The ballot. As shown by the intensity of the political campaigns,
the large voter turnout, the patience exhibited at the voting centers,
the number of youth participation, ultimately the voting patterns
exhibited and the massive increase in women’s participation.
Notable commentators have argued that certainly not all Kenyans were
united in this quest, otherwise how would you explain that very large
number of people (largely Kikuyu) which, even the rigging
notwithstanding, still voted for Kibaki and his elite cronies. In any
event, Raila Odinga himself is hardly a progressive thinker; he is a
populist and rank opportunist.
It is this contradiction that warrants a deeper outlook. Does Kenya have
a class formation in the classical sense; a bourgeoisie (national and
petit), a middle class or its upper variation, workers and a lumpen
My take would be that the cleavages are not in black and white, but in
massive shades of grays. What we have in Kenya is a national elite that
controls the political and economic realms and sets the agenda. It
derives its sustenance on the ability to monopolize the state as the
site of accumulation and it ability to link up to international capital
albeit as a mere appendage. Its trough the ‘shape-shifting’ nature of
this ‘elite’, from political office, to economic mandarins through civil
service bureaucracy and back that sustains and informs its existence.
Access to the state has been a supreme consideration in all instances.
Whether its bourgeoisie, remains debatable.
In terms of a middle class, in its functioning role as a “class of
ideas”, I contend that what we have in Kenya is an aspiring intellectual
and informed elite, which though lacking in the excesses of wealth, has
at least enough from careers and other forms of employment, but is still
in service of the bureaucratic state. Otherwise how else do you explain
the big rush of professionals in civil service, civil society or private
sector for parliamentary office? Certainly this is not founded on
philanthropic altruistic notions of “service to mankind is service to
God” but the appeal of entry into the political/economic Government
machinery for more accumulation and wealth. Exceptions exist but less as
Hence defence for Kibaki centred on an ethnic mantle piece doesn’t deter
the overall conviction that one of the driving motifs of the past
election was pursuit for change. Raila Odinga may as well ride that
crest through populism but what amends his ability to do so is to
internalize the message of the citizenry and present himself as a viable
alternative. The ideological bankruptcy that I alluded to earlier
informs this but the ability of the political process to smoke screen
the dichotomy of anti peoples struggles and pro people driven
initiatives does not disfigure the fact that the persuasions of a whole
lot of citizenry revolves around a challenge to the status quo.
It is in this void that the ‘etnicization” of the political/economic
process rears its ugly head. The “we” versus “them” typology plays on an
“offensive”, “defensive” abstraction that is interpreted in the context
of the competing/contending forces. Nothing about an explicit
understanding of the political/economic dynamics at play.
But with the benefit of hindsight, it’s now emerging more clearly on the
adverse limitations of liberal democracy as a political process and
especially when twinned with the debilitating effects of neo-liberalism
and its attendant corporate led capital onslaught on all facets of life.
Thus we see that the defining moment of the Kenya crisis at the moment
is not just the flawed elections but the historical construct of the
state. In built are the changing roles of the various “elites” and how
this transition from one set of “elite” to another at any material time
plays itself out. This agency fails to fit into an identifiable
structural function on the weight of its reliance on the sate as the
main lever of the coming and going, with the necessary ethnic mobilization.
Arguably, it’s worth noting that the elections themselves were not a
revolutionary attempt at reconfiguring the Kenyan society; they were
merely a formal democratic exercise whose outcome however manifested the
deep divisions existing between the poor urban working class, the
peasantry and the lumpen proletariat. It’s sad indeed that its these
deprived classes which are attempting to eliminate one another rather
than their common enemy, the rich propertied classes. But again, this
misnomer has to be located on the well entrenched and well propagated
notion of an ethnic collective responsibility. The overwhelming belief
that one is in a sense connected to the ethnic lords by some affinity
and hence it warrants their defence in the face of the ascendancy of
other groups. Such been the divide and rule script of colonial hangover.
A look through history
When Kenya gained independence in 1963, the seeds that would plague the
nation today were sowed. Instead of embarking on an integrative
reconstruction of the society to build a shared identity, Kenya under
Kenyatta took the path of “everyone for themselves. Only the strongest
survive.” This was a well choreographed strategy to disinherit and cheat
those who had fought for independence, best captured by the Mau Mau,
their first victory. As such, the clarion call for Land and Freedom was
extinguished. In its place, Kenyatta embraced former colonial home
guards and their lackeys as the pillars of the independent nation. And
in vintage Orwellian subscription, a “divide and rule”, “some are more
equal than others” perfection of the British colonial administrative
policy was entrenched.
Such was the first betrayal.
Without embarking on a historical literature review, it is worth noting
that the initial contestation of the independence space represented by
the fallout between Kenyatta and Odinga, and best captured in the
latter’s seminal work, “Not Yet Uhuru” attests to this.
Whereas Odinga and company stood for a more equal society with
guaranteed access for all, Kenyatta and his cabal adopted a more
individualistic stance. Throw in the cold war dynamics and it was a pure
conflict of what kind of a development model to adopt. Kenyatta stuck
with the capitalist notion of “winner takes all” while Odinga and his
group of socialist orientation of equality and social welfare were
Thus Kenya missed the opportunity that Nyerere took in Tanzania. To
build a cohesive nation through the integration of society.
But it would be long in coming.
With the independence “high” giving Kenyatta a blank cheque to manouvre,
he set in motion the first most elaborate and deliberate pursuit to
“ethnicize” politics. Such that, the all often embraced perception of a
“Kikuyu” versus “Luo” conflict set the stage. More was to follow as
ethnic identities and orientation served to service this juggernaut.
Subsequent regimes have only served to entrench this.
While playing ethnicity as a political populist agenda reigned, a more
instrumental policy to underwrite this orientation is superbly presented
in the “Sessional Paper No.10 on African Socialism and its Implications
and Principles on Economic Development.” Whereas this is celebrated as a
great blueprint for a nation emerging from colonialism, it set the basis
for the neo-colonial agenda. With its broad adherence to the principles
of capitalism and the emergent neo-liberal agenda, it served to divide
the nation into compartments of “High Potential and Low Potential
areas”. Thus, the focus of the government would be on the “High
Potential areas” and gains made this way, would trickle down to the “Low
Potential areas”. Thus the folly of trickle down economics was embraced
as the development model and hope was generated that at the end of the
day, all Kenyans would be lifted to new heights of development. Its
worth noting that the high potential areas were mainly around the white
highlands extending through central Kenya and the Rift Valley; the
broader home of the Kikuyu and those who had been integrated earliest to
the Colonial capitalist economy. A continuation of the “White Mischief”
in other ways!
The Failures of Elite Transition. Lessons for Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
Patrick Bond has written authoritatively on the elite deal making and
pacting that wheels political processes with specific reference to South
Africa. But this can also be applied to the Kenyan situation and in
resonance present classic lessons for nascent democracies in Africa and
especially with reference to Zimbabwe and Swaziland on the pitfalls of
Central themes are the state as the site of patronage and largesse. As
such competing interests for access to the state are masked pro-people
challenges to the status quo in a quest to reassert peoples sovereignty
and ability to secure their livelihoods.
With bankrupt ideological foundations an “elite’ cabal controls power
across the Government, the civil service bureaucracy, the private sector
and utmostly the military. Gelling into an edifice that is purely
anti-people, but on occasion needs to mask its interests in the language
of the people to facilitate the “elite pacting” and transition for
purposes of reinventing itself. But always, never breaking from the
orthodoxy of neo-liberalism and neo colonial interests that continues to
chain the people to servitude, poverty and penury. Otherwise how do you
explain the emergence of the same faces on the power circuit at any give
The failures of this elite transition in the Kenyan case is a telling
scenario that the progressive forces in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and the rest
of Africa need to pay attention to wholly and fashion comprehe5nsive
When all is said and done, this election was not between Raila Odinga
and Mwai Kibaki. It was a quest by the Kenyan people to correct past
injustices and re-orient their development priorities. With the sad
outcome as it has turned out to be, in the end, the losers will be the
As one American friend commented tongue in cheek, “How ironic? In Kenya,
people riot when a President steals an election. In the US we sit and
wait.”…. Maybe, our stakes are higher and requires that we illuminate
our progressive prospects in a clear and decisive manner, devoid of the
usual suspect appeal of “Talking Left and walking Right.”
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