From ICC, to MAGA (Make America Great Again) to CBC, to Brexit to huduma namba, and to BBI, all instances unite in politicians are hoodwinking citizens on single issues that camouflage multiple reforms that will destroy social services and suppress citizens’ rights. And these reforms are all linked to the interests of mostly Anglo-Saxon billionaires.
ICC was made the pet issue by Kenya’s current president during his 2013 campaign, and it was on the advice of a British PR company. Muigai’s supporters, especially from the Kikuyu community, were hoodwinked into believing that voting for ICC suspects was voting against imperialism. The irony was that the strategy came from imperialists.
Brexit is the same as MAGA. It is about gutting down environmental protections, protecting zero contract hours for workers, austerity and tax breaks for the 0.1%. The British were told lies that the EU caused all that, and the Remain campaign was too weak in countering those lies. That has meant that the conversation has been so dominated by Brexit, that by the time Labour tried to talk about the real issues, it was too late.
But CBC is a dumbed down curriculum designed to make it cheap for private sector to give the minimum possible education at the minimum cost. The cost of filling in the gaps is transferred to the parent. And the bourgeois Kenyan families believed the lies because they could afford to make trinkets and sandwiches. They said they were having fun.
BBI is the same thing. Kenyans have been given a single source of truth (like Huduma namba), and now instead of talking about debt, austerity, inequality of the 8,300 who own more than the rest of us, of BBI’s attack on democracy, doctors have been seduced with HSC and voters with a prime-ministership. To shut us up, citizens are being told "read first, before you discuss," and now that we've read, we're being told that "there is room for debate."
There's nothing to debate in a document that says that every political problem is the fault of wananchi. But going by previous precedent of the CBC, the government is going to buy time while claiming to be submitting the BBI proposals to public debate while it implements the proposals.
Already, the National Archives have started revisions to the act to accommodate the BBI proposal for a presidentially appointed Official Historian who would write the “definitive” history of Kenya going back 1,000 years. By the time citizens have, hopefully, rejected the proposals of historical revisionism, the government will do what it did with CBC. It will say "oops, we've already implemented the program, so let's give it a chance to work."
Why do citizens seem to fall for these single-issue mottos?
1. Politicians playing dumb
The politicians behind these proposals play dumb. Boris Johnson and Trump (and Sonko) are classic examples. Boris had only one answer to every question. NHS? Get Brexit done. Climate change? Get Brexit done. Tax breaks for billionaires? Get Brexit done.
This single answer to every question is very effective in disarming anyone who wants to have a civilized political discussion. It is usually an acknowledgement that the person supporting the other position has no way to support their choice but does not want to change their mind anyway.
Those of us who questioned the suitability of Muigai to be president for a second term had a similar experience. Whether we asked about the spiraling debt, corruption or inequality, the reply was always "Will Raila do better? He has no experience." Or worse, the Jubilee party played the business stereotype associated with Kikuyus as the quintessential capitalist tribe, with statements like "NASA has no stake in the economy."
The PR and media then package simplistic answers as easier to understand and "resonating with the people," be they the white working class in the US and UK, or the Nairobi poor. This was particularly in the case of the now embattled Nairobi governor, where criticisms of his behavior and politics were rebuffed as elitist cluelessness about what resonates with the Kenyan poor. But these single-issue mottos of anti-democratic politicians are not simple. They are stupid and in fact quite disrespectful of the poor as too dumb to think.
The real crux of the matter is that the single issue campaign strategy is fueled by racism.
Behind the single issue, proponents stoke fears of immigrants, foreigners, Muslims, or Luos. Implicit in these messages is that the country belongs to whites, or Kikuyus, and the candidates will use code for white supremacy, or in Kenya's case, the president simply talks in Kikuyu at national events. In Kenya’s case, even international media like the New York Times whipped up emotions by painting Raila as a “perennial loser,” only to issue a halfhearted apology when the Supreme Court annulled the presidential results.
Similarly, when Kikuyu supporters of the president ask "Will Raila do better?" in reality, they are saying that only Kikuyus know how to run a country, presumably because they are the only ones with a stake in it.
And in each case, the right-wing candidates are operating with a racist sample to prove their case. Three out of four Kenyan presidents have been Kikuyu men, and 44 of 45 US presidents have been white men, “proving” that qualified presidential candidates must come from a certain profile. Racism creates its own evidence.
And yes, the Kikuyu-centric agenda is a form of racism, because the ethno-economic dynamics of Kenya are largely based on the white supremacist colonial economy that Kenya has maintained intact since independence.
We are the 99 per cent
Behind these single source solutions, tribalisms, identity politics, and playing dumb, politicians and billionaires seek to distract us from asking this one question: who owns what, and how is it distributed? The bottom line is that this answer is decided by race in the West, which is combined with ethnicity in Africa.
Scholars are increasingly emphasizing that narratives about who deserves to win or lose in the capitalist rat race are founded on racism, and in Africa, by its African offspring of tribalism. The real racism is embedded in "single source of truth" solutions, because such solutions require the belief that the people pushing certain ideas and proposals are trustworthy by virtue of their innate superiority, are protecting those like them and, therefore, they need not be questioned.
We have made the argument that this is the case of the BBI, where the model of citizenship is the landowning, rich Kikuyu alpha male who is in turn modeled in the image of the white British settler. And non-Kikuyu politicians and bourgeoisie tell their ethnicity mates, they are only too happy to play along because the American government and international media reinforce ethnic prejudices and blackmail politicians through withdrawing visas and access to American capital.
This racist deep story means that it is not enough to ask citizens if they believe that certain groups of people were created superior to others or more deserving than others. The answer to that question will most likely be no. Anti-racism has already won the religious, scientific, cultural and moral war. The remaining political war is economic, and the billionaires are pouring money into ensuring that the people don't win on that front.
That is why the best anti-racist response is, therefore, not to debate the benefits of ethnicity or to plead on behalf of exemplary members of the tribe who provide exemptions to the rule. The most important pushback is to demand the cleansing Kenyan institutions of discriminatory policies and replace them with policies that distribute resources equitably in Kenya. It's not enough to plead against tribalism. We must also have an economic conversation.
And maybe, if we want to be as simplistic as the plutocrats, we must refuse to let go of the question from which they are trying so desperately to distract us: who owns what, and how is wealth distributed?
To which we can respond with any version of this answer: our problem is the one percent.