The arrest and release of Boniface Mwangi last week brought about a conversation among Kenyans that is uncomfortable, painful, but absolutely necessary. While Boniface saw in the arrest an opportunity to discuss revolution, for many Kenyans, the whole incident revived old pain, that had been opened again just a week or two before with the arrest of Beatrice Waithera, or Betty wa Shiro, for being a prominent voice in the anti-corruption demonstration that ended in the usual Kenyan way. With the police firing tear gas.
In the folklore of several Kenyan communities, the story is told of a hyena that sensed the sweet smell of meat, and decided to follow the smell to reach the meat. The smell led him to a fork in the road, and the hyena could not tell whether he should follow the road going to the left or the road going to the right. So that he wouldn't lose the meat, the hyena decided that two legs would take one road, and the other two legs would take the other road. In a short time, the hyena split and died because of his greed.
A similar fate seems to be eminent for William Ruto's political ambitions. He seems to have decided that to become president, he needs to play by the rules of daddy's (and mummy's) boys, (Raila, Muigai, Gideon). However, he also wants to appeal to Kenyans by portraying himself as one of us, thereby adopting the tag "hustler." However, trying to do both at the same time leads to the contradiction we see in Ruto's relationship with the Kenyan university.
On this great occasion where we come to reaffirm the people as the center of Kenya in this People's Charter, my fear is that it is not specific enough. We live in a neoliberal age where the language of progressives, language about rights and pain with injustice, is hijacked by the oppressors from the oppressed.
For instance, the president won the elections in 2013 by saying he was a victim of imperialism, until even those whose relatives were killed in the crimes for which he was charged pitied him.
The history of Kenya is a story of distracting the people of Kenya from fundamental economic reforms that would allow the Kenyan people to participate in their economy and have institutions that serve Kenyans, rather than serve the interests of Western capital and its local caretakers in government. The latest referendum push led by Raila Odinga, against our will, despite claiming otherwise, is just the latest installment in scuttling economic and social reforms.
And yet, Raila's insistence on a referendum to restructure political power is, strangely, a fulfillment of his father's Jaramogi Oginga Odinga's principles. Until this week, I held onto the romantic notion that Jaramogi was interested in fundamental social reform, and was opposed to the capitalist and feudal accumulation of wealth by the Kinyatta family and their fellow ethnic elites. That was until I stumbled about the work of Nicola Swainson, author of The Development of Corporate Capitalism in Kenya, 1918-1977. I now understand what Julius Malema calls the "arrangement" of Kenya, very differently from before.
To understand the Jaramogi paradox, one must first go back to what happened with colonialism and independence.
July, the most difficult month of the school year, is here with us again. Students in some parts of the country are dealing with cold temperatures in dorm rooms that are crowded, and with rules against wearing extra layers to keep warm.
July is also the month of mock exams, when students are reminded that their future, and the pride (or shame) of their communities, all depend on the grades they score during the examination.
The drilling for exams is also accompanied by physical and psychological abuse. Young people are told that they are useless without passing the examinations, and they are aware that even for the few who do pass exams, their future is not guaranteed. Corruption is going through the roof, and unemployment is destroying the self esteem and livelihoods of young people.
But all these stories are missing from the hegemonic narrative about the spate of school fires that have returned in this strike season. The government, mainstream media, the church and educators are all reading from the same page in turning Kenyan society against her youth.
The naming of culprits behind the recent spectacular corruption scandals like the second edition of the NYS heist, and the scandal du jour, the importation of toxic sugar, is deeply frustrating. Kenyans are being treated to spectacles of fighting against corruption, but in reality, nothing is really changing. All we Kenyans are doing is participating in a blood sport, reminiscent of the Roman Empire, where people have a space to vent their anger and violence, but return to the same oppressive state of affairs.
The blood sports, whose visibility has been maintained in Western civilization today through Hollywood films and video games on gladiators, were a cathartic spectacle that sustained the Roman empire. Because Rome inevitably used brutal war to capture every area that it added to the empire, violence necessarily became the lifeblood of Rome. But also, as various ethnicities, nationalities and classes were brought together, blood sports in the stadiums became one way to keep the empire united through gross displays of valor and power. Gladiators, slaves, prisoners, Christians and wild exotic animals were subjected to torture and excruciating death for the entertainment of the crowds. Scholars say that the games provided an outlet for citizens to express increasingly violent aggression while the state contained the violence within the walls of the colosseum.
In 2009, Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist, caught the world by storm with her book Dead Aid, in which she argued that foreign aid does not deliver the development that it promises to Africa.
Dr. Moyo is as mainstream as they come: she was educated at Harvard and Oxford, she speaks impeccable English, does most of her speaking circuit in the West.
And her idea was not new. Africans have questioned foreign aid since independence, because of the strings attached to foreign aid. They have said that our economic dependence on the same people who enslaved and colonized us essentially meant we were not truly independent.
What was different about Dambisa Moyo?
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