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.
Thankfully, more Kenyans are beginning to understand that the first president was never interested in freedom. But what remains simplistic is our view of the Europeans as all sharing the same interests. And understanding the different European interests is key to understanding what exactly Jaramogi stood for, and how Raila's politics do conform to Jaramogi's position, but at the same time do not serve the interests of Kenyans.
Not yet uhuru
However, the settlers didn't play to script. They consistently fought against the colonial government's control of land, agriculture and trade, and towards the 1950s, were getting more control of agriculture and trade in the colony. But the Achilles heel of the settlers was that they still needed the colonial government's military might to force Africans off their own land, and to fwork on the colonial farms.
After the 2nd world war, the British metropolis needed more resources for its recovery, and started to put more pressure on the colonial government to expand the extraction of resources from colonies. For more resources, the colonial government needed to expand trade and land ownership to Africans, and encourage the growth of an African middle class to help the British corporations. But the settlers would have none of it. As a result, the colonial government had a hard time pleasing both the settlers here and the metropolitan government back home.
The stalemate ended in the 50s, when the peasants revolted against the settlers.
Of course, the settlers did not have the firepower to crush the rebellion, and so the British government sent its troops. But once in charge, the British government pressed on the settlers to concede to more African involvement. This move allowed the British state and corporations to weaken the control of the settlers and strengthen their own. It also allowed more space for the compromised African elites who would not ask for radical social reform. Companies like Brooke Bond and East African Breweries, and later on Bamburi Cement, consolidated their positions in Kenya as the clueless Jomo Kinyatta told us Kenyans that since the British were leaving, we could have the land back.
Jaramogi began his career before independence intending to be a businessman. As he explains in Not yet uhuru, his initiation into politics came from the realization that the British were putting obstacles in the path of African capital. African land was community owned, which meant that Africans could not borrow loans because they did not have title deeds. Africans couldn't form cooperatives unless the cooperatives were controlled by the colonialists. Africans couldn't get credit or couldn't buy shares. Africans couldn't set up businesses in the towns, only in the "bush." Town trading even in Kisumu was reserved for Asians.
The colonial government justified all this micro-managing of African entrepreneurship in the name of Africans needing to be protected from going into debt (the irony). Jaramogi therefore understood that the obstacles to African capital were racial and political. He decided to join politics, because, in his words, politics was the only sphere [of African advance] approved by the government." That was when he quit teaching and ran for a seat in Central Nyanza African District Council. So Jaramogi entered politics as an indigenous capitalist.
At independence, Jaramogi would rudely discover that the fault lines of access to capital simply shifted from race to ethnicity. The Kikuyu elite fixed the economy so that even though Western corporations would continue to exploit the country, it was only the Kikuyu elite who could share in the exploitation. In other words, entrance into the comprador elite group was necessarily ethnic.
And, as Swainson explains, the Kinyatta government set into motion a series of laws to control access to capital. Laws required the British multi-national corporations to employ African managers and board members, and to give them shares. One notorious cabinet minister, whom Swainson doesn't name, was so notorious for demanding 10% of the start up capital of Western multinationals, that he got the nickname "Mr Ten Per Cent." In 1975, the government wrote laws that allowed African elites to seize the businesses of Asians, and even though the law talked of non-citizens, Asians who were Kenyan citizens also lost their businesses.
So Jaramogi understood that it was not yet uhuru, that the economic transactional relations, between the exploited peasants and Western capital, hadn't really changed. Western capital had simply fired colonial settlers and replaced them with African (Kikuyu) elites to help Western capital to continue exploiting the majority of Kenyans. In other words, independence was just about replacing a white CEO with a black one, and putting some black faces on the board, but the companies were still foreign. And, as we now know, it was more difficult to fight against the black nyapara for Western capital, because they used ethnicity to erase the class distinctions between themselves and the ordinary Kenyans.
Since then, the obsession of Jaramogi and now of his son, is to reform this political set up so as to open up the economy. Like Nkrumah, the referendum is part of seeking first the politics kingdom, with the promise that the economy will be added to us as well.
But in this 21st century, we need to refuse the formula of one first and the other later. We must fight for the economy EVEN NOW.
"It's the economy, stupid"
However, this relationship between politics and economics is now a catch 22, because you need money to run for office in order to be in a position to grow your business. This means that without education, poor people stand a slim chance of social mobility, unless they find the formula to steal. And stealing means that you can never go to jail because you have enough to "bribe a judge," and that's if charges are leveled against you in the first place, as we have seen with the current president and his deputy.
Since independence, the role of the political class (almost synonymous with the Kikuyu elite), with the help of Western governments, has been to keep performing elections and ethnic politics to blind us to this reality. In the name of reform, they make Kenyans obsess with doing mathematics with the ethnic composition of government and electoral succession, so that the Western capital involved in our exploitation continues to remain faceless, and we do not see politicians as a mere comprador elite getting their 10%.
That is why Kenya has gone through a succession of political reforms which do not fundamentally change the economic arithmetic. From 1963, KADU has crossed the floor. We have got section 2A. In 2005, we had a referendum. In 2008, a coalition government. It is 2010, due to the chaos of 2008 and the pressure of the international community, that we finally got a constitution that puts THE PEOPLE at the center of governance.
But with the last reform, the 2010 constitution, something has changed, although nearly not enough. With devolution, the people are starting to see fundamental changes that they had not seen for the previous 50 years. We have also now got bolder in demanding public participation in policy and governmental institutions. Kenyans are now demanding more, and are even more adamant about it.
Unfortunately, that is not what the political elites on either side want. Of course, the Kinyatta family maintains an interest in the status quo, where it controls the economy and reduce elections to a joke, whose purpose is just to justify why Western corporations must still trade in Kenya, since Kenya has a "democracy." Their son is sinking us into debt simply because he wants to build infrastructure and exploit our labor for capital.
In addition, the institutions of this country are still solidly colonial. The politicians and their political appointees in government bodies still plan the country and the economy as if we Kenyans don't exist. For example, healthcare reforms have not been to treat Kenyans, but to encourage medical tourism, and export Kenyan doctors trained by our taxes so that they can send remittances. Meanwhile the government imports a handful to Cuban doctors as a way of showing the finger to Kenyan ones.
The recent curriculum reforms have been driven by foreign ideas and foreigners, and the contempt for Kenyans is so bad, that the government would only accept the problems we were talking about after they hired foreign experts to tell them the obvious.
Land is being given away to foreign landowners in Laikipia and Isiolo in the name of Africans being predators of wildlife and wildlife needing wazungu poachers to conserve the environment.
Our politicians have become so predatory, that when our health is threatened by poisoned sugar, their first worry is that Western tourists and investors might hear the truth and not bring their money to Kenya.
Even politicians' wives repeat the contempt for African Kenyans. The Kenya government organized Melania Trump's visit to orphaned human and animal children, and our First Lady wore the colonial settler costume. In other words, Kenya is a country of no people, or no adults. Children have no parents and the job of the elite is to help the West help us.
And for all these insults, all we get is managerialist lip service to Kenyans through plans like Kenya Vision 2030 and the Big 4 agenda. The fancy strategic plans have not prevented inequality from growing at a rate faster than before. According to Oxfam, 8,300 Kenyans own more wealth than the bottom 99.9% (more than 44 million of us). Kids are still not going to school, and healthcare is still out of the reach of most Kenyans, yet the weak public services are still being privatized.
So we can no longer hold onto the Jaramogi-Raila ideal that our lives can improve only AFTER we have more diverse ethnic representation in the top political office. The one thing that must remain is that the government must be accountable to the people. Armed with the constitution, Kenyans have made great strides in this endeavor, and we must not let politicians fool us into abandoning our struggle in the name of cutting down spending and reforming power sharing.
Most of all, the political class must realize that there is a new generation in Kenya. We have abandoned the naivete of the Nkrumah doctrine and have started to put a face to Western capital and ask what havoc it is wrecking in this Kenya. We now realize that referendums and elections cannot address our issues when the billionaires and their Western friends have the money to rig elections, compromise the electoral bodies and pay Cambridge Analytica millions of dollars to misinform and distract Kenyans from the real issues. So we don't want an economic conversation only after we've tinkered, yet again, with political succession problems. We want an economic conversation NOW.
A new generation
So as the World Bank reduced funding for social services, kids like me, of with educated parents, started to see that our economic fortunes are worse than that of our parents. We can't afford the same social services our parents afforded at our age. In addition to that, social media has enabled us to get live updates on the social struggles all over the world. We not only see Trump, but also Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We not only see Theresa May; we also follow Jeremy Corbyn. We listen to the conversations of people like Chris Hedges, Tariq Ali and Yanis Varoufakis. Some of us have studied in the US and have been raised by pan Africanists. We don't just hear about Frantz Fanon, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara, Malcolm X , Angela Davis and James H. Cone. Now we also read them.
So we now see the face of capital more clearly than our parents. And the more we ask questions about why our money doesn't stretch as far, the more we see that the poor are worse off than us.
So we are not the generation of 1974 or 2008. We are no longer people who believe that our economic and social problems will be solved through mere political reshuffling without a conversation about the economy. We know that the problem is that white capital still runs this country and that our old school politicians want a referendum to make themselves, not us, comfortable. We know that a referendum will simply waste money on campaigns and popularity contests, the same money that politicians now say that we waste on counties and MPs. And in the end, the referendum will leave the logic of the market, driven by foreigners, very intact.
What we need is economic reform. We want a government whose pillar of development is WE THE PEOPLE, because we Kenyans are talented, resourceful and simply awesome. We don't want to hear more of foreign investors and tourists when we want to put our minds and muscles to work. We need the toxic relationship between the state and capital to end. Title deeds should no longer be used as loan security. We want a country that believes in us Africans and that will give us loans because they know we can do the work and succeed. If one does not use land, let them give it back to the public and the public will find someone who will use it. You should not be able to sell land, because you did not make it.
We want an education that makes Kenyans proud to be human and African, and that encourages them to be creative.
We want universal healthcare because our people deserve to be healthy and live in dignity. That way, our people will also not be afraid to try new ideas because they will not be worrying about healthcare for the mothers and kids.
We want a tourism industry that appreciates that the best tourists are WE Kenyans. The communities living alongside wildlife can offer us their homes, build hotels and take care of wildlife better than any foreign "conservationist" who inherited land from King George V.
The push for a referendum instead of economic reforms comes from the fundamental flaw in the Jaramogi doctrine: the belief in indigenous capital as the main economic doctrine, and that we need ethnic diversity in the top 1% of this nation to gain economic justice. And that we cannot get ethnically diverse capitalism before we get political reforms. This naive Jaramogi-Raila belief in indigenous capitalism forgets that capitalism is fundamentally designed to be ethnically exclusive, and ultimately racist.
We still honor Jaramogi for opening our eyes to the complicity of the Kinyattas in the economic injustice. And we honor Raila for accepting to be the face of the spirited fight of the Kenyan people against the feudal, capitalist and Western dominated arrangement that we call independence. However, one thing is clear from Raila's political career: he's not willing to extend his challenge to the status quo to the economic realm. That is why he gave up the most legitimacy he even had - the people's presidency - together with the economic boycott which was our best weapon to challenge to Kinyatta and Western capital's hold on Kenya so far.
We are a new generation. We have tasted the promise of the constitution in putting the people of Kenya at the steering wheel of our own destiny. We are not willing to destabilize the constitution and with it, the framework for public involvement at the counties through devolution, and the demand for public participation in national policy. We believe that we can have, and need to have, economic reforms before constitutional change. Most of all, we do not believe that freedom can ever be too expensive.
So we are not seeking first the political kingdom on its own. We are seeking the political kingdom through the economic one. Once we cut down the economic stranglehold of the elites on the economy, we will get closer to a reality where a girl from Turkana or a boy from Kwale, by sheer willpower, hard work and social support from an educated nation that is able to see through the ethnic and racist lies, can grow up to become the president of Kenya.