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The electorate is too ignorant to ask the all-important question:How did we get here

COMMENTARY

Look into long-term economic grievances

Story by PHILIP OCHIENG
Publication Date: 2/17/2008

Because of our habit of giving problems only a short-term view, most Kenyans consider December 27 as the cause of our crisis. 

They blame the violence wholly on the Electoral Commission of Kenya’s dereliction of duty. The causal connection is undeniable. 

But on Friday, Kofi Annan reminded us that December 27 was also a consequence – the consequence of dereliction of duty with much deeper historical roots. 

And Mr Annan — an African with extraordinary understanding of the causes of human conflict — had a crisp message. To try to solve the crisis merely from the pedestal of the present political interests is to skim over the surface.

To tackle it by merely balancing the PNU and ODM interests might assuage many tempers. But it will merely have postponed the real solution. For our real problem is poverty. Yet while the broad masses writhe in hunger, a tiny minority is getting fatter and fatter. 

This minority includes individuals who claim to be our leaders. They pose as dedicated to delivering us from Okot p’Bitek’s “pythons of hunger.” And yet every time we elect a new Parliament, we sink deeper into hunger, ignorance and disease.

The electorate is too ignorant to ask the all-important question: how can our ruling class get richer and richer when members have never produced even a single idea, commodity or service which we might sell to finance the public good?

No, our ruling class gets rich purely by institutional robbery. As a rule, it does not invest. It is a consumer class tout court – an extraordinarily ravenous one at that – a class inherently incapable of producing any thoughts or goods that might uplift the people’s biological and mental health and dignity.

Every so often, members come to the mass with a passionate appeal to vote them into leadership, claiming — but only cynically — that, once inside, they will serve our providential needs abundantly. 

From the colonial regime through Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi to Mwai Kibaki, our government has consistently served only the rich, sinking the rest of us into the Slough of Despond, preaching “poverty alleviation” only when the polls approach.

How does the government conceal its unwillingness to solve this problem? Simply by transferring it, in the public’s mind, from class oppression to tribal oppression. These economic injustices are not only intra-tribal (a tribal elite ruthlessly exploiting its own mass) but also inter-tribal (they transcend all the ethnic boundaries).

Yet, every regime since independence has deliberately tried to make the problem look tribal. Admittedly, the squatter problem which resulted from taking Kikuyu labourers deep into Kalenjin, Maasai and Mijikenda lands was a colonial creation. 

However, the Kenyatta regime not only did not tackle it but, instead, exacerbated the problem by using something claimed to be “land-buying companies” to rob poor squatters of vast swathes of their lands and give it to rich and powerful members of the regime. 

As vice-president, Moi completely avoided this question, fearing that it might jeopardise his chances of succeeding Mzee Kenyatta, a fear made real when, in 1976, Kihika Kimani and other rich landowners played the leading role in trying to block his way. 

Clearly, Moi’s failure was among the reasons the Rift Valley rejected every one of his sponsored candidates, including his own sons, in the last elections. The way they voted revealed that their grievances had everything to do with Mr Moi’s campaign for Mr Kibaki.

But why? Clearly because Mr Kibaki has also refused to tackle the land issue. His position was expressed by Amos Kimunya when he dismissed as a “socialist conspiracy” suggestions by Parliament that a perennial answer be given to this increasingly explosive question.

Mr Kibaki’s intellectual identity with Mr Kimunya was made manifest when the President promoted the minister to the much more powerful Finance portfolio. As long as it appeared that it was the Kikuyu as a whole who were exploiting the Kalenjin in the Kalenjin’s own Rift Valley homeland, the culpable elite could escape the blame not only for that inter-tribal exploitation but also for its own intra-tribal oppression.

Clearly, Rift Valley voted the way it did in the hope that a new regime would tackle their age-old land grievances. In their minds, somebody had stolen their votes and thus robbed them of the only means by which they could achieve their interests. 

The point is that this event was but the culmination of a long list of past grievances. Somebody appeared to have provoked the people by hijacking the constitutional means by which they could attain certain interests.

The message is clear: Address the immediate cause, yes, but only as an expression of solutions to the longer-term economic grievances and a means of plugging the constitutional loopholes which made December 27 possible.

 
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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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