Onyango Oloo on
Turning the Tap
of Mass Action in Kenya On and Off...
1.0. Is Raila Odinga a Tribal God of the WaJaluo?
Without a doubt, the most influential politician in Kenya today is
Raila Amolo Odinga.
Now you wakabila damu, please hurry up and kill me very quickly because I also happen to be a Mluo (with a fair sprinkling of Luhyia in me).
Or you can slowly and lovingly
Kiss My Quebec-based Kenyan Ass.
The choice is entirely up to you of course, so take your sweet time, OK?
In exercising political power, Agwambo Tinga Tinga has long since surpassed the clout of his legendary father, Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga. Since he burst on the national scene in melodramatic fashion way back in 1982 as one of the main defendants in that year's civilian treason trials, Raila has remained very close to the pulse of mainstream Kenyan politics.
It is remarkable that for such a relative outsider, three time detainee and the son of none other than
the sixties nationalist and Pan Africanist firebrand Jaramogi Oginga Odinga would rise to be one of the key insiders in two administrations which otherwise hate his very guts- the Moi kleptocracy and the Kibaki slothocracy.
There is something about personalities with charisma.
At the individual level, you will find these people to be reserved, modest and quite unassuming. Those of us who have spent hours talking one on one with Raila Odinga find him very down to earth, with a very easy going, friendly humorous personality. I remember when he was in Toronto at the Dufferin/Eglinton West public library on Friday August 25, 2000 and I was battling with Orwa Ojode over my insistence that everybody who was part of a public panel of visiting Kenyan politicians- Dr. Kavetsa Adagala, Professor Tumbo, Kyalo Kaindi, Najib Balala, William Ruto, Orwa Ojode and Raila Odinga would have the same ten minutes as the rest of their Toronto co-panelists, Dr.Matunda Nyanchama and Adongo Ogony- to address the Kenyan community before we went to Question and Answer. Ojode, who is a very close aide to the LDP head honcho, was arguing that it was almost insulting to expect Raila Odinga to speak for only ten minutes, when at home, before hundreds of thousands of people he had the jukwaa for as long as he needed to. Onyango Oloo pointedly told Ojode that they were in Toronto as our guests and that WE were in charge of the program and everybody would get equal time. Raila observed this verbal ping pong silently for a few minutes before breaking the log jam with a very simple concession: "What Oloo is saying is reasonable. I do not mind talking for 10 minutes." Later on, when I berated the visitors for valorizing English over our national language, Kiswahili, Agwambo reminded us that we did not set a good example because we had kicked off the meeting in English and that he was quite comfortable with Kiswahili.
It is important to underscore the above personal traits about the Roads and Public Works Minister because of some of the prevailing caricatures about Raila's character. He is often portrayed by his detractors as a selfish egomaniac who craves personal power at all costs.
That has not been my direct experience and I have spent more than one occasion interacting with him.
My pal Mwandawiro Mghanga, who is no one's sycophant, corroborated my own assessment by recounting his encounters with Raila-describing the Langata MP as a non-tribal progressive nationalist and radical democrat of above average intelligence, quite honest and principled and very much the team player who often sacrifices his own ambitions for the common good.
Yet, if you are to believe the NAK hacks and hucksters online and offline, Raila Odinga is a "tribal god" of the Luos who controls everybody who happens to be Luo. If you are to believe some of the slimy cowards who sneak behind anonymity to fling tribal turd at some of us, promoting people like Onyango Oloo to be the alleged "LDP Chief Whip" even though I have never met officially with even one representative of that mainstream party, if you are to believe these narrow minded ethnic chauvinists, all Raila Odinga is concerned about is to "impose" Luo tribal domination on Kenyans. Forget about the fact that the Secretary General of LDP is Joseph Kamotho and its Chair is David Musila. Forget about the fact that LDP's leading Presidential contender is Kalonzo Musyoka and that Musalia Mudavadi is about to rise higher up that party’s ranks. Forget about the fact that Raila Odinga pissed off a lot of Luos in 2002 when he declined to gun for the top seat himself, preferring to put some mass action muscle behind his unifying rallying cry of "Kibaki Tosha!" If you are the kind of mkabila who asks "Small Questions" on the RC Bowen forum, you will spend all your waking moments debunking mythical tribal conspiracies.
And speaking of Luos, tribalism and national unity, if there is a perceived FAULT among Luo politicians from Jaramogi to Tom Mboya to Argwings Kodhek to Robert Ouko to James Orengo to Raila Odinga (and even Raphael Tuju) it is that when it comes to Kenyan NATIONAL politics, these leaders RARELY THINK in narrow tribal terms, always placing what they view as Kenyan national interests above any ethnic agendas. Even though they were ideological polar opposites, Jaramogi and
Tom Mboya were perhaps the leading Kenyan nationalists of their generation- Mboya sincerely believing that our country's national salvation meant selling the same country to American imperialist interests. People often forget that Mboya's most implacable enemy was NOT Jomo Kenyatta (who he was fiercely loyal to) but Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who was perceived during those cold war days, as the conduit for communist intrusion into Kenya.
People often forget that while Raila Odinga was undergoing the first of his three stints in detention, the late Robert Ouko was the most articulate apologist for the Moi dictatorship.
People forget that one of the factors behind James Orengo's shocking loss had to do with a local Ugenya perception that he had abandoned his constituents to concentrate on NATIONAL democratic issues, pouring his energy in trenchant opposition to KANU rather than peddling Luo tribal agendas. And of course we forget that at that time, Orengo's most prominent foe was Raila Odinga, a fellow Luo.
Outside the political mainstream, people like Adongo Ogony, Omondi K'Abir, Okoth Osewe, Onyango Oloo, Oduor Ongwen and a host of other socialists and anti-imperialists from the Luo community have been accused several times of selling out to the Gikuyus instead of being "Luos first and Kenyans second".
There is therefore no factual credence to the fallacy that Luos think predominantly in tribal terms when it comes to Kenyan national politics.
If that had been the case during the December 2002 Presidential elections, 90% of the voters in the so called Luo Nyanza would have voted for James Orengo, rather than Mwai Kibaki.
One feels the need to demystify these stubborn ethnic fictions about Raila and the Luo community in general, particularly at a time like now when the schism within the National Rainbow Coalition nears breaking point.
Already the ideologues, spinmeisters, hacks, online makachero and assorted praise singers for the NAK parvenu usurpers are braying all over the place about LDP and Luos as if LDP is synonymous with Luos or Luos synonymous with the LDP.
2.0. Raila Odinga's Bold Gambit With the Parliamentary Select Committee
Last night, my comrade and friend Adongo Ogony wrote a very detailed defence of the LDP's decision to quit the PSC in protest at the naked power games of Kiraitu Murungi et al. He called the action an act of patriotism and was very revved up about the prospects of reuniting with Agwambo and his followers in the streets of Kenya.
From the other end of the aisle, I saw, not too long ago, a news item in this past Saturday's papers citing NAK politicians offering an olive branch to Raila Odinga and the sullen and seething LDP coalition partners to come back to Katiba review process.
It remains to be seen how Raila will react to Kiraitu's chess counter move.
It would be fascinating to be a spider on the walls of the Western embassies drinking in their diplomatic assessment of the unfolding political crisis within Kenya.
Adongo Ogony is one of the very best Kenyan essayists as far as I am concerned. I wish I had his keen, detail-oriented mind when it comes to analyzing the power games playing themselves out within and outside the ranks of the Kenyan comprador bourgeois select elite. Adongo's portrayal of Kenyan politics is an exhilarating close study of the major characters in Kenyan political life.
On the other hand, Onyango Oloo tends to use a very big brush, painting in broad strokes not just the national issues, but often going out of my way to provide the regional and international context.
That is one of the reasons why we have collaborated so well and effectively- right from the time that Adongo, the late Mwakdua wa Mwachofi and others helped me draft my 1982 trial defence in a teeming cell in Block D, Nairobi Industrial Area Remand Home to our current complementary pieces on the blog of the Kenya Democracy Project.
It is perhaps because of this stylistic difference that I must confess that I am not quite so sanguine about Raila Odinga's latest walkout from the ranks of the Kenyan government.
Given the sentiments I unleashed in the opening section of this essay, some readers may easily develop massive coronaries if I did not prepare them in advance about the possibility that this digital intervention is more likely to offer a very withering critique of the LDP and Raila Odinga rather than essentially rubber stamping their walkout opening salvo as the spark which lit a cross-country bush fire.
3.0. Perhaps Kenyans Should Listen to Comrade Cronin
Jeremy Cronin is a very accomplished South African poet. He also happens to be a Member of Parliament, part of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress and Deputy Secretary General of the South African Communist Party. A former political prisoner, Comrade Cronin was instrumental in helping to set up the internal structures of the South African underground movement in the 1970s and 1980s and has been the long term editor in chief of the SACP’s theoretical and ideological journal, the African Communist.
Over ten years ago, in the months following Nelson Mandela's release and the unbanning on the people's organizations, Jeremy Cronin was part of the ANC/SACP leadership that grappled with the question of how to win a negotiated transfer of power to a post- apartheid, democratic ANC led regime. At that time, there were raging controversies within the South African liberation movement as to what would be the correct strategies and tactics of dislodging FW De Klerk and his racist Nats from power.
Essentially there were three tendencies: one school of thought believed that the ANC leadership should not "rock the boat" but rather stay on course in attending the negotiation talks with De Klerk.
Another tendency, associated with Nelson Mandela took part in the talks, but always kept mass action on reserve as a tap to be turned to apply pressure to their opponents should they start playing games with ANC during those talks.
A third tendency(associated with Cronin and some of his SACP comrades) wanted the South African liberation movement to go the "Leipzig Way" in a manner reminiscent of the uprisings in Eastern Europe and achieve political power from the ground up, basing themselves on the wananchi.
Jeremy Cronin wrote about these tendencies in a classic and seminal essay entitled, “The Boat, the Tap and the Leipzig Way”. In later years he was at pains to emphasize that these tendencies were not mutually exclusive, that there was considerable overlap with the categories themselves being fiercely contested terrain.
In fact, instead of paraphrasing Cronin further, let us hear directly from him, in his own words:
There were already the signs of all of what I'm talking about present prior to 1994, in the multi-party negotiations period and I wrote about it at the time in a piece which John Saul refers to, which I think I called "The boat, the tap and the Leipzig way". I was trying to typify/characterise what I thought were three different views about the mass mobilisation, popular involvement in this period of negotiations.
The position in the ANC, which I characterised as the boat position, was: don't rock the boat. Basically the royal road to democracy, to achieving our strategic objectives, was negotiations and nothing should be done to rock the boat in that process and, if we mobilised people in the midst of the negotiations, the apartheid regime would walk away or unleash its own mobilisation of one kind or another, the dirty war and so forth. So don't rock the boat. That was coming through from very senior quarters in the ANC, some of those elements in the ANC who were taking that position in the early 1990s, are very powerful inside the ANC at present.
The second position, which I characterised as the tap, was the attitude of: mass mobilisation is important, at particular moments, so it has to be turned on and off. In my view, Mandela typified that perspective. He had an understanding and an experience from the 50s, his own experience from the 1950s, of mass mobilisation being very much at the heart of the revitalisation of the ANC. As a youth leader in the late 1940s, it led a revolt of the activists against a rather moribund, middle-class ANC leadership at the time and that had spearheaded a decade on ANC revitalisation, of strikes, of stay-aways, of boycotts, many of the tactics of mobilisation which became so central in the 1980s again. So you had a feel and an understanding of that, but tended in my view to have a somewhat mechanical attitude to popular participation.
The third position at the time we called the Leipzig way, in the light of events in Leipzig, was that sustained and continued popular pressure was critical for the negotiations itself. Far from undermining the negotiations, it would serve two purposes. It was critical in exchanging the balance of forces in the negotiations process itself. We used to say at the time, obviously I was a leipziger, that what transpires in the negotiations was as the result of the balances of forces outside of the negotiating chamber.
And that wasn't a static reality. The regime,the apartheid regime at the time, understood that very well and was unleashing a very brutal, low-intensity warfare strategy against us, the assassination of key cadres, including Chris Hani But that was just one of the thousands of key cadres. It wasn't the negotiators, I was one of them, we weren't particularly targeted, it was the critical organisational link between the organisers and the massed ranks, which was our one strength at the time, but were being targeted for assassination. Then also the general unleashing of violence: random, terrorist violence against trains, taxi-ranks, schools, townships and so forth, to sow confusion and demoralisation and so on and basically to knock away the link between the ANC leadership and its one strength. We needed to mount, not our own counter-terror, but we needed to mobilise mass forces partly to defend ourselves in the face of this so that, and this was critical, so that they were themselves part and parcel of the negotiation process.
I would say that none of those 3 schools of thought within the ANC had a clear-cut hegemony over the process within the ANC itself. It was a contested perspective and there was mutual suspicion. The don’t-rock-the-boaters thought that many of us were endangering the negotiations process and delaying it with some of those strategies. We really felt that they were not understanding what we were up against. So there were waves of significant mobilisation in that period. I think that those waves were critical in actually bringing about eventually the negotiations and the relatively favourable outcome to those negotiations.
After the Hani assassination, there was a major mobilisation wave that occurred then in a response. That was clearly critical. Within three weeks of his assassination, the final outcome to the negotiations was then settled and the elections then happened in exactly one year and three weeks after his assassination. It was mass mobilisation that did it. What was interesting was that in the course of the mobilisation, the response to Hani's assassination was: we must go and kill whites and what are we negotiating for? The ANC was able to inject political leadership into that to say: no, the assassins want you to say that. We have got to now demand the immediate implementation of the process leading up to elections. We were well able to do that.
In doing that and also getting mobilised massed forces to take up the national negotiating demands, we began to find they were also taking up their own local negotiating demands. So they would take up the demand for one-person, one-vote elections and so forth, for a unitary dispensation and so on, but at the same time in their mobilisation they would raise issues around non-access to the local town hall for meetings or the treatment that the white police were meting out to the people in the township in this particular police station and so on. They began to find that for once, their counterparts, the white mayor or the white police commander or local white business (for example, there were boycotts of shops in this process) began to negotiate with them, something that they hadn’t particularly found before.
4.0. Is LDP Turning on the Mfereji of Mass Action?
Panicky liberals and their Western backers are very jittery at the moment, fearing ethnic conflagration in Kenya.
I am talking about people like
Uhuru Kenyatta who cannot make up their minds about which side they want to be on.
Tribal war is NOT on the Kenyans cards, I do not think, unless, ala post-Habyarimana's Rwanda, NAK schemers revive the dormant ethnic warriors who unleashed so much death and destruction in 1992, 1997 and 2002. Recent utterances by politicians like Dr.Chris Murungaru would indicate that they see the Kibaki regime as the caretaker of GEMA interests in this country and would therefore see any attempt to break up NARC as a tribal attack, especially if it is Raila Odinga at the helm of this breakaway movement.
I have taken my time writing this particular essay-in fact putting off writing the final version more than four times as more breaking news and new facts came to light to modify the empirical basis of my analysis.
Initially I wanted to title this essay, "Laila's Diremma"- not just to poke gentle fun at my Mount Kenya-in laws, but more practically to get around the noxious censorship on the discussion forum areas of the online version of the Daily Nation. Did you know that if you tried to post an article with the words "Kibaki" "Raila" "Kiraitu" "Luos" and "Kikuyus" the bowdlerizing censors over there would render those words as a simple hyphen?
Even more seriously, when I first embarked on this digital excursion, I was mulling over Raila Odinga's dilemma.
It is increasingly becoming politically untenable for Raila and his LDP crew to remain within the Kibaki government and official NARC structures.
Yet, as he recently argued, Agwambo Tinga Tinga and the LDP did more than their fair share in helping to bring down the KANU dictatorship and therefore any departure from the government by Raila, Kalonzo and Co. Ltd would be seen as playing directly into the devious hands of Kiraitu, Murungaru and others who had tried various ways get the LDP ministers fired from the cabinet and LDP MPs dropped from key parliamentary committee.
Over the last few months, more and more patriotic and democratic minded Kenyans have been getting wearier and wearier of the incessant bickering within the fractious fractions of the feuding factions in the faltering, fracas prone ruling formation.
Personally, starting from a high where I was praising to the skies, the democratic potential pregnant in the NARC victory three years ago, I have lately come to the point of sighing with disgust while echoing the disgruntled sentiments of millions of my fellow wananchi who say, TUMECHOKA!
For this reason, I have not exactly felt motivated in coming forth with suggestions to save this doomed coalition from its inevitable implosion.
Like the field slave in
Malcolm X's "House Nigger anecdote" when the Master's house catches fire, I do not run to put out the fire, I pray for a very strong wind to hurry up and finish the job of burning the house down.
All the same, despite his undaunted and almost unmatched skills as the most effective mainstream mass organizer and mobilizer on the Kenyan political scene, I still want to be presumptuous enough to offer Raila Odinga some tips on mass action in specific reference to the contemporary Kenyan political situation.
I say presumptuous because here I am, in remote Montreal, writing essays from afar while Raila Odinga can summon
100,000 people to Nyayo Stadium in a jiffy. And like I said, Raila Odinga's hands on experience in bringing the crowds out for a cause has very few peers on the national scene. Raila has also operated underground and knows the rules of clandestine engagement just as good as any of the veteran socialist comrades graying in the shadows.
You know, the continued presence of Raila Odinga within Mwai Kibaki's line up continues to perplex me. Now I know that Tinga Tinga has argued vociferously that they simply cannot walk out of NARC having done so much to bring it to power-it would be like ceding territory instead fighting to defend every inch.
That may very well be true. But Ndugu Raila, if you get to read this, think about this little story that I am making up right now:
You are sleeping inside a comfy nice home that you built block by block, brick by brick, tile by tile room by room, door by door, window by window, floor by floor with your own hard working hands.
Somebody- whether an envious neighbour or a deranged arsonist torches the edifice. You have been fighting the fire for the last forty five minutes- but it is apparent that it is a losing battle-it is too late. Your friends are trying to pull you from the burning and collapsing building but you cannot bear the thought that the beautiful mansion will soon be reduced to cinders and ashes. You insist you will not walk away from your beautiful home. The tongues of fire angrily get higher and higher. Still you insist on retrieving your favourite arm chair-you think you can stop the fridge from burning; you imagine that you can salvage the contents of the guest bedroom. And the tongues of fire climb angrily higher and higher. Your shirt is on fire and you do not even notice it, your hair is singed and soot covers your visage, but all you can think of is your beautiful home lying in ruins in the next fifteen or twenty minutes.
So Ndugu Raila in this context, can the house be saved? Should you be consumed by the angry flames in your quest to save the arm-chair, defend the fridge and salvage the pillows from the guest bedroom?
You tell me, Ndugu Raila...
Which brings me to my main and final point:
It is about that mfereji of mass action.
Some of us gave up on Kibaki within six months of NARC coming to office-so blatant were the about turns and the flip flopping flaps and gaffes from the man of from Othaya and his andu aitu cabal...
Raila Odinga and the rest of the LDP crew have remained in the dysfunctional NARC marriage even though conjugal bliss was a fleeting diversion from the daily domestic rows. Since they remain part of the Kenyan government, Raila and the LDP remain implicated and indicted in ALL of the crimes the Kibaki regime has committed against the Kenyan people-including selling them out in regards to the national constitutional review process.
The LDP cannot have it BOTH WAYS-criticizing the same NARC government while insisting on the perks of being in power.
By staying within the coalition LDP is directly subsidizing the dictatorial tendencies emanating from its NAK competitors and coalition partners. The fence LDP is sitting on is creaking and will soon collapse.
Which side will the LDP fall on?
It is crucial for the LDP to realize that one does not step in the same river twice.
The UNBWOGABLE Spirit of 2002 is no longer there in 2005.
There is seething national anger, but maybe this time the LDP may realize that they are NOT necessarily seen by the wananchi as the good guys.
That is why it is NOT a given that the LDP can initiate a mass uprising all over Kenya just by appealing to the grass roots.
In fact, given some of its unpopular spokespersons like Joseph Kamotho, they may even induce a backlash depending on where the LDP decides to pitch their tent.
Nothing prevents the same wananchi from heckling Kalonzo, Raila and other LDP leaders.
In my opinion, mainstream leaders like Raila Odinga must take care not to use the wananchi as canon fodder and conduits to political power.
This is a caution worth bearing in mind today because I sense a shift in the mood of the wananchi with more and more looking forward to autonomous actions not controlled by this of that political party chieftain.
What to do now?
I think it is very clear and simple:
The Kenyan Wananchi must be front and square of all the major political and democratic initiatives in our country today. We have seen, in harsh, brutal terms what happens within the mainstream political elite when the masses are subtracted from the change seeking equations for the day...
Sunday, May 08, 2005
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Mass action only leads to violence and arrests mean unbelievable suffering and agony for the common man. Why don't we use more peaceful and respectable means - follow the Nelson Mandela route instead of mass action.
As for the pro-Raila antics and fans - he may be a very pleasant person in private but in the public arena, he has built a strong image as a power-hungry egomaniac with strong tribal affiliations - so out of date for the Kenya we need and want!
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