Saturday, June 11, 2005

Cynicism is a Luxury Kenyans Can Ill Afford

A Digital Essay on Revolutionary Optimism by Onyango Oloo

Cynic: n.

1. A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
2. A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative..

History of the word "Cynic":
A cynic may be pardoned for thinking that this is a dog's life. The Greek word kunikos, from which cynic comes, was originally an adjective meaning “doglike,” from kun, “dog.” The word was probably applied to the Cynic philosophers because of the nickname kun given to Diogenes of Sinope, the prototypical Cynic. He is reported to have been seen barking in public, urinating on the leg of a table, and masturbating on the street. The first use of the word recorded in English, in a work published from 1547 to 1564, is in the plural for members of this philosophical sect. In 1596 we find the first instance of cynic meaning “faultfinder,” a sense that was to develop into our modern sense. The meaning “faultfinder” came naturally from the behavior of countless Cynics who in their pursuit of virtue pointed out the flaws in others. Such faultfinding could lead quite naturally to the belief associated with cynics of today that selfishness determines human behavior.(SOURCE:

There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.

Maya Angelou

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.

H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), Lady Windermere's Fan, 1892, Act III

Cynicism is the intellectual cripple's substitute for intelligence.
J. Russell Lynes

Cynicism is the humor of hatred.
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree

Written by Abeba Tesfagiorgis published by Red Sea Press
Trenton, New Jersey;1992;210pp

Location Edmonton, Canada
Notes : This is the autobiography of Abeba Tesfagiorgis, an Eritrean-American. It is a dramatic story which relates her personal experiences in Asmara in the 1970s -- including her imprisonment by the Ethiopian secret police, and the experience of her two oldest children as fighters in the war for independence.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.
--Anne Lamott Bird

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.

Albert Einstein

I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.

I have had dreams and I have had nightmares, but I have conquered my nightmares because of my dreams.

Dr. Jonas Salk

The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser - in case you thought optimism was dead. ~Robert Brault

An optimist may see a light where there is none, but why must the pessimist always run to blow it out?

Rene Descartes (French Mathematician, Philosopher and Scientist, 1596-1650)

The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose

Kahlil Gibran (Lebanese born American philosophical Essayist, Novelist and Poet. 1883-1931)

It is very easy to be a cynic these days, especially if you are a Kenyan.

It is quite tempting to smile wryly, sigh and shrug one's shoulders when you see an activist brimming with optimism, with a twinkle in their eyes, fire in their belly and hope in their voices.

Many Kenyans feel betrayed.

Some feel short-changed.

Some feel as if they have been raped and violated.

Others feel they are too tired- they have fought for so long only to see life getting worse, instead of getting better.

It is precisely at this time that they are accosted by the glum and grim prophets and prophetesses of gloom and doom who intone over and over and over again that there is no use, there is no use fighting, no use speaking out, no point struggling for principles like justice and peace and democracy and equality because, allegedly, nothing will ever change.

No billboard to political lethargy, activist ennui and social apathy has been erected in contemporary Kenya that is bigger than the sordid record of the Kibaki-NARC slothocracy when it comes to a litany of broken promises, a flip flopping zig zagging route to self-aggrandizement and avarice strewn with reversals and about turns.

A ten year old child who attended those gigantic Unbwogable rallies all over the country just three years ago is either a very despondent cynical teenager completely turned off by mainstream politics or a seething militant youth veering close to revolutionary recruitment should the occasion for that arise sooner or later.

I have had conversations with greying socialists who are no longer sure if there are any "comrades" left in the mainstream that they can bring themselves to meet for lunch, leave alone collaborate with on a serious political project.

I know former foot soldiers of what some people call the "second liberation" in Kenya who are today focused on making it as successful tycoons complete with plush palatial digs, not caring whether the political reforms they fought so hard for in the mid nineties come to fruition or not.

The current political fatigue in Kenya is driven by both international and national set backs.

The reselection of George Bush and his Republican gang of Ohio and Florida vote culprits seems to have knocked the wind out of many political sails on the Left spectrum in the United States, Canada, Europe and other parts of the world.

The ongoing state terrorism and military bullying of the Sharon administration in Israel and the wishy washy leadership of the PLO make many backers of the rights of Palestinians wonder whether these long suffering people will ever govern their own democratic state in that fractious patch of planet earth. There is still the lingering triumphalism of the Fukuyama/Brzezinksi/Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld cold warriors that has seen many an ex-communist renounce their dialectical and historical materialist principle undergirdings to embrace a right-shifting ideological capitulation that has ranged from social democratic doddering, through post-modernist skepticism right through to full fledged neo-fascist pro-imperialist yodelling.

On the national Kenyan stage, there are many who have become disillusioned with the whole social reform/radical activism/revolutionary mobilization collective project as they watch some of the recent superstars of the reform movement like Mirugi Kariuki and Kivutha Kibwana emerge as brazen attack dogs barking ferociously against their former fellow travelers, comrades in arms and sisters and brothers in oppositional politics. Many of my friends, when they contemplate people like Kiraitu Murungi today shake and scratch their heads asking:

"Did Kiraitu change this much or was it us who were that naive not to realize that he was always like this?"

What happened to those conversations in Kamiti, in our homes, in anonymous shebeens in Juja and Voi, Maseno and Kericho, Kilifi and Isiolo?

Did we give up?

An even more pertinent question is this:

Dare we give up?

Where is the sense of national outrage when thousands of public sector workers are terrorized and blackmailed back to work by ministers that they lined up for hours to vote into parliament?

Where are all those fearless agitators and propagandists who today would have made the Kibaki regime pay a very exacting price over the Delamare and Lucy gaffes?

Why arent more people demanding the immediate reinstatement of Gladwell Otieno and John Githongo to keep up the fight against grand graft?

Who will mobilize other communities to rally behind the Maasais in their valiant fight for land rights?

Who will insist on bringing the killers of Ouko, Kaiser, Karimi Nduthu and Odhiambo Mbai to book?

These questions are to a certain superficial and misleading, especially when they are posed by someone like Onyango Oloo who lives outside the country and may not always be privy to the seething ferment that is never picked up by the online versions of the Standard, the Nation, the Times and other Kenyan based news and information outlets.

Personally, what has kept me going through the bleakest most desolate personal, political and professional moments has been that comingled mishmash of stubborn hope, revolutionary determination, fierce optimism and boundless humour. Without this prescription dished out by life experiences, I do not think I could have survived the harsh squalor of maximum peniteniaries, the decades of obscure undergound networking, the years of marginalized activism, the tenacity of systemic racism in the imperialist metropoles and the far from rare political somersaults and opportunistic acrobatics of former comrades.

There is a possibility that this poem I wrote a couple of months ago perhaps may give an inkling of what I am talking about.

Some of the readers of this blog who are familiar with my trenchant critiques of the Kenyan neo-colonial status quo may perhaps be taken aback and collapse with shock at this blog entry resplendent with roses and rainbows, wondering if perhaps I am getting a little soft in the head.

Such shocks can only come from people who are unfamiliar with the PASSION that spurs young people to dedicate their entire lives to the ideals of fundamental social change.

It is easy to be a mainstream Kenyan mwanasiasa, a regular politician- all you have to learn is the art of telling a new lie every electoral campaign; it is far more difficult to be a lifelong political ACTIVIST. There are of course many political activists who use the conduit of mainstream politics to pursue their social justice dreams and aspirations. By and large however, if one has principles that are consistent with a determination to work for a new world then one has to transcend the easy temptations of political expediency, lucrative careerism and safe sycophancy. To choose this path of principle one has to accept sometimes the prospect of long years in the wilderness as former friends, colleagues and even family members shun you as a pariah, a Don Quixote or an anachronistic charlatan.

I have noticed that one or two former political activists who are now Kenyan ministers and assistant ministers do not have any shame in going out of their way to disavow their activist history as they embrace the "realistic" option of personal survival sans ideals, sans principles, sans political backbone, sans moral courage, sans accountability to the wananchi on whose backs their climbed on in their quest for parliamentary seats.

Today is not the day for naming names, but some of these Kenyan examples are notorious because of the callous and shameless speed with which the "leftists" of yesteryear have become the rightist champions of "law and order" this year.

Still, some of us take a cue from this famous quote from

Doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara:

"at the risk of sounding ridiculous the true REVOLUTIONARY i would say is guided by principles of love..."

Che's close comrade,

Fidel Castro is one of the people who inspired me to embrace socialism as a permament philosphical outlook helping to guide my daily actions. When I was in Kamiti between 1982 and 1987 , those of us political prisoners who organized ourselves into a Marxist Discussion cell right there, under the very noses of the authorities who were being paid to ensure that tumeaacha siasa we read dozens of books smuggled in from the outside- authors like Maxim Gorki, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Rosa Luxemburg, Lillian Hellman, Angela Davis, Alex la Guma, Lenin, Marx, Gramsci, Ho Chi Minh,Mao, Cabral, Fanon, Babu, Darwish, Kim Chi Ha, Faiz Ahmed Faiz- you name them if s/he was progressive and revolutionary we somehow got our hands on of their texts. I must say that the libraries which contributed the most books belonged to Maina wa Kinyatti and Mwandawiro Mghanga. One of the slim volumes which sneaked into Kamiti from one of those libraries was a slim volume entitled History Will Absolve Me, the famous transcript of Fidel Castro's 1953 Trial.

The very last paragraph of that booklet is still embedded in my psyche:

I know that imprisonment will be harder for me than it has ever been for anyone, filled with cowardly threats and hideous cruelty. But I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.

My ex partner Kathure Kebaara and I named our son Sankara more than a year BEFORE he was born in tribute to the charismatic West African revolutionary whose life was brutally cut short in 1987 at the hands of his former bosom buddy Blaise Compaore.

Comrade Captain Sankara was a very gifted orator and lucid political thinker as you can see from this passage from his historic 1984 address to the United Nations: these tempestuous times, we must not leave the monopoly of thought, imagination and creativity to our enemies of yesterday and today. Before it is too late -and it is late already- these people of Africa and the Third World must come down to their societies, to the wretchedness we have inherited, to understand not only that the battle for thought at the service of the disinherited masses is not in vain, but also that they themselves cannot become credible on the international scene unless they produce a faithful image of their peoples. An image which enables them to make profound changes in their political and economic situation, capable of wrenching us away from the foreign domination and exploitation which leaves our states with the sole perspective of bankruptcy.

Before Thomas Sankara, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde bequeathed the brilliant guerrilla leader and theoritician

Dr. Amilcar Cabral to the world. It is sad that his canon of work is not part of the political lexicon of many contemporary Kenyans who call themselves "reformers" and "democrats" because he deserves to live in every serious library of any Kenyan(irrespective of ideology) who calls herself or himself a political activist. The following quotation justifies my exhortation:

"... Culture, whatever the ideological or idealist characteristics of its expression, is thus an essential element of the history of a people. Culture is, perhaps the resultant of this history just as the flower is the resultant of a plant. Like history, or because it is history, culture has as its material base the level of the productive forces and the mode of production. Culture plunges its roots into the humus of the material reality of the environment in which it develops, and reflects the organic nature of the society, which may be more or less influenced by external factors. History enables us to know the nature and extent of the imbalances and the conflicts (economic, political and social) that characterize the evolution of a society. Culture enables us to know what dynamic syntheses have been formed and set by social awareness in order to resolve these conflicts at each stage of evolution of that society, in the search for survival and progress.

Just as occurs with the flower in a plant, the capacity (or responsibility) for forming and fertilizing the seed which ensures the continuity of history lies in culture, and the seed simultaneously ensures the prospect for evolution and progress of the society in question. Thus it is understood that imperialist domination, denying to the dominated people their own historical process, necessarily denies their cultural process. It is further understood why the exercise of imperialist domination, like all other foreign domination, for its own security requires cultural oppression and the attempt at direct or indirect destruction of the essential elements of the culture of the dominated people.

"Study of the history of liberation struggles shows that they have generally been preceded by an upsurge of cultural manifestations, which progressively harden into an attempt, successful or not, to assert the cultural personality of the dominated people by an act of denial of the culture of the oppressor. Whatever the conditions of subjection of a people to foreign domination and the influence of economic, political and social factors in the exercise of this domination, it is generally within the cultural factor that we find the seed of challenge which leads to the structure and development of the liberation movement.

"In our view, the foundation of national liberation lies in the inalienable right of every people to have their own history, whatever the formulations adopted in international law. The aim of national liberation is therefore to regain this right, usurped by imperialist domination: namely, the liberation of the process of development of the national productive forces. So national liberation exists when, and only when, the national productive forces have been completely freed from all kinds of foreign domination. The liberation of productive forces, and consequently of the ability freely to determine the mode of production most appropriate to the evolution of the liberated people, necessarily opens up new prospects for the cultural process of the society in question by returning to it all its capacity to create progress.

"A people who free themselves from foreign domination will not be culturally free unless, without underestimating the importance of positive contributions from the oppressor's culture and other cultures, they return to the upwards paths of their own culture. The latter is nourished by the living reality of the environment and rejects harmful influences as much as any kind of subjection to foreign cultures. We see therefore that, if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture...."

"Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories!"

The above passages from assorted social change icons have helped to boost me whenever I observe one more flip flop, one more about turn, one more reversal in the Kenyan political mainstream because the inspiring messages contained therein allow me to transcend the transient feelings of disappointment as I lock my eyes on the permanent political prize which is the total liberation of Kenya from the yoke of imperialism and neo-colonialism.

I decided to write this essay partly because of the rather overt attempts of the two factions of the ruling NARC formation to tinker and tailor, in fact, carve and butcher the Bomas Draft to suit their expedient agendas for power sharing and intraclass fraternity and sorority.

To those who hinged their hopes on the Kiraitus or for that matter, the Railas, it is very easy to lose courage, abandon hope and allow cynicism, pessimism, despair and pathetic moroseness to envelop one as these forlorn souls abandon any thoughts of ever seeing a democratic constitution enacted within the forseeable future.

My suggestion is that we should anchor ourselves on the bigger goal of living in a Kenya which is democratic, a Kenya which is peaceful, a Kenya governed by just laws and marked by a progressive, egalitarian non-sexist, non-tribal multi-faith/secular diverse national culture that guarantees local, regional and national development to be an ongoing reality.

We can only do this if we rise above the mundane present punctuated by insane political cockfights and all consuming bull fights and instead grapple with the far more serious task of constructing a vehicle that will actually guarantee our passage from a dependent neocolony beholden to the West to an independent national democracy guided by our own collectively visualized right to self determination.

I will not tire of calling for the formation of Two Organized Kenya Wide Political Structures:

A United Democratic Front to bring together all Kenyan democrats and patriots at the broader mass mobilization level, and a political party based on the wananchi that is guided by a socialist ideology to bring together the Leftists of Kenya.

The time to form both organizations is NOW. The place to form these organization is DEFINITELY NOT THIS BLOG, ok?

Onyango Oloo

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