1.0. It is Not Enough to Shake an Angry Fist
Kenyans are a very angry lot these days.
You can hear the intense hissing and apoplectic muttering in the matatus; cannot fail to notice the banging of tables in the cafes, restaurants, pubs and night clubs. You read the angry letters in the newspapers, listen to the fired up callers on the radio talk shows, watch the heated exchanges on the telly and browse the incendiary comments on listservs, online discussion forums and social networking sites like Facebook.
Heck, I am a Kenyan and I am part of those disgruntled statistics.
The jaded and cynical among us may shrug their aging shoulders in a calculated gesture of orchestrated boredom with the dismissive “so what is else is new” put down seeping from their skeptical dour lips.
What is new is the type of Kenyan who is pissed off these days.
She is my soft-spoken born again auntie who I bumped into protesting along Harambee Avenue in Nairobi not too long ago. I was simply flabbergasted to accost this placid, formerly compliant pro-establishment relative of mine furiously shaking a twig, pumping a militant fist in the air calling for the immediate ouster of the powers that be. He is my middle-aged doctor cousin who used to make a point of avoiding kamkunjis (public political rallies for the non-Kenyans out there) back in his undergraduate campus days but is now wondering why the radical Onyango Oloos of yesteryear have suddenly gone flaccid when their country needs them.
Back in the day-and I am thinking early to mid-eighties when some of the angry Kenyan youth of today were yet to be conceived, the number of Kenyans who were angry enough to want to do something serious, focused and political about it could probably be loaded into two matatus with ample room to spare.
Over the years, especially starting with the early nineties, the level of political consciousness and mass mobilization grew exponentially peaking in the tremendous outpouring of the Unbwogable Spirit in 2002 which kicked out the 39 year old KANU dictatorship from power. We ruefully remember the monster political rallies of the 2007 election campaign and how eager people were for what they thought was a new political dispensation in the offing.
But that was before the pre-election rigging by the big parties, of parliamentary and civic candidates during the disastrous and bizarre primary exercise; it was before Kibaki’s chilling, creepy civilian coup of December 30, 2007 and before the outbreak of widespread politically engineered violence which claimed thousands of Kenyan lives and left many more displaced, dispossessed and despondent in dozens of IDP camps around the country.
A flicker of a smile flitted across our worried but relieved faces when on February 28, 2008, Kofi Annan and his team held an AK-47 to the fore-heads of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila, compelling them to form a grand coalition government of disunity, strife, deceit over-expenditure, impunity, broken promises and arrogance.
For almost one and a half years since that historic date, optimistic Kenyans crossed their toes and fingers and maintained a collectively held breath praying and hoping, cajoling and haranguing the principals and their abject attack hounds to get their act together and pull back Kenya from the brink of an ethnicized implosion that would reduce our beautiful country into a cauldron so scalding that the atrocious genocidal conflagrations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, DR Congo and Somalia would look like soothing coolers from a sturdy Frigidaire in comparison.
It is now becoming more and more apparent that millions of Kenyans are already sharing the fate of the frustrated gambler, locked in the lavatory, crying his eyes out after squandering all his life savings on the wrong cousin of the lowly donkey at the Ng’ong’ race course.
Yes, we have been boinked, forcefully and repeatedly, without our express consent. The criminal procedure code defines that act as rape.
The Kibaki and Raila led regime set up in February 2008 has conned and let down Kenyans by short-changing us of our democratic aspirations and derailing our efforts at implementing good governance, sustainable economic strategies, deepening a human rights culture and rooting out corruption, crime and insecurity.
What a difference a mere year can make, eh?
All those giddy dreams of maisha bora, kazi ianze na iendelee have evaporated like thirty six soap bubbles ascending to heaven on a sunny savannah afternoon.
With all due respect, it is not enough to be angry.
You have to do more than shake an angry fist at the television in the privacy of your living room or startle a clueless bar maid in a congested makuti thatched drinking hole in Umoja, Kondele, Masaku, Karatina, Nakuru, Eldoret, Meru, Bungoma or Likoni with the same enraged fist threatening to split the table where you are quaffing from into three and smash the rattling Tuskers and Guinness Kubwa bottles into smithereens, stopping a shocked Tony Nyadundo, De Matthew, Jamnazi, Freshley Mwamburi, Sukuma bin Ongaro or Mike Ruhiu dead in their tracks as they are just about to belt out yet another enticing Kenyan tune.
So what more can you and I do to take back this country from the power vampires who are sucking away all our life blood?
2.0. Who are the Power Vampires of Kenya?
Yes, that is what they are, power vampires.
Forget about Count Dracula and his toothy relatives in Transylvania and the vaults of Hollywood.
I am not talking about fictional creatures conjured up to scare us witless in the movie theatres.
I am talking about real vampires in human form walking on two legs and possessing one head, sans fangs and minus those ghoulish cloaks and caskets for beds.
True vampires come from that bird like family of nocturnal mammals we call bats.
According to a book by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth titled Bugs, Bites and Bowels, a man called Matthew who was visiting the Ashanika indigenous people in the Amazon forest in Peru some time back as part of an anthropological research project woke up one morning after a night of carousing with the locals to find two deep tooth marks in his big toe from which blood was oozing.
He had been attacked by a vampire of the bat variety (in case you do not believe me, please rush to page 266 of the 2002 paper edition published by Cadogan Guides. I can give you the street address of the publisher if you insist, but please contact me privately-I need to finish this digital essay).
Now there are human relatives of these vampire bats who gave poor Matthew such a scare down in the jungles of South America.
In Kenya we call them members of the Grand Coalition Government, not leaving out the majority of members of parliament and those feisty, chair throwing councilors and similar creatures of their ilk lurking in those holding companies and corporations beholden to the cabals misruling Kenya.
Some of them tasted our very human Kenyan blood during the post-election violence and they loved, still savour and favour the flavour of that liquid.
Some of them have offered ongoing sacrifices consisting of our democratic dreams and aspirations at the blood-stained altar of the dubious deity they worship, Avarice.
All of them will gulp down whatever amounts of specifically KENYAN human blood they need to quench their thirst for power, hence my name for them:
The POWER VAMPIRES.
And we patriotic Kenyans need to be brave enough to drive a long sharp unforgiving stake right through their selfish, arrogant and greedy hearts, ending their POLITICAL existence, rather than their natural lives.
Mind you, not LITERALLY, do not get me wrong for goodness sake!
3.0. What NOT to Do
It is important for me to clarify what I am NOT advocating.
I am NOT advocating for violence of any kind as a means to bring about political change in Kenya.
I am NOT advocating for targeted political assassinations.
I am NOT advocating for coup plots of any description.
I am NOT advocating for sessions with waganga, wachawi, sangomas, juju doctors or muti specialists to cast an evil spell on Kibaki, Raila, Ruto, Uhuru, Martha Karua, Orengo, Mudavadi or anyone else for that matter.
I am NOT advocating for the setting up of cursing ceremonies presided over by exorcists and any other religious personages.
I am NOT advocating for furtive nocturnal oathing ceremonies to set the stage for a tribal or inter-provincial blood bath within the borders of this country.
I am NOT advocating for war lordism, terrorism or a mindless putsch for nihilism in Kenya.
I am NOT advocating for the recruitment of Executive Outcomes, Sandline or any other foreign mercenary outfit with or without insider connections to the Kenyan elite to come and topple the Grand Coalition Government in Kenya.
You get the drift.
Can we move on to the next section?
4.0. A Brief Audit of the Forces for Change in Kenya
I have been singing this song for almost ten years now.
You will find evidence from November 2003 on my ideas on forming a national democratic movement here.
But what am I saying in late July 2009?
The big difference between then and now is that when I wrote the earlier piece, I was a Kenyan political activist blogger commentating from Montreal, Quebec.
I have since relocated back to Africa and I am now the Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party of Kenya, one of the forty or so officially REGISTERED political parties which are recognized under the new act which came into force in 2008.
In 2007 the SDP made a principled political decision to back the Presidential bid of Raila Amolo Odinga and was therefore in some kind of informal alliance with the ODM party.
We believed then, and we still think we were correct to hold that position, that out of all the political formations in the country in the run up to the elections, it was ODM which had the most popular support and as socialists we wanted to interact with the wananchi where they were- and they happened to be firmly behind ODM and Raila Odinga.
We campaigned robustly for Agwambo.
During the September 1, 2007 ODM Special Delegates Conference to choose the ODM Presidential candidate, the SDP Chair Mwandawiro Mghanga almost single handedly delivered the Coast votes to Raila Odinga. In some Kenyan online circles some of us (including the present writer) earned tons of hate mail, flames and digital vitriol after being labeled as ODM hacks and ideologues.
Sadly in retrospect, it would appear that some elements within the ODM party leadership did not reciprocate our comradely gesture. I remember our SDP candidates, particularly in Nyanza being harassed and intimidated by ODM supporters, sometimes egged on by prominent leaders of that party including two who had just recently decamped from the SDP National Executive Committee. Come election day, we still dutifully cast our vote for Raila Odinga and where we had a parliamentary or civic candidate, for our SDP aspirants.
After the controversial presidential results plunged our country into its worst political crisis since independence, some of us continued to engage with the ODM leadership, progressive civil society and other democratic formations in seeking a peaceful way forward.
Many people may have noticed that people like Onyango Oloo have been somewhat muted and low profile in terms of our public political engagements and discourse.
This has been because, to speak personally, some of us have been trying to explore the back channels of offline communication with our friends in the Grand Coalition Government-most of them from ODM, but also including a sprinkling of MPs either affiliated to PNU or considering themselves independent. The process has been akin to a painful dental operation.
In one harrowing case, I have spent the better part of eighteen months trying to get an appointment with an ODM MP whom I consider a close comrade and a well-meaning friend. He happens to sit in the cabinet as well. Sparing you all the excruciating details, let me just report that as of July 22, 2009, I am yet to secure that elusive appointment.
All this to say that ODM has cordoned off even its most progressive elements from the public in a hermetically sealed safe locked up somewhere in Orange House to escape the contagion of honest constructive criticism of the failings of the Grand Coalition regime.
It would appear to me that some of the best and brightest lights of ODM have become more preoccupied with the complex permutations of statecraft to the detriment of party building. And this is hardly surprising where you have the Party Leader as the Prime Minister; the Chairman as the Minister for Industrialization, the Secretary General as the Medical Services Minister and thereby leaving the party secretariat denuded of political and ideological leadership.
Compare this with the situation in South Africa where even though some of the party leaders are in government structures, the ANC party itself is strong enough to issue a command letter like it did recalling Thabo Mbeki from the Presidency.
And of course, looking within our own political party of the SDP we see serious internal weaknesses, not all of which I am prepared to hang out in the drying lines of the cyber public.
But to give you just one Orwellian factoid: when we came to office in 2007, some of us Marxist-Leninists at the helm found out that there were very few social democrats, leave alone socialists inside the Social Democratic Party!
My work with political parties under the auspices of the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy-Kenya has also been quite sobering. Through some of the workshops and training sessions I helped organize wearing my consulting/facilitator hat, I came to realize that most if not all political parties are still at their very organizational infancy and are still very much guilty of the charge of being electoral vehicles for political office rather serious bodies for political and social transformation.
On the other side of the coin, being a very active and vigorous participant and member of Kenyan civil society has revealed to me the limitations of NGO driven interventions which are circumscribed by the shifting agendas of foreign-based donors.
Some, NOT ALL, see themselves as permanently locked in opposition to politicians and political parties and will sometimes partake in political struggles as if this was yet just another phase of yet another “project” on “good governance, transparency and accountability”- three threadbare mantras wearing thin from over use and misuse.
Those who look for salvation to the “social movements” should also pause before they choke on their premature enthusiasm. I witnessed up close and personal as a key member of the WSF Organizing Committee, the weakness of Kenya’s fledgling social movements during the preparations leading up to the World Social Forum which took place in Nairobi in 2007. We have progressive and militant formations like Bunge la Mwananchi speaking truth to power it is true, but we are still a very long way of matching MST- the Brazilian Landless Movement or the Dalit upsurge in India or the Indigenous mobilization which propelled Evo Morales in Bolivia, let us face it folks.
How about the trade union movement in Kenya?
One image will suffice:
A clowning Atwoli dancing abjectly at Uhuru Park while supplicating before his “Baba” His Excellency the President at the Labour Day ceremony in May 2008.
The women’s movement?
Do we really have one in Kenya at the moment?
We remember how many of them were bought out by the mainstream politicians even as we extol the virtues and heroic contributions of people like the late GPO Oulo and other youthful stalwarts.
Am I depressing you dear reader?
I am just doing a clinical audit of the motive forces for change in our country before I suggest a way forward.
In summary I am saying that the forces for progressive democratic change- the wananchi, the political parties, civil society, youth, women, social movements are still very weak, disjointed, disorganized and ideologically dizzy.
That is why we need a collective home where we can all grow in terms of our specific and discrete sectors while galvanizing as a national force for change.
We can do this by harnessing what someone called Philip Zimbardo has referred to as “the banality of heroism”.
5.0. The Lucifer Effect Applied to Kenya’s PEV
But before we do that, let me observe protocol and introduce you to this man called Zimbardo.
Who is he?
In my opinion, he is a brilliant American with lots of fascinating things to say to people around the world.
A professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, he became famous for his 1971 Prison Experiment at the same campus where he took a group of ordinary university students and after placing them in a mock prison documented how, in less than a week turned either into sadistic “guards” or pathologically compliant “prisoners” forcing him to terminate his experiment prematurely. He was later called by the defence to testify in the notorious Abu Ghraib court martials involving US Army reservists accused of torturing, humiliating and then photographing Iraqi prisoners at the notorious Saddam era penitentiary.
From his academic and professional experiences he developed the concept of the Lucifer Effect. I have just finished reading his book of the same name which I find compelling with an urge to re-read and underline-it is just it was a friend’s copy and he will soon prise it from my needy clasp and grasp.
In the book Prof. Zimbardo asks why the Stanford students, the Nazi guards and doctors and the ordinary Hutus in Rwanda could perpetrate such heinous crimes-when they were not insane, but quite “normal” ordinary people.
In Christian lore, Lucifer was once God’s favourite angel before he fell from grace and became Satan.
The author explains what he means by both the title and the concept:
“The Lucifer Effect is my attempt to understand the process of transformation at work when good or ordinary people do bad or evil things. We will deal with the fundamental question “What makes people go wrong?” but instead of resorting to a traditional religious dualism of good versus evil, of wholesome nature versus corrupting nurture, we will look at real people engaged in life’s daily tasks, enmeshed in doing their jobs, surviving within an often turbulent crucible of human nature. We will seek to understand the nature of their character transformations when they are faced with powerful situational forces. Let us begin with a definition of evil. Mine is a simple, psychologically based one: Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize or destroy innocent others-or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short, it is “knowing better but doing worse". (Zimbardo 2007:5).
Later on in the book, he invokes the observations of the famous social philosopher Hannah Arendt during the last moments of Adolf Eichmann (notorious Nazi killer of Jews) to introduce the idea of the “banality of evil”:
Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” continues to resonate because genocide has been unleashed around the world and torture and terrorism continue to be common features of our global landscape. We prefer to distance ourselves from such a fundamental truth, seeing the madness of evildoers and senseless violence of tyrants as dispositional characters within their own makeup. Arendt’s analysis was the first to deny this orientation by observing the fluidity with which social forces can prompt normal people to perform horrific acts…(Zimbardo 2007: 288-9).
You need to read the book from cover to cover to get what he is saying but in a nutshell the Lucifer Effect helps to demystify why ordinary wananchi can engage inhuman acts such as what ordinary Hutu villagers did to their Tutsi neighbours over a mere 100 days in 1994.
It can easily explain, I now argue, what hundreds of ordinary Kalenjin peasants did to their Gikuyu neighbours in Eldoret; what one of my good Luo friends (a young man in his mid twenties) told me he did when he took off from Mathare to go and fight a gang of Gikuyus and found his best friend a Gikuyu in the other camp and how they ended up maiming each other; or how ordinary Gikuyu tenants and landlords kicked out the Luhyas, Kisiis and Luos from their apartments in Kinoo, Zambezi and Gachie on the outskirts of Nairobi during the post election violence in early 2008. Every one talks about the horror of the inferno at the Kiambaa church in Eldoret- few comment on the equally atrocious act of arson which saw dozens of human beings fried to death in Naivasha by equally vengful neighbours for the crime of appearing to be supporters of ODM. For more examples of this consult the annex of the KNHCR’s list of the ALLEGED perpetrators of post election violence available at this link.
How many times have you seen ordinary white collar office workers, taxi drivers, street vendors, university students, female hair dressers and other ordinary Kenyans in Nairobi (or anywhere else in Kenya for that matter) drop whatever they are doing to rush to the site where a hapless suspected petty thief has been caught? These ordinary Kenyans are quickly turned into animalistic monsters that will use huge boulders to pummel the suspect to death before his lifeless body is set on fire. At the conclusion of this mob justice execution, the perpetrators smugly congratulate themselves for a job well done. Perhaps some of my readers have participated in these gory acts of murder and mayhem. I speak with a very personal pain about this when I remember how in December 1994 one of my brothers was set upon by an enraged mob at the Kisumu bus stand after some suspected pick pockets had diverted attention from the people pursuing them by pointing to my brother who was walking ahead of them as the “mwizi.” My brother was beaten within an inch of his life before being “rescued” by the cops who proceeded to break his jaw and arm and fling him into a filthy overcrowded cell. By the time my other siblings found him, his condition had deteriorated so much that he died soon after that- a combination of mob justice, police brutality and medical negligence.
There is a link to a very disturbing video I saw recently on Facebook documenting a similar act of vigilante so called "justice". I have not had the courage to watch the disturbing YouTube upload. If you are not as queasy as I am you can peruse it, but at least you have been forewarned about its blood-curdling contents.
So as we talk about the campaign against impunity, are some of the four fingers pointing at our own faces- if we participated actively or passively in the post-election violence?
Now as I write this, I know that by far the bulk of those reading this were revolted by the post-election violence with many being victims or as in the case of my colleagues who were part of the Kenyans for Peace, Truth and Justice, National Civil Society Congress, Vital Voices and other Kenyan civil society formations inside and outside the country, working day and night to end the violence and return Kenya back to normalcy, or at least a semblance of it.
Anyways, it is worth reflecting on the Lucifer Effect in the Kenyan context.
6.0. The Banality of Heroism
The flip side of evil is heroism, and here the same Professor Zimbardo has offered us a very alluring concept. Basically he says that heroism is not invested or confined in a select few. We are all capable of what he considers heroic acts.
Without wasting much of your time let me direct you to somewhere you can find out more about the banality of heroism.
So looking at the attributes in the pdf document embedded in the link above, can we then come back and see how we can apply this concept of everyday heroism to rejuvenate us, give us what the Swahili call the motisha, the motivation to rekindle our patriotic zeal and forming a new force for social,economic and political national transformation in Kenya?
7.0. Towards a United Democratic Front in Kenya
Kenyans need to stop whining and revert back to organizing, mobilizing, strategizing and building the national project for fundamental democratic and social transformation of our beloved country.
Where are the building blocks for creating and sustaining a united democratic front?
While I do not believe that you can apply cut and paste solutions to the intricate problems confronting individual countries, I also think it would be wasteful to reinvent wheels of struggle when there are enduring models we can learn from and adapt to suit our concrete situations here in Kenya.
One such model is from South Africa and it is the United Democratic Front.
Start by reading the Wikipedia article for general background.
Next go to the original declaration launching the UDF way back in the mid-1980s.
From here it is a short step to the statement by the UDF NEC launching it.
And here is a piece by Dr. Blade Nzimande, the new South African minister for higher education and also General Secretary of the South African Communist Party on the 20th anniversary of the UDF.
The other place we can look for inspiration in creating a broad front of progressive forces for change is Palestine where they have something called Al Mubadara-The Palestinian National Initiative. One of the leading lights in this organization is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. He was interviewed about four years ago by the New Left Review.
You can glean a lot of insight from this piece.
Can we learn from the South Africans and the Palestinians?
I certainly think so.
So what are we waiting for?
Let us get on with it!
July 22, 2009