Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why Are We So Obsessed With Reforms in Kenya?

A Digital Essay by Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

Thank you.

I am glad I caught your eye.

First off, kudos are in order.

Shangwe na vigelegele to

Baraka Husseini Obama
for being crowned this year’s

Nobel Peace Prize

Contrary to the digital noise pollution by a host of right wing wing nuts all over cyberspace, those folks in Oslo who made the surprising announcement recognized what the presidential ascendancy of the former Illinois Senator implies for the prospects of global peace at this present historical juncture.

Not only is the 44th occupant of the White House NOT George W Bush-he was swept to office by democratic forces in the United States who were also part and parcel of the massive international anti-war movement.

By awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize the Norwegian committee was firing off another volley against the danger of the militarization of public affairs.

I am sure they are not so naïve as to assume that Obama can fully dispense with the nefarious agendas of the military-industrial complex which helped to tilt the world monopoly capitalist casino economy to the brink of total meltdown in 2008.

At the same time, by conferring him with the prestige of a Nobel Peace Laureate the Oslo Committee are hobbling any inclinations on the part of the Obama Administration to revert to gung ho American martial jingoism which was such a staple of the disastrous Bush years.

Now back to the topic at hand.

As I was asking in my title, why are we so fixated with issue of reforms in Kenya?

What is the big deal with Agenda Four?

Why this love fest with Kofi Annan and hero worship of Senor Ocampo?

Is it reforms we really need in Kenya today?

Let me assure all and sundry that this is indeed Onyango Oloo penning these lines.

My mind has not been invaded by the evil spirit of Dr. Alfred Mutua and I have certainly NOT imbibed any illegal spirits or smoked any proscribed chemical substances.

Let me explain myself a little to some of my dazed and bewildered readers.

There was a time in Kenya-two or three decades ago- when agitating for reforms was considered backward and reactionary in progressive circles. I was old enough to be a young thinking and politically conscious adult at the time.

You see, back in the day, the discourse on democracy in our country was led and dominated by radicals, militants and socialists.

In those days, we used to believe in a total overhaul of the system; in complete radical transformation; we used to believe in something called REVOLUTION.

To us back then, talking about “reforms” was akin to dressing a warthog in a tuxedo or throwing its pig cousin into a soapy, frothy bath tub for a thorough scrubbing hoping that said swine would not go back to wallow in a mucky yucky trough soon after the cleaning episode.

A “reformist” to us was somebody who wanted to turn a brutal dictatorship into a more benevolent one; somebody who wanted to adjust the furniture, leaving the room intact; somebody on the Titanic who spent hours preening and grooming before the mirror unaware of the imminent destination of the sinking vessel; somebody who wanted to tinker and tailor with this or that aspect leaving the whole system unperturbed.

We used to spit out the word “reform” as a particularly vile, offensive and filthy curse word calculated; to us, "reforms" were stratagems geared to befuddle and derail our far reaching social justice aspirations.

Calling someone a “reformist” in those days was equivalent to accusing them of being a child molester or something equally offensive.

You see, in those days, we called ourselves revolutionaries and we were dedicated to fighting imperialism and constructing socialism in our life time in our own country.

Then something happened on the way from Damascus.

Something called perestroika and glasnost. The Fall of the Berlin Wall. The Collapse of the Soviet Union. The restoration of capitalism in eastern Europe.

Some of us reacted by remaining dedicated and unrepentant Marxist-Leninists even as we recognized, in excruciating self-criticism, the obscene distortions of our ideology in the corrupt bureaucratic regimes in central and eastern Europe which insisted they were building “real socialism”.

Many more from our ranks shaved off their fierce beards; tossed aside their Mao caps and Che Guevara T-shirts and started an inferno in their Lenin lined libraries.

They went to bourgeois academic temples and repented for their left wing ideological sins.

They thumbed their political dictionaries to expunge any mention of “revolution”, “radical transformation”, “overthrow of the system” or other similar and odious references implying a total repudiation of the status quo.

Instead, they became “reformists” and started preaching the gospel of “reforms”.

Our former imperialist masters were transformed overnight into “our development partners”.

The leading Western capitalist countries were rebaptized as “The International Community”.

Far from having antagonistic ideological interests with imperialism, now we were “partners for a common future” with the capitals of capital.

In the Kenyan context, some of our former leading comrades joined ranks with the very agents of neo-colonialism who had thrown us into maximum security penitentiaries and forced us into exile.

These ex-revolutionaries made a very big show of announcing how they had “matured” from “activism” to “pragmatism”.

It is not surprising that as talk of “revolution” waned, everyone started blathering about “reforms”.

What was even more alluring was that unlike in the repressive Kenyatta and Moi KANU one party dictatorship past, now in the mid to late 1990s in multi-party era Kenya, you could actually get FUNDED if you yammered and jabbered about “social change” “democracy” “transition” “liberalization” "pluralism” as long as you made it perfectly clear that you were a “REFORMIST” as opposed to being “a radical extremist” or “a dangerous revolutionary”.

By criminalizing and delegitimizing the socialist and revolutionary traditions from the broad Kenyan national democratic movement, the imperialists, their funding agencies and local, home grown functionaries and gate-keepers mainstreamed the concept of “reforms” and “reformists” to be the default template of talking about social, economic and political change in Kenya.

Those of us who insisted on our ideological fealty to a gendered radical social transformation agenda based on popular democracy, equality and justice were deliberately marginalized and shunned from BOTH mainstream civil society and pro-establishment political party formations and discourse, shunted off to a supposed “lunatic fringe” of mavericks and gad flies where our militant interventions were snubbed amidst suppressed sniggers and chuckles by dyed-in- the wool liberal democrats and right leaning social democrats online and offline.

Karl Marx once quipped that the leading ideas of the day are the ideas of the ruling class.

How still true this axiom is today in October 2009!

To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, the forces who rule Kenya in terms of ideology and hegemonic influence have defined the parameters of socio-economic and political change discourse and debate confined within the boundaries of what they call “reform”.

Today when we talk of the “reform agenda” we use the indicators provided by Kofi Annan and his team.

Agenda Item Number Four seems to be the new litmus test for measuring a commitment to real change since the year 2008.

What did Kenyans do before 2007?

We were ever interested in transforming our country?

My argument is that we have actually LOWERED the bar.

Middle class reformists have over the years hijacked the once revolutionary demands for far reaching national democratic renewal in Kenya and reduced these once noble patriotic pursuits to piece meal gestures designed to appease the likes of Annan, Ranneberger, Brown and others.

It is akin to asking the Kenyan steeple chase, marathon and other world beating middle and long distance runners NOT to strive for Olympic gold or even the world record, but rather content themselves with a seventh place finish in the preliminary heats so that they can be rewarded on their return home with plaudits “for at least trying.”

Issues like land and agrarian reforms; redistribution of national wealth; punishing human rights abusers; ensuring gender equality and youth empowered were not introduced to Kenyans during the 2008 Serena Talks-many of our comrades and compatriots have suffered greatly and even died for championing these causes since at least 1963 and even before that.

That is why our first accountability should be to ourselves as a nation- not Annan, not Ocampo not even the freshly minted Nobel laureate Barack Obama.

What is surreal and hilarious is our expectation that the Grand Coalition Government will steer the movement for radical political changes or even mere reforms in Kenya.

From where did this delusion spring from?

How can we expect a jajuok (night runner) to voluntarily give up his weird, naked nocturnal attempts to break Usain Bolt’s 100 metres record?

Why should we expect the biggest land grabbers in the country, who currently reside in the cabinet, to carry out land reforms?

Why should we expect the main financiers of the post-election violence to give up their powerful posts in the government to cooperate with Migosi Ocampo?

If Anglo-Leasing and Goldenberg are two vicious, venomous serpents, why would we expect these reptiles to cut off their heads and lead the fight against grand corruption?

If ukabila (aka negative ethnicity) is the treasured magic portion which allows big teams like PNU, ODM, ODM-K and the rest score questionable goals in the rigged football matches in their march to political power, why on earth would they throw away that superstitious amulet?

Even from our fairy tales, how can we expect the evil ogres, scary monsters and fire breathing dragons to slay themselves?

Expecting the big boys and girls in the Kenyan political establishment to carry out the “reform agenda” is like asking them to set up a public guillotine from where they will meekly slice off their own heads.

One or two words about current composition of the Grand Coalition Government.

I have many comrades and friends in ODM, PNU, ODM-K and their affiliate parties.

Some, like James Orengo, (to mention just one of dozens of patriots in that leaking GCG vessel) have an unblemished record of fighting for democracy, justice, human rights and freedom over many decades.

They now find themselves sharing cabinet space with known killers, graft barons, tribalists and poll swindlers.

As long as they are tethered to the pole of “collective responsibility” they will remain culpable in all the sins and crimes of commission and omission perpetrated by their more sleazy cabinet colleagues.

That is why you will find someone like the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Raila Odinga oscillating between demanding the full implementation of the Alston Report and participating in the recent charade with Mwai Kibaki in giving the government an “A” in terms of implementing Agenda Four.

Let us recall how Kenyans landed in the current quagmire.

On December 27, 2007, Kenyans all over the country went to the polling booths in their millions. They voted overwhelmingly for ODM in the civic and parliamentary contests. When it was clear that ODM’s flag bearer was leading in the presidential elections, PNU back room schemers staged a civilian coup and illegally installed Mwai Kibaki as President at night after shutting down the Kenyatta International Conference Centre using paramilitary bayonets.

This unleashed massive fury throughout the country, especially in ODM dominated regions leading to arson, carnage, mayhem, rape, murder and other criminal atrocities.

What started off as spontaneous anti-poll protests soon evolved into a methodically planned confrontation with politicians from all sides of the divide participating in planning and executing horrific violence against their perceived political and ethnic opponents.

The PNU wing of the political elite which illegally seized power in Kibaki’s December 30th civilian coup abused their access to the organs of state terror to channel police, GSU, AP and other security organs to clamp down protests and opposition in ODM friendly areas. In these ODM strongholds, some powerful politicians directly or tacitly approved the activities of armed militias to carry out reprisals against local inhabitants who were deemed to be PNU sympathizers by virtue of the ethnic backgrounds they shared with Mwai Kibaki.

Let me give two personal examples to illustrate how I suffered directly because my relatives were seen to either belong to the ODM or PNU camps.

In Kisumu, my brother in law (whose older brother is married to my youngest sister) who was part of the peaceful ODM demonstrators angered by the presidential results announcement was shot dead in cold blood by a uniformed police officer in a chilling incident captured live by KTN television cameras.

In Mombasa, my brother in law (an older brother to my late wife) had his bar in Changamwe raided and looted by an irate mob working at the behest of a well known local ODM politician simply because my late wife’s father hailed from Sagana in Kirinyaga, Central Province-even though he had moved to Mskiti Noor on the Mombasa West mainland in the early 1950s, married a Mdawida (“Taita”) and had called the Coast Province home, with all his children being born and bred in Mombasa.

When Dr. Kofi Annan brokered the National Accord on February 28, 2008 paving the way for the creation of the Grand Coalition Government, he also created the very problems he is now complaining about.

By refusing to deal with the central issue which triggered the post-election violence, i.e., Kibaki’s December 30 Civilian Coup, Annan and his Dream Team basically ratified the current stalemate stymieing all efforts at implementing Agenda Four.

By forcing these two belligerents into sharing power, rather than embracing the KPTJ mantra of electoral Peace, electoral Truth and electoral Justice, Annan and his team consciously decided to underwrite the ODM/PNU/ODM-K scratch my back, I will scratch yours quid pro quo.

It was not only seats that were shared by the National Accord.

The two principals and their respective parties also agreed to share in the cover up over who was responsible for organizing the worst outrages of the post election violence.

How, for instance, could we expect Mwai Kibaki to denounce and sacrifice the powerful cabinet minister in his PNU coalition who is alleged to have provided money and arms to hired thugs sent out to kill innocent Kenyans associated with ODM?

On the other hand, could Raila Odinga really afford to cut his own political neck by delivering to Ocampo the powerful Rift Valley politician whose name has done the rounds as being in Waki’s stuffed envelope?

In the headlines of today’s newspapers (Saturday, October 10, 2009) the Prime Minister is quoted as saying that he will do just that to all those that the ICC wants prosecuted.

Well, that remains to be seen.

A word or two about the International Criminal Court.

Even though I am committed to justice and want to see the culture of political and criminal impunity ended once and for all, I do not believe in the moral authority of the so called International Criminal Court.

I say “so called” because the ICC is far from being international.

I will become a born again convert to the International Criminal Church, oops, Court, once I hear that Ocampo has grabbed George W Bush, nabbed Tony Blair, mobbed Dick Cheney, bagged Don Rumsfeld and dragged Condeleeza Rice to the Hague and charged all five with genocide and crimes against humanity.

Right now the initials ICC for me, stands for the International Capitalist Court to try tin pot African tyrants, despots and war lords.

Another word about Kofi Annan and his real agenda for Kenya.

Let me not be the ungrateful donkey (Kiswahili speakers are familiar with the proverb, ahsante ya punda ni mashizi) and once again thank the former UN Secretary General for working day and night to help end the night mare of political and ethnic tinged violence in 2008.

Having said that, let us unmask the Ghanaian born, Swiss-based diplomat for who he really is:

A dark skinned Vice Roy working at the behest of the Western powers to stabilize Kenya, not because of a love for democracy or desire for justice, but rather to secure the short and long term geo-political interests of imperialism in a region rocked by perceived threats of Al Qaeda and to curb the energy thirst and hegemonic ambitions of China in this region of Africa.

Once we understand Kofi Annan’s job description we can thus fathom why one of his spawns, the Kriegler Commission blandly claimed that ati it was "not possible to know who really won the Presidential elections in 2007".

Flowing from that, we should then realize that Kofi Annan’s insistence on the implementation of Agenda Four has nothing to do with the clamour for reforms, but rather it is a Big Stick to ensure that the Kenyan elite toes the imperialist line and does not rock the geo-political boat and upset the strategic dominance of Uncle Sam and her NATO/G20 allies in the region.

If, as I argue above, neither the Grand Coalition Government nor Kofi Annan and the International Community (read the Western powers) are really interested in a true agenda for reform in Kenya, where does that leave us then?

Certainly not with the majority of the wishy washy NGOs and other mainstream civil society organizations whose visions, missions, goals, objectives, program activities and project outcomes are ultimately dictated by those who bankroll their activities- the overseas based funders and donors who are in turn answerable to the Western tax payers and states.

And definitely not with the bulk of our ideologically bereft, ethnic-based electoral matatus masquerading as political parties in Kenya.

My position is that true Kenyan patriots, progressives, democrats, and yes, REVOLUTIONARIES, should reclaim the genuine agenda for sustainable, radical transformation of our country’s politics, economic relations, culture and social dynamics.

This we can only do if we rediscover our vocation to lead the fight for real change in Kenya.

In other words it is not Kofi Annan, Michael Ranneberger or Luis Ocampo who will deliver Kenyans from oppression, injustice and inequality.

It is us.

And we can only do it if we organize ourselves.


As I have been wearily saying over and over and over again for the last seven to ten years, through:

Organizing a united front of the most consistent forces for progressive change in this beautiful but tortured country of ours to fight for the realization of a national democratic revolution in Kenya.


Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya


UrXlnc said...

excellent contribution bwana oloo

captures in a very concise manner some of the history of the evolution of our democratic space

my only beef with this is the issue with ocampo/icc

yes there appears to be some hesitancy to take the stick to the bigger boys. but this is the sort of convoluted argument that PNU mandarins led by karua kept fronting, when asked about election theft, they'd come up with statisitics (which i still dont beleive todate) to show that even some ODM corners rigged

my point is that ocampo is very much like the regular policeman lets say const. A.K. Forty Seven. ok granted his bosses may fear to finger some prominent personality, or even worse he may be a wife beater, but the question is, when your house is being raided by burglars and you rush to the police station and find this const .a.k. are you confident enough to call him to come to your aid? if the answer to this is yes, then you should proceed with the task on hand.

down the road there will be a need or come a time to evaluate the efficiency of the operations of the ICC or the policeman, but this is not the time

am however with you on raising eyebrows at the ICC since this is an entity with which we are not too familiar, my concern is with the statement that ICC will use Kenya as an example to end impunity.

either they have a very strong open and shut case (evidence etc) or else someone has a vendetta

Daniel Waweru said...


ODMer violence wasn’t spontaneous, if spontaneous is a synonym of unplanned. There’s very extensive evidence in several independent reports of prior planning and preparation in the Rift Valley: Waki, for example, details how ammunition was stolen from the Eldoret armoury and young men were trained in the use of grenades in Sigowet forest. It may be useful to remember, too, that violence and intimidation began before the polls, with the murder of several APs in Nyanza, and rapes and assorted violence in parts of the Rift Valley on 27th December. All of which means that your double claim – that the violence in ODM-leaning parts of the country was spontaneous, and that it erupted after the election – is straightforwardly false.

The rest of the essay, unfortunately, maintains these low standards. Your complaint boils down to two points: that reforms are not enough, and that we cannot expect the ruling class, as presently constituted, to do the minimum necessary to return Kenya to a normal country.

You're right to say that for large parts of the ruling classes, passing the reforms is tantamount to committing suicide. But you've missed the point: with the politicians in place, the reforms are doubtful; without them, the reforms are guaranteed not to happen. It is better to have the beasts inside the tent, pissing out, than to have them outside, pissing in.

Second. You argue that the reforms are insufficient. Agenda 4, if it were successfully completed, would be the furthest-reaching reform of the state in Kenya's postcolonial history. More to the point, Agenda 4 is our best bet of something resembling a liberal-ish state. Your quarrel is a deeper, ideological one: you bring to the table a prior commitment to a form of Afro-Marxism. Given that commitment, any reforms which fall short of Marxist goals are bound to seem half-measures at best. If the reforms are a path, the disagreement is about the destination. That’s partly hidden by the use of similar words, which we mean in different senses: when you use democracy, for example, it is unclear whether you have parliamentary democracy in mind. But you have given us no reason to think that Afro-Marxism is where we ought to be going – and in light of Afro-Marxism’s historical record; and your inability to acknowledge basic facts regarding the violence, there is no reason to think that you possess any reasons of that kind – so there is no reason to think that your prescriptions are to be preferred to the liberal ones.

Kenya Democracy Project said...

To UrXinc and Waweru:

Thank you both for your comments. Really appreciated.

Waweru, as I indicated in my essay,I indicate ALL those who participated in the violence, whether it was spontaneous, planned before or after Kibaki's civilian coup.

Secondly, there is no such thing as "Afro-Marxism", just like there is no such thing as "Afro-Biology" "Afro-Physics" or "Afro-nanotechnology".

Otherwise, I respect your full democratic right to have opinions diametrically different from those that I hold and express.

Onyango Oloo

Royal Diadem said...

Very interesting article. I agree 100% that change will come from Kenyans themselves....not Ocampo..Annan etc. The day the Kenyan man, woman and child say - this is enough and rise up to demand change we will change!!!!!!!! We are stewing.....we will blow up...change will come. We need to prepare for the cost of change.

AL-AMIN said...

Ndugu Onyango Oloo,

Pongezi kwa kuyanena peupe. Ilatulegelee kulingania mapinduzi hatutosonga popote bali tutazidi kukaza minyororo wanayotubania mabepari na wabeberu mamboleo. Lugha hii isipogeuka toka mabidiliko hadi mapinduzi ni kazi bure tu. Lakini naomba pia uwaone wanamageuzi wengine wa jana unaowaenzi kama waliokwenda na maji baada ya kuzamishwa na mababe wa leo. Wameshaonja. Hawana tena hamu ya mapinduzi. Zamu ni yawale hawakupotozwa kama kina yakhe nyinyi na wazalendo wengineo ambao licha ya kuteswa, kuhadaiwa na kutumiwa na mababe hao na kusahauliwa na wengi wasio na kumbukumbu kamili ya nchi hii, hawajainua mikono. Pia ukweli usemwe kuhusu wote walioimwaya damu ya wakenya mwaka jana kwa kujitakia makuu popote waliko, iwe kushoto au kulia; tutawahanda. Sio Annan na Ocampo bali wazalendo - ni mimi wako Ndugu Al-Amin Kimathi

Anonymous said...

I was called you stupid in a previous article concerning American Ambassadors comments on our laws and Mutula kilonzo etc.

Stupid you are not, I must confess. Cunning, dangerous and dishonest you sure are. There was no need for Mrs. Ida Odinga going to Kisumu to plead for "peace", "Peace" "Peace" on December 31, 2007 if her husband was not involved in the mayhem. We all saw what happened and we all know that Mungiki's retribution in Nairobi and Naivasha only came long after the Kikuyus from Kisumu and Eldoret were already in refugee camps. Keep on tampering with the truth and somehow we shall forget what happened. Shaln't we?

As for the rest of the Maneno mingi you are telling us all what we have know from when we were three years old. We do not need the mzungu stealing the resources of our nation through complicated schemes involving black people married to white wifes and living in exile. Dedan Kimathi and his comrades knew what you are telling us in 1950. Harry Thuku knew what you are saying in 1927. But since it makes you look more intellingent and fit more into the elite clubs in Nairobi and elsewhere, I know I cannot stop you.

If I had my way, Kenyans and indeed Africans would respect each other's intelligence, get focussed on activities that get their lot respect by the world by valuing and protecting all the resources that nature has endored them with and shun cunning offers for all manner of "help" from western capitals or china and forge local alliances devoid of cunning arguments. Get Raila Odinga, Mwai Kibaki and their groups to jail in Kenya and move on with what we need to move on with.