Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Emerging Security Threats in Kenya

Analysis and Comment by Onyango Oloo

1.0. A Grim Picture Emerges…


A few days ago when I was strolling through the web, trawling for breaking news about Kenya, I was hit between the eyes by the following cyberbrick:

With reports of foreign jihadists streaming into Somalia, western security services are frightened Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network could get a grip on the failed Horn of Africa state," the Kenyan newspaper The Standard commented at the end of June. "Nairobi expatriate circles have been awash with alerts and rumors of a planned attack by Somali militants."

"They don't even have to attack," explained a leading Kenyan lawyer who didn't want to be identified, fearing for her and her daughter's life. "Al-Shabaab guerillas are already in the capital. They didn't use weapons — they bribed their way into Nairobi, bought property and Kenyan passports."

In June, Kenyan military amassed troops and artillery on the Somali border, contributing to rumors that it was ready to invade to stabilize the border area. But the warning from the other side was swift and chilling: "If you attack us we will launch suicide attacks in Nairobi and we will destroy the tall glass buildings," declared the spokesman of al-Shabaab in Kismayu, Sheik Hassan Yacqub Ali. The situation on the border remains tense.

"The problem here is simple and concrete: the potential for terrorism," explained the head of the Social Democratic party of Kenya, Mghanga Mwandawire, for this article. "Al-Shabaab is connected to al-Qaeda. Their influence is not only in Nairobi. Their people are now establishing themselves in the port of Mumbasa and elsewhere along the coast. In the poor Garissa their investment is now around 60%. The money comes from the jihadists and from the piracy on the high seas."

The groups from Somalia are now taking full advantage of the growing lawlessness in Kenya. Last year, tribal post-election violence left at least 3,000 Kenyans dead. Drought and economic crises are bringing one-quarter of the population close to starvation. Corruption is rampant. The U.S. think tank Fund for Peace ranked Kenya 14th out of 20 countries considered in the "critical" category in its failed states index. Once considered to be a proud star of East Africa, Kenya is now on its knees.
"Postcard from...Eastleigh" by Andre Vltchek July 24, 2009, Foreign Policy in Focus website


If I did not die of shock, I certainly did not rush dancing in the streets of Nairobi. While I wasn’t exactly rattled to the clich├ęd core, I was definitely perturbed to an uncommon degree.

And that it is why I want to talk about the emerging security threats in and to Kenya.

Over the last Bush infested and blood soaked decade, the terrified, shocked and awed petrified globe has seen an explosion of security think tanks, security studies, security briefings, security legislation, security cartoonists, security courtesans, security bloggers, security venture capitalists, security experts and security consultants.

Within the ranks of the last two categories you will find individuals whose credentials consist entirely of the number of innocent civilians they helped to torture, imprison or blow up in Iraq, Afghanistan and other macabre US theatres of slaughter around the world.

Some are slightly deranged fascist journalists who dream of being latter day MacArthurs, Rommels, Powells and Eisenhowers. Some are left over greying academics who did not quite make it into the top ranks of the policy wonks who drove the right wing ideological agendas which stoked the fires of the discredited War Against Terror. Others are Nintendo, X-Box and PlayStation aficionados with a penchant for war games. Believe it or not, hidden somewhere in this pile, you will also find actual authentic experts on the security challenges facing the world today.

But I digress.

I want to talk about the emerging security challenges as they pertain to my pays natal, Kenya.

Let me begin by disappointing those eager readers who expect me to obsess about the clear and present danger posed by the Al Shabaab jihadists to Western geo-political interests in Kenya and the East African region.

I urge them to go and sniff at another blog because there is very little red meat of that variety embedded in this URL.

My take may be startling to one or two people out there because my opening premise is the following:

The gravest security threat to Kenya is posed by the Kenyan state itself, with the top political leadership being the leading suspects as the individuals most likely to plunge Kenya into a dystopic abyss of bloody civil war that could lead to the violent dismemberment of our country within the next two years.

Unless they are stopped, that is.


2.0. Defining Security

Now that I have your attention, let me warm up to my topic.

But just before I do that, I want to dispose of that Al Shabaab story so that it ceases to be a distraction.

Here is what a REAL, Western security expert and policy analyst had to say on the subject in a recent opinion piece posted on the All Africa website:

Kenyan media have been abuzz in recent days with speculation that Nairobi and its allies in the region could be planning a military operation to prop up the fragile Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu, which is under siege from militant Islamist factions led by Al-Shabaab.

Official rhetoric against the Somali Islamists has been hardening: Nairobi increasingly fears the TFG could collapse unless the international community provides it with additional troops to hold its ground.

The deadly suicide bombing in Beledweyne last week that killed the TFG’s security minister, Omar Hashi – a key figure in the regime’s military counter-offensive against Al-Shabaab – came as another shocking reminder of the group’s capacity to undermine the interim government. In a sense, the TFG is fighting for its very survival. Resurgent militant Islamist groups are clearly bent on overthrowing the current regime. President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has imposed a state of emergency to deal with these threats.

Despite the gravity of the current situation, the calls for foreign military intervention in Somalia are ill-advised. The TFG and its supporters have circulated dire warnings of a high number of foreign jihadi combatants in order to create panic about Somalia being on the verge of becoming another Afghanistan, the new den of international Al-Qaeda militants. This threat is supposed to also justify a foreign intervention.

Under Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the former leader of the Islamic Courts Union who was elected president last February, the TFG has regained some legitimacy and holds potentially valuable keys to a political settlement. It is more representative of central and southern Somalia’s populations and can probably articulate an Islamic vision for Somalia which will rally the support of its majority, contrary to the jihadists whose practice of Islam is foreign to the country.

Yet external military intervention is not the way forward.

Since the collapse of Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, there have been several foreign incursions. Every single one of them exacerbated the conflict by increasing radicalisation and political polarisation. They reduced chances for political dialogue and helped militant groups to recruit. Al-Shabaab has grown in strength over the last two years largely because it used Ethiopia’s intervention and the United States'
bombing campaign to whip up nationalism and rally the clans around its banner.

A Kenyan intervention force -- alone or as part of a force by the regional Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – would only lead to the same result. In fact, Al-Shabaab, currently under siege politically, desperately wants such an intervention for those very reasons. The movement may be militarily triumphant, but its political message is increasingly challenged in south and central Somalia.

Militant Islamist factions in Somalia are taunting Kenya into a military intervention in the same way they taunted Ethiopia in 2006. Kenya should be wary of falling into the same trap.

Another possible threat which Kenya needs to weigh is the direct security implications stemming from such an intervention. Al-Shabaab’s threat to strike Kenya, which could reasonably be dismissed as bravado, may become real. Al-Shabaab has honed its terror tactics and skills in recent years and is now by far the deadliest guerrilla movement operating in the Horn.

Kenya should not get sucked into the Somalia conflict but concentrate on securing its borders and actively supporting its resolution.

What is needed today is more international investment in the political process aimed at re-orienting and broadening the United Nations-sponsored reconciliation efforts known as the "Djibouti process" to ensure as many militants and radicals as possible are reached and the necessary concessions made to ensure their buy-in.

Reaching out to moderates is not enough: peace will have to be made between Somalia’s bitter enemies. This will be difficult, but it is not altogether impossible, as some suggest, and many channels of communications transit through Nairobi.

In the short run, rather than direct military intervention, efforts should concentrate on bolstering the TFG’s military capacity through additional training, funding and the provision of new military equipment as part of an overall strategy to restore the balance of forces conducive to political negotiations.

The African Union peacekeeping mission should not become a direct party to the fighting but should be used only to secure strategic points essential to the reinforcement of the TFG. No foreign army should fight the Somalis’ war; instead the TFG must be enabled to fight its own fight. This is what many Somali officials actually believe will be effective.

Nairobi’s traditional pragmatist tendencies and the practice of using dialogue to resolve problems have not lost their currency. In fact, despite the belligerent tone of some official Somali declarations, provincial and local administration leaders are engaged with Al-Shabaab in a dialogue to resolve the problems of banditry, armed car-jacking and inter-clan tensions along Kenya’s long border with Somalia, and they have effectively succeeded in managing the situation over the past year.

Now is not the time to beat the drums of a new regional invasion of Somalia but to invest in the political process that will provide an end to its decade long conflict.


Those are the sage observations of Dr Daniela Kroslak, the Deputy Director of the Africa Program at the International Crisis Group.

To move on.

Or rather, back.

To the topic that is.

Where were we?

Yes.

Definitions.

Dictionary.com tells us that “security” could mean the following...

Wikipedia has several quaint passages grappling with the meaning of this Greek derived English word-a lot of it veering towards militaristic applications, even when talking about “national security”.

For the purposes of this essay, I want to focus on HUMAN security and will therefore go with this 1994 UNDP definition revolving around seven aspects- economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, community security, political security and personal security- summarized as freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Using those 7 yardsticks, how secure are Kenyans in July-August 2009?

Well, let’s see.

3.0. Indicators of Insecurity in Kenya

3.1. Economic Insecurity

Here is the 2007/2008 Human Development Report from the UNDP on Kenya. And if you go to this Society for International Development link you will find information about disparities and inequalities in Kenya. For good measure gauge the impact of political violence on the profits of corporations harvesting in Kenya’s horticultural sector in this report titled, Guns and Roses: The Impact of Kenyan Post Election Violence on Flower Exporting Firms. Check out this Amnesty International report from June 2009 on the conditions of millions of urban slum dwellers in Kenya.

3.2. Food Insecurity

Let the following document from the Government of Kenya, USAID, the World Food Program and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network grab the words from my own throat and tell you the story of food insecurity in the rural and urban areas of Kenya for the period April to September 2009.

3.3. Health Insecurity

Rush here and see for yourself in this market research document prepared for private sector clients.

3.4. Environmental Insecurity

I invite you to browse David Ochami’s report in a recent issue of the Nairobi-based Standard newspaper to get a tiny inkling of the severity of the crisis in this sector.

3.5. Community Insecurity

We know about the reverberations from the 2008 post-election violence and the persistence of the IDP camps and their desperately desolate residents.

Here is an updated fact sheet (as of July 16, 2009) from OCHA on IDPs.

More recently Kenyans have been reeling at the news coming out of southern tip of Nyanza with the intra-ethnic clashes within the Kuria community.

IDMC has more information on their website, which you can access right here.

3.6. Personal Insecurity

Where do we begin in this sub section?

Let us start with violence against women and children. Read this recently published comprehensive report with the long name of Situation of Violence against Women and Children in Kenya:Implementation of the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment- Alternative report to the UN Committee Against Torture.

To get a snapshot on crime rates we need just hop, skip and jump over to the daily newspaper headlines, like this one here by Fred Mukinda from the Nation Media Group.

Next we should look at how state organs have brutalized, traumatized and butchered ordinary Kenyans under the guise of enforcing law and order.

For instance take this report from Human Rights Watch dubbed "All The Men Have Gone" about the military excesses in Mount Elgon in the attempt to flush out militants of the Sabaot Land Defence Force or the expose on police brutality during a similar police mop up operation in Mandera in 2008 titled "Bring the Gun or You Will Die".

And in case you have forgotten, the Waki Report is still available, so is the report by Prof Alston on Extra-Judicial Killings and the KNCHR's Report on Alleged Perpetrators of Post Election Violence.



3.7. Political Insecurity

The very existence of the Grand Coalition Government itself testifies to political insecurity which is a shame because it was supposed to be the exact opposite as we all remember.

Why do I jab President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila directly in the eyes accusing them of trying to bring the country down?

Well, for one, if you look at the first six indicators of human security cited in the preceding sub-sections, what glares at you most is the clear lack of effective leadership. Instead of devoting more of the allotted government revenue in the budget estimates for the last two fiscal years to development expenditure, the Grand Coalition Government has frittered away tax payers’ money in maintaining a bloated government, providing an “allowance” to the spouses of the Big Three and setting up extra districts and sub-provinces that we do not need. The growth of a unit of the police, the Administration Police as an autonomous para-military force beholden to commanders who bypass their own chain of command is not only worrying from a fiscal point of view but harkens to the period just before President Jomo Kenyatta died when forces close to his circle of hand picked, ethnic-based aides established the infamous Ngoroko elite troops in an abortive attempt to thwart Daniel arap Moi from ascending to office. I will come back to this sub theme in a minute.

The Mars Group and the affiliated Partners for Change are doing an admirable job in highlighting these democratic concerns with their current Budget Campaign. Kudos to both Matis and their team of scrupulous patriotic researcher activists!

Secondly, the foot-dragging on bringing the perpetrators of the post-election violence to justice is all but guaranteeing a repeat, at a higher scale of the 2008 carnage come 2012-if we get to that year without an implosion. We have seen leading and influential cabinet ministers from both PNU and ODM trash the recommendations of the Waki Commission.

Thirdly, the failure to promulgate a new DEMOCRATIC constitution more than 12 months after they promised to do so is a clear pointer that BOTH sides of the Grand Coalition Government would rather hang on to their parliamentary seats, cabinet positions and sinecures in the Kenyan state organs for the full five years even though the country had largely expected them to seek a fresh mandate from the electorate immediately after putting a new constitution in place.

Fourthly, the REFUSAL by President Kibaki to ACT on the findings of Prof. Alston regarding the extra-judicial killings can only mean one thing: he is protecting Police Commissioner General Hussein Ali; coddling Amos Wako and silently endorsing his infamous ministers for internal security and defence- Saitoti and Haji, not forgetting Muchiki as they supervise the atrocities visited on civilians as documented in the reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Release Political Prisoners and the state’s own Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Fifthly, crime rates are soaring not only because the police are not doing their job- some of the worst and most violent criminals have turned out to be off duty cops- but more poignantly because the Grand Coalition Government is NOT doing enough to address the underpinning factors which drive crime- poverty, unemployment, poor housing and lack of meaningful social programs to harness the energy, innovation and talents of the youth.

Yes, we know about the Youth Enterprise Fund. But I would advise my readers to digest what my Washington-based pal, medical doctor and perceptive and progressive political analyst Dr. Job Obonyo has to say in this posting from the Jukwaa online discussion forum about that program. It is too early to weigh in on judgment on the Kazi Kwa Vijana.

Seventhly, by not arresting those members of the police and security organs who gang raped and violently violated dozens if not hundreds of Kenyan women using the cover of the insecurity prevailing during the post election violence in early 2008, the Grand Coalition Government is sending a clear and blood curdling message to all women in Kenya that they will remain insecure in their own homes and wherever they go in the republic as long as this regime remains in place in its current form.

Eighthly, lack of concrete strategies to deal with grand corruption of the Anglo-Leasing and Goldenberg variety is a guarantee that our deep financial insecurities as a nation will not abate. For every Kamlesh Pattni and Ketan Somaia who is hauled before the court of public opinion as a South Asian diversionary scapegoat, there is a very black, very indigenous African Professor Saitoti and Eric Kotut who is granted immunity from prosecution by our own human rights lawyers and the courts.

Ninthly, the half-hearted attempts to deal with historical injustices are worrying many human rights crusaders and civil society activists. There is currently a raging debate on listservs like KPTJ on the efficacy of the brand new Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission given that it is headed by Ambassador and Professor Bethwel Kiplagat who was a former senior diplomat during the dark years of the Moi-KANU one party dictatorship.

Speaking personally, I have not been as keen to rubbish the efforts of the TJRC in advance pointing out that Kiplagat’s deputy is the well-respected human rights lawyer, feminist and democrat Ms. Betty Kaari Murungi who currently is the Vice-Chair of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and is widely respected internationally for her stellar leadership during the seven years she headed the woman focused Urgent Action Fund program for Africa. I have argued that that the TJRC is both a process and arena for struggle that social justice campaigners, former political prisoners and all progressive Kenyans and their allies should participate in, helping to shape the content, process and issues through mass mobilization and concrete interventions-in much the same way civil society influenced both the Waki and Kriegler and even the National Accord processes.

In fact, let me risk being guillotined next week by MY OWN POLITICAL FRIENDS in adding that when it comes to Ambassador Kiplagat, I have two things I can say IN HIS DEFENCE.

One, I remember moderating a day long meeting on the 22nd of December 2006 held at the Professional Centre in downtown Nairobi featuring hundreds of slum dwellers from Mathare and other informal settlements in and around the Kenyan capital. The focus of the gathering was to bring different tribes and communities together to dialogue around the then raging violent conflicts in places like Mathare. The grass roots organizers who put the event together were largely members of the radical Bunge la Mwananchi social movement. And one of their key supporters was none other than Ambassador Kiplagat (through Friends of Sports in Kenya) who along with the feisty and fearless Ms. Philo Ikonya and civil society leader Achoka Awori from the Sayari think tank were the main panelists at the meeting. The well attended event came up with very key recommendations around peace-building and conflict transformation. At the end of the meeting I could see Luos and Gikuyus hugging and pumping each other’s hands and I do know activists from both communities who later on carried on the spirit generated by this meeting to hold reconciliation and peace meetings in the same neighbourhoods at the height of the 2008 post election violence. How do I know all this? Well apart from moderating the session, I still have the DVD which covered every single minute for posterity. And lest you think my recording is fake, I will have you know that it was captured by none other than the intrepid PK Thumbi from the NCEC who Cyprian Nyamwamu, Kepta Ombati and Sophie Dola can vouch for.

The second reason for singling out Ambassador Kiplagat for praise dates back to the height of the post election violence. Some of my readers may remember a period when those patriotic Kenyans who happened to be of Gikuyu heritage and were working for peace, conflict transformation and national reconciliation were targeted with direct death threats. I am talking about death threats to people like Maina Kiai, Muthoni Wanyeki, David Ndii, Njeri Kabeberi and dozens of others working under the auspices of Kenyans for Peace, Truth and Justice. One of the less known activists in this category was a young militant known for his community organizing with Bunge la Mwananchi. He had been one of the main conveners of that December 2006 Professional Centre peace gathering that I mentioned above. He is one of the people who blew the whistle on the alleged meeting which took place in the State House just before the 2007 elections to plan the violence. He soon found himself on a death list and immediately went underground. Due to a number of developments that I won’t go into in the public domain, including some mistakes of his own, he found himself very vulnerable and trapped in the country. Guess who assisted him to leave the country and save his head from being separated from his body?

The same Ambassador Bethwel Kiplagat.

Now, I am not saying that Prof. Kiplagat is a reincarnation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What I am saying is that the TJRC process is way bigger than any single individual and indeed if we started scrutinizing some of our latter day Kenyan democrats and civil society advocates we would find quite a few with somewhat murky pasts when it came to their records in defending human rights consistently over the last two decades.

For those of us who spent many years behind bars as political prisoners, who wallowed for decades in exile, who were perpetually harassed and intimidated by state agents for the long night of the 39 year old Kenyatta-Moi KANU one party dictatorship and indeed millions of Kenyans- the vast majority of our people actually, the idea of setting up a Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission is not a moot academic point.

We need truth; we must hold the violators of human rights accountable- they should be tried and if found guilty, incarcerated, because they are the true big time criminals.

Of course we are painfully aware that processes such as the TJRC are deeply flawed. From the very beginning the powers that be tried to limit its agenda, exclude our most ardent voices from serving on it and cutting off other periods that should have been part of its mandate.

So what do we do?

Sit on our hands?

Shower its Commissioners with spiteful spittle?

It is NOT an option.

At least not for me.

The TJRC is an ARENA of struggle; it is like just like participating in imperfect elections under the rubric of formal multi-party "democracy" in a context of a very undemocratic constitution will remain frustrating and challenging interventions.

Seeking and finding justice, just like the quest for democracy and freedom can hardly be compared to boiling a cup of chai or rolling out three or four chapatis, to paraphrase Marehemu Mao Ze Dong.

Compatriots, friends, comrades and friends of Kenya, people have paid and are still paying with their blood for truth and justice, for freedom and democracy.

If we think that the TJRC will achieve those dreams by itself, then we are surely dreaming in pastel colours.

On the other hand, if we can use this imperfect process seeking truth and justice in our current circumstances, to consolidate the Kenyan progressive forces in our unequal battles against elitist interests then we have no reason to rush to the top of KICC and hurl ourselves to our ultimate doom in despair.


Let me go back to my pet peeves please.


4.0. Why Is The Kenyan State Our Gravest Security Threat?

I want to answer this question fully, but first let me get another thing off my chest.

I do not subscribe to the theory that Kenya is in the danger of becoming a so called “failed state”.

I have difficulties embracing the very concept itself. In one of my earlier blogs, way back
on August 19, 2004
I said as much.

Below is a summary and paraphrase of what was originally a very meandering, even rambling, convoluted essay:

Some people use the word “state” as a SYNONYM for “nation” or “country” and yet a “state” is not a nation, nor is a country necessarily a nation. And I am not going to veer off into a tangential controversy about the differences between a “nation” and a “country” although the Kiswahili distinctions of “serikali”(state), “taifa”(nation) “jamhuri” (republic) and “nchi”(country) should suffice to explain the differences in these concepts.

Marxist-Leninists have had more than their fair share of taking turns, waxing poetic and prosaic on the subject of the "state" and it is no surprise that even in the African parlance, a good percentage of the leading theorists on the state are either Marxists or people influenced by Marxism: Cabral, Nkrumah, Mafeje, Shivji, Tandon, Mamdani, Ntalaja, Slovo, Cronin, Ihonbvere, Ake, Jordan, Marcelino dos Santos and others.

So I am not issuing any prizes for any one who will be the first to guess where this definition of the state comes from:

“...the state is a special repressive force."

That is what Lenin (echoing Engels) said.

But what did he mean?

Bourgeois ideologues have seized on the language and especially the concept of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” to give it their own liberal spin- essentially distorting these words to imply that Lenin from the get go advocated a COMMUNIST DICTATORSHIP led by a ruthless cabal of party apparatchiks and their bosses in their dachas.

THAT, is the SUPERFICIAL, gross misinformed and jaundiced misintepretation of Lenin's depiction of the State.

With his typical Marxist candour, Lenin was moving beyond bourgeois opportunism and cant to call things by their real name.

By the way, as an aside, was Marx a Marxist and was Lenin a Leninist?

Just kidding. Inside joke. Ha .Ha. Never mind. Let us move on...

And what he was saying was this:

In a socially stratified society, there is NO SUCH THING as a “neutral” dola (what some people call "serikali") that serves ALL of the citizens of a country equally.

There is NO equality before the law or equality of opportunity.

There is no social contract between the rulers and the ruled.

That is why I loved those KANU bigwigs of yesteryear when they used to say, “KANU ina wenyewe” meaning that there was a particular clique of politicians that really owned and controlled KANU.

Today one can say the same thing about political formations representing the various fractions and factions of the mainstream Kenyan elite.

Of course there is always the popular fiction rooted in Jean Jacques Rousseau and other petit-bourgeois liberal philosophers that a state comes into being as a result of some mythical social contract.

The contemporary version of this urban legend is that when “citizens” of a “democracy” go to the polls every four or five years, they “elect” a “government” that then proceeds to oversee the running of the “democratic state” on behalf of the “citizens” and “tax payers” who have given them a popular and legal mandate.


This illusion exists most strongly in advanced capitalist countries like Canada, Germany, Japan, the United States, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France and so on.

Given the maturity of monopoly capitalism, these societies can afford the trappings of bourgeois liberal democracy- civil rights and certain fundamental freedoms guaranteed and protected by law and even politicians being occasionally susceptible to popular pressure.


At the same time we do know that when push does come to shove, the various elites representing the dominant forces of capital in these societies will call the shots.

But it is all done deftly and with a great deal of sophistication.

As Chomsky has taught us in another context, people are often persuaded to participate in their own subjugation directly or indirectly through the manufacture of consent.

And this gets to the point where someone feels there are “free” if they can get their letter to the editor published in their local paper; if they can get to smash a pie into the pudgy face of the local mayor, stomp on a flag, scream at a uniformed police officer or spit on their trained canine colleagues.


Going back to Lenin's depiction of the state as a special coercive force, we find out that he derived that concept from the following passages of Fredrick Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, which traces the concept historically:

"The state is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without; just as little is it 'the reality of the ethical idea', 'the image and reality of reason', as Hegel maintains. Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state...As distinct from the old gentile [tribal or clan] order, the state, first, divides its subjects according to territory...This division seems "natural" to us, but it costs a prolonged struggle against the old organization according to generations or tribes. The second distinguishing feature is the establishment of a public power which no longer directly coincides with the population organizing itself as an armed force. This special, public power is necessary because a self-acting armed organization of the population has become impossible since the split into classes.... This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds, of which gentile [clan] society knew nothing..."

This Marxist-Leninist conceptualization of the State is very far removed from the familiar liberal and superficial fictions we often come across in texts churned out by run of the mill bourgeois academics the world over who have an ideological investment in keeping the true character of this apparatus of power and social control hidden from the very people it lords over.

It is very convenient for imperialists in the North and their surrogates in the South to lead their subjects by the nose, misleading them to think that they have some sort of say in the day to day running of the affairs of state.

To a certain extent, part of the seething anger by millions of Kenyans against Kibaki and his NAK cronies (an anger that I have myself, expressed several times) for “selling out” the aspirations of the Wananchi is thus completely misplaced because if you look at it from the perspective of the Michukis and Murungarus, they did not sell out anybody; their access to some of the state levers of power- everything from ensuring that Kibaki was the designated Presidential candidate to ensuring it was the Muthauras and Keriris handling the cabinet and public appointments in January 2003 were part of a consciously thought out plan to ensure that a certain faction or fragment of the comprador/petit-bourgeoisie in Kenya gained control over this or that segment of the state.

If for example, acceding to the Bomas Draft would thwart those plans they would put as many obstacles on the way to its passage as possible.

Likewise for the LDP faction- if pushing for the Bomas Draft would increase its overall chances of being the dominant local player in the Kenyan state then they would of course do everything possible to make this a reality.


Notice that these adroit factional manoeuvrings have very little to do with democratization.

But why would someone want to control the Kenyan state?

Just before that, any more light on what constitutes the instruments of state coercion?

Apart from the OBVIOUS ONES like the police, the prisons, the courts; there are other secondary ones like access to paid employment, the civil service and public sector, parliament, ideological institutions and instruments like the media and other affiliated structures.

In a so called “Third World” country with a dependent economy such as Kenya's, controlling the levers of state power is doubly crucial because the state is the ng'ombe ya gredi, it is the mrija from which these political business Anglofleecing Goldenbergers suck national resources from the state coffers to fatten themselves and their immediate families, friends, schoolmates, drinking and golfing partners and of course, the associated network of courtesans and get away drivers.

If you, dear, most likely “liberal-democratic” Reader, were to put on OUR Marxist spectacles that we are very willing to lend YOU, then you then see how impatient are the Murungarus and Co who are so impatient with people who are standing in their way as they to consolidate their local aspects of state power- which as we will soon see, is a little bit more complex, a structure so wedded to the global imperialist project as to reduce the Kibakis to mere errand boys who are rewarded with paltry personal payoffs that only serve to undermine the willingness of Kenyan politicians to exhibit a backbone that would enable them to stand up to the World Banks and the IMFs.

What kind of a state is the one that exists in Kenya?

First of all, let us rule out what IT IS NOT.

Kenya is NOT an INDEPENDENT state.

Clearly the vomiting (or the vomited on) Edward Clays and their fellow Western envoys have all but demonstrated that our local misrulers take their orders from smug, often racist, foreign, unelected securocrats, bureaucrats and diplomats.

Secondly, Kenya is NOT a democratic state.

Thirdly, Kenya is NOT a Wananchi's State- which definitely would have had a very different and definite set of priorities than the ones which sees today as Kibaki begs for food after blaming the weather while his ever fattening assistant minister Njeru Githae urges us to arm ourselves with rungus, mikuki, mishale and njoras with which to club, pierce, slash and chop up the mice, rats and bats senseless and into tiny bits and pieces if we want to guarantee our next available source of abundant and non-imported protein.

Fourthly, there is nothing “progressive” about the state that exists in Kenya today-it would not let a young mother of twins wallow in a medical clinic in Nyambene, locked up in the clinic because she could not afford her treatment.

Summing up, whatever else it is, we know this about the current character of the Kenyan State:

It is a dependent,undemocratic, backward anti-people structure of organized overt and covert coercion.

Sometimes we call such States “neo-colonial”.

Why “neo-colonial”?

Why not “post-colonial”?

Why not “rogue”?

Why not “failed” state?

For a very simple reason.

The person who is writing is neither a garden variety petit-bourgeois liberal hack yapping about “transparency, good governance and accountability” nor is he a pompous academic jackass who has blown the final whistle on all prospects for “reform” in Kenya because all these politicians and activists have refused to play nice and just do their little “liberalism, democracy and human rights” TM meditation session.

Mainstream bourgeois scholarship is notoriously nebulous and imprecise when it comes to nailing down concepts and definitions about various social, economic and political phenomena.

For instance, if you ask an average, regular petit-bourgeois Kenyan sociologist to describe for you, in their own words, our country's social class structure, they will immediately blurt out such crude and mechanical words like “lower class” “middle-class” “upper middle-class” and even throw in the notorious “underclass” that mean precious little when you want to examine the relationships that large groups of Kenyans have to each other in terms of their economic functions and attendant power dynamics.

This is not the place to go into details showing WHY an impoverished dukawallah in Shauri Yako estate, Nakuru, is STILL a member of the Kenya petit-bourgeoisie while a highly paid webmaster at Nation Newspapers on Kimathi Street, Nairobi, remains a member of the Kenyan working class- their CLASS IDENTITY being underscored by their relationship to the MEANS OF PRODUCTION rather than by their income levels-even as we realize that the dukawallah is likely to close his duka to become a cashier at Uchumi or Nakumatt even as the unionized webmaster ponders over whether it is time to quit his day job to open a cybercafe/webhosting business.....

Demonize and trash it all you want but many political scientists and others who dabble in the social sciences ACKNOWLEDGE the enormous value the Marxist-Leninist approach has added enormously and tremendously to the study of human society-whether you want to talk about philosophy, politics, economics, social theory, literature, psychology, anthropology, linguistics and yes, sociology as well...

The notion of the “post-colonial state” in my opinion describes a historical juncture rather than the structure or character of a specific, historically determined type of state.

It is like describing an adult as a “post-child”-the only useful information you glean from that label is that said individual is way past childhood- but you will still have to look elsewhere to describe the ADULT in front of you.

What is a “Rogue State”?

I think that the United States and the United Kingdom under Bush and Blair respectively QUALIFIED amply for this diagnosis of “Rogue State”, even though I suspect that the coiners of the term “rogue state” did not have these IMPERIALIST monopoly capitalist states in mind when they did that from their neo-conservative, Ivy League ivory towers.

And a “Failed State” to me would be more of a MORAL value judgment rather than an OBJECTIVE description of a certain political structure existing concretely at a given point in human history.

Why is Somalia a “failed state” just because it lacks a CENTRAL GOVERNMENT as opposed to Canada with its strong FEDERAL GOVERNMENT that has nevertheless SO FAR FAILED to solve the NATIONAL QUESTION in Quebec?

t is obvious that it depends on who is doing the FINGER POINTING and in whose interests.


If the present Kenyan state is a repressive, undemocratic neocolonial state maintaining a dependent, parasitic local “economy” that is subservient to the dictats of US led imperialist machinations in the region, then it follows that progressive Kenyans must struggle TO SEIZE STATE power in order to DESTROY the neo-colonial state and replace it with a NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC STATE whose main legal safeguard must be a people-driven KATIBA.


My problem with the Kenyan state has a lot to do with the reality that it is fully operational as a state, in the sense that Vladimir Lenin used the term.

The instruments of coercion, repression and outright state violence against the Kenyan people are fully operational as can be seen in the reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Release Political Prisoners, Kenya Human Rights Commission and similar watch dogs.

In this context, the Kenyan state as presently constituted is very much alive and killing.

Those of us who argue from class positions (considered anachronistic in these neo-liberal salad days) posit state structures are historically determined and influenced by ideology and particular alignments of social groups and economic interests with the most dominant controlling political power and therefore using state organs like the police, the armed forces, the prisons, the laws of the land, parliament, the civil service and other institutions of public administration, local government and parastatals to buttress their rule.

Kenya is a neo-colonial state, meaning that the structures we still have in Kenya today are almost virtually identical to those who inherited from the British colonialists with the only major difference being the skin colour of those misgoverning us.

It is therefore hardly surprising to find what the Waswahili refer to as Kasumba ya Ukoloni Mamboleo permeating all these institutions.

What we need to add is that there is a qualitative difference between the neo-colonial state currently being mismanaged by the Kibaki led Grand Coalition regime and the first two administrations of Kenyatta and Moi.

While in essence Kibaki is a continuation (was indeed part of) the first two KANU administrations, what distinguishes the Grand Coalition Government is a new quasi formal appendage on the side.

I am talking of the Three Vice Roys.

In an article that the Nairobi-based Sunday Express refused to publish when I was still their Political Editor and had a weekly column (which they abruptly yanked, sometimes in mid April 2009) I said inter alia:


What Do We Do With Our Three Viceroys?

Commentary by Onyango Oloo, Political Editor

The online encyclopedia site known as Wikipedia defines a viceroy as “a royal official who governs a country or province in the name of and as representative of the monarch”.

Even though Kenya does not have any medieval or feudal ties with any foreign country, I often get the impression that we have at least THREE viceroys based right here in Nairobi.

I am referring to the chief diplomatic representatives of the United States of America, the UK and Germany.

Hardly a day passes without one of the three ambassadors pontificating about the affairs of state in this country, which ostensibly got its independence from Britain almost a half century ago.

We see the trio lecturing and hectoring us regularly on corruption, the size of government and other national priorities.

I find this phenomenon simply bizarre and surreal.

Having spent close to twenty years as a permanent resident of Canada living in Toronto and Montreal I never witnessed the spectacle of foreign envoys deigning to rule a country they were posted in by proxy, wagging the finger at the head of state and issuing all kinds of threats.

Why are we, especially the co-principals of the grand coalition countenancing this?

I can answer part of my own question by reflecting on some of the trade offs emanating from the National Accord which created the power sharing arrangement between PNU and ODM last year.

Having pushed Kenya to the brink of civil war and genocidal conflict, the mainstream politicians found themselves roped in by Western powers anxious to safe-guard their geo-political strategic interests by imposing their own version of “peace” “calm” and “stability”.

Being bankrupt to boot, it was a moot question whether we could do anything about the wanton interference from our so called “development partners”.


With our proud history of resistance to foreign domination- a tradition which stresses back over 500 years to the years of opposing Portuguese rule at the Coast, we must strive to fix our own house by jump-starting the necessary constitutional and democratic reforms that will see us retake charge of determining our collective national destiny.

In the meantime, our three viceroys would be well advised to show more respect to the country and its internal governance structures and institutions.
(Submitted to the paper's Managing Editor on Thursday, Jan 29, 2009 at 6:33 PM; rejected 18 minutes later)


It is widely believed by many Kenyan pundits and observers (like Onyango Oloo) that it was t behind the scenes pressure from The Three Vice Roys which
catapulted Ambassador Kiplagat to head the TJRC.

With the Three Vice Roys in place, the Grand Coalition Government is in effect headed by the President, the Prime Minister and the respective Western ambassadors from the United States, Germany and the UK.

That means that the International Community (Ugandan activist scholar Prof. Mamdani argues in his latest book Saviours and Survivors that this is a euphemism for the Western powers) is also complicit in all the crimes of commission and omission perpetrated against the Kenyan people.

What has been worrying me for some time are the persistent reports I get from very many credible circles across the country that the various contingents of the Kenyan elite are busy piling up their respective war chests for 2012.

And I do not invoke the martial imagery of war chests loosely, I might add.

A very close friend of mine who happens to be a human rights lawyer hailing from Central Kenya told me a few months ago that in his own back yard most of the politicians are putting together THEIR OWN private armies. Come 2012, they will not have to outsource to Mungiki or any other brigands, because they would have in place their own hand picket and trained militias answerable directly to them.

Another close political associate from the Kalenjin community in the Rift Valley Province confided in me sometime in May that if Kenyans think that what happened in early 2008 was alarming, let us wait and see what will happen if Kibaki and PNU go ahead with their plans to dismember the country along ethnic lines with their projected micro- provinces and further proliferation of districts.

In Nyanza (whether you are talking about the Kuria, the Gusii or the Luo parts) what is now seen as criminal and vigilante-driven violence could easily and quickly metamorphose into something more deadly if over ambitious political aspirants decide to bank roll these thugs as their storm troopers come 2012. The same thing can be said of Angola-Msumbiji in Western province.

Let us not forget that the Maasai community is very much disgruntled at the failure to do something from the ramifications of the disastrous one sided “Agreements” at the turn of the last century. Consider this excerpt from a recent article in the New African by Wanjohi Kabukuru:


…The inimitable lake is in the Great Rift Valley which traverses through East and the Horn of Africa. It is near the historic Olorgesaile site, known for its anthropological secrets. It is called Lake Magadi, one of the world’s largest producers of soda ash, an important compound in the chemical industry.

The Lake Magadi deposits are exploited and processed into soda ash (sodium bicarbonate) by the Magadi Soda Company. Almost 90% of the company’s products is exported. Soda ash is used in the manufacture of glass, a variety of chemicals, soaps, paper and paper pulp, water treatment, oil refining, synthetic rubber and explosives.

But unknown to many people, Lake Magadi symbolizes a century of injustice to the Maasai community on whose land the lake sits. It all began on 10 August 1904 when the then British Commissioner in Kenya, Sir Donald Stewart, met Maasai leaders and made them sign the infamous Maasai Agreement of 1904, under which the Maasai “agreed” to “remove [their] people, flocks and herds into definite reservations away from the railway line, and away from any land that may be thrown open to European settlement.”

The agreement stipulated that the Maasai had to move to two reserves, the Laikipia plateau and the Ngong Reserve, separated by the railway line which cut across their land. As a consolation, they were to be linked by a track, half a mile long, for easy movement of both people and livestock. The agreement was to be in force for as “long as the Maasai race shall exist.”

The second Maasai treaty, the Anglo-Maasai Agreement of 4 April 1911, was reached by the then Governor Sir Percy Girouard. In both agreements, the issue of Lake Magadi did not feature prominently. Though the lake is principally within Maasailand, it is owned by foreigners. The local Maasai community provides labour only. They are not shareholders.

It is the 1911 Maasai Treaty that saw the Magadi Soda Company coming into being and at the same time falling into the hands of foreigners, with little regard to the surrounding community.

At that time a company formed in England, in the county of Cheshire, by John Brunner and Ludwig Mond under the name Brunner, Mond & Company was already producing soda ash. The global demand for soda ash and its derivatives saw the company grow steadily, and in 1924 Magadi Soda Company of Kenya became a wholly owned subsidiary of Brunner & Mond Company.

Two years later, long before mergers were in vogue, Brunner Mond merged with three other British chemical companies- Nobel Industries, United Alkali and British Dyestuffs- to form the formidable Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which went on to become one of the world’s largest and most successful companies.

In 1991, Brunner Mond Holdings Limited bought the UK and Kenyan soda ash business from ICI, and the original Brunner Mond came back as phoenix and independent company.

Come 2006, Tata Chemicals Limited-a subsidiary of the giant Tata Group of India- got hold of the Brunner Mond Group, turning around the fortunes of Brunner Mond/Magadi Soda/Tata Chemicals group as the third largest producer of soda ash in the world, after FMC of the USA and Solvay Chemical of Belgium.

The Brunner Mond/Magadi Soda/Tata Chemicals group is the only one in the world to have both the manufacturing and supply links spread on three continents (Europe, Africa, Asia). Interestingly, Magadi Soda Ash has the cheapest production costs in the world due to surface mining and dredging. A tonne of soda ash currently sells at 160 Euros on the world market. Tata Chemicals has a controlling stake of 63.5 % of the equity of the Brunner Mond Group. The remaining 36.5% was acquired through an open offer in March 2006, making Brunner Mond a complete affiliate of Tata Chemicals. The acquisition was funded through internal cash balances, including funds from a recent $ 150 million convertible bonds issue.

Though the Maasai have complained for years about Magadi Soda and their land, little has happened. The Tata Group has an annual turnover of $ 14 billion. Little of this trickles down to the Maasai.
-Wanjohi Kabukuru, “The Wealth of Ashes” New African, June 2009, pp36-37.

At the Coast the failure by successive governments since independence to deal with issues of development, poverty alleviation, and politically well connected up country elites and blatant Muslim profiling may prove to be a recruiting ground not only Al-Qaeda but the Mji Kenda based irredentist movement which spawned the outfits that unleashed so much state-sponsored violence back in 1997.

We all know what is happening throughout northern Kenya- from the resource based conflicts between the Pokot and the Turkana (not overlooking illegal forays by the trigger-happy members of the Ugandan Peoples Defence Forces) to the spill over battles between the Ethiopian regime and the Oromo guerrillas who often seek refuge among their Borana cousins and of course the biggest head ache- the seeping southwards of the Somali civil war with Al Shabab recruiting not just in Mandera, Garissa and Wajir but right down to sprawling ethnic Somali neighbourhoods of Eastliegh in the Kenyan capital itself.

Mungiki affiliated gangs have grabbed our front page attention for the havoc they wreak in Central and Eastern provinces.

But Kenyans should be MORE worried about the so called “vigilantes” roaming around places like Kirinyaga in Martha Karua's backyard because they are in my opinion, little more than state sponsored death squads in the making, very much in mould of the thugs in El Salvador and similar private armies connected to the far right in Central and South America.

Folks, let us gird ours loins as we prepare for the very real possibility of a version of low intensity conflict in Kenya which is likely to be MORE bastardized and savage because its targets will not be politically conscious leftist well organized armed opposition groups, but on the contrary, innocent unarmed Kenyan civilians in the urban and rural areas whose only crime will be to belong to the “wrong tribe” and wear t-shirts from the “wrong electoral vehicle”.

Let me repeat a passage I had used in my last digital essay:

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.



5.0. So What Do We DO About All This?

Guess what?

That is the subject of my NEXT digital essay.

But the Anglican Church in Eldoret is already showing some of the baby steps we can begin taking with this Power Point presentation.

Onyango Oloo

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Retrieving Kenya From the Power Vampires

A Digital Essay By Onyango Oloo

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?

The youth?

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?

Hopefully not.

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!


Onyango Oloo

July 22, 2009