Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Kenyan Socialist Reflects on the August 4th Referendum

A Digital Essay by Onyango Oloo

I met a young Kenyan-Canadian in Nairobi a few days ago.

He has been serving as an intern for a charity organization which runs an orphanage located in a Luo village which is about one hour’s drive from Kisii town in the western part of the country.

The young man himself is originally a Mswahili from Mombasa who relocated with his family to North America in the early nineties due to the economic pressures of neo-colonial underdevelopment in Kenya and the globalized allure of the West for the planet’s dark skinned exploited and marginalized Third World immigrants.

A couple of weeks ago he made contact via Facebook to inform me about his trip to Kenya.

Being an old Ontario friend of his family with ties going back almost twenty years, I have watched him grow from a bashful toy obsessed ten year old elementary school boy in Toronto’s west end into the quietly self-assured twenty something final year university student he is today.

It has been amazing to track the trajectory of his transformation and I was quite impressed to interact with him over our one hour lunch at the Café Pronto- a spacious Somali owned joint located two streets away from the 20th Century cinema in the heart of the business district of the Kenyan capital.

Noticing that the young man across the table from me was equipped with an agile and critical mind, I was ecstatic as we exchanged views on a wide array of topics- from the plight of African-Americans and Hispanics in the Greater New York area to the Islamophobic backlash which came in the wake of 9/11.

Needless to say, we are both members of the Barack Obama Admiration Society.

At one point in our face to face encounter, he asked me a question which made me sit upright in my café dining chair.

“Why is the United States government supporting the proposed constitution so much? What does it stand to gain? I know Uncle Sam- never does anything unless it benefits its national and ideological interests.”

I looked at the young man keenly.

As a first generation Canadian youth of African extraction and Muslim background, he must have seen first hand how the two North American Anglo imperialists look at the rest of the world. Thanks to the Bush Doctrine and the ramblings of the likes of Samuel P. Huntington, Washington and to a lesser extent, Ottawa, have, over the last decade or so looked at Africa, Asia, the Middle-East, the Caribbean and Latin America largely through its biased tinted spectacles coloured by the jaundice of the discredited War Against Terror which has the world’s Muslims in the cross hairs of their collective automatic assault rifles.

After pausing for a few long seconds pondering on the profundity of his rhetorical question, I mumbled that he was right, that I agreed with him 100% that the USA was throwing its weight behind the reform agenda aka the Agenda Four issues not because of its piety or commitment to democracy, justice and social equity but rather because it was in the interest of the “International Community”- a convenient euphemism for the Western capitalist countries- that Kenya remained stable politically, economically and security wise because of the geopolitical ramifications of an unstable Kenya in the volatile Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa region. I told him that Uncle Sam cared less whether it was Raila and ODM or Kalonzo and PNU who ascended to the helm of state power in 2012. In fact, if experience is anything to go by, the Americans would not be terribly opposed to perpetuating the shot gun marriage of the two feuding fractions of the local power structure first consummated after the signing of the National Accord on February 28, 2008.

“So you are going to vote against the proposed draft constitution?” he asked.

I promptly retorted:

“Of course not! I am very much on the Yes side!”

The sharp look he gave me was one of bewilderment, as if he had been startled to hear the words jump out of my throat.

I patiently explained my position to him.

You see, I began, I did not just come to Canada as a tourist. Nor did I arrive as a foreign student. I came to North America as a political exile, I told him. And I had been forced to flee Kenya in the late 1980s because the situation in the country was very volatile. I had just emerged from a maximum penitentiary after a stiff five year jail term imposed on me by a kangaroo court acting at the behest of the one party state which deemed a harmless draft essay by a first year university student to be a radioactive seditious tract threatening national security; I told him about the then prevailing political paranoia of the Moi dictatorship; about the culture of fear and silence; the embarrassing sycophancy; the screening of Kenyans who were ethnic Somalis; the waves of state sponsored killings, ethnic cleansing and other manifestations of KANU's reign of terror and error; the overweening powers of the executive which gave rise to a constitutional tyrant occupying the office of the president; the survival of outmoded colonial laws; the orgy of land grabbing, grand graft and callous impunity; the lack of a clear independent foreign policy; the denial of the cultural identity of a host of marginalized ethnic groups; the subjugation of women; the peripheral status of the youth; the exploitation of workers; the alienation of our national resources and mortgaging our country to transnationals and imperialist linked multilateral agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank; the white washing and blacking out of the patriotic contributions of generations of the true freedom fighters; the shoddiness of the educational system; the inefficiency of the national economy; in short, the broad parameters of the neocolonial malaise and imperialist quagmire that Kenyans found themselves in since 1963, Under girding this political, economic, social and cultural reality was the current constitution which buttressed all that was odious and opprobrious to our patriotic aspirations for a just, democratic and fair society.

In this contemporary historical context I expounded further, ALL our political struggles were ipso facto, struggles for a new order and therefore, really struggles for a new constitution, not for its own sake, but as the sine qua non for jump-starting a new Kenya built on equality, non-tribalism, justice and democracy.

I recounted how waves of patriots and democrats- Pio da Gama Pinto, JM Kariuki, Chelagat Mutai, Mwakdua wa Mwachofi, Oginga Odinga, George Anyona, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and many, many others had been killed, incarcerated, tortured, vilified, exiled and oppressed in their quest for the new Kenya. I identified myself with this long tradition of anti-imperialist resistance, pointing out that I was not the only young person or student jailed for fighting against injustice, dictatorship, corruption and pro-imperialist policies.

I told my visiting compatriot that the contemporary constitutional reform movement which dates its inception to circa 1988 with the entry into the national fray of the likes of Rev. Timothy Njoya and mainstream politicians like Charles Rubia and Kenneth Matiba was just the latest relay leg of a marathon race that had started decades ago. The 2003-2004 Bomas National Constitutional Conference and its betrayal in March 2004 by elite political forces linked to President Kibaki (during his first term) was an arena of struggle between the forces of progress and the forces of reaction as was the fractious 2005 Referendum on the mutilated Wako mongrel draft. My impromptu tour of our history of constitution making culminated with the events of 2009-2010 which saw Parliament unanimously endorse a document which had at first been savaged and bastardized by retrogressive forces intent on ensuring that Kenyans did not get a new constitution at all. I clarified the irony of the Rutos and Jirongos railing against a document they had been instrumental in inserting into backward clauses entrenching a pure presidential system as opposed to a parliamentary one and restricting devolution from achieving its true potential.

Perhaps I left my young friend’s head swimming, I am not sure.

In any case, I am planning to wake up first thing in the morning and vote YES come this August 4th at the Bidii Primary School, Buru Buru in Nairobi’s Makadara Constituency.

The date is a fateful one for me for at least two reasons.

In the first place, it will mark the 28th anniversary- to the day-when I was picked up by railway police off a train way back in 1982 before being transported back under armed guard to be charged with trying to cause disaffection against the government of Kenya as by law established through my fairly tepid draft student essay. So will there be some kind of vindication, however fleeting for those age-mates and contemporaries of mine who have spent the last thirty to forty years fighting for a new Kenya, or will it be a new setback for the national cause as the Mois and their political offspring- the Rutos and the Jirongos- crow like the KANU cockerel of yore of yet another victory over the forces of progress and freedom?

In the second place, if the YES side does prevail, and I believe, knock on wood (my dialectical materialism notwithstanding), that the proposed constitution will be endorsed at the August 4th Referendum- then it should be clear to all Kenyans that what we would have approved would NOT, contrary to the assertions of the high profile leaders of the YES Campaign, be a document for “all posterity for our children, grand children and grandchildren of our grand children”.

Instead, this constitution that will be the supreme law of the land will be in fact a very TRANSITIONAL document because in my opinion, it is a very flawed draft- but not in the twisted and distorted way that the anachronistic Neanderthals and the benighted Bigots in the NO camp are braying and praying about.

I am saying that the proposed constitution that I will be voting Yes for is an imperfect document because unlike the South African or the Rwandese constitutions, it is NOT the outcome of a decisive national struggle which has seen one side or the other take the reins of state power and proceed in introducing a new order.

Rather this proposed constitution is the product of protracted horse trading, vicious arm twisting, underhand middle of the night concessions among the different factions and fractions of the Kenyan comprador, nascent national and petit bourgeois classes and strata with the working people and peasantry largely reduced to bystanders, spectators and cheerleaders for this side or the other of the elite pacting squads.

That is why, in my opinion the struggle for a truly new national democratic constitution BEGINS with the passage and promulgation of the proposed constitution on August 4, 2010.

We will only be able to write and implement a New Democratic National Constitution when the popular forces for change have been able to successfully wrestle and REMOVE from power all these moth eaten odd balls who have been masquerading as the political leadership of this country for the last fifty years or so.

That is right:

We will get a new democratic constitution the day after we have managed to win state power and begin the process of a national democratic revolution.

By the way, let me end by noting in passing some of the surreal statements coming from some of MY friends and comrades in the Yes Camp.

One of them, a very good friend of mine, observed that Red was the colour of danger and some other negative connotations.

Another one, also a very good political buddy of mine, raised the bogey of secularism if the No side manages to remove the Kadhi’s Courts from the constitution.

I can only shake my head in disbelief and befuddlement.

I thought that RED was the symbol of revolution, or have we ceased to be socialists and revolutionaries?

All in all, I thought it was a mistake by the Committee of Experts to use two colours which have such potent and POSITIVE symbolism in our beautiful, world famous national flag in such an oppositional , NEGATIVE manner as the signifiers for the Yes and No voters.

Red, at least to those of us who still call ourselves patriots, stands for selfless sacrifice, especially spilt patriotic blood while Green is for regeneration, the environment you name it. These colours are on the same flag as the Black and the White!

They could have chosen something else- like monkeys and donkeys.

As for the scepter of SECULARISM, I find that scarecrow troubling, hoisted as it were, by a former Secretary General of one of Kenya’s few openly socialist parties.

I think that we WANT and NEED the Kenyan State to BE SECULAR. Currently, and even in the proposed constitution, it is NOT Islam which will remain a state religion but CHRISTIANITY. We have a Catholic President; the Prime Minister is a registered Anglican while the Vice President is a fundamentalist Charismatic Born Again.

Who speaks for those of us who are secular, agnostic or even atheist?

Incidentally I am Pro-Choice and I would have been happy if the proposed constitution had legalized abortion.

Also I do not know why so many Kenyans-including those who are presumed "progressive"- have such a difficulty recognizing the humanity AND equality of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered and intersexed people by having explicit clauses in the constitution outlawing homophobia, lesbophobia and other forms of hatred against members of these communities.

Enuff Sed.

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya
Tuesday, June 9, 2010


nannygoat said...

Except I'm Pro-Life I am able to relate and rest with all your reflections here. I enjoyed reading and finding a like mind and will also vote yes on the 4th Aug. despite the flaws.Its time to move on even if it is only a small leap into a better future.
The evolution of man's mind takes time here.

Anonymous said...

check out more comments on

khann said...

hey new here. anyone knows how i can get that magazine of Lance Spearman?

Jackson Joseph said...

I think Kenya is becoming of age. We can see most politicians behaving in a more responsible manner and so on. A recent SURVEY by a web hosting company.
Sofnet Solutions Ltd indicate that internet growth in Kenya has tripled of the last one year due to increase tolerance among political class and better governance improving investors confidence

Anonymous said... .I think Kenya is becoming of age. We can see most politicians behaving in a more responsible manner and so on. A recent SURVEY by a web hosting company.