Monday, August 03, 2009

Deepening the National Democratic Project in Kenya

PART THREE of a trilogy of essays by Onyango Oloo

1.0. By Way of Summary

In my last two essays I have argued that the ruling clique and the present neo-colonial state in Kenya pose the gravest threats to the security of the east African country and her diverse people.

I have located this threat in the historical evolution of the state from its colonial roots and demonstrated that elite pacting and contestations within and across the
comprador and petit-bourgeois fractions jostling for power have alienated the successive and increasingly repressive regimes from the ordinary Kenyans who have over the decades become more and more poverty stricken, even as the powers that be employ the most callous methods to corruptly enrich themselves to the detriment of the future sustainability of the country.

Looking at these threats from a human security stand point, rather than the largely discredited Bush-era erratic War on Terror prism, I made the point that our national institutions-the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the superstructure of public and local administration- are at the point of near collapse and can not address the food, health, environmental, personal, political, community and economic dimensions and yard sticks of the human security needs of Kenyans at the present time.

I ended the second of those two digital interventions by promising a way forward out of that morass and impasse.

In this concluding piece of that trilogy of essays, I posit that the antidote to the extreme insecurity confronting us will NOT be found in hare brained short cuts like political assassinations or coup de tats on one extreme or a rejigging of yet another electoral juggernaut ala NARC in 2002 or ODM/PNU in 2007.

Rather, it is my conviction that the answer lies in deepening the Kenya national democratic project-by which I mean harnessing the progressive social and political forces to fight for national renewal, participatory democracy in tandem with consistent international solidarity in order to achieve sustainable development, redress historical injustices and begin the process of constructing a people-centred national developmental state.

My focus in this contribution will be to map out the contours of a made in Kenya united democratic front as the vehicle to achieve the aspirations mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

For the benefit of some of my weary readers who may be on the verge of committing hara kiri because of the length of my regular digitals, I will NOT include EVEN ONE hyperlink in what will turn out to be a shockingly abbreviated piece of prose.

There, I hope I have given you something to chuckle about.

2.0. What Do Kenyans Want?

In a nutshell:

Peace. Human Security. Democracy. Prosperity. Gender Equality. Social Justice.

3.0. How Do Kenyans Get What They Want?

To economize on words:

Through organization.

4.0. Should the Current Grand Coalition Government Be Overthrown?



Because 2009 is NOT 2002.

And 2002 was not 1992 or 1997.

What do I mean?

In 2002, Kenyans came out in their millions to unite behind the NARC candidate, Mwai Kibaki in order to end the 39 year old nightmare of the KANU one party dictatorship. That was a watershed in our national politics because it signaled the first baby steps to entrenching multi-party democracy after the futility of the 1992 and 1997 elections when Daniel arap Moi capitalized on three things- the clout of incumbency, the organized terror of the state and the fractious, feuding mainstream opposition to retain political power even after the repeal of Section 2A of the constitution trumpeted the resumption of formal political pluralism in the country.

2007 was supposed to be yet another democratic milestone which some of us naively hoped would mark the transition from a roughly hewn liberal democratic paradigm to a social democratic dispensation. Instead, Kibaki gifted us with a civilian coup and the country degenerated into the much talked about post-election violence soon after that.

February 28, 2008 was another missed opportunity to repair the derailed ship of state with the formation of the Grand Coalition Government under the auspices of the Kofi Annan brokered National Accord. We have outlined in the preceding essays how disappointing the reality has been since then for the vast majority of the people.

Even though the current Kenyan administration has lost most of its moral legitimacy to govern, I for one, do not share the outbursts of the NCCK in calling for Kibaki, Raila and their PNU/ODM cabinet ministers to resign. I have consistently opposed these adventurist calls and it is a matter of public record that I castigated the same outfit (in my then weekly Sunday Express column) on March 22, 2009 when they called for fresh elections.

NCCK’s demands, to me, do not venture beyond posturing and playing to the public gallery because the Protestant Churches should know that calling for fresh elections in the current context of the prevailing undemocratic constitution and murky status of the interim electoral commission is a recipe for a resumption of internal strife on a scale more serious than last year’s post-electoral carnage.

A youthful and quite patriotic friend of mine on Facebook contacted me privately several weeks ago, musing over the feasibility of plotting a coup de tat or taking even more drastic steps against the leading figures in the Kenyan Grand Coalition regime.

Chuckling, I gently persuaded him that such rash, reckless and thoroughly irresponsible presumed short cuts to power are not only doomed to complete failure, these are completely UNDEMOCRATIC prescriptions for fascism and state repression, citing the sad examples of Uganda under Idi Amin or Liberia under the late unlamented Master Sergeant (later self-promoted to General) Samuel K. Doe. In both cases, the inhabitants of the respective East and West African banana republics dashed to the streets of their capitals in a very short-lived celebration only to wake up to the horrors and atrocities of dissidents being fed to the crocodiles of River Nile or hacked to death in the human butcheries of Monrovia.

Kenyans who lived for decades under the tyranny of Kenyatta and Moi’s iron fists will rue the return of the days when the culture of silence and fear was the prevailing national norm.

We struggled, shedding blood and losing lives to live in a milieu where freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and other fundamental civic and political rights were taken for granted.

The present writer launched his “career” as anti-establishment scribe at the age of 22 when he was hauled before a kangaroo court, charged with sedition and thrown in a maximum security prison for five years- for having the temerity to argue, in a hand written unpublished draft, that students and youth had a right to participate in democratic and social justice struggles in Kenya.

We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that we never go back to that dark night in our country’s history.

What Kenyans need to do in 2009 is to ENTRENCH rather than roll back our democratic gains, which are by no means irreversible.

Irrespective of our ideological standpoints, all patriotic and democratic minded Kenyans have a consensus that multi-party democracy with its components of regular elections is the minimum political dispensation acceptable to all of us.

Therefore, the only way to defeat the machinations of our current misrulers is to mobilize our social and political bases using peaceful, democratic methods to ensure that the next time Kenyans go to the polls we can usher in a new chapter in our quest to entrench popular democracy in this country.

The failures of the Grand Coalition Government must be exposed, fought and vanquished on the terrain of open multi-party political contestations- albeit with a new content and even form.

5.0.Time for a Break With Orthodox Electioneering

In 1992 Kenyans rallied around FORD (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy in Kenya, not to be confused with the Detroit Auto Octopus)-before it disintegrated into its many feuding offspring-FORD-Kenya, FORD-Asili, FORD-People, Saba Saba etc.

In 1997 Kenyans went to bat for DP, NDP, SDP which all had a national following, winning several parliamentary and civic seats and other little fractions and political sects and one person briefcase cults.

In 2002 the Unbwogable Spirit spawned the NARC electoral juggernaut.

By mid-2003, it had splintered into its original NAK and LDP factions, crippling the first Kibaki regime until the end of its mandate.

In 2007 a big percentage of the masses were with ODM-but then Kalonzo Musyoka with the financial backing of Daniel arap Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta proved to be a PNU Fifth Columnist.

In 2008, Kenyans hailed the political marriage of PNU and ODM.

In 2009 the same bewildered Kenyans are witnessing the beginning of bitter divorce proceedings of the incompatible Grand Coalition couple who are staying in unholy matrimony only because they fear the wrath of the disappointed electorate.

The one lesson we learn from the 1992-2009 experience of elite-driven electoral vehicles to power is that all these electoral omnibuses-FORD, NARC, ODM, PNU-ultimately achieve the opposite effect of their goals with their cross country monster rallies which end up completely disenfranchising and demobilizing the ordinary wananchi from the democratic process.

Unless you are an INSANE parachutist, you do NOT climb a tree from the top.

Hitherto, populist Kenyan politicians have used the tried and failed stratagem of building political coalitions from the top down rather than the other way round.

At the end of the day, we find the chieftains struggling to stay relevant, while desperately clinging to power.

6.0. The Obama Phenomenon Can NOT be Exported to Kenya

In the wake of Barack Obama’s stupendous and historic run for the US Presidency, tens of thousands of Kenyans inspired by the success of an American citizen they claim as their own, have drawn quite delirious and very wrong headed lessons which they have tried to graft on dramatically different Kenyan conditions and realities.

At its most superficial, Kenyan adherents of the Obama Effect think that all they have to do is sign up for a Facebook or My Space account, author an inspirational memoir, collect 1,000 shillings each from 1,000, 20, 000 or 3,000,000 Kenyans across the world via the internet, hire a speech therapist and writer, order a few well- cut three piece suits, and hey presto, they are on the home stretch to the vaunted State House.

This sad delusion emanates from a very shallow assessment of complex mainstream American politics.

Since I promised to be precise, I will not sail along that tangent today.

Now get me right:

I am not saying that we should not pick up some of the tools and methods of the highly organized Obama Presidential bid.

Not at all.

I too have a very active Facebook account-even though I am not planning to run for President any time soon.

7.0. Should the Social Democratic Leaning Parties in Kenya Merge?

This is another very well meaning suggestion from one of my dozens of Facebook friends.

I actually DO NOT THINK SO.

And I am speaking as the Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party of Kenya.

There are a number of parties including, NARC,NARC Kenya, ODM, ODM Kenya, PNU, Safina, Ford-Asili, Mazingira Greens, FORD-People and of course SDP- which all claim to be social democratic in ideological orientation.

In reality, if I called myself Beyoncé Knowles today, that alone would not make ME the curvaceous, bootylicious musical hit making African-American mega star.

It is the flavour du jour for Kenyan political parties to call themselves “social democratic”.

But we know that these parties are as ideologically diverse as their weird interpretations of what “social democracy” means and implies in the Kenyan context today.

Depending on who you are talking about, some of these parties are led by communists, nationalists, social democrats, neo-liberal Talibans and in some cases, out and out charlatans and unscrupulous political merchants.

It would thus be suicidal to have this motley crew to merge- something akin to medical doctors forming a professional association with the actors who impersonate them on television.

8.0. Can Political Parties Really Work with Civil Society in Kenya?

That was the rhetorical question one NGO advocate posed to me the other day.

Of course, I retorted.

They are part and parcel of the same thing, I pointed out to my astonished comrade.


I hear a reader echo, mouth agape.

In our country we have completely distorted the original meaning of “civil society”.

Sometimes, if you read the dailies, you get the impression that there are several “civil societies”.

This misunderstanding comes from the conflation of NGO bodies with the term “civil society”.

This is incorrect.

What is civil society?

It is whatever is NOT part of the state.

ALL non-state actors belong in “civil society”.

That includes, by definition, all those political parties which are not part of the state- along with the trade unions, the NGOs, the CBOs, the cultural associations, professional bodies, chambers of commerce, manufacturers’ associations, mass democratic formations representing women, the youth, people with disabilities, and YES, the media among many other non-state actor contingents.

Once you embrace this expanded definition of civil society, you immediately grasp how ridiculous is this false and artificial antagonism between political parties, NGOs and other organizations in the non-profit sector.

9.0.Time for a United Democratic Front

From the foregoing it is apparent that I am issuing a call for a civil society driven- with the expanded definition of civil society in mind- coalition of progressive social, cultural, economic and political forces to confront the cliques and the ruling elites controlling the neo-colonial state machinery.

In terms of the progressive political forces, there are at least FOUR GENERATIONS of patriots one is talking about: remnants of the Mau Mau and KPU period; veterans of the 1970s and 1980s underground movements; the multi-party advocates of the 1990s and present day youthful agitators for change.

In broad terms these break down ideologically into the nationalist, socialist, liberal democratic and social democratic traditions- with considerable overlap and fluidity- some of the nationalists became socialists; some of the former communists are now liberal democrats and so on.

The mass democratic formations of the youth, women, trade unions, peasants and other working people cut across all these ideological currents.

What is needed is to forge an ORGANIZATIONAL expression to these incipient national democratic strivings.

In my first essay I gave several pointers on the HOW part of the question of forming a United Democratic Front by invoking South African and Palestinian examples.

The WHEN part of it is NOW.

10.0. Next Steps

Get off the internet and roll up your sleeves comrades and compatriots!

Onyango Oloo

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have read your sincere concerns with a lot of regard. I would wish to state that such quests are not latent and they are no-longer unpopular. I would wish such minds would organize operations, and strategies. Without any platform, we shall always be tilting at windmills.
SECONDLY, the Kenyan education system produces a man who is alien to the reality at hand.Broad based reform addressing such fundamental issues is needed.
THIRDLY, Kenya affords its tranquility as a result of the economic state of the country. We have a very narrow disenfranchised middle class. Their aspiration is following suit: Struggling to amass whatever wealth can be amassed through corrupt deals, and can go any length. Concernment with the civil society is no one's business because it only earns injury.
If you think there is much we can do, I will be glad. BUT, Bottom line: The kenyan person is little concerned with this.