Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why Are We So Obsessed With Reforms in Kenya?

A Digital Essay by Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

Thank you.

I am glad I caught your eye.

First off, kudos are in order.

Shangwe na vigelegele to

Baraka Husseini Obama
for being crowned this year’s

Nobel Peace Prize

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

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

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

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

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

Now back to the topic at hand.

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

What is the big deal with Agenda Four?

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

Is it reforms we really need in Kenya today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then something happened on the way from Damascus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How still true this axiom is today in October 2009!

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

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

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

What did Kenyans do before 2007?

We were ever interested in transforming our country?

My argument is that we have actually LOWERED the bar.

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

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

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

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

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

From where did this delusion spring from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us recall how Kenyans landed in the current quagmire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that remains to be seen.

A word or two about the International Criminal Court.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is us.

And we can only do it if we organize ourselves.


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

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


Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya