Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Are you a muthamaki?

One of the things that remains unexamined, in Kenya at least, is the role political organising at the grassroots played a key role in Donald Trump's election and the retention by the GOP of its majority in Congress. US citizens, including partisans, can trace the origins of their political parties and strains of political and ideological thought to seminal moments in US history. Even independent voters and candidates in the US espouse specific ideologies, though they are difficult to pigeon-hole in US tribal politics. Few Kenyans, if any, can do the same.

Kenya's oldest party is the Kenya African National Union, Kanu, a decrepit, corrupt and moribund political institution captured by a declining tribal cabal that has failed to read the writing on the wall since the fiasco of Kenya's last mlolongo party elections in 1988. Having become a vehicle for the centralisation and personalisation of State power over the reigns of two autocrats, it lost all legitimacy when it became the de jure ruling party and acquired a malign reputation as the vehicle for the corruption of the institutions of government, the aggrandisement of the well-connected few and the basis for the political excommunication of Kenya's nascent progressives, liberals and socialists. It's defeat in December 2002 should have signalled the re-emergence of liberal political thought. It didn't. Instead, Kenya is paying the price for the hollowing out of the institutions of Government and the State-political capture of civil society.

While US citizens can find and fight over ideological points, points they use to organise one another, Kenyans are not. The recent revelations regarding the banking sector and the theft of hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, of shillings from the coffers of the National Youth Service demonstrate that even on a matter that should unite all Kenyans, the condemnation of graft, Kenyans (or, at least, their political and religious leaders) do not have an ideological unity. Those that self-identify as members of the political opposition do not come to the anti-graft table with clean hands, the putrid nature of their dealings when they were in positions of political power befouling the air and obscuring facts that should be brought to light in order for Kenyans to engage robustly in a debate of what it means to hold political power in Government. The only argument that seems to prevail in dealing with the corruption of the State is whether or not one is a muthamaki, or its equivalent; his or her culpability in the theft of billions of shillings is neither here nor there.

May US citizens are wringing their hands over the capture of the Republican Party by Donald Trump and his insurgents; in Kenya, however, the "purchase" of political parties, for their use as vehicles for the acquisition of political power, is greeted with pomp and celebration. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, in the wake of their indictments at the International Criminal Court, demonstrated the benefits to be gained from the purchase and personalisation of political vehicles in the wake of the experimentation of 2005/2006 by Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka in their tussle over the Orange Democratic Movement Party of Kenya (long since renamed the Wiper Democratic Movement). 

Political vehicles in Kenya are identified by the politicians who "own" them: Mr Musyoka "owns" Wiper, Mr Odinga "owns" ODM, Musalia Mudavadi "owns" Amani National Congress, Alfred Mutua "owns" Maendeleo Chap Chap and Martha Karua "owns" Narc-Kenya. Noe of these parties, despite their party constitutions and political manifestos, have a true ideology or following. They are empty vessels and like all debes, they have perfected the art of making very loud noises when elections are imminent. 

The next nine months will witness political mobilisation on an unprecedented scale and great political noise; what will not occur is a robust discussion of ideological political issues that affect the majority of Kenyans, those who live in or hovering near poverty. Politicians will paint each other in bad light and mobilise Kenyan voters to ram home their personal attacks on one another. But on the successes or failures of Government and the immiseration of millions because of difficult political and economic choices, there will nary be a peep.

Those Kenyans bemoaning Hillary Clinton's defeat at the hands of Donald Trump do themselves or their causes a great disservice if they fail to examine where Kenya's political party evolution is headed. They imagine that the highly partisan divisions in the US have a mirror in Kenya because of the decade-long contest between the Uhuru-Ruto alliance against the Raila Odinga phenom. Unless we reckon with the enervation of political institutions through the personalisation of the institutions of the State, we shall be unable to participate meaningfully in the political process in Kenya.

1 comment:

Akinyi said...

Great insight on the political world. This is good especially now that I'm not so well informed on the political arena.