KENYA: FROM STREET POWER TO STATE POWER

Introduction: laboratories of street resistance

This is the first of a series of three cases as laboratories of peoples’ resistance against the power wielded by the Central authorities. The two other case studies are Catalonia (Spain) and Venezuela. In the cases of Kenya and Venezuela the Centre is backed by the Anglo-American Empire; in Catalonia the Centre is backed by the European Union. On the other hand, the people resisting the Centre and the imperial hegemony have moral and solidarity support that cuts across oceans. The three cases are emblematic representations of our times. They will help us understand where we come from and where we are going.

From Mau Mau uprising to Britain’s acceptance of responsibility for human rights violation

Kenya’s story goes back to the Mau Mau uprising from 1952 to 1960.  In 2009 the Mau Mau veterans pressed claims for compensation for violation of their human rights by the colonial government. The British government argued that the claim could not be pursued because the statute of limitations had expired. But the court ruled against the government. However, in June 2013, the government was obliged to compensate more than 5,000 Kenyans tortured and abused during the Mau Mau insurgency.[1] On 12 September 2015, it went further and unveiled a Mau Mau memorial statue in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park that it funded “as a symbol of reconciliation between the British government, the Mau Mau, and all those who suffered”. [2]  The current large scale resistance against the newly re-elected government of Uhuru Kenyatta is, in many ways, a continuation of the same struggle – two generations down the road from the days of the Mau Mau.

Kenya – a neocolonial state

The neocolonial state is a contested site between the empire and nationalist forces. Here are its principal features:

  1. A neocolonial condition does not negate the rule of the international financial oligarchy. The petty bourgeoisie arising out of the colonial period is blocked from becoming fully fledged national bourgeoisie, their interests locked up with monopoly finance capital.
  2. A neocolonial state and economy are sustained by corruption, which comes in two forms: institutional and personal. The state (like Kenya) is institutionally corrupt; in return for the so-called “development aid”, it is obliged to pursue the donor-imposed policies of free trade liberalisation. This is reinforced by the institutions of global governance – the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The second form of corruption is personal; these are bribes mainly to state officials. In 2005, for example, an anti-graft Kenyan official (John Githongo) claimed that corruption under the President Kibaki had cost the country $1 billion. Following his revelations, he had to flee from Kenya to save his life.[3]
  3. Nonetheless, political independence is a significant step towards liberation from the empire. It makes it more cumbersome for the empire to control the neocolonies compared to colonial rule. Instead of ruling directly, the empire has to work through local agents, called “compradors”.[4] Also, the neocolonial condition deepens the contradiction between imperialism and the people. The struggle for national self-determination reaches a heighted level.

Incongruities of the electoral process

In March 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta – the son of Kenya’s first president- won the presidential election with just over 50% of the vote. His main rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, petitioned the Supreme Court (comprising of six judges, headed by the Chief Justice) to nullify the elections on grounds of massive vote-rigging.  However, the Court dismissed the petitions for “lack of evidence”.

On 8 August, 2017, Uhuru Kenyatta (leading the Jubilee coalition) and Raila Odinga (leading the National Super Alliance – NASA) again contested the presidential elections.  Once again, Uhuru won. Odinga again petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify the elections. This time the Court, in its judgment of 1 September, nullified the elections on the grounds that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had failed to meet constitutional and legal requirements of the poll. The Chief Justice said “the anomalies were of substantial nature and any court would have no option but to overturn the results”.[5] It ordered the IEBC to conduct a fresh poll within 60 days as provided for in the Constitution.

On 8 September NASA tabled a list of 9 “irreducible minimum” reforms of the electoral process ahead of the revised poll. However, NASA made it clear that it was “not a personal feud” between Uhuru and Raila. It was a matter of democracy; as such it was a national issue. NASA called for a national dialogue; adding that peaceful protest by the people was an inalienable political right as provided for the 2010 Constitution (Article 37).[6]

NASA’s “irreducible minimum” reforms were not made. So, predictably, NASA boycotted the 31 October rerun of the poll. It refused to recognise the outcome to the elections; Kenyatta became the President by default.

Imperial interests masquerading behind “free and fair” elections

What line did the United States and Britain take on the 2017 flawed elections?  Having given its seal of legitimacy to the earlier 8 August poll through its elections observers who declared that the election was “free, fair and credible”, the imperial states issued a statement following NASA’s rejection of elections that “both sides” (take note) should stop interfering with the electoral system.[7] With much at stake in Kenya, ably managed by the Uhuru administration, this was not a surprising.  In her article, “Who’s Cheating Kenyan Voters?” Helen Epstein argues that their geopolitical interests demands that Kenyatta stays in power.

Why isn’t the US doing more to pressure Kenyatta to address these Odinga’s concerns? Geopolitics could be one reason. Kenyatta’s militaristic approach to the crises in the neighbouring countries of Somalia and South Sudan aligns closely with Western security policy. Odinga, however, is more inclined toward a negotiated resolution of these conflicts. If it favors Kenyatta’s strategy, the US may not be as neutral in Kenya’s electoral contest as it claims to be.[8]

The NASA leader Raila Odinga decided to speak to the imperialists directly. On 13 October, he addressed a meeting at London’s Chatham House on “Kenya’s Next Test: Democracy, Elections and the Rule of Law”, chaired by Dr Alex Vines OBE, Head, Africa Programme; Research Director. Among other things, Odinga said: “We are living in a new global order in which security and stability concerns overshadow the long-held Western commitment to support democracy and the rule of law. But any policy which puts security and stability over people’s democratic freedoms and rights is very shortsighted and indeed counterproductive.”[9] But the English, masters at this game of duplicity, listened to Odinga (even clapped!), but they had no intention to change their mind that it is Kenyatta who protects their interests, not Odinga.

NASA launches Peoples’ Assembly and resistance movement

Faced by Kenyatta determined to hold on to power – backed by imperial interests – the outcome of the renewed poll on 26 October, 2017 was anticipated. Before the poll, Kenyatta had threatened to “fix the problem in the Supreme Court”  … and he did. Only two of a minimum five Supreme Court judges turned up to rule on a petition to postpone the elections. It had no quorum. So the petition was not heard. As for the Parliament, it had already become a rubber stamp of the Executive as it was under President Moi’s one party system

Odinga had called NASA to boycott the elections. People did, and not just in areas where Odinga had an ethnic majority. The IEBC was in a dilemma. With the Jubilee coalition pressuring it to declare its electoral victory, it started playing a numbers game. On the electoral turnout, IEBC’s chairman initially announced a figure of 48 % which translated to 9.4 million voters, but on realising this was not credible, he revised it downwards to 6.55 million which translated to 33 %. But even this was a rabbit out of the hat.

On the other side, also predictably, NASA declared the election a “meaningless exercise, a charade”. In response to it, it announced that NASA would launch a “resistance movement”.[10] It created two organs: a Peoples’ Assembly (PA) and the National Resistance Movement (NRM). It launched the PA – “until a legitimate presidency is restored” – comprising of workers, civil society organisations (CSOs), religious leaders, women, youth and economic interest groups. As part of the People’s Assembly, NASA created a Task Force to look into the systemic governance weaknesses that have precipitated the political crisis, including but not limited to:

  1. The systemic continuing failure of electoral bodies, and the electoral system in general
  2. Performance of national security organs and the abuse thereof by the Executive.
  • The political architecture and the structure of the Executive and Parliament in particular.
  1. Protection and safeguarding devolution.
  2. Exclusion and discrimination in the allocation or distribution of public resources.
  3. The continued inability of the State, and our society in general, to deal with the root causes of political strife in particular poverty, unemployment, extreme inequality, economic marginalization and historical grievances.

The Task Force would recommend constitutional amendments that would be presented to the People’s Assembly for adoption, and thereafter to the County Assemblies for ratification.

The Resistance Action Programme includes economic boycotts, peaceful processions picketing, and other legitimate protests.  “If there is no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government”, NASA declared at the launch of the resistance, but it insisted that the resistance has to be peaceful, not violent. The boycott on milk products belonging to the Kenyatta family companies has forced them to change packaging hoping to dupe the people. Safaricom – a finance and internet company – also linked with the “royal” family, has lost thousands of subscribers. The CEO pleaded with NASA, vainly, to suspend the boycott. NASA has a growing list of companies whose products, it argues, should be boycotted for allegedly supporting the Jubilee regime at the poll.

The state, for its part, has attacked civil society organisations (CSOs) – among them Kenya Human Rights Council (KHRC) and the Katiba Institute that seeks to promote the understanding and implementation of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution.

Conclusion

What lessons do we draw from Kenyan peoples’ struggles for emancipation from a neocolonial state? We shall come to this after first looking at the other two cases – Catalonia and Venezuela. The two cases are far from Africa, but people there are caught in the same kind of struggle as in Kenya. They are all parts of a struggle that is global. I could have considered practically any country in the world; the broad masses of the people everywhere are under the boots of political and financial ruling oligarchies. They are part of a systemic global structure of exploitation and oppression.

I choose these three countries from the South, because I believe that the liberation of the peoples – even in the North – will come from the liberation of the masses from the South.  I shall develop this point in my last segment of this series..

@Yash Tandon

01 December, 2017

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/uk-compensate-kenya-mau-mau-torture.

[2] The statue shows a woman handing food to a Mau Mau fighter. http://www.nation.co.ke/news/British-funded-Mau-Mau-memorial-set-to-open-Uhuru-Park.

[3] https://www.google.co.uk/John+Githongo

[4] The term “compradors” was used by the Chinese revolutionary leaders to describe agents of the empire that controlled the coastal regions of China.

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/world/africa/kenya-election-kenyatta-odinga.html

[6] http://www.nation.co.ke/news/politics/Sack-all-meddlers-or-we-ll-skip-polls–Raila-tells-Chebukati-/1064-4087040-2k18ei/index.html

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-statement-by-heads-of-missions-in-kenya-in-advance-of-the-new-presidential-election

[8] http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/10/23/whos-cheating-kenyan-voters

[9] https://www.chathamhouse.org/event/kenya-s-next-test-democracy-elections-and-rule-law

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/25/raila-odinga-civil-resistance-eve-rerun-kenyan-election-presidential

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