Thousands of former National Youth Service officers showed up at the Embakasi Garrison to be absorbed into Kenya Defense Forces on September 18, 2023. [Courtesy]

When the people have nothing to eat, they eat the ruling class. I have written about this before, but let me restate this self-fulfilling fact, on account of the pulsating sense of frustration among Kenyan youth.

The hopelessness and desperation is real. The recent feverish rush in the Worldcoin saga, and the dizzying scramble for a place in the military, speak to this. The centre is cracking and crumbling.

The ruling class beware. The theatrical spectacle of thousands of youths literally rolling over each other in futile strife for the slim opportunities is a postcard from the land of damnation. 

The Kenyan chickens are coming home to roost. We are only beginning to pay for the political and economic misdeeds of six decades by the ruling class. Quite often, we mistake the government for the ruling class. But let me slow down a little.

In 1981, the national economic survey reported that the country was broke and urgently needed fixing. Butere MP Martin Shikuku wondered aloud, “Kibaki, where has the money gone?”

Kibaki was Vice President and Minister for Finance. Shikuku advised that we fix the channels through which the mess had come, and jail those responsible.

For, it was clear that someone was messing up with the national till.

We were warned that someday the people would have nothing to eat. They would turn to the ruling class. The Executive Government (not to be mistaken for the Public Service) is only the cream of this class.  

In Marxist thought, for example, the ruling class is a combination of the political and economic aristocracy, with what Marx has called the bourgeoisie. If you are reading this article, you are in these brackets. Your class, of course, has different integral segments.  

At the top, there exists a cluster of sibling rivals. Each seeks to capture and exercise political power, for the benefits that go with it. If the lumpen proletariat below should rise, they rise not against government but the aristocrats and bourgeoisie.

This is regardless of your own internal class tensions. But this lumpen population has no organising or mobilising ability.

For, who are these people? Marx talks of a class so low as to be unaware of even its own collective interests. They are unemployed and unemployable.

They make no contribution to the economy. They can neither produce, nor consume in a market economy. 

They are low-end elements of society neither organised, nor organisable. Some scholars have referred to them as riff-raff, scum of the earth.

Others have called them the great unwashed masses. In Nineteen-Eighty-Four, George Orwell calls them the proles. In ancient Rome they were the plebs, as opposed to patricians.

Slightly above them is a socially conscious class of people who feel oppressed – the petty bourgeoisie. These are employable and can contribute to the political economy. Yet opportunities are scarce. They are the scramblers, the hustlers.

This class often wrongly identifies itself with one side, or the other, of the aristocracy and its internal competitions.

Lenin derisively referred to them as useful idiots. They wrongly imagine that one of the sides in the elite power struggles is their side. They don’t know they are only useful cannon fodder. 

This cannon fodder sets the commonwealth on fire the day its plight merges with that of the lumpen. Then, the aristocracy wakes up to its collective class identity. But it’s too late.

Such is the historical consciousness Kenya’s aristocracy should know, amid crippled economy.

They will need to shout less at each other and focus, instead, on collectively putting the country on the mend. Or prepare to perish together.

Dr Muluka is a strategic communications advisor