Today – like every Sunday – I write this column in my personal capacity as a private citizen of the Republic of Kenya. I’ve never written this column as a proxy, or on behalf, of any organisation, institution, or person with whom I may be affiliated, or perceived to be connected with. I’ve always written as an academic, social critic, and scholar of Kenyan and global politics.
I call them as I see them. Today is no different, though significant. I write to underline what August 8 means for Kenya.
Let me tell you what’s at stake on August 8. First, since the birth of the republic in 1964, Kenya has been ruled by a political elite to the right of centre. That’s what the merger of Kanu and Kadu gave us. The death of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s KPU snuffed out the incipient embers of a centre-left state, which was also the political ethos of the vaunted Mau Mau.
Some of us thought – incorrectly – that Narc’s 2002 momentous victory over Kanu might push us towards a social democratic state. We were wrong. The cabals of yesteryear reasserted themselves immediately. A tribal mafia consolidated power and bribed would-be democrats into complicity. The looting of the state – through primitive accumulation – continued unabated.
Second, the 2013 election outcome was a reversal of the decades-long struggle for a new constitution. Since the late 1980s, there had been a push for a democratic national charter. That clamour became an unstoppable tidal wave in the 1990s. It eventually led to the collapse of the Kanu state in 2002. In 2010, Kenya achieved one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.
But that victory was partial. That’s because a large percentage of the political elite – especially those of the centre-right – either opposed, or reluctantly endorsed, it. Their leadership ascended to power in 2013 under the cloak of Jubilee. You can’t expect a political elite to implement a document it doesn’t believe in – carnivores don’t eat grass.
Third, because of the class character and ideology of Jubilee – a centre-right primitive accumulationist nativism – Kenya has been stuck in reverse the last five years. The Jubilee state has sabotaged in every conceivable way the 2010 Constitution. It has fought devolution tooth and nail. It has attacked judicial independence and the rule of law. It has squeezed civil society to the point of suffocation. It has further retribalised the state to levels hitherto unseen. It has neutered independent constitutional commissions by packing them with cronies and rent-seekers. The legislature, which would oversee the executive, is Jubilee’s poodle. Most foreign missions in Kenya, once outspoken and independent, have caved in to Jubilee. There’s state capture by the barons of darkness.
No moral compass
Fourth, Jubilee has set records in corruption and depravity. Self-interest is the name of the game. The national interest doesn’t register anywhere on Jubilee’s Richter Scale. The looting of the public purse takes place in broad daylight and the mandarins of the heists are running for the highest offices in the land. Not a single thief of significance has been convicted in Kenya, either in the past, or under Jubilee. The state has no moral compass. The result is that thieving is an honoured national pastime. You are a bad guy if you don’t steal. Thieving is now a genetic trait for Kenyans – from cradle to grave, from the humblest to the mightiest. Thieves are lauded – it’s our culture.
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Fifth, under centre-right ruling elites, Kenya has lost the meaning of the national project. In the region, we are being left in the dust. Even Ethiopia, once the poster child for national futility, is fast overtaking Kenya. Tanzania, once an economically hapless neighbor, has awoken.
In Asia, countries that were in the doldrums of underdevelopment at independence – such as South Korea – are now part of the First World. Yet in 2017, our people perish of cholera in the capital city of Nairobi. It’s clear the national project has failed under the center-right visionless elite. Another five years under Jubilee and Kenya will join the basket of failed states. The national debt alone will crush us to death.
Finally, let me be unequivocal. It’s time for change. Some argue NASA and Jubilee are the same. They point to past coalitions, betrayals, and service in center-right past regimes as evidence to indict both major parties. But this is paralysis – an excuse to keep the status quo. It’s sniveling and cowardly. One ideological outlook since 1964 – a tribalist, patrimonial, primitive accumulationist, myopic, and corrupt center-right elite has failed Kenya. It’s time for NASA – a nationalist, center-left, social democratic alliance to take power.
- Prof Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua