'Warriors of the mind' and impact in society

Warriors come in many guises and levels, some lead and others are happy to follow. Among them are warriors of the mind, those using their power to think in unorthodox ways.

They sometimes face serious odds but what is common among all is that they challenge common doings and thinking. Some overlap generations in terms of relevancy, others remain time stagnant and become stale.

The staleness is especially pronounced by well meaning “revolutionaries” who, failing to see the changes, end up as ideological mannequins. Out of tune with reality, they become sources of amusement rather than wisdom.

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Warriors of the mind tend to push ideas that may not be conventional although they do reach the public. These include Daudi Tonje for military thinkers, Njeri Kinyanjui for cutting edge thinking in economic geography, Willy Mutunga for legal explorations, and Joyce Nyairo in literary and social expositions.

IREN founder James Shikwati, for instance, pricks minds and attracts the wrath and praise of the influential by arguing that free trade rather than foreign aid can pull people out of poverty. This annoys aid advocates.

Few Kenyans venture into strategic thinking on national interest, particularly national security, matters. The few include Humphrey Njoroge, Samuel Kobia, Mustapha Ali, Makumi Mwagiru, Musambayi Katumanga, and most important, Daudi Tonje.

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Having noticed the short-sightedness of many policy makers, Tonje set out to reform the national security outlook.

To accomplish that, besides creating new rules of military behavior, he established a regional college for strategic thinkers, National Defence College (NDC), that currently seems to be in re-imaging mode. Every year the NDC churns out roughly 40 potential policy makers for diverse countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

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Thereafter, mostly in Africa, these graduates occupy critical policy making positions and keep in touch with each other. Smart enough to avoid power temptations and to know when to leave the stage, Tonje became legendary and watches NDC actualise his vision.

As Tonje towers in national security thought, Mary Njeri Kinyanjui of the University of Nairobi Institute for Development Studies struggles to recast the way of researching economic geography, especially poverty. She is systematic in her bottom up methodology to the study of contributions that peasants, the urban poor, and the ignored professionals, make to national wealth.

She is at the cutting edge of theory development on poverty economics and the failures to address challenges of the ignored either because policy makers and researchers ignore or choose to ignore informal activities.

Willy “Pinto Cabral” Mutunga, believing in being a “rebel”, who pens biting commentaries on the Judiciary and the social political scenes. Softly spoken and unassuming, and his law students dotting the country, he believes in knowing how things operate politically and tries to effect changes from within.

A student of both law and of socio-politics, his activism was influenced by such great warriors of the minds as Historian Walter Rodney, Political Scientist Ali Mazrui, and novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o. He in turn taught the value of activism to such political movers as Kivutha Kibwana and helped to found political unionism at the University of Nairobi. He insists that judges struggle to minimize their biases and are aware of the political environment in making judgements.

To pretend that judges operate in political vacuums would itself be a form of injustice. He resigned as chief justice but continued to play his role as a rebel in thinking about the administration of justice. He is usually accessible for challenges of the mind. As chief justice, he ranks with Chunilal Bhagwandas Madan as a judicial thought provocateur.

Joyce Nyairo, the commentator on society and social movements, considered Mutunga a poor administrator who entrenched the Constitution. He in turn sums her up as having “a deep concern for Kenya”, while laughing at the “worst…endemic follies and failures” of Kenyans. She knows how to bite and puliza intellectually, get into the socio nasties, capture the silliness of Nairobi urbanites and still come out looking good.

Even when she misses the point or is short on the historical background, her writing still reads well. She ruffles feathers and receives, in leisurely ways, the expected castigating. One columnist, for instance, was angry with a newspaper public editor for choosing her column as exemplary for other columnists to see. She remains a leading warrior of the mind in the social cultural field.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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USIUchief justiceIREN founder James ShikwatiWilly Mutunga