When former US President Donald Trump was arraigned in a Manhattan court, I reflected about the historical route Kenya had taken.
It downed on me that although the US claims to be a leading democracy, just like Kenya, it has deep shades of plutocracy where monied individuals call the shots.
Kenya started off as an autocracy. President Jomo Kenyatta had absolute power over political, economic and social issues. His decisions were never subject to any internal or external legal restraint.
During the Mau Mau war, there were those who betrayed the course and sided with the colonial powers. They were home-guards. It is these individuals, who had acquired massive wealth and influence, that took over the reins of power. Kenya eventually transformed into an authoritarian rule pushed and propelled by plutocracy.
After many years of violent street protests, battles and deaths, long after the Cold War had fizzled out, Kenya ushered in multiparty democracy. But did this mean anything to the citizens?
Since 1991, the few wealthy and influential individuals and families have continued to control the country’s politics and economic power. They even control and influence the outcome of general elections. They work hard to viciously protect the wealth, land and property they have acquired over the years. Is it any wonder that our presidential elections have become a matter of life and death?
When Trump was elected the 45th President of the US in 2016, the primitive nature of US politics spewed out. Deep tribal and racial hatred began to flow out of the Super Power’s veins as the new American ‘dictator’ vowed to make America Great Again. Indeed, Trump brought out disastrous qualities found in three of Africa’s worst dictators; Idi Amin Dada, Francisco Macias Nguema and Jean-Bendel Bokassa.
Bokassa, the Central African Republic dictator possessed extreme greed and personal violence. Martin Meredith, in The State of Africa, says that Bokassa’s “excesses included 17 wives, a score of mistresses and an official brood of 55 children. He was prone to towering rages as well as outbursts of sentimentality; and he also gained a reputation for cannibalism.”
Trump may not have cannibalistic tendencies, but from his utterances, if given a chance, he can chew the entire black and Hispanic race from the face of the earth.
After toppling Uganda’s first President Milton Obote, military man Idi Amin Dada went on a brutal killing spree. Then in August 1972, Amin ordered Asians to leave Uganda within three months. Their properties were taken over by the army and Amin’s friends. Amin butchered thousands of civilians.
One of his wives Kay Adroa Amin was found dead, her dismembered body in the boot of a car. When Henry Kyemba, Amin’s Secretary to the Cabinet reported the discovery, Amin ordered him to have the dismembered parts sewn back to the torso. Kyemba, then arranged for Amin and his children to view the body.
In Equatorial Guinea, a politician of limited education and low mental ability, Francisco Macias Nguema, took over the country’s leadership in October 1968. He threw his country into what Meredith describes as “a nightmare of brutality and coercion that lasted for 11 years.”
Nguema hated foreigners and intellectuals. In February 1969, when on a visit to an urban centre, he discovered that Spanish flags were till flying there. His inflammatory speeches against the Spanish sent youth activists into the streets searching for Spanish victims. Nguema unleashed a brutal killing spree.
Assassinations in US and Kenya
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The coming to power of Trump brought out so many similarities between Africa and the mighty US. I recalled that when the US was killing its own sons and daughters over civil and political rights in the 1960s, Kenya was also killing its loved ones.
In his memoir, For My Country and Flag, John Mwaura, a former legislator and ambassador, recalls his time as a student in the US during the 1960s. “I now look back at this historic moment and realise how privileged I was to be in America during the 60s. I realise how blessed I was to partly witness events of the civil rights struggle led by Rev Dr Martin Luther King and other civil right leaders. The black Americans were resisting racism and discrimination which were allowed in the Laws of USA, killing by shooting or lynching of blacks was normal and went unpunished.” Says Mwaura
Mwaura was in double shock. He had come from a British colony where suppression and mistreatment of black people by the settler community was as assured as sunrise. Kenya had just come out of a state of emergency. The pains and wounds of the Mau Mau war were still raw. He had assumed that America was the land of freedom where people would go about their business without care. “I was, therefore, shocked to find the same issues of blacks being mistreated by whites for no other reason but being black.”
The Atlanta-born Martin Luther King Jnr is regarded by historians as the most significant civil rights leader of the 20th Century. King graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester Pennsylvania in 1953. Two years later, he received his doctorate. It is in this same year that he became Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. During that time, the local black community had staged a boycott of local bus companies because of the South’s strict code of racial segregation. The boycott lasted 382 days.
King was arrested. His home was bombed. Eventually, the Supreme Court declared the bus segregation unconstitutional. It outlawed racial segregation on public transportation. His 1963 “I have a dream” speech, is considered one of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century.
It was made on August 28, 1963, exactly 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. Martin Luther King Jr, ascended the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. He told the enchanted crowd: “I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Five score years ago, a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustices. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free…..”
He went on; “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day, out in the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the Old Negro Spiritual; “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last” The speech was electrifying. King pleaded with the black community not to pay evil with evil. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress to ratify a tough voting rights bill in his State of the Union speech. King had launched a voter registration cause in Selma Alabama. When Congress stalled, King and more than 500 supporters marched from Selma to Montgomery to register African Americans to vote. Alabama police unleashed such violence on the marchers that the televised images shocked the country. Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965, on August 5 1965.
King was invited to Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers. He gave his famous; ‘I have seen the Promised Land’ Speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis on the evening of April 3. On April 4 1968 while standing on the balcony of the black owned Lorraine Hotel, he was shot in the neck. He died on the spot.
In 1965, three years before King’s assassination, Kenya’s Pio Gama Pinto was gunned down outside his gate. Pinto had started to poke holes into the acquisition of land and wealth by the new Kenyan leaders. Then in July 1969, another Kenyan leader Tom Mboya was shot and killed on the streets of Nairobi.
On Friday, November 22 1963, in Dallas, Texas, the tall, handsome, charismatic President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), was shot dead. He was only 43. He was at the prime of his age and at the apex of his presidency. He became the youngest US president to die in office. JFK was killed by an assassin’s bullet as he rode in the motorcade through Dallas, Texas.
Kennedy had a bold vision and vital leadership qualities in challenging times. Kenyans who benefited from the Tom Mboya and Julius Gikonyo Kiano education airlifts, owe it to JFK. His personal endeavours ensured that young Kenyans received quality education and training to help steer Kenya’s leadership through the murky post-colonial waters. It is through the airlifts that Barack Obama Senior would fly to the US where he met, Ann Dunham, a white woman. The two got married and the world received Barack Hussein Obama, the first black President of the US.
JFK played a pivotal role in persuading whites about the importance of civil rights for black Americans who faced daily discrimination in many aspects of society. He successfully framed the civil rights debate as a historic struggle for basic civil and human rights for all citizens under the US constitution. He used his formidable communication skills to drive home messages.
On June 11 1963, JFK told Americans that the US was founded on the principles that all men were created equal. He said that all American students were entitled to attend public educational institutions, regardless of race. Discrimination, he said, affects education, public safety and international relations. The US, he argued, “cannot be preaching freedom internationally while ignoring it locally.”
JFK fought for and signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and set the stage for the subsequent passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. This landmark law fundamentally altered how blacks were treated in nearly all aspects of public life.
Tom Mboya, who was a close friend of JFK, was also gunned down. With his brilliance, charisma and oratory, Mboya would have become Kenya’s own Kennedy.
Political low for US
Decades after the JFK murder, America got its own version of Idi Amin, in the form of Donald Trump. An arrogant billionaire business mogul, Trump couldn’t hide his hatred for blacks and Hispanics. With huge following, Trump’s entry into the White House fuelled the White Supremacist movement. It reenergized the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). By the time he was running for re-election in 2020, Trump had lowered US political persuasions into raw third world types that are laced with racial and ethnic leanings. Businessmen and women were barricading their premises for fear of riots and hooligans looting of property.
Bands and gangs of different shades were arming themselves ready for street wars to defend their political affiliations. Trump even called certain leaders and governors to demand they alter election results. He threatened to hang onto power and refuse to handover when it was clear he had lost to Joe Biden.
On January 6 2021, he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol as Congress was certifying results of the November 2020 presidential election. Trump outlined a list of grievances against the media and some unsupportive Republicans. He made numerous false claims about how the election had been stolen from him.
“We will fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you are not going to have a country anymore. Because you will never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress does the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated. I know that will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make our voices heard” he told his cheering and chanting supporters who later invaded Congress.
Popularity surge despite cases
Court cases have started to haunt Trump. He is the first former President of the US to be arrested and arraigned. His arrest fueled debate on whether the case against him was justified or a witch-hunt against a Republican candidate.
Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records of his companies to conceal the fact that he paid 130,000 US dollars to a former porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she had with Trump nine days to the 2016 US election campaigns. Trump arranged through his lawyer to pay for her silence. The payments were made to aid Donald Trump’s campaign. His lawyer pleaded guilty to an election crime. Trump faces 34 felonies which, if convicted carry up to four years imprisonment.
Michael Ricci, a Republican Strategist says that, instead of losing favour, the case has led to an upsurge in Trumps popularity, placing the party in a very awkward position. Trump’s followers view the case as political persecution. “Trump is sucking oxygen out of all other Republican candidates” says Ricci
“The Georgia investigation raises a more serious case against Trump for allegedly trying to overturn the election results in Georgia.
He put pressure of Georgia officials to change election results. These are more serious criminal charges that will be preferred against Trump later in the year. No matter what he says. No matter what his supporters feel, Donald Trump is going to spend a lot of time in many court rooms even as he runs for President of the United States of America a second time.” Says Michael Isikoft of Yahoo News.
Yet, just like in Kenya, one can be a convicted criminal, or face serious legal charges, and still run for presidency. In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto entered the presidential race while facing criminal charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The case against them eventually collapsed.
The Republicans don’t want Trump to be their standard bearer against Joe Biden in the 2024 Presidential race but they may be stuck with him.
Ryan Wiggins, a former Trump strategist says that: “The case has only super charged Trump. The man lives and thrives in chaos.” Since the case opened, says David Bolger a National Security Consultant, Trump has raised over 10 million dollars in his presidential campaign bid.
Bradley P Moss, an American lawyer says that Trump could easily run and win the presidency because nothing prohibits him from doing so.
Ryan Wiggins, who now works for the Lincoln Project, says she has been living in hiding since she parted ways with Trump. She receives constant death threats and her family is targeted. Ryan joined the Lincoln Project, which was formed in 2019 as an American Political Action Committee to prevent the re-election of Donald Trump in 2020. It comprises of former and current moderate Republicans.
Ryan notes that Trump is not a normal candidate. “His is a cult. His followers believe everything he says about witch-hunting. They live inside a bubble. They listen to conspiracy theories. I think it will propel him till he becomes a Republican nominee. I think it will help him in the Primaries and the general election” says Ryan
Ryan now has to work under cover and stay in hiding. She says she never knew that she would live to witness a day when one would live in hiding in the US because of one’s political affiliations or choices.: “When I started off as a political Consultant it was almost a boring job. It wasn’t dangerous. But now I get death threats constantly. They threaten to come for my children and family. The turmoil in the country now is so frightening and unfortunate that I prefer staying safe ”.
Trump’s presidency brought out the reality that the US is a plutocracy. In 2016, The Economist Intelligence Unit, downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in its Democracy Reports, an annual study of the state of democracy around the world.
Earlier, in 2014, political scientists found that on average, the policies representatives pursue are not in fact dictated by public opinion, this is a mark of a flawed democracy.
In 2021, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), classified the US as a backsliding democracy. Americas political system is broken. Lobbyists write laws while big money floods elections.
Ideally, decisions made in a democracy should reflect the needs and desires of the people. The US suffers a democratic deficit. The Congress normally follows and takes care of interests of the elite.
Just like in Kenya, the US will never be a true democracy because of structural issues and the government. So long as it sticks to the capitalist economy, the representative style of government that the US has, will hoodwink democracy. Representative governments do many times favour some people over others. Throughout global history, elites have always favored representative systems while revolutions push for democracy.
The US system has systematically favoured the owners of capital and large property, merchants and large land owners. The US constitution has for centuries protected private property and private ownership of productive resources like factories, farms and businesses. Some have argued that the system of checks and balances that the American founding fathers developed, was meant to protect the interest of elite few.