Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is quite a phenomenon. His critics have parodied the youthful leader of South Africa’s third largest political party as “a reckless leftist populist.” Yet the man has his fingers on the pulse of the nation.
Eloquent, bold and forthright, Malema speaks the truth to power. He tells it as it is, in front of the very person who should be told the truth. This is regardless that it is President Jacob Zuma in the past, or President Cyril Ramaphosa today. His forthrightness has of course landed him in trouble, every so often. In 2011, at the age of 30, he was expelled from his country’s premier party, the African National Congress (ANC). He was accused of “hate speech.”
In a moment of extra zeal, Malema sang in public the banned “Dubula iBunu” song. Dubula was a freedom song that blacks chanted in their robust street protests against apartheid in the 1980s and ‘90s. It translates into English as “Shoot the Boer.” ANC showed him the door.
Not given to surrender, Malema formed EFF in 2012. He looked like a desperate dying political horse. His sustained firebrand rhetoric cast doubt on whether he really knew what he was up to.
Indeed, some of his ideas border on the extreme. These include the thought that land must be acquired by whatever force, to be given to the landless. He is also known to be against free market economies. His position on recurrent xenophobic attacks against African immigrants is not clear. Equally significant, the practicality of the communist ideas that he cherishes is hugely questionable in the emerging world order.
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Be these shadows as they may, Malema is slowly building a significant political party in South Africa. EFF is now the third largest party in South Africa. After last week’s parliamentary elections, EFF now occupies 10.8 per cent of the seats. ANC’s superiority dropped from 62 to 57.5 per cent . The hugely white National Party is number two at 20.8 per cent.
The message is that South Africans are watching EFF. Going forward, Malema may need to begin styling EFF as the party that can take over from the ANC. Its support base is solid among the youth. This support cannot be taken for granted. It must be nurtured. Outside South Africa, the world is watching the EFF’s every step. Meanwhile, EFF and Malema make you wonder what has happened to Kenya. Where did we lose it? The one African country with the longest history of parliamentary democracy has deteriorated steadily into the continental laughing stock. While the average age of parliament has dropped sharply over the past 10 years, the quality of parliament itself has sunk to an all-time low.
Senators Johnston Sakaja, Moses Wetang’ula and Mutula Kilonzo, may once in a long while raise fundamental questions. They may take rare conscientious positions on issues before the Senate. But that is just about as far as it goes. The Kenyan legislature is a sleeping giant. When it is not asleep, it is a discordant Tower of Babel. And, at its best, it is a partisan political instrument in the hands of external grandmasters. It abounds with members who have no clue of what the legislature is about. They watch, wait and look above for instructions.
You probably don’t want to surfeit fire-eating, hotheaded legislators. Yet, if Kenya has ever needed someone to speak for her, the time is now. And nowhere is this voice needed as in parliament. The country is in a free fall in virtually every sector, yet parliament – a victim of state capture – just looks on. When it does not passively look on, members take appalling partisan positions at the behest of external puppeteers.
The national economy is grinding to a halt. Shops in downtown Nairobi are closing down, one after the other. Youth unemployment is at an all time high. The agriculture and food sector is in shambles. Health is dying. Recurrent strikes, rotting infrastructure and financial scandals are the order of the day in health sector.
Elsewhere in Finance, Kenya is now easily the global headquarters of corruption. The national budget is deliberately designed to be a vehicle for grand theft. The security sector is in danger.
Slaughter of Kenyans in Kakamega, Marsabit, Vihiga, Lamu and sundry places is accepted as normal. Meanwhile, most county governments are accepted as individual governors’ gravy trains. You only squash the governor in a sensitive part of his anatomy for a few seconds when he does not toe the line. After he has bleated like a restless goat, you leave him alone.
Education is the home of frightful confusion and theatrics. A defining debate on the curriculum rages on without an umpire. Kenyans don’t know whether they should believe their bellicose Cabinet secretary or the unremitting teachers’ unions.
In trade, they wake up one morning to ban certain imports, with the callousness of a medieval monarch. With a single edict from the Cabinet secretary, thousands of jobs are lost – just like that. Meanwhile, contraband food imports of unknown quality are suffocating our stores.
You could go on and on, sector after sector. Energy, environment, manufacturing and construction – everywhere Kenya is sick. But where is the parliament, the people’s watchdog? Even at the very worst of the much-maligned Kanu regime, there were still a few voices speaking for Kenya. Who will speak for this country today?
- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. www.barrackmuluka.co.ke