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Liberators of yesterday have ganged up with oppressors

BARRACK MULUKA
By Barrack Muluka | October 16th 2021

Women during the Mau Mau insurgency. [File, Standard]

Francis Fukuyama, a leading scholar and public intellectual, speaks of democratic recession. In 2011, the American scholar published a volume titled The Origins of Political Order, followed closely, in 2014, by Political Order and Political Decay.

Fukuyama reviews his earlier thought that the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was the end of history.  In 1989, Fukuyama celebrated what he saw as the victory of order over disorder. Democracy had triumphed over dictatorship in its numerous guises. The world had reached the end of ideological conflicts. Order would rule forever. Little did he know that, a decade later, he would lament democratic reversals and negations. And they are everywhere. 

There were three strands of negation. In countries like Russia, Venezuela and Iran, there was outright overthrow of democratic gains. Elected leaders began manipulating elections. Others took control of media outlets. They shut down the rest.

They clamped down on the opposition. You can reflect on the Kenyan situation, especially through 2003 – 2017 and see the meeting points. The second strand of negations was a gray area. Here, states have not become fully authoritarian. But they have not embraced democracy. A new democratic constitution may be enacted. Yet those in power will refuse to implement it.

Once again, look at the Kenyan situation. Ask how keen the Jubilee government has been to implement the 2010 Constitution. Ask, also, how many times the Judiciary has nullified Executive illegalities. 

Finally, there is the class that has failed to deliver basic opportunities and services that people desire. For, democracy is as much about access to services and opportunities as it is about elections. There is democracy in elections and democracy in governance and distribution. This is easily the greatest of all democratic failures. Has Uhuru government, for example, been democratic in giving all Kenyans access to opportunities? 

Democratic regression

Speaking on these matters on TV this week, Chief Justice Emeritus, Dr Willy Mutunga revisited the theme of democratic regression. He called it ‘the Raila Odinga Trajectory.’

People who have been associated with reform agendas are at risk of joining entities that have negated democracy. They may be scholars like me and Dr Mutunga himself. Hence, nations must go back to the drawing boards to seek fresh engagement with democratic reform. Fukuyama discovers, to his dismay, that history does not end.  

The paradox is that it is in the Marxist thought that we come closest to the explanation. For, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously said in 1848, ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.’

The freeman struggles against the slave, the plebian against the patrician, the lord against the serf, while the guild-master is engaged with the journeyman. It is an unending struggle, in which the classes keep changing their guises. Sometimes one class loses, but often they both come to ruin. 

Conflict is then the engine that drives history. In the process, the liberators of yesterday become the oppressors. A country such as Kenya stands to lose all the gains of previous struggles. Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli forgets about the workers he is supposed to serve. He fights, instead, for the benefit of the ruling class, his new clients.

In the process, he is audacious enough to proclaim that he will announce soon, on live national television, ‘the names of the (compliant) people who will be elected in next year’s General Election,’ from Western Kenya. Of course Atwoli has never been pro-democracy. He was with the rulers in the worst times of Kenya’s governance history. He remains proud of this regressive history.

It is instructive that he now bargains for Raila, who once long ago was a votary for democracy. Also bargaining for Raila is a former head of public service.  He tells the country that the Deep State will decide the outcome of next year’s election. And Raila’s brother, Dr Oburu Oginga, affirms that victory is certain, ‘because we have the Deep State with us, this time.’ Such is how the wheel of history turns.   

- The writer is a strategic communications advisor

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