Africans may be free, but they are still at risk of domination

Opinion
By Michael Ndonye | Nov 09, 2023
British soldiers line up for a parade at the height of the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s. [File, Standard]

As Walter Rodney, author of 'How Europe Underdeveloped Africa', would have put it, there are fresh traces of how Buckingham Palace set Kenya on a path of inestimable underdevelopment.

This column borrows from Dr Rodney's stance to explain the exploitative relations that persist between Nairobi and London.

Last week, King Charles III visited Kenya. The news media reported that the monarch appreciated the fact British empire inflicted pain on Kenyans through executions, detention without trial and other atrocities during the Mau Mau insurgence.

Most Millennial and Gen-Z generations have little information regarding the contact between the British colonial masters and our forefathers. Much of these generations' knowledge is gained from textbooks or passed on as oral history by their parents and grandparents.

It would be wrong to think that the two countries share a history of bilateral trade, capital flow, commitment to democratic values and a shared vision for the future. They also do not have a working memorandum of understanding for cooperation and common interests apart from the 'commonwealth'-a political structure of the 17th century when the monarchy was temporarily overthrown between 1649 and 1660.

The British Empire's principal impairment on us remains the beliefs and values that make us susceptible to domination. Therefore, the independence we boast about is the freedom to choose which master to lower our necks for a yoke.

We seek to be dominated, and if we lack a willing master, we are ready to raise one and set them over our affairs. Since independence, Kenya has had a history of shifting trade relations between the Global North superpowers such as the USA and the rising economies of the Global South, such as China.

Inequality

Either way, the trade relationship with any first-world country is always that of inequality and exploitation. The third affliction of the contact between Kenya and Britain is structural dependence, in which we are highly dependent on the limited production and export of close to zero commodities.

We have never reversed our mentality that we cannot produce and consume our own after decades of the so-called independence. Since we import most of our products, Kenya has always been vulnerable to global commodity price fluctuations. It is a trend that has set our taxes on the skyrocketing trail. Economics 101 tells us that taxes, whether dictated by the free market or through government policies, have never and will never produce national wealth and development.

Furthermore, because of our mindset, it will take time before we flip the chart to have more production and investment than consumption. As we speak, for instance, our recurrent expenditure is far higher than the development expenditure.

The fourth aspect to consider as the scars of British colonialism are our investment options. Foreign loans are the primary choice of investment for our country. For example, the last 10 years have seen Kenya's public debt go on an upward trajectory.

As of June 30, 2023, our total public debt hit Sh10.1 trillion ($70.1 billion). This represents a debt-to-GDP ratio of 70.1 per cent, above the internationally recommended threshold of 50 per cent.

The worst part of such loans is that they are not only misused, mismanaged and misappropriated, they are also exorbitantly expensive to repay. This is likely to keep Kenya in a cycle of dependency and unending poverty.

Last but not least, don't we take pride in being the first 'slave' (commonwealth country) the monarch visited after being crowned in September 2022? Aren't our military drills, medals and traditions the closest to those of our former masters?

Don't we know that at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Kariokor, Nairobi, the graves of the fallen British soldiers are far better dressed than those of Kenyan fallen soldiers? What do we call this kind of domination?

-Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Kabarak University

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