“Don’t you know? They’re talkin’ about a revolution. It sounds like a whisper”…Tracy Chapman
Two months ago President Uhuru Kenyatta warned that if authorities don’t take the monster of corruption by the horns, Kenyans will rise up. Knowing the President is a consummate consumer of intelligence reports, I can’t dismiss this as mere political banter or a jab on the ribs of his deputy and allies.
As you reflect on this, consider that Uhuru has consistently appointed people with intelligence backgrounds to key positions; Immigration, Police, anti-graft agency, Immigration and now, the Government spokesman. That tells you where his heart and ear are.
This week, we woke to news that police had arrested human rights activist Boniface Mwangi and were preparing to charge him with ‘organising a revolution’. Of course, after the social media gale of criticism, he was released. But I am sure you haven’t heard the last of this ‘revolution crime’ if ever there was one.
That is why of late, the song by Tracy Chapman, America’s soft-reggae superstar, Talkin’ Bout Revolution, especially the line, ‘sounds like a whisper’, rings in my ears. It not only reminds me of my university days at the height of pro-multiparty riots and police crackdown, but also the other seasons in our history that Kenyans have reacted violently to frustrations of exploitation and mis-governance driving them up the wall. The protests always begin like “a whisper’, but before you know it, it may mutate into something else.
Now, there are certain theories that have been put forth on why Kenyans can never rise up like say, Algerians, Egyptians or Ukrainians. They say our middle-class is too protective of the status quo, that even if the State makes them sleep on beds made of needles and nettles, they will oblige only to whimper through the night.
They also argue that the loyalty of every Kenyan is first to tribe and its political tin-god, and then their religion and social affiliation such as church and education later. That this loyalty is emblematic in their hearts. As such, even if bled dry, so long as their tribe is happy or headed to grab power via the demi-god, all other pain and exploitation is in the least temporary, and at worst, collateral damage for a worthy cause.
I also hear in some circles that the most problematic community, vocal and very active in protests, are the Luo and that by bringing Mr Raila Odinga to the fold, the illusion of power wrought by the ‘handshake’ has neutered them in terms of political agitation and revolution talk.
It may not be comforting if you are a student of this school of thought if you consider the fact that in March 2002, Raila was baited into Kanu by Mzee Daniel Arap Moi. There was a sigh of relief in Kanu top echelons that, in the words of an American President, he was now in the tent and could only pee towards outside, not the other way. In six months, they would be lamenting that the cockerel (Kanu symbol) swallowed the tractor (symbol of Raila’s party National Development Party) before canibalising its engine. The next thing they say is that Kanu suffered unspeakable turmoil inside, and the rest is history.
There is a reason to believe the trust and patience of Kenyans is being tested to the extreme; to the point that Raila was said to have joined the loan-seeking trip to China with a begging bowl too, if only to put out a good word for the main borrower; Mr Kenyatta, on our behalf. Billions upon billions are reportedly being looted. Tribalism is still rife and appointments to key positions are skewed, yet instead of politically punitive action, refuge is sought in the Judiciary, which is infamous for its own rickety, unoiled and pliant wheels.
I would just add that up to the last day of Kanu in power, many believed that Mzee Moi, the professor of politics would somehow prevail against the tidal wave pushing his preferred successor, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta off the succession racing track. Yes, at my age I have seen Kenyans at their lowest level of indignation and frustration rise up and face their destiny, well aware that choices have consequences.
The tragedy with the current government set up is discernible from its comical sense of ‘unity’, with two competing centres of power, in which Uhuru pulls this way and Ruto that way. Meanwhile, the situation moves from bad to worse.
I assume the organs of government are also divided along these two fault-lines. And so like in a family, when husband and wife fight daily, the children fall off the radar and grow into lawless vibes, fighting for their own survival. In short, Kenyans are hungry and angry, and no one knows what could happen next. They could continue curling the tail or use the Uhuru-Ruto fissure to push both down to the bottomless political pit.
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Mr Tanui is Deputy editorial Director and Managing Editor, The [email protected]