History shows past challenges informing present-day issues

Raila Odinga (left) and Paul Muite among others drove the second liberation. [File, Standard]

Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This pithy statement holds true apropos to independent Kenya. A contemplative examination of the country’s history reveals long-forgotten challenges of the past informing present-day issues. One wonders; Is the country stuck in an endless loop of history repeating itself? Can the cycle be broken? Is plenary liberation truly possible?

This article attempts to answer these questions by breaking down our liberation struggle into three epochal movements. The first of these is the struggle against the colonial enterprise. Under British colonial rule, the country’s prime land was exploited at the expense of indigenous Kenyans. Colonial injustices stirred up feelings of disenfranchisement which rose to a fever pitch, leading to armed resistance.

Whilst the Mau Mau freedom movement is historically the county’s most famous resistance movement, others also existed. For instance, the Chetambe war of 1895 when the Bukusu fought against white British soldiers. Or the Nandi resistance led by the legendary Koitalel arap Samoei. Nor should it be forgotten that Otenyo Nyamantere, an Abagusii warrior led the resistance against the British invasion of Kisii.

When Kenya got her independence in 1963, it was assumed that the land question would be resolved once for all. It was not. The African elite took over from the colonialists and appropriated for themselves land meant for freedom fighters. To date, the problem of squatters persists which can be traced to this alienation. But insidiously, the new rulers repeated the mistakes of the colonial administration.

They trammelled the fundamental rights and liberties of citizens. They curtailed freedom of speech and broached no dissent from anyone dissatisfied with governance of the country. They became, by all intents and purposes, the new, black colonial masters complete with heavy-handed reprisals.

The second liberation movement was about breaking the yoke of this neo-colonialism. It started with the agitation for multi-party politics. It led to piece-meal reforms in the country’s political and democratic space eventually culminating in a new constitution, arguably, the most progressive on the continent.

The third liberation is against the abuse of constitutional power for self-aggrandizement. It is also about the economic empowerment of Kenya’s youthful demographic cohort. Maria Njeri, a development economist based in Nairobi says, “we are now in the third liberation and the discussion right now is redistribution of wealth.

We are trying to ensure that the proletariat have a seat at the table where discussion about their future is held.” A newspaper commentator says this movement has resulted from an “arrogant, elitist, and unresponsive regime. Now is a chance at a people-centric administration.”

There are common threads that run through these liberation movements. Understanding them from a historical perspective may help break the pattern of repeating past mistakes. The first is that each movement is time-bound.

The first liberation started with active resistance against colonialism in the 19th century and ended when Kenya attained independence in 1963. The second started in the late 1960s and ceased to be relevant with the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution. The third is ongoing.

Second, each movement is driven by principal actors. Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei and others, were the architects of the movement of their day. Raila Odinga and Paul Muite among others drove the second liberation. The third liberation has a groundswell of support in the Hustler nation, a political outfit that has taken the nation by storm and now holds close to half the elective political positions.

Third, one movement succeeds the other. Consequently, the principal actors of one liberation group lose relevance with the advent of a succeeding group. History teaches us that it is not possible for anyone to be in more than one epochal movement. Those who insist on staying on inevitably clash with young blood. Could this be the reason behind perennial clashes between Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza?