There'll be no revolution in Kenya anytime soon

Comedian Eric Omondi and musclemen demonstrate the high cost of living outside Parliament buildings in Nairobi on February 21, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Retired Chief Justice Willy Mutunga believes that a revolution has begun in Kenya. He is dead wrong. A comedian called Eric Omondi, and a band of bare-chested youth, have recently brandished protest placards outside Parliament buildings decrying the cost of living. Dr Mutunga thinks that Omondi and his train are revolutionaries. Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina agrees. He has called on Omondi to join Azimio’s efforts “to change Kenya.”

It’s a bad joke. There will be no revolution in Kenya anytime soon. Maybe in some years to come. For now, it is a lonely pipe dream. First, a revolution is not a mere change of guard. Nor do insurrections amount to revolutions. Second, revolutions don’t happen in tribalised societies with blind ethnic political loyalties. Third, revolutions need protection from disciplined forces in the revolting country. Kenya scores terribly in each of the considerations.

A revolution is a radical transformation, a total overthrow of a decadent system and not people. It is not just a removal of the government or a wagon. If, perchance, a band of political buccaneers violently removes another squad and establishes itself in power, this will not necessarily be a revolution.

In world history, gangs of agitators have overthrown other gangs but continued doing what the defeated gangsters were doing. You don’t call that a revolution. Many cataclysmic happenings styled as revolutions have been nothing beyond palace coups by self-serving scoundrels. Consider Chad, the Central African Republic, and the Philippines. The new guards only continued with the same old agenda, lending credence to the dictum, “It is now our turn to eat.”

The Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920 ended the 30-year dictatorial regime of Porfirio Diaz. In effect, however, it did not bring about the change yearned for. Mexico sank into a succession of senseless bloody savagery by shifting factions. Alliances of the kind common in Kenya were plenty. Enemies today become friends tomorrow; friends enemies. The French Revolution (1789–1792) was a comedy of tragic errors, followed by a long-drawn-out season of sad and complex political folly. Some 3.5 million lives were lost. Nothing much changed. The overthrown monarchy was restored in 1814, to be overthrown and restored repeatedly.

Perhaps the only successful revolution was the American Revolution, also christened the American War of Independence (1775–1783). Influential colonists from 13 states rebelled against colonial Great Britain to declare themselves the independent United States. The rest is history. But it is not just about the stories of struggles in other parts of the world. More astutely, it is about the fundamentals of revolutions. First, there must be a clear visionary agenda. None exists in Kenya today. Even as people vaguely know that they are not happy about the cost of living and self-styled revolutionists speak glibly, ask any of them about the new system they want to establish. They don’t know. That is why Dr Mutunga rails against what he calls “the virus of both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio.”

The absence of vision sinks a ‘revolution’ into an ever-degenerative anarchic orgy among competing factions. The Mexican example is a classic lesson. For their part, the Russian October 1917 Revolution and the Mao Tse Tung Revolution in China (1948), were replacements of one form of decadence with another.

Elsewhere, Leslie Rubin and Brian Weinstein in their seminal work, An Introduction to African Politics, point to relative exclusion as one of the powerful forces that drove military interventions in civilian politics in Africa in 1960–1980. Coup makers were unhappy, not about what governments were doing but because they were not the ones doing it.

Beware where the sweet birds sing. Many of those who sing of revolutions are in the same nest.

-Dr Muluka is a strategic communications advisor