The late Kenyan Revolution

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Riding Kenya’s aborted revolution

Written by Owei Lakemfa

Friday, 09 May 2008

A new Kenyan government is now in place. In spite of its unwieldy composition of 42 ministers and numerous assistant ministers, it is a welcome relief.

It had taken an inconclusive general election, 1,500 lives and 300,000 internally displaced people to get to this shaky stage.

Kenya had erupted like a latent volcano with the lava of anger and hate sprouting into the air and flowing freely in the streets.

Unknown to many, the December 27, 2007 general elections was actually a revolution; it was an attempt by the people to radically restructure the socio-economic and political configuration of their country. Unfortunately, it fossilized.

Beyond the analysis of a power struggle amongst the country’s political elites, there are three fundamental reasons for the blow out. First is the issue of land. In Kenya, like in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, the struggles about land acquisition thrown up by a settler-colonial class has not been resolved.

When the colonial settlers came to Kenya, they seized the fertile lands of the majority Kikuyu while the people were pushed into “reserves”.

That was the basis of the Mau Mau war against British colonialism and that was why the resistance army was called the Land and Freedom Army. While the agricultural Kikuyus suffered immensely from the land seizures, more lands were taken from the pastoral peoples like the Masai and the Kalenjin.

The latter regard the Rift Valley with its 48.64 kilometre width and chains of lakes and rivers as their ancestral home.

In post colonial Kenya, land was not redistributed as expected. The new government under the Kenya Land Commission, rather than reclaim these lands, decided to add more land to the tribal reserves.
Apart from the white settlers, the newly emergent middle and upper class Kenyans got lands in these areas.

The Kalenjin, for instance, did not see why Kikuyus would own lands in the Rift Valley. So, despite the fact that there was an alliance in the general elections between President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and former President Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjin, against Raila Odinga, a Luo, many Kikuyus were attacked by Kalenjins in the Rift Valley.

The second fundamental reason has to do with Kenya’s political history. The four most powerful men in Kenya today; President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Ministers Musalia Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyetta, are part of that history.

There was a general current in Kenya on the need to smash the perceived political opportunism and unrealiability of Kenya’s political class. Many Kikuyu’s believe that the essence of the Mau Mau struggle, led by Dedan Kimathi and Waruhiu Itote (General China), was betrayed by the emergent political class led by Johnstone Kamauwa Ngengi, who later changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta.

While Kenyatta was in colonial detention, two nationalists from Western Kenya; Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga, founded the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and made Kenyatta President in abstentia. Even when the KANU, in February 1961, won the first elections under British colonialism, KANU refused to form government without Kenyatta being released.

There was, therefore, a lot of bitterness in post colonial Kenya when Oginga Odinga was, in 1966, sacked as the country’s Vice President and detained without trial. This heightened with the belief that Kenyatta and his successor, Arap Moi, used assassination as a political tool to repress opposition.
Gama Pinto, an Asian-born nationalist and well-known Mau Mau supporter, was murdered on February 24, 1965.

Tom Mboya was on July 5, 1969. Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, a Mau Mau detainee and later minister, was riddled with bullets in March 1978. MP Horace Owiti was murdered on May 26, 1985. In February 1990, Dr. Robert Ouko, the Foreign Minister, was shot dead and his body burnt.

There were also detentions and intolerance of any other political party apart from KANU by the Kenyatta and Moi governments. MP Martin Shikuku, who, in October 1975, made uncomplimentary remarks in parliament about the ruling party, was detained along with the Deputy Speaker, John Seroney, who had not ruled Shikuku out of order.

They were released three years later, after Kenyatta’s death in 1978.
Moi, who took over as President, had current President, Mwai Kibaki, as Vice President for a decade.

When junior air force officers staged an aborted coup on August 1, 1982, Moi used the opportunity to carry out a clean sweep of his opponents. Apart from abolishing the Kenyan Air Force, he carried out series of executions, detained Oginga Odinga and charged the latter’s son, Raila, with treason.

In 1990, Pro-democracy protests erupted and the following year, the opposition coalesced around former detainees or political opponenets like Martin Shikuku, Oginga Odinga, his son, Raila, Mwai Kibaki and Kenneth Matiba. A fractured opposition lost the multiparty elections to Moi, but they united in the next elections under the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) led by Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Moi and the ruling KANU presented Jomo Kenyetta’s son, Uhuru.

The opposition won but soon disintegrated when Kibaki allegedly reneged on agreed constitutional change.

The 2007 elections were, therefore, a forum to settle scores on the third fundamental issue; change. Kenyans wanted fundamental change in their socio-economic and political lives. They believe Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party (ODM) will bring that change.

Kenya needs to urgently rehabilitate those displaced, return farmers to till the land, heal the open wounds and rebuild its economy. But, ultimately, the solution will depend on how the primary issues of land, political opportunism and change are handled.

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3 thoughts on “The late Kenyan Revolution”

  1. Tribalism is why Africa continues to lose their respective place in the Global Society. Fulani vs the Ido-the Hutu vs the Tutsi and so on and so forth. Im French Cameron, Im not African Im Abyssian, Im not Black Im a Sudanese Arab and so on and so forth. African arfe still in the Fourth Round or should I say the previous Cycle of Time. Ehtiopia has acwued most of its territory and no longer has access to the sea. Nigeria has too many so-called ethnic groups and could have been a Global Super-Power–a member of the G8, but, we know why they aren’t. And Kenya, we’ll, I will continue to pray for them!

  2. Owei Lakemfa’s analysis on the is cogent.

    Out of the darkness must come out a light: The poor of Kenya have now internalized their real hinderances to dreams of peace and prosperity:those of the ruling elite who are loveless, cynical and manipulative.

    More importantly, Kenyans are increasingly looking down with genuine and righteous contempt at those who have amassed ill-gotten wealth-filthy lucre. This mentality must not be under-estimated. The longer a society tolerates corruption with most secretly desiring the same quick avenues to wealth, the longer such a society remains impoverished.

    What Kenya now needs is a force to galvanize their manifest energies and intelligence in a positive direction.

    Somebody trustworthy.The current coalition is on probation….

    Somebody who can make Kenyans believe in the idea of Kenya.

    Underneath the seemingly hopeless situation, infested with tribal suspicions is this common understanding .Woe unto them evil man that giveth not a care!

    Jah Rastafari!

  3. Asians and Europeans have their versions of tribalism also,ethnic strife is not endemic to African countries,strife in other areas will start to be more prominent the next few years and I don’t mean this fake-arse war against terror!!!!!!!!!!!!

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