Reply to OJ Hatari: Ethnic Bloc Voting and Power Politics in Kenya are Well Understood
OJ Hatari Esq, when I saw your entries on class and ethnicity, I did not bother to respond because you were raising the issues at a simplistic level which was good for the audience because this approach tended to make understanding of the issues much easier. I also noticed that although you seemed upset with the “ethnic status quo” in Kenya, you do not have a solution to the problem. Needless to say, I have chosen to respond to your latest salvo because I notice that you have been away and that you might not be familiar with my writing on the twin issues of ethnicity and class politics in Kenya on the one hand and the solution our movement is offering on the other. To begin tackling the issues that disturb you, here is what you wrote at KSB in a past entry:
“…As a Kenyan who has widely traversed the country, one thing is clear, there are generally three groups of Kenyans: 1. The super rich, economically and politically powerful. (Politicians, Top Civil Servants, African and European land owners, Business and private sector tycoon types) 2. Those who are economically stable and live very decent life styles. (Most Kenyan citizens of Asian and European extraction are in this group) 3. Those that struggle everyday to put food on the table, educate their children and battle 24-7 to etch out a decent life. (Wakenya)”.
Mapping out the different classes
Here, you were attempting a simple class differentiation of the Kenyan society which, you think, is composed of “three groups”. What you call the “super rich” are actually the bourgeoisie while what you refer to as “economically stable” are the petit bourgeoisie. The main difference between these two classes is that the bourgeoisie own the means of producing wealth (mainly factories and industries) while the petit bourgeoisie own the means of distribution (mainly supermarket chains, shops etc). The bottom line is that these two classes own big property while they control big services.
The third category you mention are “Wakenya” whom you say, are struggling to put food on the table. Although at a general level you are right, your approach is simplistic because your class characterization mixes various class layers where they don’t belong while it leaves other major classes unaccounted for. This critical observation might require further explanation.
Contrary to your thesis, not all “politicians” belong to the bourgeoisie class (super rich). Majority of politicians actually belong to the “ruling class” because they are the class in charge of Parliament and Government. The only way many of them try to amass wealth to join the bourgeoisie is by using their positions to steal from the Tax payer. There are politicians (like Raila Odinga, Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru Kenyatta) who have made it to the bourgeoisie class but majority are still trying.
Secondly, “Top civil servants” belong to the “ruling elite” and many of them might not have made it to the bourgeoisie class. You lump them as “super-rich” i.e. bourgeoisie. What you term “business and private sector tycoons” is a general reference but strictly, these could be the petit bourgeoisie who control much of the distribution networks for goods produced by the bourgeoisie (super-rich) or services they provide. When you come to “Wakenya”, you lump so many classes together thereby leaving key players unaccounted for. In fact, the only reason why you may have escaped challenge is because of forgiveness since you were just throwing a comment.
Within “Wakenya”, there exists the middle class (upper and lower depending on education, values and life-styles), the working class (e.g. the matatu dependent poor civil servant; private sector worker), the proletariat (factory worker who walks from Kariobangi to Industrial area daily) and the Jua Kali worker (living below the poverty level). All these Wakenya as you call them could be classified generally as “Workers”. Bundled with “Wakenya” are the students, the vast army of unemployed Kenyans (where you also find school/university drop-outs, lumpens aka makanga/hustlers/hawkers/mama mboga) and the peasants.
While referring to all these layers as “Wakenya” is not wrong per se, this type of reference could be a handicap when dealing with political analysis in relation to ethnicity, class and power politics in a country like Kenya. After setting the record straight on class characterization of the Kenyan society, let me move to the quarrels you were trying to raise with me as KSB Prezzo.
Previous views on tribalism and ethnic voting blocs
In your lamentation, you claimed that you have always raised the issue of ethnicity and ethnic voting blocs but that KSB President has always ignored your views. This was the first tale-tell sign that you may have either come into contact with my writing recently or you did not just bother to check my long-standing position on the various issues long before the establishment of KSB in 2006.
In seeking to have the “last laugh” through a sketchy and non-ideological take on “ethnic voting blocs” and “class politics” in Kenya, you strategically patched on the vantage “I said” position without bothering to check what had been said when you were on vacation in Nyalgunga. My record on the twin issues of ethnicity and class politics in Kenya is so diverse but let me limit the references to KSB which is much familiar. The view below, on “ethnic voting blocs” was presented before elections and it is pathetic that you chose to ignore it for convenience:
“Tribalism is not rooted in lack of equitable distribution of resources in Kenya. It is rooted in a neo-colonial ideology inculcated in the psyche of Kenyans by British colonialists who used this ideology to divide and rule Kenyans. Today, this ideology persists because it has been handed over from generation to generation by the rotten capitalist ruling class which has been using it to achieve the same objectives of dividing Kenyans in order to rule them. The existence of ethnic voting blocs benefits politicians who use these blocs as bargaining chips during their wheeling and dealing especially during electioneering”. As a politician, Raila Odinga was not excluded from this view. (Details here)
Specifically, your reaction was in response to my “Open Letter to Friends in Central and Rift Valley Provinces”. The issues I was raising in this letter were not new because I have raised them in several writings in the past. You did not just look. As late as last year, on May 1st during Labour Day, I raised the same issue of “wealth distribution” to the tribes albeit in a different context. You had not yet surfaced at KSB.
“If say “equal distribution of resources” were a solution, the implication is that there has been an “unequal distribution” of these resources to members of ethnic groups whose ethnic chieftains have been in power. In short, it should mean that members of the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin (through Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki) should have been well-off compared to other Kenyans from other ethnic groups. The reality is that majority of Kenyans (in their millions) are languishing in poverty regardless of whether or not members of their ethnic groups have resided in State House and this is how the situation will remain if Kenyans do not wake up to understand the problem of tribalism from a different angle”. (Detalis here)
At that time, neither Cord nor Jubilee had been formed. KRA went a step further and proposed the following alternative Alliance as a solution to the backward ethnic bloc voting system:
“The “Worker-Peasant-Student-Unemployed” Alliance is the “ultimate Alliance” whose politics against the rich need careful study by all Kenyans claiming membership to this Alliance. For the record, the Kenya Red Alliance (KRA) has the politics needed to lead this Alliance to power in the Republic of Kenya and at any election. However, without a clear understanding of the politics of KRA, power take-over will remain a mirage and the capitalist ruling class will continue with its stereotypical manipulations. The consequence is that nothing will change even after ten more elections and this is the sad reality KRA is trying to address” (Details here).
After the 2013 election, nothing has actually changed while the country is faced with the prospect of future election boycott because the rigged 2013 election has decimated confidence of a vast section of the electorate in the electoral process.
In further tackling your concerns, you wrote: “Now the tide has turned and even pro Odinga bloggers like the KSB president have accentuated their opposition to tribalism irrespective of which block (I bet you mean bloc) one supports”.
Once again, where have you been? It is always convenient to ignore what has been stated in the past for purposes of assuming a wiser, fore-sighted or prophetic posture during discourse. In academia, scholars research their topics to access what has and what has not been said before they lay claim to specific views. Below is a passing remark I made on the very position you claim to have been accentuated after election rigging:
“We have two very high profile names – William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta – playing with the idea of taking over the country’s leadership. However, when you look at their ideas, they profess the same ethnic-based politics that has been perpetuated by the old guards since the days of independence. This dirty politics has promoted tribalism and polarized the country along ethnic lines for years. The two are preaching the politics of “we Kalenjins” and “we Kikuyus” so what they need is another Wamalwa to proclaim “we Luhyas” and new side-kicks to surface with “we Luos”, “we Waswahilis”, “we Kambas” etc to complete the circle and head to State House to grab power and share the loot as the question of mass unemployment and marginalization of the youth continues under their leadership”. (Details here)
Moving to Raila Odinga’s status before the 2013 election
While moving on to Raila Odinga, you seem not to understand why KRA supported Raila Odinga’s candidacy. Without a shred of evidence, you attribute this support to ethnicity but what you do not mention is that the Chairman of KRA, Mr. Martin Ngatia, is a Kikuyu. In summary, KRA supported Raila because from the Movement’s analysis, he remained the most progressive candidate in the field. Every Kenyan had a right to support any candidate and even though KRA believes that Raila was short-changed, there is nothing wrong with having supported him. Raila has his weaknesses which were not only well understood by KRA but which have, in the past, been expressed freely and publicly. Once again, you never looked. During the launch of my book way back in January 2009, this is what I said when Milton Obote, a Kenya-Stockholmer, asked a question about the Raila position:
“On the question of Raila Odinga’s status as an opposition politician, Mr. Osewe said that Raila has gone through “a process of bourgeoisification” over the years and that as a millionaire member of the Kenyan ruling class, his role if he were to be in the opposition, would be limited to seizing power by exploiting the existing ethnic alliances to maintain the capitalist status quo and not to question or change the system” (Details here). A video clip of this specific reply is available here.
To help you further, the view above was based on an ideological view of Raila Odinga as a status quo politician who would preserve capitalism, a rotten system which KRA is seeking to abolish. This view does not hinge on Raila’s ethnic origin and this position has been repeated severally at different forums. In my book (Raila Odinga’s Stolen Presidency) about the 2007 election, the same class-oriented view is echoed thus:
“What is known is that Raila is currently a property owner and one of the few millionaires in Kenya with vast business interests inside the country. If one examines Raila’s property-owning profile, he fits more into a bourgeoisie democrat than a daredevil communist ideologue who could seize power and nationalize property of the rich and powerful in Kenya as the basis of wealth re-distribution. Western fear of Raila as a communist was thus unfounded or based on a bogus theory that may have sprouted from the fear of the unknown” (details here).
On the whole, I do appreciate your struggle to contribute to this debate while at the same time acknowledging your limitations because of ideological constraints which sometimes limit the scope of what you can expound on safely. Despite omissions here and there, you remain far ahead of millions of Kenyans who are incapable of attempting an analysis of the thorny ethnic-class dimension of Kenyan politics. I would encourage you to continue digging deeper because at KRA, we have arrived at the conclusion that there is a clear alternative to the crisis facing Kenya. The following is a summary of KRA on how the death of tribalism can come about.
“Once Kenyans begin to see themselves as members of different classes, and once a party is in place to represent their interest, tribalism will die a natural death because politically speaking, any Kenyan walking the streets is either a worker, a student, jobless, a peasant, bourgeoisie, petit bourgeoisie or a member of the ruling class (vulture). These are the key “economic tribes” in Kenya, a reality that is unavoidable”. (Details here)
On Raila Odinga: January 2009