Politics and Society
Maandamano and the state of Kenyan public life
William Ruto’s and Rigathi Gachagua’s campaign was built on the condition of the common Kenyan or the “hustler”, but their government has proved to be hardly different from that of their predecessors seven months in.
William Ruto’s and Rigathi Gachagua’s campaign was built on the condition of the common Kenyan or the “hustler”, but their government has proved to be hardly different from that of their predecessors seven months in. The cost of living continues to soar as food prices constantly increase, with these increases being attributed to tax increases that producers pass on to consumers. Fuel and electricity prices remain high as well, worsening the situation. The man who was the people’s hustler six months ago has quickly become “Zakayo mtoza ushuru”. And as taxes continue being justified as necessary for debt servicing and for stabilising the economy (whose troubles are frequently blamed on the former regime), interesting contradictions manifest in various moves in the leadership’s self-interests, such as the Ksh 802.2m request for cars for Ruto, Mudavadi and Gachagua or the appointment of 50 cabinet administrative secretaries (positions which have been declared unconstitutional by the High Court) whose salaries will amount to Ksh 459.11 million annually, in addition to their personnel expenses. All this continues to happen as Ruto tells Kenyans that the electricity, fuel and maize subsidies put in place by the previous regime are unsustainable and needed to be removed. In a government that managed to burst its annual budget in 7 months, austerity is reserved for the ordinary mwananchi while the government officials continue to live in excess.
Ruto has continually failed to deliver on his campaign promises and continues to do little to turn the economy around. This has of course caused frustration among citizens and it is this frustration that the Azimio camp leveraged and used to call for mass action. This mass action followed a 14-day ultimatum by opposition leader Raila to open the election servers. But Kenyans are not necessarily concerned about election servers and Raila’s lingering focus on the servers is evidence of his co-option of legitimate mass struggles to serve his interests. As he called for mass action, Raila announced that this was in a bid for “a legitimate and inclusive government”. This statement, as well as the constant calls for the opening of “election servers” only serve to sully legitimate mass protests by Kenyans who are drowning under the heavy cost of staying alive in this country. It also reminds one of the BBI handshake (talks of which Raila has recently revived as part of his protest demands) and shows that for Raila, a legitimate and inclusive government is one that he is part of. Raila, a once progressive force in the country and the longest-serving political prisoner in the country’s history, then seems to have reduced his politics to the same prebendal politics he once fought against.
Raila, a once progressive force in the country and the longest-serving political prisoner in the country’s history, seems to have reduced his politics to the same prebendal politics he once fought against
There have been other protests calling for the government to deal with the high cost of living. The Kenyan social justice movement has repeatedly moved to the streets to protest various injustices including the violation of their economic and social rights as per Article 43 of the Kenyan constitution. The most recent protests of this kind took place on July 7 (Saba Saba) last year. Raila did not offer any form of solidarity to the protestors, or acknowledge them, but instead took to Twitter asking Kenyans to “reflect on the long road travelled and what we’ve achieved in expanding the democratic space we enjoy,” as they commemorated the day. It appears then that under Uhuru’s regime which saw food inflation hit all-time highs, a resurgence of extra-judicial killings, and other constitutional violations, Raila still considered the regime democratic. What could this then mean, other than that democracy for Raila is a self-centred project that can only be realized with his involvement in government?
Mwananchi’s struggles such as the high cost of living, drought, infrastructural issues etc. have seemingly been reduced to a ball that whoever is in opposition at the time (in this case Ruto before his victory and Raila after his loss) throws at their opponent as a populist strategy to negotiate for their power. Kenyans are left on their own as Kenyan politics are reduced to instruments of the self-serving political class and the elite to advance their interests.
Need for an alternate political movement
What do we do then? The first thing is to realize our problems are a class issue, by which I mean they arise from the tensions and antagonisms caused by competing socioeconomic interests between us and the Kenyan ruling class and their cronies. In a country where 8300 people (0.1% of the population) hold more wealth than the other 99.9%, it is clear that resource hoarding by a paltry few is one of the things ailing the nation. As Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes in his prolific work Homecoming, there are only two tribes left in Africa, the “haves” and the “have nots”.
Kenyans are left on their own as Kenyan politics is reduced to an instrument of the self-serving political class and the elite to advance their interests
It is the logic of accumulation that governs the “haves” tribe and continues to undermine the well-being of millions of others. It desecrates the concept of social justice, keeping millions from benefiting from public resources and from equitable participation in social, political and economic institutions. With this knowledge in mind, we must organize around issues of social justice, building power that transcends the often-ethnic logic that leaders run to, to avoid naming the real devils that beguile the country. In politics devoid of ideology and governed by self-interests, both political camps currently offer nothing to Kenyans, and we must build an alternative political movement that challenges these established political powers.
With its advocacy firmly rooted in the struggles of the common mwananchi, this movement offers an avenue for counter-hegemonic discourse and struggles, outside of the self-serving politics of both political camps
Such a political movement already exists in the country. The Kenyan social justice movement which started modestly with one social justice centre in Mathare in 2014 has grown to over 40 centres today. These social justice centres organize around various causes from ecological justice, economic and social rights under article 43, extrajudicial killings, right to water, disability justice to political accountability, and dot most of Nairobi’s primary working-class neighbourhoods; the informal settlements that house over 50% of Nairobi’s population. With its advocacy firmly rooted in the struggles of the common mwananchi, this movement offers an avenue for counter-hegemonic discourse and struggles, outside of the self-serving politics of both political camps.
* Wairimu Gathimba is a Kenyan student and writer with the Kenya Organic Intellectuals Network.
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