In the last couple of weeks, several bizarre YouTube videos of the self-proclaimed “Apostle” James Maina Ng’ang’a of the Neno Evangelism Ministry, located at the junction of Nairobi’s Haile Selassie Avenue and Uhuru Highway, have been doing odious rounds in cyberspace. In these videos, Ng’ang’a has been captured haranguing his congregation in the most despicable and vilest of language a man of God can possibly utter.
In most of these videos, shot during a Friday night kesha (Kiswahili for vigil) service (kesha), Ng’ang’a – a convict-turned-televangelist who runs one of the largest deliverance and healing ministries in Kenya – is shown abusing everybody, from his partner pastors (who he refers to as bishops) to the men and women who fanatically and religiously attend his church, in the foulest of language.
In one of the videos, he virulently rails against his own bishops, accusing them of ingratitude, ostensibly after making them important and rich. Like a man possessed of the Lucifer himself, he swore he would finish them by October 2019 after closing their “kiosks” [churches]), that is, three months after he allegedly accused them of apparently being gleeful for his police problems and of “disrespecting” his wife (a euphemism for flirting with his wife, according to some members of his church). As the “chief commander” of the Neno Evangelical Ministry and all the other appendages of his ministry spread across the country, he hollered at the congregation, demanding of them the unconditional respect due to him from them, failure to which, anybody who disrespected him would face dire consequences.
Angered by the behaviour of certain men in his church, he lectured the congregation for 20 minutes before threatening those men with castration. “After I’ve castrated you…you’ll be left just admiring your wives impotently,” he said. He called the men “these cows” as he walked back to the pulpit. Bizarrely, the congregation applauded his abuse and insults.
In another of these disturbing videos, he dares a woman follower to fight him while placing his hands on her breasts and telling her that there was nothing she could do to him. In this violent well-choreographed video, Ng’ang’a slaps the woman several times while pinning her to the floor ostensibly to exorcise demons that invariably have been sent to kill him. The woman finally calms down, gets up and mumbles in mumbo jumbo about her demon-possessed life. The video attracted mass outrage, where the public questioned Ng’ang’a’s sanity.
Angered by the behaviour of certain men in his church, he lectured the congregation for 20 minutes before threatening those men with castration. “After I’ve castrated you…you’ll be left just admiring your wives impotently,” he said.
The chief commander has not only threatened his followers, he has also threatened journalists and whomever else he deems is against him. In all the while that Ng’ang’a has abused, humiliated, objectified, patronised, slapped, threatened, and vilified his enemies (within and without his church), his fanatical followers have seemingly stood firm with him. “The servant of the Lord can get angry – just like the prophets of yore – and when he’s angry, he’s bound to ruffle feathers with his utterances, but trust me, the spirit of the Lord is always with him,” one of his devoted supporters said to me. “You know the devil is always working overtime to bring the true servant of the Lord down, we can’t allow him to do that.”
Why do Christians all over the world fall for religious charlatans? Kenyans, like millions of Christians in Africa and elsewhere, are irredeemably susceptible to religious abuse. Over the last couple of years, social media has been abuzz with a litany of shocking acts committed by fraudulent pastors largely from of the evangelical/Pentecostal movement. This is a question that we shall come back to in a jiffy.
Fake pastors and their gullible followers
Born in 1954 to a poor family that was not able to give him a stable upbringing or a proper education, Ng’ang’a, 67, moved to Nairobi in 1970 in search of a livelihood. He found a job as a house servant. In no time, he joined criminal gangs, a move that soon led to alcohol and drug abuse, a spiral of criminal escapades and many arrests and jail terms.
Over time, Ng’ang’a mutated into a hard core criminal and served time at Kamiti, Naivasha and Shimo-la-Tewa maximum prisons. In total, he stayed in prison for 21 years. At Shimo-la-Tewa, Ng’ang’a, met the Lord Jesus Christ and was converted to the evangelical/Pentecostal Christian faith.
Soon after he was released from jail, he founded Neno Evangelism Ministry in 1992. In 1997, he opened his Neno Evangelism Centre, strategically located in Nairobi’s central business district. A strong proponent of the health and wealth prosperity gospel, he has grown immensely wealthy and is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of Kenyan shillings. He has, over time, also become arrogant, careless, flashy, proud, uncouth, and vulgar. He likes to court controversy. His lavish lifestyle reveals a story of a man who has grown from grass to grace, rags to riches, thanks to a gullible congregation and the growth of the expanding evangelical Christian industry.
In September 2015, his wife, in court papers, alleged that Ng’ang’a was not only a drunk, but also a serial adulterer, and abusive husband and father. It is believed they later reconciled after Ng’ang’a heaped blame on the devil for wanting to ruin his family. The “Apostle” who, on several occasions, has retreated into the “wilderness” dressed in rags like a shepherd of the Lord to fast and commune with God, incidentally, walks around with a gun and has been photographed drunk and rowdy.
In July 2015, Ng’ang’a was driving presumably drunk on the Nakuru-Nairobi highway when he caused a fatal accident at Manguo, near Limuru town that killed a middle-aged woman and seriously injured her husband. Ng’ang’a apparently quickly jumped into a vehicle that was driving behind him and left the scene immediately after a young man appeared and claimed that he was the one driving the red SUV Range Rover Sport.
In September 2015, his wife, in court papers, alleged that Ng’ang’a was not only a drunk, but also a serial adulterer, and abusive husband and father. It is believed they later reconciled after Ng’ang’a heaped blame on the devil for wanting to ruin his family.
The pastor, through his lawyer, denied that he was drunk on the day of the accident. But the exposé circulated on social media led to a public outcry that ultimately saw him arrested and charged in a court of law. In May, 2018, the court acquitted Pastor Ng’ang’a, but after another outcry from the public, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Noordin Haji, revived the case after an appeal by the Kiambu Law Courts. Nonetheless, Ng’ang’a. continues to preach in his church every Sunday, and his followers still patronise his church in search of miracles and deliverance.
But Ng’ang’a is not the only evangelical pastor known to manipulate his followers. There is the self-proclaimed Bishop Victor Kanyari of potassium permanganate fame. In November 2014, Kanyari, a televangelist and pastor at the Salvation Healing Ministry and the son of disgraced Prophetess Lucy Nduta, was exposed on Kenya Television Network’s (KTN) Jicho Pevu, an investigative television series, for performing dubious miracles, faking healing, and coaching his staff to tender phony testimonies of, among others, healing- and prayer-induced prosperity.
The series exposed Kanyari as selling fake miracles and duping believers into giving money and other gifts to the church with the promise that God would look into their issues. Kanyari was, allegedly, further revealed to be a con artist who preyed on his trusting followers for financial gains. This harrowing video exposé laced with shocking confessions from part of his team revealed how Kanyari deceptively obtained money from worshippers on the pretext that they would receive miracles.
The exposé, dubbed Makri ya Injili (Prayer Predators), contemporaneously showed the deceptive methods that the Salvation Healing Ministry used to lure and exploit the gullible and trusting followers over a period of 15 years in order for Kanyari to enrich himself. The exposé included witness testimonies given by paid members of the church who falsely testified that they had been miraculously healed of AIDS through Pastor Kanyari’s prayers.
Kanyari also washed the feet of his followers with water laced with potassium permanganate. When he stirred the chemical (just like one would do in a chemistry lab), the water turned into a deep red. In a bizarre incident, straight out of a children’s folktale, he told his adherents that this was blood oozing out from their feet as a result of healing miracles from his prayers. The tragedy of this “healing” performance is that his followers seemed to believe in his “miracle” abracadabra.
In yet another exposé, Kanyari paid women, mostly sex workers, to come forth for faith healing services with twisted mouths and faces, which would miraculously be realigned during prayer services that were telecast on KTN. Kanyari was exposed not only as a con man who used paid sex workers to perform for him, but also as a drunk who routinely cheated on his gospel musician wife.
A story aired on KTN’s prime time showed footage in which Kanyari appeared to be falsifying phone calls on his radio programmes recorded from his house. Audiences were urged to send as much as Sh500,000 (US$5,000) after a single prayer episode. Church members and anybody else who needed prayers had to send him a mandatory Sh310 (US$3). This charge was a clever manipulation of Malachi Chapter 3, Verse 10, in the Scriptures, which talks about the importance of tithing and God’s abundant blessing.
Kanyari also washed the feet of his followers with water laced with potassium permanganate. When he stirred the chemical (just like one would do in a chemistry lab), the water turned into a deep red.
After the exposé, an unrepentant Kanyari bragged that he had become an instant celebrity since he was the subject of discussion in Kenya’s public and private discourses. He further bragged of his rise from a mere secondary school drop-out and a former manual farm labourer to a prophet who was the talk of the town.
His mother, Prophetess Lucy Nduta, also of Salvation Healing Ministry and host of a weekly TV programme, was arrested in mid-2006 for extorting money from the faithful, including requiring HIV/AIDS patients to plant a seed of between Sh200,000 (US$2,000) and Sh400,000 (US$4,000) for her to cure them through powerful prayers. Upon receipt of the payment, church elders would allegedly take the AIDS patients to a local AIDS clinic where they would be issued with false medical certificates giving them a clean bill of health. The prophetess claimed that she had cured 200 HIV/AIDS cases.
Evidently, some of the patients sold their properties or borrowed money from friends and family to raise the seed money. According to Paul Gifford, emeritus professor of religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and author of Christianity, Political and Public Life in Kenya, one woman gave a car worth Sh300,000 (US$3,000), to the prophetess so that she could pray for her ailing daughter. Another gave Sh1 million (US$100,000) for prayers to conceive. Yet another Sh21,000 (US$210) to obtain a visa to the Netherlands. Another follower gave Sh20,000 (US$200) for a prayer to become rich.
The prophetess tried to have the case against her dismissed, arguing that matters of faith and spirit did not fall within the court’s competence. But her plea was rejected and she was jailed for two years in 2008. It seems that the son learnt well from his mother and took over the church’s reigns while his mother was cooling her heels at Langata Women’s Prison.
The stories of Ng’ang’a and Kanyari have caused much public outrage, with many people calling for their arrest and prosecution, even as they plead with the government to rein in the rogue pastors. Expressing their angst on varied social media platforms, some of the Kenyans have been appalled that their kith and kin can be so gullible as to fall for religious manipulation and trickery.
However, these scandals have not stopped the flow of the followers from drying out; on the contrary, their respective flocks always blame Satan and the dark forces of evil, which manifest themselves in the ungodly media that is always ready to be used to bring down the fishers of men.
The self-proclaimed Prophet Owuor
Enter the self-proclaimed “Prophet” David Edward Ujiji Owuor, whose record-breaking titles are legendary. He is considered to be the master of spiritual and emotional manipulation. “The Two Mightiest, Mightiest Prophets of the Lord,” “Beholder of the Golden Keys,” “The Two Ferocious Witnesses,” are among some of his grandiloquent titles.
Never in the history of Christianity in Kenya has there been a man as controversial as Owuor. The “prophet”, a schooled man by all standards, is an end-of-time preacher man who apparently is obsessed with the coming Armageddon. He never ceases to preach repentance and holiness, as well as rapture, whenever and wherever he holds his melodramatic crusades.
In June 2017, Owuor allegedly faked a widely circulated purported “resurrection” of Mama Rosa, a frail, poor, and sickly rural woman, which led to nationwide celebrations by his thousands of fanatical followers. Mama Rosa, as she was known, became “a resurrection trophy” who was showcased at every humungous crusade that Owuor held. Her frail frame pierced the conscience of every right-thinking Kenyan, as she was paraded and forced to endure long hours in the crusades for people to see the miracles and powers of Prophet Owuor. Three years later, on 22 January 2019, Mama Rosa died and was buried at Talau, village in West Pokot.
In March, 2019, Owuor and his Ministry of Repentance and Holiness (MRH) was embroiled in a scandal involving a lady lawyer, Jane Muthoni Njagi, a dedicated follower and real estate tycoon. The presumably rich lawyer, who supposedly owns high-end real estate in Nairobi’s leafy suburbs, and who apparently bankrolled many of the MRH’s activities, was allegedly not only treated shabbily by Owuor and his bishops, but also financially exploited and spiritually manipulated. According to some MRH followers, she was also isolated from friends and family. At some point, she looked weak and uncoordinated.
Her family members revealed how she was constantly abused, denied food and appeared dazed and drugged. She was also allegedly moved from managing her real estate properties, and put up in a smaller apartment while an MRH female worker took charge of her properties. With the help of the police, her family were able to “rescue” her from the cult-like grip she seemed to have been trapped in. This story, highlighted by local media houses, explicitly brought to light the apparent abuse, intrigues and manipulation of MRH followers. Yet the disturbing and shocking thing is that she came out to defend Owuor and to claim that her own family members were thoroughly misinformed about her plight.
Speaking to scores of members and ex-members of MRH in the last nearly five years, during which I have been researching this church, what emerges is a grim picture of extreme emotional and psychological abuse and financial exploitation. The MRH’s theology on women’s bodies and the sexualisation of the female form remains the most disturbing to me. The ministry’s sermons and teachings about sexual purity have, for example, ostensibly led to family tensions and break-ups.
Tens of people I interviewed spoke of myriads of families that have been broken by this church. I found out that some family members spent so much time following the prophet wherever he held his crusades that they literally abandoned their family and work. Some employers have been known to complain about work absenteeism among members of the church, while scores of high school and university students have abandoned their schools and played truancy, all in the name of the prophet. In a bizarre move, some students have reportedly burned their educational certificates and documents, because, anyway, according to the prophet, rapture is soon coming.
The phenomenon of bizarre pastors is not a preserve of Kenya; elsewhere in Africa, we have witnessed macabre behaviours of the “men of God”. In February 2019, a video of Pastor Alph Lukau from South Africa showing him resurrecting a “dead” man went viral. In another video that also went viral, a flamboyant Zimbabwean preacher man, Paul Sanyangore, is seen talking to “God” on his mobile phone.
British sociologist Eileen Barker, author of The Making of the Moonies: Choice or Brainwashing?” has grappled with the disturbing issue of gullible and vulnerable flock. Why is it that reasonable men and women of sound mind always fall prey to religious charlatans? How is it that some of the most gullible men and women also happen to be the most educated academically and professionally? What possible credible explanation can one give to explain the fact that mature men and women will sacrifice their all – career, family, friends, civil liberties, property and personal responsibility – to follow a charlatan who has no family of his own? How is it that right-thinking beings are easily persuaded to abrogate their individual rights of personal choice of what career to pursue, who to marry, when to have or not to have sex, when and how to be intimate with your spouse?
Speaking to scores of members and ex-members of MRH in the last nearly five years, during which I have been researching this church, what emerges is a grim picture of extreme emotional and psychological abuse and financial exploitation.
Like Barker, I have also grappled with the depressing issues of religious bondage and phantasmagoria. How is it that some of the most learned Kenyans of exceptional academic prowess accept Owour’s extreme quiescent religious beliefs? How is it that some of his adamant and stringent followers and supporters are these “men and women of the books?” How is it that they seem to be “brainwashed” into believing that Prophet Owuor’s “truth” is the only truth?
How is it that they are prepared to follow his every command, his every utterance, and are eager and ready to sacrifice everything – materially or otherwise – for him, while they themselves struggle daily with the basic necessities of life? How is it that women will expose their children to the vagaries of freezing temperatures, exposing their young ones to cold nights, sleeping in open air crusades, while Owuor and his bishops snuggle their nights away in deluxe hotels? How is that medical professionals accept to validate non-existing miracles, totally oblivious of the ethics that undergird their vocation? All in the name of legitimising and validatingthe miscreant behaviours of a pampered and pumped-up ego? How is it that physicians allow patients to be plucked out of hospital beds to later die after being prayed for at mass crusades?
In the second part of this article, I seek to answer these worrisome questions.
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For J.M’s Ten Million Beggars, the Hustler vs Dynasty Narrative is a Red Herring
Hon. William Ruto’s hustler vs dynasty narrative is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics in order to avoid playing the tribal card in his quest for the presidency.
Stifling the “hustler” vs “dynasty” debate will not save us from the imminent implosion resulting from Kenya’s obscene inequalities. While the debate is a welcome distraction from our frequent divisive tribal politics, leaders in government and society are frightened that it might lead to class wars. Our sustained subtle, yet brazen, war against the poor has made class conflict inevitable. If only we had listened to Hon. J. M. Kariuki, the assassinated former Member of Parliament for Nyandarua (1969-1975), and provided the poor with the means to develop themselves, perhaps the prospect of revolt would now be remote.
Could this be the angry ghost of J.M. Kariuki coming back to haunt us? Listen to his voice still crying from the grave, as did his supporters at a rally in 1974: “We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Our people who died in the forests died with a handful of soil in their right hands, believing they had fallen in a noble struggle to regain our land . . . But we are being carried away by selfishness and greed. Unless something is done now, the land question will be answered by bloodshed” (quoted by Prof. Simiyu Wandibba in his book J.M. Kariuki). Fired by this speech, his followers set ablaze 700 acres of wheat on Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s farm in Rongai and slaughtered cattle with malice. Thus did J.M. invite his death.
What Hon. William Ruto propounds in his hustler vs dynasty debate is a shrewd way of redefining Kenyan identity politics. Ruto is re-directing the political narrative from the “us” vs “them” of tribalism, to one characterised by the poor and desperate (hustlers) who have seen subsequent governments betray their hopes for a better life, pitted against “them”, Ruto’s rivals, the offspring of politicians born to unfair and unearned privilege.
Wycliffe Muga, the Star newspaper columnist, has eloquently described them as the “sons of a hereditary political elite who absorbed all the benefits that came with independence, leaving ‘the rest of us’ destitute and having no choice but to beg for the crumbs under their table.” By opting for an alternative approach, Ruto hopes to avoid playing the tribal card to attain the presidency. For, besides his own, he would need the support of at least one other of the five big tribes who often reserve support for their own sons unless there is a brokered alliance. But even then, the underlying logic of Kenyan politics remains that of identity politics, which creates a binary narrative of “us” against “them”.
Meanwhile, Ruto has not only radicalised the poor, but he has also hastened the country’s hour of reckoning — judgement for the years of neglect of the poor — and this may ignite the tinder sooner we imagine.
In their article in The Elephant, Dauti Kahura and Akoko Akech observe that, “Ruto might have belatedly discovered the great socio-economic divide between the walala-hoi and the walala-hai in Kenya”. Ruto has galvanised the poor and their plight around the banner of the “hustler nation”, a nation aspiring to erase the tribal or geographical lines that have kept Kenyans apart. As a result the poor are restless as they compare their state with the ease of the lives of the affluent. But Ruto is not organising to awaken class-consciousness among the exploited. ‘As Thandika Mkandawire, citing Karl Marx, observed, “The existence of class may portend class struggles, but it does not automatically trigger them. It is not enough that classes exist in themselves, they must also be for themselves”’, Kahura and Akech further reiterate.
The problem kicks in immediately he points to the “dynasty”. In juxtaposing the hustlers and dynasty, the poor find a target of hate, an object of their wrath. This situation can easily slide into violence, the violence emerging only when the “us” see themselves as all good and the “them” as all evil.
I worry this controversy has led us to that radicalisation stage where the poor see themselves as the good children of light fighting evil forces of darkness. In our case, the so-called hustler nation believe they are against the deep-state which doesn’t care about them but wants to give to the dynasty that which is due to them. They believe that this collusion between deep-state and dynasty is preventing them from reaching prosperity and so they blame their situation on those who they perceive to be the cause of their wretchedness. Interestingly, the colonial state always feared the day when the masses would rise up and topple it. Unfortunately, Ruto is using the crisis of the underclass created by the colonial state and perpetuated by the political class for political expediency and for his own self-advancement.
By declaring himself the saviour of the hustlers from the dynasties, Ruto — who is devoid of any pro-democracy and pro-suffering citizens political credentials — is perceived to be antagonising the Kenyatta family’s political and financial interests. He has with precision stoked the anger of the poor against particular political elites he calls dynasties and the Odingas, the Kenyattas, the Mois and their associates have become the hustler nation’s enemy. So, one understands why President Uhuru Kenyatta considers Ruto’s dynasty vs hustler debate “a divisive and a major threat to the country’s security”, which he fears may degenerate into class warfare.
Hon. Paul Koinange, Chairman of the Parliamentary Administration and Security Committee errs in his call to criminalise the hustler vs dynasty narrative. If this is hate speech, as Koinange wants it classified, then neglect of the poor by their government is a worse form of hate speech. The application of policies favouring tender-preneurs at the expense of the majority poor, landless and unemployed will incite Kenyans against each other faster than the hustler vs dynasty narrative. The failure to provide public services for the poor and the spiralling wealth of the political class must be confronted.
We have been speeding down this slippery slope for years. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data released in December 2020, only 2.92 million Kenyans work in the formal sector, of which 1.34 million or 45.9 per cent earn less than Sh30,000. If we accept that the informal sector employs another 15 million Kenyans, an overwhelming majority (71 per cent) would be in micro-scale enterprises or in small-scale enterprises (which make up 26 per cent). This implies that 97 per cent of our enterprises are micro or small, and these are easily wound up. The situation is exasperated by the opulence at the top. The UK-based New World Wealth survey (2014) conducted over 5 years paints a grim picture of wealth distribution in Kenya. Of the country’s 43.1 million people then, 46 per cent lived below the poverty line, surviving on less than Sh172 ($2) a day.
The report shows that nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s Sh4.3 trillion ($50 billion) economy is controlled by a tiny clique of 8,300 super-wealthy individuals, highlighting the huge inequality between the rich and the poor. Without a clear understanding of these disparities, it is difficult to evaluate the currents that are conducive to the widening of this gap not to mention those that would bridge it. Hon. Koinange should be addressing these inequalities that the masses are awakening to rather than combatting the hustler narrative. Our government must be intentional in levelling the playing field, or live in perpetual fear like the British colonials who feared mass revolt across imaginary ethnic lines.
In Kenya, past injustices have yielded gross inequalities. In Reading on inequality in Kenya: Sectoral Dynamics and Perceptions, Okello and Gitau illustrate how state power is still being used to perpetuate differences in the sharing of political and economic welfare. Okello further observes that: “In a country where for a long time economic and political power was/has been heavily partisan, where the state appropriated for itself the role of being the agency for development, and where politics is highly ethnicised, the hypothesis of unequal treatment has been so easy to build.”
This, and not the euphoria of the hustler nation, is the pressure cooker that is about to explode. The horizontal manifestation of inequality stemming from the failure of state institutions and policies that have continued to allow inequalities to fester is what should be of concern to the state. How can the government not see the risk such extreme economic disparities within the population pose for the nation’s stability?
We Didn’t Make It for You: Vaccine Nationalism and the West’s Claim to the COVID-19 Jab
Wealthy nations are actively hoarding pre-orders of the multiple vaccines, and the pharmaceutical giants from which they sprang are largely avoiding sharing their advancements with the developing world.
The sun dipped over the Nile in Jinja on New Year’s Eve. Shots were thrown back, toasts were raised, beer glasses clinking against each other. The night almost seemed like the usual run-of-the-mill end-of-year celebration, with the noticeably big exception that people kept their distance and the gates were locked to keep out roving members of the army looking to catch any reveler dumb enough to wander out mask-free past curfew and slam them with a myriad of charges until bribes were produced.
Now 2021 seems to be little more than the continuation of the cavalcade of horrors that kicked off the new decade. And once again the cynicism is proving justified. For the last couple of months, in various social settings, over various libations, statements of optimism had sprung forth regarding COVID-19 vaccine developments. These were invariably met with knowing laughter from someone at the table, an individual almost certainly all out of damns to give and sick of starry-eyed statements of global equity in these desperate and turbulent times.
And now, as if from some unexpected remnant of colonial history, it trickles out (not as a leading headline amongst the upstanding Western press) that the wealthy nations of the world are actively hoarding pre-orders of the multiple vaccines, and the pharmaceutical giants from which they sprang are largely avoiding sharing their advancements with the developing world.
It is not just the typical candidates that are guilty of this. By typical candidates I am pointing the finger at the United States, Britain, China, and France. But also at countries like Canada, which has pre-ordered enough vaccines to inject its population an estimated five times over. Are they also trying to stop the pandemic from affecting two generations of their ancestors and the local polar bear population? In fact, by mid-December last year, only 700 million doses had been secured for the entire “underdeveloped” world. That number is laughably low. Politics is being played well above people’s heads once again. Nothing has been learned, and mega-corporations are in lockstep with the very same austerity-measure-loving members of the Western political elite.
In essence, this means that pencil-pushing cheapskates in the big conference rooms of places with organizational titles like NATO, the UN and the EU are fully content to once again screw the developing world over if it doesn’t add a couple of hundred million euros to western coffers. Bailouts and massive pushes for research were fine for the good, upstanding, and largely white citizenry within their own borders. International cooperation to ensure worldwide immunity? Well, that might be a problem for those who pull the purse strings.
The only surprise with such behaviour is that there is any surprise at all within the global South. Is this not a continuing theme spread across years, regimes, decades, centuries? 2020 certainly didn’t shape up to be a boring year, dreadful though it was. It was almost enjoyable (albeit in a deeply perverse way) to watch the bullshit come flying from the mouths of nearly everyone in charge, including the deep tones of patriarchal condescension from powerful nations directed disdainfully at sub-Saharan African countries, even as their own fell into disrepair and chaos.
And isn’t it interesting that the entire global market and economic conditions truly were a series of well-constructed lies this entire time? Let me expand. In saying that the global state of affairs was a lie, it is a finger pointed squarely at the West. With a special round of kudos to the United States.
This lie has been easy to spot in media narratives, as they make little mention of smaller, less powerful nations rolling out their vaccine plans or how such goals will be attained. No. Instead, if the narrative remains that the powerful countries have defeated the virus, then it has been defeated. The rest of the issue can be quickly swept under the carpet. Out of sight, out of mind. What will the next phase look like? Will immigration restrictions on citizens of African countries get even more stringent? Will the song now be: “Well you have not been immunised against the pandemic, so surely how can you be allowed around our citizens who have?”
A darker-minded conspiracy theorist than I would almost view such a series of actions as intentional moves to quicken the crippling of “developing” nations from attaining that aspiration. Of course, citizens of such developing nations are still having their rights stripped back, curfews violently enforced, and media freedoms curtailed seemingly daily. Meanwhile, there are rumours that Kenya’s and Uganda’s rich and powerful are having their vaccines flown in on private planes. These claims are, of course, entirely unsubstantiated.
In the age of COVID-19, such governments have the perfect excuse to call on their darker nature and have their nations more fully in their grip, the economy be damned. In fact, this seems the likely option as during the daylight hours, most aspects of daily life seem to grind on utterly unimpeded. There is little logic to the current 9 p.m. curfew especially since bars, movie theaters and indoor restaurants are all allowed to keep their doors open and are largely operating as normal. With the pandemic however, one must be incredibly careful not to overstep the mark, unless they wish to face fines, jail, or more sinister off-the-record consequences.
Now, as the West and other wealthy countries stumble around in the dark in their own vaccination campaigns, one must ask, when exactly does this end for the unlucky “other” countries of the world? Are all others simply doomed to an endless half-decade of dodging curfews, watching the development wave recede and roll back and feeling the iron hand of whichever government figure decides to come down on them for breaking a newly rolled out “rule”?
Such arguments may sound like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist but make no mistake, this is a serious issue that needs addressing. A year into the pandemic, and many world governments have not exactly done much to shield their citizens from the vast hardships that come along with lockdowns, closures, and social distancing. It seems reasonable to bet that they will not figure it out any time soon. In some instances, it seems that the efforts can be viewed as a sort of willful ignorance. To be sure, the global healthcare system will drastically change for the better in the fallout from COVID-19, but the rate at which access to future advancements will trickle down to the developing world is unclear. It seems as though many actors chosen the more protectionist and nativist camps, abandoning the spirit of “global unity” that the NGO world likes to make bumper stickers about.
With vaccination campaigns seemingly starting in earnest (and some countries such as Israel already having vaccinated 12 per cent of the population as of 3 January 2021) one could be forgiven for rolling their eyes. This seems a familiar narrative: the vaccines are being distributed to some countries while leaving others well out of the scheme. Sure, the pandemic affects all the people of the world equally, but now that there is a solution within grasp, some people are proving to be much more equal than others. Most African nations now find themselves in the unenviable position of waiting around for the West to quit dawdling and get their act together.
The US for one seems to be stumbling from one rollout hurdle to the next, a hodgepodge of state governments interacting with federal, bad, and incompetent actors. The US vaccination effort had set a target of 20 million people having received their first injection by the end of 2020. The reality? Between three and six million, at most just thirty per cent of the number targeted. It isn’t too unreasonable to predict that the US will spend the whole of 2021 trying to grab the reins and steer the COVID-19 response back into a series of workable solutions. Even while putting the US campaign to shame, several other nations’ efforts aren’t exactly stellar either. The UK, home to arguably the world’s best healthcare system, reported issues with distribution in the latter part of 2020. All these factors slow down the efforts to get the vaccine distributed globally – if that was ever part of the plan to begin with.
In the future, it will become clear that there is some blame to be laid at the feet of East African governments as well, given their dubious relationships with foreign nations and their murky tendering procedures. In the years to come, when the many trials and errors regarding vaccine distribution in sub-Saharan Africa come to light, I’m willing to put money down that at least one country will fall drastically behind in the vaccination effort, having thrown its lot in with a questionable tender worth several hundred billion shillings, only for it to emerge that all that money went to the Sinovac vaccine made by China that only has a 50.4 per cent efficacy rate.
It is yet to be seen how exactly African state actors (and their respective publics) will react to this period of global chaos, whether they will start to move away from the neo-colonial overreach of Western governments considering their bungling of the pandemic or if the old guard will remain and carry on down this new decade. As I have mentioned in previous pieces for this publication, the pandemic has illuminated something to the youth within the United States; that all the systems that they were told to comply with were built on lies. A similar sentiment seems to be taking root within several developing countries; that the current guard isn’t really in charge of anything and that the systems need to be overhauled and made more equitable if they are to last. The vaccine buy-up by the West is just a symptom of a larger disease.
Death By Compromise: Will the Biden Administration Do What People Actually Want Or Play Politics?
If the Biden presidency is making excuses and is handicapped before even it has begun, especially during this time, then maybe it is the modern Democratic Party that is truly in jeopardy.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Trump’s inherent flaw is that he failed to tap into his own political potential. Yes, he is an uncouth racist who harbours American isolationist instincts and is hell-bent on division. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the fact that his greatest attraction was due to the economy. In essence, the real situation of many working people in the US had grown so difficult that out of desperation they threw in their lot with a two-bit huckster who claimed that he could make all their empty-wallet woes disappear into the ether of history. Now upper middle class liberals in places like Seattle, Washington, Madison, Wisconsin and the suburbs of New York City are scratching their heads and wondering just how, how could so many millions still vote for this abomination after all that has happened during his time in the White House?
There has been an outright refusal by many on the left to acknowledge that the Trump base are anything but hidden racists, now magically freed to unmask themselves by some sort of Orange Pied Piper. Now as the Trump camp closes shop and flies away from the White House in shame, Biden is beginning his presidential term under deeply bizarre circumstances. The election victory, the transition and the first few weeks of the Democratic administration were met with some jubilation, but overall the response to Biden’s victory was rather tepid, especially when compared to the response that greeted Obama.
So why the underlying feeling of trepidation? It could have something to do with the well-deserved hand-wringing coming from the left wing of the party, seemingly left out in the cold for the last several months (at least since they were largely locked out of the Democratic National Convention last August). They had been promised a seat at the table, but that chair appears to have been lost in the move. What does this mean exactly?
Well, the Biden team and cabinet is being packed with the same type of lobbyists, centrists, supporters of the Iraq war and even billionaire Democrats disenchanted with the Obama administration who helped to turn the tide against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race. One Washington insider quipped that the cabinet picks for the Biden administration looked like a guest list for a bourgeois dinner party in the upper crust Washington DC neighbourhood of Georgetown. It includes some of the same minds that helped to walk back the Obama White House from a more progressive agenda. Already Democrats are walking back the very promises that brought them to power — such as promising US$2000 cheques and now floating “hopefully US$1400, because the US$600 sent in early January and the new round of US$1400 would equal US$2000”. This goes against Occam’s razor principle, where the simplest solution is usually the right one. In this instance, the smart thing to do would be to send the full amount immediately, because a desperate public doesn’t give a damn about technocratic reasoning and austerity measures. In America’s skewed political structure, the prospect of the Democrats staying in long-term control of the US government is tenuous at best.
For example, in a year absolutely stuffed to the brim with progressive sentiments and activism across the US, why did the Democrat-controlled House actually lose seats (narrowing their majority)? As projections were touted across the media for months on end, and innumerable polls read the tea leaves to project an utterly massive Democratic win in the US Senate, the forecasts proved utterly wrong. In the end, the Democrats took the Senate by flipping Georgia’s two seats in January, but back in November several infamous Republicans, projected as vulnerable, held onto their seats by wide margins of victory.
Now Biden is already falling into the trap of being too bipartisan — a concept that doesn’t yield results and doesn’t truly affect anyone’s day-to-day lives. Republicans sure as hell don’t do bipartisan. In fact, Mitch McConnell, the controversial Senate minority leader from the state of Kentucky, had given himself the awkward moniker of the Grim Reaper during the Obama years, focusing solely on killing off any legislation that the Democratic Party brought forward, resulting in stagnation, political fallout and economic destitution for millions — and all that was before the scourge of COVID-19 revealed America’s system to be a mere façade of a true empire.
If this is the way forward, then the US is truly in dire straits and Biden may easily face another Trump-esque arch-conservative again in four years, or perhaps even Trump himself; he seems intent on positioning himself as a media figure, holding continuous rallies, never admitting that he truly lost, and then riding down another escalator some time in June of 2022. If the Biden presidency is making excuses and is handicapped before even beginning, especially during this time, then maybe it is the modern Democratic Party that is truly in jeopardy.
To put it bluntly, there are absolutely massive problems facing the US right now, ones that could well put an end to its status as a global leader and reputation as a democracy. This winter has thrown tens of thousands into starvation, cast millions into poverty and consolidated power further in the tentacled grasp of a corporate elite. COVID-19 killed over 100,000 Americans during the month of January 2021 alone. Now the status quo has returned to Washington DC, but the Democratic elite are acting as though that is a good thing, not seeing that the writing on the wall has been there since the financial crisis of 2008, a groundswell of populism that will soon be hard to ignore.
Rather than doing away with archaic filibuster and trying to confer statehood on DC and Puerto Rico and instead immediately passing a massive economic stimulus package, the Democrats are dithering and posturing with austerity-tinged deals and half measures that accord Republicans some sort of input. There could be very serious repercussions for the left wing and the right wing in two years if political action is not taken to get both the economic crisis and the pandemic under control within the next few months.
Looking ahead, however, it seems as though once again the youth will be blamed for whatever future is to come in the political landscape. It will be claimed that they will not have voted in large enough numbers (despite the rates being similar for nearly every single election amongst voters under 30 since the 1950s). They’ll be called lazy, entitled, ignorant, and the argument will be made for incremental change by an assortment of millionaire octogenarian figures within the Democratic leadership.
The progressive wing has already been blamed by the more conservative elements of the party for it not being a wide enough victory, with Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia (who used to work for the CIA and represents some of the richest people in America) stating in a taped conference call in the days after the November general election that if progressive ideals (or the specter of socialism) are put on the ballot, then Democratic candidates will get “fucking torn apart in the 2022 election”. This despite the fact that it was the more centrist candidates who faced tougher competition in their election bids, and the further to the left a candidate was, the better they performed overall.
So why would a multitude of people vote in the next midterm elections in 2022 or the next presidential election in 2024? The phrase “getting turned on” inherently means that some effort has been made, something has turned you on to that idea or cause to propel you to join or vote for it. Such are the problems that the current party is grappling with. It is bogged down in partisan signaling and identity-based politics, while not actually advancing any progressive agenda, blaming the youth and the far left that could save them from their underperformance in the United States congressional races, and refusing to negotiate meaningful stimulus packages to revive a US economy that has been in the COVID-19-drenched economic doldrums since 2020.
The Democrats have pigeonholed themselves as a middling, tedious political entity, one that turns people off in droves and panders to the wealthier coastal suburbanites. The numbers don’t lie; while they had projected that adding Kamala Harris to the vice presidential slot would bolster their bloc amongst minorities, this didn’t play out, and Latinos, Blacks and Asian Americans voted for Biden at a lower rate than they did for Clinton in 2016. The question goes unanswered: could voters be more concerned about their economic standing during a pandemic-induced depression than about the racial makeup of the candidate on the ticket? Such thoughts can easily get one removed from the good graces of the current Democratic establishment, even as the possibility of rallying their base seems to diminish by the day.
For starters, anyone vaguely on the left already despises Donald J. Trump, and felt that way even before the last 11 disastrous months. The Democratic Party didn’t need to convince anyone here, but the Biden team spent most of the primaries solely attacking Trump for being the useless self-obsessed goon that he is. They then proceeded to not hammer him nearly hard enough when the disaster truly arrived, instead leaning back into the tropes of tired-eyed neo-conservatives from the George W. Bush era (some of the same talking heads who pushed messaging for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars) and continuously beaming over advertisements coming from anti-Trump Republicans like the “Lincoln Project”. More centrist media outlets like MSNBC fawned over these “high-minded idealists” and simultaneously ridiculed left-wing figures for questioning if this would truly be a progressive administration.
This is an avoidable issue, but as the leadership within Congress (House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer) can’t be moved from their messaging, this slow-moving car is heading for a cliff. Biden can either push the pedal down to the floor and drive off to an untimely death or pull the emergency brake and change course.
Democrats could have run on the progressive economic policies that they tip-toed around during this last horrifying year. They could have at least pretended to embrace a sweeping set of policies unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. If they had, there is a very real possibility that their lead in the House would have increased and they would have at least been able to flip the Senate. They didn’t. Instead they bowed to outside interests and fucked around politically, even leaving stimulus on the table. Now, the same crowd that pushed for bombing Libya under Obama is back into the fold, all within the same umbrella of a “well needed return to normalcy”. Normal sucks in America.
The real middle class has been dying for a long time, but it seems the Biden administration can’t actually wrap their heads around this fact. Instead, it seems as though they’ll be content to simply reverse some of Trump’s uglier policies and call it a winning formula. In fact, that’s exactly what Biden did on day one of his administration instead of passing executive orders regarding COVID-19.
So, if the Democratic Party continues on the trajectory they are on, who exactly do they intend to turn on? If anything, millions have been utterly turned off by the state of politics in the United States, and if an individual doesn’t stand to actually benefit, what is the benefit of supporting a political party? Back to normal shouldn’t have been the banner of the Democratic party in 2020; it should have been like the title of a horror movie to be run away from as quickly as can be messaged by PR officials in the corridors of the United States capitol.
Tragedies earn their names by reflecting the failures that weren’t overcome although they could have been. In years to come, the fear shouldn’t be Trump himself per se — he was much too incapable to be an outright authoritarian, and too big a coward to really make such moves anyway. It should be the fear of those for whom Trump was the unwieldy flagbearer.
The worry should really be: who will come after Trump? With all of the so-called “rising stars” on the right wing in the US right now, someone will crawl out of the primordial ooze to usurp an aging Donald Trump. Could such a figure manage to turn on a large enough swath of Millennial and Generation Z voters distraught at the economic conditions brought on by previous generations, and in less than four years from now sweep to a landslide victory over Joe Biden/Kamala Harris/another middling Democrat who doesn’t inspire?
What if the next one is some kind of ultra-conservative Evangelical someone with all of the idealism of a Vice President Mike Pence and none of the soul-sucking lack of charisma? What kind of irreversible damage could such a figure actually do? Not all totalitarians are useless, some are altogether efficient.
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