In my public engagements on the competency-based curriculum (CBC), I was constantly surprised that the arguments promoting the new education system were fundamentally racist and socially hierarchical. Some of the justifications of CBC that were unmistakably colonial were: we must reform education in line with what employers want, which was similar to colonial times when schools were for training Africans who would work in the colonial government; academic learning is beyond the “talent” of many Kenyans, which aligns with the view of imperial administrators like Lord Lugard that literary education ruins the African mind; technical learning is more suitable for most Kenyans, a proposition which colonialists justified with claims that the African brain stops growing at teenage and can therefore not grasp complex ideas; Kenyan children are doing badly in the education system because Kenyan adults do not subscribe to “nuclear family values”. This rhetoric was similar to the racist attitudes of the 1970s about black American families and absentee fathers, and colonial attitudes about African families.
Such reactionary views have been repeated to me in the media, in my classes and at my speaking invitations. At one event hosted by middle class parents, I was asked how parents can prepare their children for the gig economy. The parents were clearly not aware what “gig economy” means.
More perplexing was that pointing to these problems did not seem to embarrass the defenders of the system. They simply kept explaining their points as if they had not heard me. On the rare occasion when someone would actually respond to what I was saying, they would reply that I am bringing up irrelevant issues.
Even more remarkable was the fatalism of the middle class. On several occasions, audiences have told me that they have no choice but to accept the new education system because the proclaimed changes to the economy – gig jobs and digitization – are inevitable and so Kenyans have no choice but to accept the new education system.
As is typical of most Africans, the framework I ran to for interpretation of these responses was the decolonization framework expounded on by thinkers such as Frantz Fanon. I would read the contradictions I was witnessing as a problem of the native bourgeoisie who had placed Western education on a pedestal and were more interested in replacing the colonizer than in decolonizing.
However, something about that framework felt impotent. The few Kenyans who dared to address the issue would tell me that we cannot keep blaming our problems on the colonizers. In a country that does not teach the proper history of colonialism, many Kenyans are not quite sure about the dynamics of colonialism. For them, colonialism is in the distant past, and to refer to that past is to engage in a blame game.
That meant that referring to coloniality – the colonial logic of Kenya’s institutions – would sound just as hollow (unless, of course, one promised the listener that knowledge of coloniality would earn them a scholarship in a foreign university).
Perhaps the weirdest contradiction is that many Kenyan intellectuals who support racist colonial policies do so in the name of decolonization. This contradiction is maintained by a simplistic assumption that affirming African cultures necessarily means opposing colonialism. That is why, even with such a racist rubric for Kenya’s new education system, Kenyan scholars are publishing articles on including vernacular language and indigenous knowledges in the curriculum.
How then do we tackle decolonization when its primary advocates are also praising colonial structures and logics of power?
For years, I have been reflecting on the possibility that maybe conservativism – of Edmund Burke, the Tories and the Republicans – may help in better understanding and naming the contradiction we are seeing in Kenya, and especially in education. My thoughts received a boost from listening to Corey Robin, author of the bestseller The Reactionary Mind on conservative thought. I then searched for articles related to black conservatism, and found brilliant essays on black conservatism in the US by Cornell West, and in South Africa by Siphiwe Dube.
This essay therefore reflects on why conservativism may help in reading the compliance of educated Kenyans with colonial logics of the state.
According to Robin, the central tenet of conservatism is the defence of social hierarchy, which was made necessary by the huge crisis of confidence in Britain caused by the French revolution. Conservatism promises stability in the midst of social upheavals that are either the normal cycle of life or, mostly, the fruit of violent power structures. The downside of this apparent stability is that the people who are oppressed have to keep to the place assigned to them in the lower echelons of society. That is why, Robin argues, conservativism is very keen on the control of personal space. Women must always keep their heads down for men, and blacks and other subalterns must diminish themselves by kowtowing to whites, and especially white men. This subordination is justified as the will of God.
With blacks relegated to a subordinate position, it seems odd that Africans who acknowledge being beneficiaries of freedom struggles would be committed to defending the status quo. In his introduction to an edited volume on black conservatism, Peter Eisenstadt explains this contradiction. He argues that conservativism eschews social consciousness and dwells on individual achievement as the source of success, and so black conservatives (I include continental African conservatives here) prefer to focus on how they individually “merit” social rewards for their “hard” work. Underlying this faith in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is the belief that Western institutions are intrinsically objective and fair, and that racism and injustice are an external, not an intrinsic trait of Western institutions.
Women must always keep their heads down for men, and blacks and other subalterns must minimize themselves by kowtowing in the presence of whites, and especially white men.
All these views are entrenched through Christianity, especially of the neo-Pentecostal kind. As Dube says in his article on black conservatism in South Africa, neo-Pentecostalism comforts this individualist view of wealth by preaching that wealth is a reward from God for one’s individual faithfulness. In Kenya, Christianity de-racializes the racist discourse on African families and preaches that Africans are suffering due to lack of morality and failure to adhere to the “nuclear family values”. Kenyans inevitably have an affinity for “Jeremiads”, where they blame social problems on the stupidity of Kenyans or the failure of Kenyans to adhere to Christian family or cultural values, a rhetoric that was affirmed by King Kaka’s hit song “Wajinga nyinyi.”
Like conservatives, Kenyans see sexual and physical violence against women and children as the cause of structural and social malaise, rather than as the symptoms of it. The work of the media, the church and the schooling system is to divert attention from the highly aggressive and violent Kenyan politics and society to the mediocre and highly individualizing narratives of toxic men, the neglect of the “boy child”, single motherhood and absent fathers, while liberal feminists talk of toxic men and patriarchy as an African cultural phenomenon, rather than as a political one.
This camaraderie between conservativism and Christianity explains why the Kenyan middle class has accepted the new education system despite its overtly racist tropes. Having been fed on the James Dobson-style “Focus on the Family” programmes for decades, the rhetoric of parental involvement in justifying CBC was particularly appealing. Middle class parents were jazzed by singing and by making sandwiches with their kids for assessment by teachers, and relegated questions about parents with fewer resources to the discourse of pity for the poor and philanthropic interventions.
More troubling, though, is that much of the Kenyan middle class fundamentally believes that not all Kenyans are human beings, created equal. If this proposition were to be put to them in this way, they would categorically deny it because they would recognize that the same idea is applied to them by Europe. However, in true Western hypocritical style, their proclamations of human equality and African dignity are contradicted by their acceptance of highly discriminatory policies in education, conservation and extra-judicial killings.
Insight into African collaboration with colonialism is not unique. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon spoke of the native bourgeoisie who may rant against colonialism by guilt-tripping the West for not adhering to the values it proclaims, but simultaneously fail to recognize that Europe loves to sing of humanity while violating that very humanity. He explained that the loyalty of colonized intellectuals to Western values is maintained by the Western abstraction of values from lived reality, which presents Western values as “eternal despite all the errors attributable to man”.
Lewis Gordon, an existential philosopher who draws heavily on Fanon’s work, says that this abstraction essentially elevates human beings of European descent to the status of gods. How else can one’s own values be distant from humanity, other than if the source of those values is greater than human beings, and therefore a god? Indeed, Gordon has often pointed out that God in the Western mind is defined by the same theodician idea – that God must be exonerated from evil and the existence of evil must be wholly blamed on human beings. If then, the European is God, Africans have no choice but to bow their heads and keep slaving in the capitalist system until Europe deems us fit to be human.
This idea that Western values are perfect and that Africans have to gain their place in that system is similar to the assimilationist views of black conservative thought. As Eisenstadt puts it, black conservatives believe that blacks can make it in Western institutions if they work hard enough, and eventually Western institutions will recognize the contradictions and abandon racism on their own.
If then, the European is God, Africans have no choice but to bow their heads and keep slaving in the capitalist system until Europe deems us fit to be human.
Fanon and Gordon are just two of the thousands of intellectuals who have expressed concern about the enigma of black and African intellectual collaborators within racist capitalism. Why consider adding black conservatism as a framework of intellectual analysis?
My reason is simple: conservatism allows us to see this collaboration of the black bourgeoisie as not only intellectual but also as fundamentally POLITICAL. In other words, conservatism will give us a framework within which to look at black collaboration with colonialism as a political choice with institutional support from Western empire, rather than as an intellectual or moral flaw. Calls for cultural exorcism by Fanon, or voluntary class suicide by Amilcar Cabral, or cultural nationalism by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, have had little political impact, because Kenyan intellectuals read these discourses as a call for individual honour and self-sacrifice, rather than as a political project. In fact, the cultural nationalism project in Kenya has failed spectacularly, because imperialist dispossession of land and the depoliticization of Kenyans are now being done in the name of respecting indigenous cultures, and often with the support of Kenyan academics claiming to affirm African cultures.
The discourse of culture, especially, has been the camouflage under which Kenyan intellectuals have promoted conservative politics. We do not notice the conservative ideology in the Kenyan middle class and ruling elites because we assume that all Africans are necessarily opposed to colonialism as a regime of power, when many are simply opposed to the exclusion of Africans from the system rather than to the logic of the system itself. We criticize institutions for failing to institute socially sensitive policies but rarely identify those policies as necessarily protecting a racially informed social hierarchy. I have often argued that Kenyan education scholarship is particularly notorious for perpetuating this dichotomy, writing treatises on the inequality in education as a failure of policy implementation, rather than as an intrinsic character of our schooling system and politics. Moreover, the inequality is so high and life so precarious, that no rational middle class Kenyan would talk badly about the poor because many of us count relatives among the poor. We know, very intimately, that middle class Kenyans are a retrenchment away, or a hospital bill a way, from sinking into poverty.
This camouflage through the discourse of culture points to another fundamental characteristic of conservativism – the avoidance of politics. The Kenyan middle class overtly avoids political conversations, preferring to discuss policy, law and regulation in situations that require political intervention. This bias is in line with Cornell West’s observation that the black conservative is obsessed with “respectability based on merit rather than politics”. From Edmund Burke to Uhuru Kenyatta, the political process is played down through a rhetoric of culture, tradition and stability so as to sabotage political conversations about power and resources. That is why Uhuru Kenyatta hides his political incompetence in his ethnic backyard by making appeals to uphold culture and respect for elders and mothers.
Reading African politicians and bureaucrats as political conservatives would also explain why the public uproar about gender-based violence in Kenya, while claiming to be feminist, is spectacularly apolitical and sometimes ridiculously patriarchal. When there are high profile incidents of violence against women, the uproar celebrates state violence against men and never demands political commitments to address the fact that Kenya is extremely hostile and violent. Violence against children suffers a worse fate, since Kenya does not listen to children anyway.
Political conservatism would also help us see through Kenya’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Kenya’s foreign policy has traditionally been that of fence-sitting and supporting the rights of dictators to oppress and kill their people in the name of “sovereignty”. Kenya did not support the black liberation struggles against apartheid, and it supported Sani Abacha until the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa became too embarrassing. Kenya’s tourism industry markets the colonial explorer experience as an attraction. Kenya’s bourgeoisie go to hotels to have English afternoon teas and buy million-shilling tickets to spruce up and watch British royal weddings. In true conservative fashion, the Kenyan ruling class avoids conversations about colonialism and the teaching of that history in schools.
The mention of colonialism in the speech by Kenya’s UN Representative was therefore way out of Kenya’s character. However, the celebration of the speech by mainstream American media simply confirmed that Kenya’s condemnation of the Ukraine invasion was a conservative, pro-American speech rather than an anti-imperialist one.
Kenya’s foreign policy has traditionally been that of fence-sitting and supporting the rights of dictators to oppress and kill their people in the name of “sovereignty”.
Why would liberal media like CNN celebrate what are essentially Republican talking points? My colleague Mordecai Ogada has aptly explained this phenomenon: Euro-Americans are liberal at home but conservative abroad. At home, Western liberals may decry the mistreatment of minorities, but on foreign policy, liberals unite with conservatives in supporting aggression, war and dispossession.
Naming certain politics as conservative does not necessarily mean that Africa adopts the Western conservative-liberal-left view of politics. While this rubric may be helpful in understanding the West and the damage it has wreaked on the planet, even the Western left has been paralyzed in identifying the spiritual and psychological damage of Western empire and its inevitable consequence of racism. What conservatism and racism kill is the spiritual connection with the earth and humanity, and the recognition that human beings are not the only beings in the world and they must negotiate with the universe to survive in it. Scientific applications of socialism deny this spiritual aspect of the Western hollowing out of the soul and aversion to reality.
As Fanon said in his celebratory conclusion to his last book, Europe “has done what it had to do. . . . We have no longer reason to fear it, let us then stop envying it.” We have to repair the damage that Europe has wreaked on the world since it decided to resurrect the Roman Empire from its graveyard. The repair requires understanding the brokenness of the Kenyan elite and middle class as a fundamentally political project, and not as simply an intellectual or moral failure. For now, I’m proposing conservativism as a framework to help us do that intellectual and political work.
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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.
The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.
Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.
According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.
The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?
A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.
What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.
Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.
Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.
Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.
As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.
While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.
Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement
The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.
“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.
Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.
Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.
Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.
The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.
Labour migration as climate mitigation
you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed
Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.
It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.
Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.
The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.
Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.
Reparations include No Borders
“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman
Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”
Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debt, unfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheid, labour exploitation, and border securitisation.
It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.
Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.
The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.
The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?
In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.
The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.
Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.
The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.
Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.
A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.
He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.
I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.
I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.
What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.
In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”
We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him
Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.
“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.
At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.
Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.
Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people
“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”
Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”
Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest
It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.
Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.
“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.
The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.
Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.
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