Kenya’s 2022 General Election: A Biting Cold Wind Against Our Colonial Nakedness9 min read.
Hubris got us here. Not only the hubris of our nobles who felt entitled to choose leaders for us from amongst themselves, but also from the scholars who have excelled in law, history and political science, but choose to serve the nobles rather than apply the knowledge to our human conditions in situ.
The period immediately following the 9th August general elections in Kenya was a rude awakening for many. In any contest where there’s only one winner, and so there the contrasting feelings of jubilation and disappointment are no surprise. What would shock a keen observer is the visceral negative reaction shock amongst a section of the supporters of the Azimio la Umoja side. The reaction went beyond disappointment; it was grief that quickly deteriorated into recriminations against any individual or group perceived not to have ‘given their all’ in support of Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga’s candidature.
This is Mr. Odinga’s fifth stab at the presidency, so the spectre of disappointing results is not totally new to his supporters, particularly those over 40 years old. Disappointment and even certain levels of anger have been de rigueur in past elections, but the inexplicable grief and recriminations have been unique to 2022. One unique feature of this year’s elections is that the narrative has portrayed those perceived not to have supported Raila not as competitors or rivals, but as evil saboteurs.
The result was a barrage of vitriolic abuse directed at Kikuyu people on social media, much of it written in Dholuo, which few Kikuyus can read or understand. We certainly hope that the Azimio running mate Martha Karua was somehow shielded from it because a significant proportion of the diatribe is sexist as well. However, those who are shocked and wondering just what happened in 2022 are deluded, because the question is guided by their powers of perception (or lack thereof) rather than by the sequence and consequence of events.
Faith in “The System”
The primitive and flawed history of our electoral structures certainly don’t provide any reason to believe otherwise. However, Kenya is also a nation founded on the dishonesty of colonialists, so we Kenyans still struggle to internalize the truths of political history, including those we have lived through and witnessed. The Luo nation is no exception to this rule, despite boasting several renowned historians and political scientists. The Luo nation has long lived with the well-founded belief that they (through the person of Raila Odinga) have been victims of electoral malpractice in the past.
When the much-vaunted ‘handshake’ between the Rt. Hon Odinga and former President Uhuru Kenyatta took place in 2018, the Luo nation greeted it with unbridled joy at the prospect that ‘one of us’ would finally ascend to the highest office in the land. It was almost comical to see the jubilation that greeted the symbolic launch of Kisumu port where Mr. Odinga was flown to Kisumu in a Kenya Defence Forces aircraft, a very potent (and deliberate) subliminal message, which they tried to actualize through the legally ill-advised “Building Bridges Initiative” (BBI).
In a conversation on the Maisha Kazini YouTube channel, we discussed at length how this project (which failed) was an attempt to entrench feudalism in our formal government structures. In a startling show of cognitive dissonance, the people who had fought so long for democracy and electoral justice mentally crowned Uhuru Kenyatta as a ‘King’ whose reign was ending and had magnanimously designated their leader as the crown prince. ODM leaders, notably Dr. Oburu Odinga crowed about the Uhuru’s endorsement and about the support of “the system” being a sure path to State House for Raila Odinga.
Sadly, this dissonance was so convincing that the people believed them, culminating in a toxic mix of relatively lackluster campaigns, while followers remained inexplicably assured of victory. The people who had steadfastly cast their votes for generations and fought for justice somehow discarded that legacy and internalized the belief that victory would be delivered by a combination of expected injustice and support from the alleged erstwhile perpetrators thereof. A mind-boggling conundrum by any measure.
It would be difficult for any mortal to derive reason from such a bizarre far-flung psychosocial situation, hence the extreme bitterness at the absence of a unanimous support for Mr. Odinga from Kikuyu voters (the decision of other Kenyan voters is not on the table). The Odinga supporters saw the failure of certain areas of Kikuyu land to support Odinga as a betrayal, and rather than recognize the significant number of votes that accrued from the Mt. Kenya region up from virtually nothing in 2017.
How can we explain this avalanche of opprobrium?
This reaction betrays the logic of the whiteness that is rooted in the coloniality of power in Kenya. Underlying the offence was the perception amongst the Luo proletariat that their Kikuyu counterparts had the temerity to reject the Luo liege, even after Odinga’s pact with his Kikuyu peer. Lack of attention to history blinded Odinga’s supporters, both in Luoland and the larger Kenyan intellectual class, to the fact that the Kikuyu proletariat did not view the handshake in the same way as the Luo voters did, nor did they relate to Uhuru the way the Luo did to Raila.
This oversight blinded them to the reality of the Mt. Kenya’s region’s rejection of Uhuru’s political machinations, as opposed to the rejection of Mr. Odinga himself. It was far from automatic that the Kikuyu would blindly follow Uhuru into the handshake. Mt. Kenya has had a fractured relationship with the Kenyattas from the very beginning. At independence, Jomo Kenyatta suppressed Mau Mau history and left Mau Mau veterans landless. Twice before, Uhuru Kenyatta had been rejected at the ballot by the Mt Kenya region: in 1997 when he contested as MP for Gatundu, and in 2002 when he contested to presidency. The rise of Uhuru’s acceptance in Mt Kenya was linked to the trauma of the violence against the Kikuyus in the Rift Valley following the botched elections of 2007, a violence which many Kikuyus attribute to Raila Odinga himself, since the violence stopped when Raila shook hands with Kibaki.
It was this trauma, and Raila’s perceived or actual responsibility in it, that Uhuru exploited in 2013 when he hired a British PR firm which rode on the ICC indictments to present Uhuru as an anti-imperialist freedom fighter. It was not tribal adoration that got Uhuru president, that is if he even won the vote. It was trauma, money and gas lighting by a heavy bureaucratic and intellectual artillery that later included the manipulation of social media by Cambridge Analytica.
The second issue that was overlooked was the anger of the Mt. Kenya region at the collapse of the economy. In his hubris, Uhuru failed to realize that huge infrastructural investments would not pacify ordinary people whose businesses were suffering as the Kenyatta empire grew. The milk industry, for example, is a case in point, where the Kenyatta family dominance in the milk industry was seen as the reason for the drop in the prices ordinary farmers were fetching for their milk. By the time Uhuru and Raila were proposing BBI, people in central Kenya, especially the youth, were saying they did not care for more power-sharing deals when they were not able to earn a living.
Coloniality and ethnicity
The failure to notice the cracks in the deal, due to casual attempt to merge political views of Mt. Kenya and Nyanza region, is linked to the fact that coloniality and whiteness manifested in completely different ways in the two regions. In Kikuyu land, coloniality was imposed through extreme violence, leading to the familiar stories of a society riven between the Mau Mau resistance and colonial collaboration. The Kikuyu have memories in form of living survivors and the trauma of the victims.
By contrast, coloniality in the greater Nyanza region, which included the Luhya regions of the northern Lake Victoria shores, was imposed by co-option through government bureaucracy, colonial education and conversion to Christianity. In Nyanza, there was no conventional rebellion warfare, and the only contact with the rebellion was in the person of the detainees imprisoned at Mageta island. And so coloniality was experienced as psychological more than material. The Africans who became the ‘whites’ were those who became educators, administrators, colonial apparatchiks and clergy. Their descendants still occupy high political offices and are much-admired personalities, such as outgoing governor Cornel Rasanga and Dr. Patrick Amoth of the Chief Amoth Owira family; Prof Peter Anyang Nyongo and the late Prof. Aggrey Nyong’o of the Canon Hesbon Nyong’o family; and the numerous political and business players across both Kenya and Uganda who are descendants of Canon Jeremiah Musungu Awori. Many songs praise men as ‘chal gi mzungu’. Many non-Luos may hear Luos refer to each other as ‘Odiero’ and think it is a very common name, but it is actually an honorific that means ‘white man.’
The only aberration in this historical link was brought about by the fallout between Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi and the consequent odium faced by the Odingas. This brought in the suffering narrative as an additional ingredient into Luo nobility. Up to the elections, the answer to any questions on Odinga’s leadership qualities invariably included references to how much he has suffered or sacrificed. With the passage of time and the monumental legal changes in Kenya, however, individual suffering was becoming a less “accessible” qualification, which placed Mr. Odinga on something of a pedestal. Others therefore could only seek distinction through the competence with which they served him and the conspicuous manner in which they displayed this service or consumed the proceeds thereof. Philosophy scholar Joe Kobuthi recently identified this as a form of masculinity that is defined by conspicuous consumption, belying the casual humorous term ‘ujaluo’ used by less erudite people to describe it.
By contrast, whiteness in central Kenya was mostly defined by collaboration against the rebellion. The reward in Mt Kenya for collaboration was entry into government, and access to government contracts and title deeds as a way of climbing the social ladder. In central Kenya, people who pursue school education do not enjoy the same clout that is enjoyed by people with access to wealth. A prominent example was Prof Wangari Maathai who won the 2004 Nobel Prize but lost her parliamentary seat in the 2007 elections. Her international accolades did not win her a free pass to parliament.
Within this matrix, it was difficult to notice major forewarnings that the Odinga bargain was likely to collapse. In January 2021, news broke surrounding a leaked letter allegedly from then Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata to president Kenyatta, which warned that BBI was deeply unpopular in Kikuyu areas. During this time, Babu Ayindo prophetically penned this tweet that escaped attention: “@RailaOdinga, I am prepared to believe that Sen. Irungu Kang’ata deliberately misaddressed that letter. Ja’kom, that letter is yours. Please read what the letter is saying and, more importantly, what the letter is saying without saying.”
Many observers will have noticed the lyrical sob stories that were circulating on social media following the initial announcement of the results, treating Mr. Odinga’s apparent loss like some kind of Greek tragedy. Those familiar with the strong African traditions surrounding death will be uncomfortable with the reference to a living person in language and tone more appropriate for mourning at a wake. It is an unexpected manifestation of ethnic chauvinism, because the personal grief stems from the belief that there was some kind of “queue” for leadership and the “white” Luo candidate was the next in line, having been ‘anointed’ by the sitting president. The usurping of this coronation by a ‘black’ candidate with no known lineage is anathema to all feudalists, including the oppressed vassals.
Such hubris was largely facilitated by Kenyan intellectuals in media, education and cultural spaces, who failed to do the work of unpacking political relationships beyond the usual narrative of tribal quirks. Yet underlying these tribal mathematics was the matrix with which the colonialists ascribed certain vocations to certain ethnic groups to protect colonial interests. For instance, because the colonial interests and African resistance in central Kenya centered on land, the British concocted an elaborate scheme called the Swynnerton plan, where the route to social mobility was joining government to help suppress the resistance, and after independence, getting access to government contracts through feudal networks.
This difference would also explain why the British and Americans would look at Jaramogi as a “communist” when Jaromogi’s flirting with the communist block was more about strategic political muscle against the US-supported Jomo Kenyatta, rather than a reflection of Jaramogi’s economic thinking. Jaramogi’s entrance into politics was on the back of the colonial restrictions on African trading and financial credit in Kisumu. He was therefore more of an indigenous capitalist than a communist. With his lack of direct experience with the land conflicts and colonial violence in central Kenya, it is also understandable that Jaramogi was adamant about the release of Jomo Kenyatta as a condition for independence discussions, while other Kikuyu politicians were more willing to negotiate with the British on their own while Jomo was in jail. After independence, it was Jaramogi who joined forces with Bildad Kaggia in advocating for fundamental land reforms that would give land to Mau Mau veterans, while the Kikuyu politicians – led by Jomo Kenyatta himself – enriched themselves in their newfound status as the new black settlers.
However, this collaboration failed to address the economic logic of the colonial Kenyan state, and the way it was intertwined with ethnic stereotypes. As such, the stereotypes of Kikuyu strength as that of business while Luo strength as that of academics, and similar prejudices about other Kenyan ethnic groups, continued to dominate Kenyan political life. In Kikuyu land, the Kenyatta family would stoke ethnic bigotry to claim unique rights of Kikuyus, and would use ritual, such as the cutting of Field Marshal Muthoni’s hair by Uhuru’s mother, Mrs. Ngina Kenyatta, as a spiritual tool to enforce Kikuyu compliance.
Other ethnic groups outside the two main protagonists are relegated to the stereotypes of witchcraft, docility, cultural stagnation and even terrorism, and rarely do Kenyans interrogate what these stereotypes mean politically. Often, the effect is reduced to that of numbers, but nobody questions why prominent national politicians like Kivutha Kibwana and Ekuru Aukot are often ridiculed for aspiring for the presidency. In many areas in Kenya, people cannot aspire for any office because they are denied identity cards in the name of not belonging one of the 45 or 46 tribes.
This election has therefore been a watershed moment, where the less obvious and more psychological implications of coloniality have been exposed, now that the legal and administrative hurdles associated with elections are decreasing in importance. This psychological dimension of coloniality was hidden from Kenyan politics through the use of ethnicity as a zero-sum narrative to explain Kenyan political life. The Kenyan intellectual class, especially in the media and the education system, covered up this decadence by rebranding tribal parochialism as the irredeemable nature of Africans, and by making hollow calls for Enlightenment style human rights. They therefore had no conceptual framework with which to understand the dynamic nature of Kenya’s politics and the importance of class and economics, especially since the promulgation of the 2010 constitution.
Hubris got us here. Not only the hubris of our nobles who felt entitled to choose leaders for us from amongst themselves, but also from the scholars who have excelled in law, history and political science, but choose to serve the nobles rather than apply the knowledge to our human conditions in situ. When our elite acquire journalistic and academic expertise which does not address what ails us, then we are stuck with “competents” as opposed to educated people. From now on, let us normalize ignoring any purported “expert” who cannot unpack this watershed moment for us. That failure should suggest to us that the “expert” is either part of the mess, or not courageous enough to help our nation move on from it. That’s the definition of deadwood, which can only slow down the growth of our society.
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Kenya’s Police Are Violent and Unaccountable – Should They Be Abolished?
After Kenya’s independence in 1963, the police were “Africanised” but retained much of their colonial character. Under Daniel arap Moi’s authoritarian regime (1978-2002), the police continued to play a key role in repressing dissent.
A world without the police is inconceivable to many people. The police are viewed as part of modern society’s foundation, ensuring democracy and keeping people safe.
In practice, however, police around the world sometimes repress social movements, stifle democracy, and exacerbate social and racial injustice. Across the African continent, they often use force to prop up repressive regimes. And in Kenya in particular, extortion and extrajudicial killings by the police are rampant.
Kenya is unusual for its extensive attempts to reform the police. Reform efforts began in earnest in 2008, when the police were found to be complicit in post-election violence. And yet, after 15 years and billions of shillings spent, the police reform project has largely failed.
The Kenyan police remain repressive, unaccountable and effectively unreformable. Many citizens complain about how the police treat them like ATMs – a source of cash. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the police killed tens of Kenyans while enforcing curfew measures.
We’ve conducted hundreds of interviews, discussion groups and over a decade of ethnographic research into how counter-terrorist policing and securitisation have shaped Nairobi. And in turn, how local residents respond to police violence and build their own practices of care, mutual aid and security.
We have come to the conclusion that the police make most people feel less safe. Many residents told us they don’t depend on the police for their safety: they keep each other safe. Given the impasse of police reform – and citizen responses to this – there is a strong argument to be made for the abolition of the Kenyan police altogether.
Policing at an impasse
Modern police institutions made their first appearances on the African continent as part of colonisation and the expansion of European capitalist interests.
In Kenya, the roots of policing lie in early colonial “conquest”. The Imperial British East African Company developed security forces to protect its expanding economic interests in the 1890s, and the Kenya-Uganda Railroad developed its own police force in 1902.
After Kenya’s independence in 1963, the police were “Africanised” but retained much of their colonial character. Under Daniel arap Moi’s authoritarian regime (1978-2002), the police continued to play a key role in repressing dissent.
There have been calls to reform the Kenyan police for decades. But the 2007-08 post-election violence, in which police were complicit in widespread ethnic violence, accelerated attempts at reform.
Over the past 15 years, police reform has been enshrined in the 2010 constitution and actualised in numerous acts of parliament. It’s been supported internationally with funding and technical expertise from the UN, the US and the EU, among others. It prompted the reorganisation of the police service and the establishment of civil oversight mechanisms.
Yet, despite all of these efforts, the Kenyan police remain corrupt, violent and unaccountable.
Civilian oversight over the police has proved ineffectual. The Independent Policing Oversight Agency has managed to bring only 12 cases of police violence to conviction out of more than 20,000 complaints received between 2012 and 2021. That is only one out of every 1,667 complaints. The under-resourced agency simply can’t grapple with the immense volume of reported police abuses.
The case for abolition
Police reform has failed. Is it time to consider abolition?
Abolition is not about simply tearing things down, but rather asking what should exist in place of outdated and violent systems that no longer serve people. Abolition is a creative and constructive project with deep philosophical roots.
So why abolish the Kenya police?
- The police are functionally obsolete for most Kenyans. In many low-income neighbourhoods, our research shows that people avoid calling the police to respond to crises or crimes. For many, experience shows that the police can make matters worse.
- The police often exacerbate insecurity, violence and corruption. To provide for their own safety, residents increasingly organise themselves into networks of friends, family and neighbours for basic safety. For instance, women in Mathare, Nairobi, organise their own security practices, which include conflict resolution, de-escalation of violence and support for survivors.
- In more affluent neighbourhoods, residents increasingly rely on private companies to provide security in their compounds. Police are seen as one among many security services available for hire. In our research, the few positive experiences with the Kenyan police were reported (predominantly) by such affluent residents.
- The remaining function of the police is “enforcing order” and protecting the state against society. Officers uphold and protect a rarefied governing class and political elite against the population.
Police abolition, therefore, would mean dismantling ineffective and repressive institutions and replacing them with systems of actual safety, systems that enable society to thrive.
What should replace the police?
When confronted with the idea of “abolition” for the first time, many people often respond: “but who will keep us safe?”
In Nairobi, the answer is to be found in existing social practices. The problem is that there’s a lack of resources to support alternatives to punitive security. We call for defunding the police and investing these resources in such alternatives.
- Invest in communities.When we ask about local security problems, residents often answer that the lack of schools, food, land, quality housing, water, electricity, toilets, healthcare and safe places for kids to play are what cause “insecurity”. Reinvestment in community means funding such social infrastructure to allow people to thrive. This reduces crime and violence.
- Invest in alternative safety mechanisms.This means strengthening dispute-resolution mechanisms that help resolve conflicts without violence. The government needs to support existing social justice centres, networks and movements fighting for change.
When these forms of social reinvestment are pursued, the need for the police is greatly diminished.
Wangui Kimari, Anthropologist, University of Cape Town and Zoltán Glück, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, American University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Nigeria: A Messiah Will Not Fix Country’s Problems
In Nigeria’s recent election cycle, many citizens looked to Peter Obi for change. But the country needs people-led social transformation, not saviors.
On February 25, Nigerians once again took to the polls with a determination that their votes could change the fate of a country in deep despair. For the seventh time since a civilian dispensation began in 1999, Nigerians hoped that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would conduct a free, fair, and credible election. This hope was reinvigorated by the emergence of technology that would ensure, purportedly, a transparent process. Yet, once again, voters had their dreams crushed with an election marred by violence, ballot box snatching, forged results and, of course, voter intimidation and buying. In the days that followed, despite mounting evidence of irregularities and international outcry, INEC declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the winner of the presidential poll. The continuation of a gerontocratic oligarchy was solidified.
Although media attention focused on a young class of voters and the uniqueness of this historical moment, a deeper analysis is necessary. If nothing else, this election provided an opportunity to examine the shifting landscape of Nigeria’s elite electoral politics, and the increasingly complex voting patterns of citizens, while understanding these voters are increasingly a minority—less than 30 percent of the registered voters (about one-tenth of the population) cast their vote.
The dizzying rise of Peter Obi as a “third force” candidate over the last nine months was largely due to a movement of emergent and middle-class youth, the so-called “Obidients,” who used technology to galvanize a youthful base to push forward their candidate. That the Obidient movement was formed, ironically, off the back of the EndSARS movement, is in many ways a direct contradiction. The generation that was “leaderless” now suddenly had a leader. The rate at which young people chose this candidate still gives me whiplash. But there was no shaking their convictions. Obi was their candidate, and no one could shake their belief that a new Nigeria would be formed under his presidency, despite the evidence that he was directly endorsed by the same ruling class that has led to the country’s demise.
Obi is not a revolutionary, a social welfarist, nor even pro labor, but he became the savior many youth were looking for to “rescue” Nigeria. Ironically, the millions of youth that fought the EndSARS battle, and named themselves the leaderless soro soke (“speak up” in Yoruba) generation, did not seek elective office themselves. Rather, many put their eggs in Obi’s basket in supporting an older, veteran politician whose clean cut and soft demeanor led to his near deification. Other EndSARS activists, including Omoyele Sowore, were mocked for running in the election and were seen as not experienced enough for the job. In the end Sowore performed abysmally at the polls, despite his demonstrated commitment to Nigerian youth and human rights record and involvement in the EndSARS protests (Sowore’s African Action Congress polled only 14,608 votes, faring worse than in the 2019 election).
This absolute faith in Obi was demonstrated when his followers patiently waited for five days after the election to hear from him. Instead of sending them into the streets, he advised them to wait for him to challenge the electoral irregularities in the courts. Why did a leaderless generation need a hero?
The contradictions in the EndSARS ideology and the Obidient campaign will be tested in the years ahead. After the Lekki massacre on October 20, 2020 brought the massive street protests of the EndSARS movement to an abrupt halt, many of the sites of protests shut down completely and groups that were loosely organized dismantled into relative silence for almost two years. In fact, there was little indication that EndSARS would evolve into a mass political movement until Peter Obi emerged on the scene in May 2022. The first- and second anniversaries of the Lekki massacre were marked by smaller protests in Lagos and a few other cities, which paled in comparison to the numbers at the 2020 protests. Still, efforts to free many of the prisoners arrested during EndSARS are proving difficult, with some protesters and victims still in jail today. There was no direction, no cohesiveness, and no willingness to move forward at that point. But in May 2022, seemingly out of nowhere, things began to shift. A candidate emerged that many EndSARS protesters seemed to think would be the savior.
Understanding the youth divide
While often lumped into a sum, the category of “youth” is not a single class of people. When Obi was said to carry the youth vote he actually only carried the vote of a particular category of young people, an emergent middle and professional class, who were also some of the most vocal in the EndSARS movement. However, if we are to use the discredited election geography as a proxy for representation, it is clear that this demographic is both well defined and narrow. Major urban areas like Lagos and Abuja pulled towards Obi, as did a few Eastern states. The North Central states including Plateau and Benue asserted their own identity by aligning with Obi, perhaps in a rejection of the Northern Muslim tickets of the Peoples Democratic Party (with whom Atiku Abubaker ran) and the APC.
The 2023 election also forces us to re-examine the dynamics of class, ethnic and religious divides and the deepening malaise of the poor and their disengagement with politics. What is clear from this election, like many before, is that Nigeria has yet to come of age as a democracy; indeed, the conditions for democracy simply do not exist. It is also quite evident that the Nigerian elite are adept at changing the political game to suit the mood of the Nigerian people. Electoral malpractices have shifted over time in response to the increasing pressure of civil society for accountable elections. Strong civil society advocacy from organizations focused on accountability and transparency in government have pushed against electoral practices. While these practices continue, there are significant shifts from previous elections where vote buying was brazen. However, it begs the historical questions: has Nigeria ever had a truly free and fair election, and is the process with which democracy is regenerated through the ballot the path for emancipatory politics? These questions become more relevant as the numbers of voters continue to dwindle, with the 2023 election having the lowest turnout in Nigeria’s electoral history, despite the social media propaganda around the youth vote and the turning tide of discontent that was predicted to shape the election.
Lessons from history
The fact that young people were surprised by the events on February 25 may be indicative of youthful exuberance or a startling lack of knowledge of history. The idea that a ruling class, who had brought the EndSARS struggle to a bloody end, would somehow deliver a free and fair election, needs more critical scrutiny. For those that remember the history of the June 12, 1993 elections—annulled after the popular rise of MKO Abiola—the election is no surprise. But for young people deprived of history education, which has been removed from Nigeria’s curriculum for the past 30 years, the knowledge may be limited. When a young person says they have never seen an election like this, they also cannot be faulted, as many young voters were voting for the first time. Given that many youth seem to underestimate the long history of elections and electoral fraud, the question of intergenerational knowledge and of a public history that seems to be absent from electoral discourse cannot be ignored. It is also hard to fault young voters, in a land where there is no hope, and whatever hope is sought after can be found in the marketplace.
Many of the young organizers were adept at reading their constituencies and mobilizing their bases, but some of the elephants in the room were ignored. One of these elephants, of course, was the deep geographic and ethno-religious and class divisions between the North and the South. This is evident in the voting patterns in the North West and North East where Obi’s campaign did not make a dent. Though Obi ran with a vice president from the North, the majority of votes in Northern zones were divided between PDP, APC and New Nigeria People’s Party while two of the North Central states, Plateau and Nasarawa, went to Obi’s Labor party. Kano, the largest voting population in the country went to Rabiu Kwankwaso’s NNPP, an outlier who was ignored to the peril of opposition parties (Kwankwaso was the former governor of Kano).
Obi’s campaign also focused on the emergent middle class youth, as well as appealing to religious sentiments through churches on a Christian ticket and ethnic sentiments appealing to his Ibo base in the South East, where he swept states with more than 90 percent of the vote. The North is largely made up of the rural poor with poverty rates as high as 87 percent and literacy rates among young women in Zamfara state as low as 16 percent. Tracking Obi’s victories, most of the states where he won had lower poverty rates and higher literacy rates; states like Delta and Lagos have the lowest poverty counts in the country. While Obi used poverty statistics to bolster his campaign, his proposed austerity measures and cuts in government spending do not align with the massive government investments that would be needed to lift Nigerians out of poverty. While the jury is still out on the reasons for low voter turnout, deepening poverty and the limited access to cash invariably impacted poor voters.
Historically, Nigeria’s presidency has swung between the North and the South, between Muslims and Christians, and this delicate balance was disrupted on all sides. In 2013, an alliance between the Southern Action Congress (AC), the Northern All Nigeria’s People’s Party (ANPP), and Congressive People’s Alliance (CPC) to produce the Action People’s Congress (APC) was able to remove the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who had dominated the political scene. Another important historical note is that of the legacy of Biafra that lives on, as an Igbo man has never taken the helm of the Presidency since the Civil War. While Obi ran on the promise of a united youth vote, the lingering ethnic and religious sentiments demonstrate the need for his campaign to have created a stronger alliance with the North and the rural and urban poor.
The failure of the youth vote is also a failure of the left
The other factor that we must examine is the failure of the left to articulate and bring into public critique the neoliberal model that all the candidates fully endorsed. Many young Nigerians believe if Nigeria works, it will work for everyone, and that “good governance” is the answer to the myriad problems the country faces. The politics of disorder and the intentionality of chaos are often overlooked in favor of the “corrupt leader” indictment. The left was divided between the Labor Party, whose presidential flag bearer ran on a neoliberal rather than pro worker or socialist platform, and the African Action Congress, who ran on a socialist manifesto, but failed to capture the imaginations of young people or win them over to socialist politics and ideology. In seeking to disrupt the two party power block, young Nigerians took less notice of the lack of difference between the three front running parties, and chose to select the lesser of three evils, based on credentials and the idea that Obi was “the best man for the job.” In fact, the Nigerian youth on the campaign trail emphasized experience in government as a criteria for a good candidate, over and above fresh ideas.
The left also failed to garner the EndSARS movement and channel it into a political force. The emergent youth middle class, not the workers and the working poor, continued to carry the message of liberal rather than revolutionary politics. Unfortunately, just as the gunning down of Nigerian protesters caught young people off guard in October 2020, so too the massive rigging of this election. However, there is no cohesive movement to fight the fraud of this election. The partisan protests and separate court cases by the Labor Party and PDP, demonstrate that the disgruntled candidates are fighting for themselves, rather than as a single voice to call out electoral fraud and the rerun of the election. The fact that there is acceptance of the National Assembly election outcomes and not the presidential election, points to the seeking of selective justice, which may eventually result in the complete disenfranchisement of the Nigerian people.
At this time we must seek answers to our current dilemma within history, the history that we so often want to jettison for the euphoria or overwhelming devastation of the moment. The question for the youth will now be, which way forward? Will we continue to rely on the old guard, the gerontocratic oligarchy that has terrorized Nigerians under the guise of different political parties for the past 24 years? Or will we drop all expectations and pursue the revolution that is sorely needed? Will young people once again rise to be a revolutionary vanguard that works with millions of working poor to form a truly pro-people, pro-poor party that has ordinary Nigerians as actual participants in a virbrant democracy from the local to the federal levels, not just during election time but every day? Will the middle class Nigerian youth be willing to commit class suicide to fight alongside the poor to smash the existing oligarchy and gerontocracy and snatch our collective destiny back?
It is a time for truth telling, for examining our own shortcomings. As young people, as the left, and as civil society, we have relied too long on the oppressors for our own liberation.
This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
Africa in the New World Disorder
The war in Ukraine indicates a new world disorder, where great powers fight for primacy and Africa continues to be exploited.
There are some of us in Africa who believe that we should not invest any serious thinking in the war in Ukraine as it is one of the “European tribal wars.” The logic of that belief is that in Africa we have too many of our own problems to invest energy and effort in European problems. The trouble of being African in the present world order, however, is that all problems and wars end up African in effect if not in form. In the sense in which one who knows it feels it, every war in the world is an African war because Africans have, for the longest time, felt and known wars that are not of their creation. The African condition itself can be understood as a daily experience of war.
Over centuries Africa has been structured and positioned to be on the receiving end of all world problems. As such, Africa is not only the storied cradle of mankind, but also the cemetery of the human condition where every human and world problem comes to kill and to die as well. The worst of the human condition and human experiences tend to find final expression in Africa. It is for that reason that Julius Nyerere once opined that the Devil’s Headquarters must be in Africa because everything that might go wrong actually goes wrong in the continent.As the world tiptoes precariously from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the same time it seems to be tottering irreversibly towards a nuclear World War III. The countries of the world that have the power and the privilege to stop the war pretend to be unable to do so. Even some powerful and privileged Western thinkers are beating the drums of war. For instance, Slavoj Zizek, considered “the most dangerous philosopher in the West,” wrote for The Guardian in June 2022 to say: “pacifism is the wrong response to the war in Ukraine,” and “the least we owe Ukraine is full support, and to do that we need a stronger NATO.” Western philosophers, not just soldiers and their generals, are demanding stronger armies and bigger weapons to wage bigger wars. In Ukraine, the conflict is proving too important to be left to the soldiers, the generals and the politicians. In that assertion Zizek speaks from the Euro-American political and military ego, whose fantasy is a humiliating total defeat of Russia in Ukraine. Zizek, the “dangerous philosopher” takes his place as a spokesperson for war and large-scale violence, agitating from a comfortable university office far away from the horrors of Bakhmut.
United States President, Joe Biden, spoke from the same egopolitics of war before the Business Roundtable CEO Quarterly Meeting on March 21 last year: “And now is a time when things are shifting… there’s going to be a new world order out there, and we’ve got to lead it. And we’ve got to unite the rest of the free world in doing it.” Clearly, an “end of history” fantasy of another unipolar world led by the US and its NATO allies has possessed Western powers that are prepared to pump money, weapons and de-uniformed soldiers into Ukraine to support the besieged country to the “last Ukrainian.” During a surprise visit to Kyiv on the eve of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden hawkishly said the US will support Ukraine in fighting “as long as it takes,” dismissing diplomatic alternatives. Suggestions for a negotiated settlement in Ukraine that have come from influential figures, such as Henry Kissinger on the right and Noam Chomsky on the left, have been dismissed with the sleight of the left hand, and this is as Ukraine is literally being bombed to dust. African countries that have for years been theaters of colonial invasions, proxy wars, sponsored military coups, and regime changes can only see themselves in Ukraine. What Ukraine is going through is a typical African experience taking place in Europe and the first victims are Europeans this time.
Being Africans in Africa, at the least, should equip us with the eyes to see the war in Ukraine for what it is, a war driven by a Euro-American will to power, a spirited desire for world dominion against the Russian fear of NATO encirclement and containment, and nostalgia about a great Soviet empire. It is a war of desires and fears from which the belligerents will not back off. The envisaged “new world order” can only be another “world disorder” for an Africa that has for so long been in the periphery of economic, political, and military world affairs.
Destined for war: The Thucydides trap
Well before the war, the Singaporean diplomat and scholar Kishore Mahbubani described how the “world has turned a corner” and why “the West has lost it” in trying to maintain its economic and political dominion by any means necessary and some means unnecessary. Power is shifting under the feet of a young and fragile Euro-American empire that will not lose power peacefully, hence the spirited desire to force another unipolar world without China and Russia as powers. Taiwan and Ukraine are the chosen sites where the Euro-American establishment is prepared to militarily confront its threatening rivals. That “from AD 1 to 1820, the two largest economies were always those of China and India” and that “only in that period did Europe take off followed by America” is little understood. That the Euro-American empire has not been the first and it will not be the last empire is little understood by the champions of the “new world order” that Francis Fukuyama, in 1989, mistakenly declared as “the end of history and the last man;” a world ruled by the West, led by the US and its European allies had arrived and was here to stay in Fukuyama’s enchanting prophecy. Ensuing history, 9/11 amongst other catastrophic events, and the present war in Ukraine, were to prove Fukuyama’s dream a horrific nightmare. Mahbubani predicts that the short-lived rise and power of the Euro-American Empire has “come to a natural end, and that is happening now.” It seems to be happening expensively if the costs in human life, to the climate and in big dollars are to be counted.
In the struggle of major world powers for dominion of the globe Ukraine is reduced to a burnt offering. While, on the one hand, we have a terrified Euro-American empire fearing a humiliating return to oblivion and powerlessness, on the other hand we have the reality of an angry China and Russia, carrying the burden of many decades of geopolitical humiliation. Such corners of the world as Africa become the proverbial grass that suffers when elephants fight. The scramble to reduce Africa to a sphere of influence for this and that power is a spectacle to behold and the very definition of the new world disorder; a damaged and asymmetrical shape of the world where the weaker other is dispensable and disposable.
In its form and content, this new world disorder is ghastly to ponder, not only for Africa, but also for the rest of the world. Graham Allison pondered it in 2015 and came up with the alarming observation that “war between the US and China is more likely than recognised at the moment” because the two powerful countries have fallen into the Thucydides Trap. The ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, described the trap when he narrated how avoiding war becomes next to impossible when a ruling power is confronted by a rival rising power that threatens its dominion. Thucydides witnessed how the growing power and prosperity of Athens threatened Sparta in ancient Greece, driving the two powers to war. The political and historical climate between China and the US captures the charged political temperatures that punctuated the relations between an entitled and proud Sparta confronted with the growth and anger of a frightening Athens. The proverbial chips were down.
For the US and China to escape the Thucydides Trap that is luring both superpowers to war, “tremendous effort” is required of both parties and their allies. The effort is mainly in mustering the emotional stamina to see and to know that the world is going to be a shared place where there must never be one center of power; that political, economic and military diversity is natural, and the world must be a decolonial pentecostal place where those of different identities, and competing interests can share power and space, is the beginning of the political wisdom that can guarantee peace. President Xi Jinping of China seems to have read Allison’s warning about the Thucydides Trap that envelops China and the US because on a visit to Seattle he was recorded saying: “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might make such traps for themselves.” The world is sinking deeper into new disorder and violence because rival powers cannot resist the Thucydides Trap and keep repeating “strategic miscalculations” based on their will to power and desire for global dominion.
The problem with China (the Athens of our present case) that troubles the US as the Sparta of the moment is that, as Allison observes, “China wants to be China and accepted as such—not as an honorary member of the West.” The problem with world powers, past and present, seems to be that they cannot live with difference. In fact, political, economic and cultural differences are quickly turned from competition to conflict, from opposition to total enmity. How to translate antagonism to agonism, and to move from being enemies to being respectful adversaries that can exist among each other in a conflictual but shared world is a small lesson that seems to elude big powers, whose egopolitics drives their geopolitics into a kind of militarized lunacy. One would be forgiven, for instance, to think that playground toys are being spoken of when presidents of powerful countries talk about monstrous weapons to be deployed in Ukraine. Observing from Africa one can hazard the view that big powers might be small and slow learners, after all. The death-drive of the superpowers is perpetuated by the desire to force other countries, including other powers, to be “more like us” when they are formidably determined to be themselves. To break out of the Thucydides Trap and avoid war, for instance, the US has to generate and sustain enough emotional stamina to live with the strong truth that China is a 5,000-year-old civilization with close to 1.5 billion people and in its recent rise is only returning to glory and not coming from the blue sky. And that the world has to be shared with China and other powers, and countries. China, and allies, would also not have learnt well from many years of decline if they dreamt and worked for a world under their sole dominion.
Any fantasy of one world ruled from one mighty center of power is exactly that, a fantasy that might be pursued at the dear cost of a World War. Away from that fantasy, the future world will be politically pentecostal, not a paradise but a perpetually in the making and incomplete world where human, national, cultural, political and religious differences will be normal. From Africa that future world is thinkable and world powers should be investing thought and action in that and not in new monstrous weapons and military might.
Africa in the new world disorder
The symptoms are spectacular and everywhere to be seen. It can be the Namibian President, Hage Geingob, on live television having to shout at a German politician, Norbet Lammert, for complaining about the growing Chinese population in Namibia. Geingob asks why Germans land in Namibia on a “red carpet” and do “what they want” but it becomes a huge problem for the West when the Chinese are seen in Namibia. That Namibia should not be reduced into a theater of contestation between the West and China because it is a sovereign country was Geingob’s plea to the German politician. It can be President Emmanuel Macron of France, in May 2021, asking President Paul Kagame of Rwanda for forgiveness for France’s role in the genocide of 1994—the bottom line being that African conflicts and genocides bear European footprints and fingerprints. Africa is reduced to the West’s crime scene, from slavery to colonialism and from colonialism to present coloniality.
Coloniality is brought to life with, for instance, the US Republican lawmakers launching a bill “opposing the Republic of South Africa’s hosting of military exercises with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and calling on the Biden administration to conduct a thorough review of the US-South Africa relationship.” Africa as an object that does not have the agency to act for itself but is acted upon in the new world disorder, is real. It is Africa as a child in the world system that must be protected from other relationships and that must be told who to relate with and who not to relate with. It is also Africa as an owned thing that must be protected from rival owners. Behind the myth of African independence and liberation is the reality of Africa as a “sphere of influence,” about which world powers are still scrambling for control and ownership, including Russia and China. When in January 2018, Donald Trump referred to African countries as “all these shithole countries,” he meant that Africa still metaphorized the toilet of the world order, where disposable waste and dispensable people were to be found. Looking at the world disorder from Africa is a troubling view from the toilet of world affairs.
Looking at the world disorder from Africa with African eyes and sensibility makes it obvious that it is Africa that should be against war and for a decolonial, multipolar world order where differences are legitimated, not criminalized; where economic competition, political opposition, and rivalry are democratized from antagonism to agonism; and where political opponents are adversaries that are not necessarily blood enemies that must work on eliminating each other to the “last man.” Such a world order may be liberating in that both fears and desires of nations may play out in a political climate where might is not necessarily right. From long experiences of being the dominated and exploited other of the world, Africa should expectedly be the first to demand such a world.
World powers need to be persuaded or to pressure themselves to understand what Mahbubani prescribes as a future world order that is against war, and liberating in that it is minimalist, multilateral, and Machiavellian. Minimalist, in that major countries should minimize thinking and act like other countries are minors that should be changed into their own image. Multilateral in the sense that world institutions, such as the United Nations, must be pentecostal sites where differences, fears and desires of all countries are moderated and democratized. Machiavellian in that world powers, no matter how mighty they believe they are, must adapt to the change to the order of things and live with the truth that they will not enjoy world dominion alone, in perpetuity. The world must be a shared place that naturalizes and normalizes political, economic, cultural, and human diversity.
This post is from a partnership between Africa Is a Country and The Elephant. We will be publishing a series of posts from their site once a week.
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