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Making Sense of Kenya’s Protracted Protest Cycle

14 min read.

Past mass action has advanced Kenya’s political development by challenging the impunity of the state but it remains to be seen if the demonstrations called by Azimio are a legitimate act of problem-solving agency or the latest extension of Kenya’s political samsara.



Making Sense of Kenya’s Protracted Protest Cycle
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It is early 1979. Kenya doctors are on strike. University of Nairobi students hold a Kamukunji to announce they are joining their cause in solidarity. One day later university students march down River Road singing a luta continua, waving branches, and carrying placards with the usual radical left slogans, like Venceremos. Clenched fists and Power to the People! Two lorries stop next to the Odeon Cinema to discharge General Service Unit gendarmes armed with shields and clubs.

The two groups, hidden from each other’s view, proceed towards their rendezvous beneath my position on a balcony at the intersection of River Road and Latema.

When they collide, the students disperse into the mid-day crowds, shouting, “There’s no maize in Kenya, hakuna mahindi!” The pursuing GSU start clubbing people indiscriminately. The skirmishes spread across Tom Mboya, disrupting the city centre for the next several hours. This was the first in a cycle of Moi-era protests that were to climax in the mass action for restoration of multi-party politics twelve years later.

The protest cycle

Kenya’s latest round of street demos reminds us that protest is a reoccurring property of political systems. Protests arise in response to perceived opportunities in the political arena to mobilize supporters, presumably with a view towards launching social movements. It follows that culture and community complement the influence of political opportunism in the transition from protest to social movement.

Protest, including what may initially appear as isolated events like the doctors’ strike, form cycles that typically pass through four phases: mobilisation, coalescence, institutionalisation, and decline. IMF bread riots, for example, began as episodic events erupting in response to IMF conditionalities, but fed into actions leading to institutional reforms or increased repression prolonging the cycle. Long-term outcomes vary. A cycle may result in regime change or revolution; increased repression or reforms. Governments fear mass public action because they can trigger more prolonged opposition or lead to contagion with other issues. Sometimes examples of civil disobedience are used by the state to institute a more protest-proof status quo. The Tiananmen Square uprising, for example, placed the Chinese Communist Party on the path culminating in the country’s surveillance state and social credit system.

Protected as an extension of freedom of speech in democratic societies, protests and demonstrations provide an important safety valve for a population’s grievances, opposition to policies, or for releasing popular discontent with their government or specific actors.

In Kenya, political protest is a game played by calculating actors who almost always act true to common expectations. The most recent round of demonstrations conforms with Kenya’s political folk models. No one has defected from their fate-appointed role, at least so far. A familiar script unfolding in typical fashion, the population’s growing precarity and the convergence with other protests across the globe nevertheless feed the growing angst and uncertainty.

In Kenya, political protest is a game played by calculating actors who almost always act true to common expectations.

Because they are an inherently unstable and potentially volatile form of social organization, leadership is critical when protestors take to the street. Leaders’ calculations do not necessarily lead to the most optimum course of action, both in respect to their own interests and the greater public good. At the moment it remains to be seen if the Azimio demonstrations are a legitimate act of problem-solving agency or the latest extension of Kenya’s political samsara.

Voice and the exit option

By protest we refer to public actions including marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, boycotts, and other forms of group civil disobedience. Protests represent variations adopted to amplify the political exercise of voice, the central element in a triad of options the development economist Albert O. Hirschmann analysed in his exit, voice, loyalty model. Just as customer choices are fundamental to the workings of free markets, political voice provides critical system-correcting feedback in governance. Political legitimacy encourages loyalty; the exercise of voice reinforces the legitimacy governments need to govern effectively. When voice does not work, a credible exit threat can force states to act on citizens’ grievances.

Africa’s new rulers preferred silence. Their governments assumed power with the legitimacy generated by the campaign for liberation, but the pursuit of personal power saw many of them squander this goodwill. Suppression of voice accompanied by the demand for unconditional loyalty encouraged the exit option, which often took the form of the military coups and insurgencies that continue up to the present. State-controlled media plays a crucial role in conditions where protest provides a convenient pretext for seizing power. When their political voice is muzzled citizens find other avenues of coping. They seek solace in religion, support football teams with tribal passion, sustain their spirit through literature and music, get high, seek out sex, or join underground movements.

When political protest is non-productive the cycle gives rise to other less overtly political forms of dissent. Examples from this part of the world include torching field crops, land invasions, school riots, discrimination based on tribe and gender, witchcraft and sorcery, migration, civil service malfeasance, blocking roads, vandalism and small acts of sabotage, foot-dragging, hate language, and other weapons of the weak.

The noise returned with the post-1989 resurgence of democratisation. Voice made a comeback in Africa. Liberalisation and participatory methodologies promoted greater developmental inclusion. These changes and African Union diplomacy helped reduce the incidence of military coups, even though governments continue to repress opposition political parties. The post-electoral crises triggered by contested elections spread to other continents. The United States’ January 6 Capitol riot and the military response to Bolsonaro’s defeat in Brazil are examples challenging longstanding assumptions about the democratic norms and the governance of open societies everywhere.

The round of protests erupting in South Africa, Tunisia, Israel, Kenya, and elsewhere demonstrate how the exercise of voice still tends to be specific to different countries. Political cultures condition their own distinctive expressions of protest. In Kenya, civil disobedience and mass action have provided an alternative to violent civil conflict and the insurgencies that have plagued neighbouring countries. The country has come close to the brink on several occasions. Examples from the nation’s post-independence history provide an evolutionary backdrop for the latest round of brinkmanship.

From mobilization to coalescence

Unlike the blowback generated by previous assassinations including the riots triggered by the murder of Tom Mboya, the protests following the disappearance of J.M. Kariuki seriously rattled the Kenyatta government. The aging president warned the masses during a speech at Uhuru Park, then launched a commission of enquiry appointed to investigate the events of the parliamentarian’s disappearance. This effectively dissipated the discontent, and the Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry became the state’s go-to tool for dealing with regime-threatening protests.

Wangari Maathai spearheaded protests over government excisions in Uhuru Park and the Karura Forest, an act of defiance that opened the way for the Saba Saba demonstrations in 1990 that energized the movement for multi-party democracy. After Daniel arap Moi’s had won two elections, the opposition began agitating for constitutional limits on executive power. The post-electoral violence following the 2007 national elections turned into the nation’s most protracted political crisis, which finally set the nation on the path to constitutional reform.

The round of protests erupting in South Africa, Tunisia, Israel, Kenya, and elsewhere demonstrate how the exercise of voice still tends to be specific to different countries.

These incidents of mass action clearly advanced Kenya’s political development by challenging the impunity of the state, ending the period of de facto and de jure single-party rule, empowering the rise of civil society, and sustaining the long process of reform culminating in the 2008 ratification of Kenya’s new constitution.

As Article 37 of the new dispensation unambiguously reaffirmed, the right to assemble peacefully is essential for the nation’s capacity to meet future challenges. Not that this legal right or the state’s ability to suspend it in the name of public security was ever in question. Kenyans have developed a cautionary attitude towards mass action, in part because the intervention of Kenya’s police has always been more about protecting the state’s interests than public safety. The timing and location of their deployment is prejudicial, while their presence invariably increases the risk of human rights abuses and long-term radicalization.

State responses also depend on who is protesting what. The police clobbered Borana demonstrators gathering in Nairobi’s Central Business District to protest a series of extra-judicial killings. A few days later the same police stood aside when ruffians infiltrating multi-party demonstrators started looting and destroying property. The Mombasa Republican Council was a non-violent movement basing their “The Coast is not Kenya” campaign on legitimate historical sources; the provincial administration drove their leaders underground and the paramilitary GSU regularly crashed their peaceful assemblies. The atavistic Mungiki, in contrast, were allowed years of leeway to extort and kill before the inevitable crackdown happened. There are many other similar examples.

Protest cycles demand structural transitions. The dismantling of Kenyatta’s deep state marked the end of that era’s cycle. The new one that began with Moi’s restoration of KANU as Kenya’s ruling party ended with the implementation of the new constitution in 2010. Unfortunately, the transition to the new dispensation did not settle the problem of the country’s flawed national elections.

Institutionalisation and the Raila Conundrum  

The Odinga family, Jomo Kenyatta’s personal bête noire, has been the bane of every government that came after him. Since 1963, Kenya’s executive has alternately embraced, banned, revived, and stymied the Odingas’ efforts to participate in Kenya’s political arena and to vie for its highest office. Father and son have repaid this treatment by sucking it up and by staying the course of resistance under difficult circumstances.

Moi brought Oginga Odinga back into the KANU fold, frustrated his attempts to stand for office, then compensated by appointing him to head the Cotton and Lint Board parastatal.  Soon after, he used an obnoxious if innocuous public statement as pretext to banish Oginga Odinga to the political wilderness. Years of humiliating treatment by the state no doubt contributed to his son’s passive participation in the failed coup of 1 August 1982. The chaos and damage precipitated by the coup attempt worked to extend the regime’s grip, until the 1990 assassination of the government’s respected Foreign Minister, Robert Ouko. Raila’s passive association with the Air Force privates who launched the putsch earned him three years in detention, tainting his reputation among a large cross-section of the Kenyan public for years.

The Odinga family, Jomo Kenyatta’s personal bête noire, has been the bane of every government that came after him.

The subsequent arc of Raila’s political career spanned his role in upsetting Moi’s succession “project”, the Kibaki tosha endorsement, the makeover from disrupter to kingmaker, and two frustrated transitions from kingmaker to king. The blatant vote rigging in 2007 was designed to trigger mass protests that would justify a state of emergency prolonging the life of the incumbent government. Raila became Prime Minister in the coalition government that emerged from the wreckage, which should have ended the cycle.

In his seminal paper, Constitutions without constitutionalism: an African political paradox, Professor Okoth-Ogendo details how “power maps” explain weak adherence to the constitutional order in African countries. Unlike the power relations underpinning the exercise of governance, constitutions are easily amended, suspended, ignored, and discarded. The prominence given to constitutions by governments contrasts with the ruling elites’ weak commitment to constitutionalism, which dictates that those implementing the law be equally subject to its principles and limitations. In a commentary on the Okoth-Ogendo thesis, Kenya’s constitutional Zen Master, Yash Pal Ghai, observes that “most African ‘leaders’ have valued constitutions solely for their significance internationally: conferring sovereignty on the state and immunity for its head, not sovereignty of its citizens”.

This situation is reflected in popular Kenyan memes over the years, like KANU ina wenyewe, mwenye nguvu mpishe, and kuteleza siyo kuanguka. Or, don’t get in the owners’ way and you can earn the grace allowing you to get away with the murder of a fellow cabinet minister’s daughter, loosely translated.

The terrain covered by Kenya’s power map is rugged. It has its own language and unwritten rules. Transactional and entrepreneurial power map business is conducted in multiple currencies. Rivers of opportunism run through it. Raila has travelled its peaks and valleys more than any other Kenyan politician. He has weathered its storms and survived its wilderness, but he never earned the grace to ascend the power map’s summit.

Raila’s statesmanship in the face of three flawed post-second liberation elections made him a sympathetic candidate, and his non-violent reliance on constitutional methods helped deconstruct the myths constructed to demonise his political base. Raila Odinga has been the most consistent voice for Kenya’s democratic aspirations since the dark days of single-party rule. Seen as the best bet for curbing Kenya’s rampant corruption, he was also the power map’s most chimerical rainmaker.

Decline-phase decisions

If the Electoral Commission boondoggles in 2007 and 2012 were dumpster fires, the third act was Ground Hog Day. As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The electorate was fatigued and the opposition financially exhausted after the 2017 recall. Raila switched strategies. The Handshake was a new kind of exit that saw the veteran campaigner step out of the opposition and into the widening Uhuruto gap.

Embracing a constitutionally-failed presidency on the Zen Master’s scorecard diminished his hard-earned credentials. Championing the stage-managed Building Bridges Initiative was anti-constitutionalism in action. Marketed as a solution to the ethnic tensions exacerbated by electoral competition, BBI’s consociational template was designed to primarily benefit the political class. The Supreme Court rejected it as a top-down gambit designed to eviscerate the constitution. Justice Patrick Kiage’s ruling described the BBI amendments as “effectively dismembering the Constitution, blasting so huge a hole in it as to pulverize its foundations and essentially create a new constitutional order.”

The Handshake was a new kind of exit that saw the veteran campaigner step out of the opposition and into the widening Uhuruto gap.

While the Jubilee Party’s BBI roadshow was touring the counties, William Ruto was busy campaigning. Instead of the usual ethnic alliance-building, his strategy targeted the youth and working-class Kenyans, which he branded the hustler nation. Recasting the 2022 contest along class lines flipped the decades-old status quo. Raila and his ODM flagship, now relegated from movement to coalition partner, found themselves cast as an extension of incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta’s uthumaki dynasty.  Raila Odinga’s role in the BBI debacle faded into the background as he hit the campaign trail for a fifth time, this time in alliance with the powers at the top of the sitting government.

What could go wrong?

The cycle’s electoral endgame

Before the August elections, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a report concluding that although the government of Kenya had avoided the backsliding witnessed in many other African countries, it was still “teetering between democratic deepening and regression”. True to form, the elections featured the usual tender scandals, institutional conspiracies, mischievous foreigners, abuse of incumbency, colourful political chancers, monetization and voter suppression, dead bodies, razor-thin margins of victory, and an aftermath extended by multiple court cases.

The threshold for political violence was low. The ACLED political violence database reported that the incidence of political disorder and conflict was higher during the run-up to the 2017 election. Everything pointed to the standard pattern, as the arrest of three Venezuelan technology consultants found at the airport with election materials in their luggage appeared to confirm. This provided the cue for Senator James Orengo to warn, “If the law won’t work then we will use force.”

But the elections ended up wrong-footing expectations conditioned by the previous three polls. Observers from diverse European and regional bodies all gave the polls high marks. Appeals for peace issued by Jakaya Kikwete, the head of the observers’ group, proved to be unnecessary. A live Twitter feed organized by one of Tanzania’s opposition activists waxed poetic in praise of “our” Kenyan neighbours “for showing us how to properly conduct an election.”

Marketed as a solution to the ethnic tensions exacerbated by electoral competition, BBI’s consociational template was designed to primarily benefit the political class.

Similar such sentiments echoed across the region as Kenya’s Supreme Court prepared to adjudicate the inevitable petitions. The parties to the presidential electoral petition declared they would abide by the court’s decision, the number of other cases contesting the results dropped from three hundred and eighty-eight in 2017 to one hundred twenty-three in 2022. Framed as a victory for the constitution, the polls signalled a shift from ethnic-based to issue-based politics according to some pundits, even though the pattern of votes cast settled into the familiar ethnic block configuration.

The polls were conducted peacefully. The suspicious Venezuelan election materials turned out to be bar code stickers for tracking documents transmitted from polling stations to the Electoral Commission central hub. the hard copy forms and electronic tallies matched. Orengo’s uprising did not materialize. Boda-Boda drivers questioned in the traditional epicentres of political violence told the reporters, “Tell the Commission to count the votes faster, we want to get back to work.”

Insider revelations later depicted an Azimio campaign that suffered from complacency and failure to escape the tag of being Uhuru’s “project”, a term that marred Kenyatta’s designation as Moi’s successor in 2002. Many of Raila Odinga’s close associates assumed their alliance with the “deep state” would guarantee the outcome that had so cruelly eluded them since 2007.  His minions in Kisumu who drank the Kool-Aid had already started celebrating. When the vote count was announced, Raila claimed that Commission Chairman Chebukati had presided over the most corrupt and openly flawed election in Kenya’s history.

Azimio failed to read the signs. Their electoral petitions were long on Electoral Commission’s past sins and short on evidence meeting the high bar set by the new Supreme Court. The court’s full judgement released on 26 September 2022 validated the legitimacy of the polls. But in the same article cited above, Ajwang and Lugano blamed the court for failing to adopt “an amiable judicial tone that offers reconciliation in a febrile political environment”. The condescending nature of some of the court’s language, they observed, left the door open for the coalition’s principals continuing complaints about the hijacked outcome and the degradation of Kenya’s democracy.

The outgoing government left the nation with a soaring cost of living, intensifying famine, a depleted Treasury, and not much to show for the four-fold growth in Kenya’s external debt. The new president’s response was to hit the ground running. His inaugural speech sought to reset the nation’s confrontational toxic political discourse while focusing on policies for relaunching the stagnating economy. In an impressive 75-minute Mashujaa Day address on 20 October, William Samoei Ruto outlined the equivalent of a five-year development plan, with specific methodologies for achieving its targets. He appointed an impressive team of technical advisors. The president followed up with an article published in The Guardian positioning Kenya in the front row of the climate change movement.

But the new government’s break-out momentum did not last. The MPs launched the 13th Parliament demanding increased allowances. Many politicians associated with the country’s endemic corruption won their elections; some found new niches in the counties. Others benefitted from the openly non-consociational appointments of cronies and loyalists. Court cases were dropped. A lawyer died. Payback time returned. The conduct of the new government appeared to be regressing back to the mean as the new year approached.

The outgoing government left the nation with a soaring cost of living, intensifying famine, a depleted Treasury, and not much to show for the four-fold growth in Kenya’s external debt.

In a review published in The Standard, Caleb Otieno documented how the weight of past behaviours and decisions invariably dims the new dawn promised by the succession of incoming Kenya governments. One of the president-elect’s young lawyers referred to the power map problem at the end of the hearings: “The problem is our politics and our political culture. Political culture cannot be legislated.” My own article following the 2017 elections, entitled Kenya’s Electoral Crisis and The Political Culture of Tricksters and Masks, tracked the continuing influence of the politics of deception, double entendre, and misdirection Daniel arap Moi perfected during his last two terms in office.

For Raila Odinga, after years of patience in the face of his opponents’ clumsy efforts to block his way to the presidency, the Electoral Commission’s new-found integrity may have been the cruellest trick of them all.

Not all cycles are cyclical 

The rains finally arrived. Consumer prices continued to rise. Driven by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the government’s mismanagement, Raila nevertheless exploited Kenyans simmering economic discontent to call for mass action. It was reminiscent of the doctors’ strike: when the Marxist message failed, the students started crying “no maize!”

“The demos will benefit Kenyans in the long run. I’m asking every citizen to come out on Mondays and Thursdays to protest against the high cost of living and an oppressive regime,” said Mr Odinga, who also claimed he won the 2022 election by two million votes.

Sometimes there comes a point when the application of a given socioeconomic model hits the wall. Empirical contradictions emerge, anomalies crop up. Kenya’s protest cycle is a case in point. The logic behind the mass action may be valid and its timing appropriate: Kenya needs a strong opposition, and the government’s efforts to weaken it demanded a response. But the content of the Monday and Thursday protests come over as eclectic and overstated, a belated end-of-cycle call for action.

Their raison d’être is out of synch with the economic forces at work, and many of the Azimio leaders’ demands are not actionable, even for a government open to discussing mitigations. The collateral damage and systemic stress caused are counterproductive. In the absence of a forward-looking agenda, the language of “long-run benefits” recalls the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s rationalization for downing a plane carrying famine relief as “serving the long-term interests” of South Sudan’s starving civilians. Would the cost-of-living crisis have been different six months into an Azimio government? What would they have done differently?

The country is on the move. Demographic change and devolution are revising the power map, creating new concentrations of power while digital technology is reconfiguring feedback loops. The task of defending democracy has passed from the opposition to the judiciary. What Kenya does over the next twenty years will determine its potential to take its place among the front-line societies adapting to the changes sweeping over the planet.

Kenya has an active parliament. Too much in-the-street political theatre distracts attention from more cogent challenges confronting the nation’s progress.

But the content of the Monday and Thursday protests come over as eclectic and overstated, a belated end-of-cycle call for action.

There is no lack of issues for launching a new cycle, beginning with the constitutional mandate to address historical injustices in minority areas. The recommendations of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission and the Ndungu Report are still collecting dust. The problems of the energy sector run much deeper than spiking electricity prices; ditto for the return to inefficient big water policies and tender corruption magnets like the Grand Falls Dam project. The opposition could call for building upon best practices like the National Counter Terrorism Centre’s CVE policy in place of counterproductive rangeland military interventions. Why isn’t the government recruiting bright young techies to map out the threats and benefits posed by the rise of artificial general intelligence?

Making sense of this cycle’s contradictions brings us to the real problem raised by the 2022 elections: the low turn-out of Kenya’s young voters. Under-35s make up 75 per cent of the country’s population but made up under 40 per cent of the total votes. There were early signs: only 3 million of the expected 6 million youth registered to vote during the run-up. Their vote declined by over 5 per cent despite the buzz created by the hustler meme—and without discounting the Roots Party Wajackoyah factor.

Both parties failed to slow the young voters’ exit from a governance system based on exclusionary elite coalitions and an economy sheltering corrupt cartels, or their search for alternate pathways for participation and expression of voice. According to one commentator writing after the elections:

[Young Kenyans] are developing new forms of politics that are intimately linked with everyday activities, kinship networks and popular culture. And while it is not clear whether these alternative forms of politics will spur meaningful change, what is clear is that the youth are not apathetic.

I believe history will validate Raila Odinga as patriot and as a force for democratic change, despite his transformation from hero to anomaly, a one-man protest cycle. He never mentored a successor nor did Raila cultivate a young “Pentagon” capable of sustaining the movement. But he can still draw the crowds; building bridges to the coming generational handing-over would be a better use of his unique talents.

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Dr. Goldsmith is an American researcher and writer who has lived in Kenya for over 40 years.


Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?

Somalia must first ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the East African Community.



Is Somalia’s Quest for Membership of the EAC Premature?
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The current members of the East African Community (EAC) are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan. The Somali Federal Government, under the leadership of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has expressed a strong interest in joining the EAC, sparking questions among Somali citizens as to whether the country is ready to join such a large and complex regional bloc.

During President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud initiated Somalia’s pursuit of EAC membership during his previous term as a president from 2012 to 2017. However, little progress was made during his first term and, following his re-election, President Hassan reignited his pursuit of EAC membership without consulting essential stakeholders such as the parliament, the opposition, and civil society. This unilateral decision has raised doubts about the president’s dedication to establishing a government based on consensus. Moreover, his decision to pursue EAC membership has evoked mixed responses within Somalia. While some Somalis perceive joining the EAC as advantageous for the country, others express concerns about potential risks to Somalia’s economic and social development. President Hassan has defended his decision, emphasising that Somalia’s best interests lie in becoming a member of the EAC.

To assess Somalia’s readiness to join the EAC, the regional bloc undertook a comprehensive verification mission. A team of experts well versed in politics, economics, and social systems, was tasked with evaluating Somalia’s progress. The evaluation included a thorough review of economic performance, trade policies, and potential contributions to the EAC’s integration efforts. During this process, the team engaged with various government institutions and private organisations, conducting comprehensive assessments and discussions to gauge Somalia’s preparedness.

One of the key requirements for Somalia is demonstrating an unwavering commitment to upholding principles such as good governance, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.

Successful integration into the EAC would not only elevate Somalia’s regional stature but would also foster deeper bonds of cooperation and shared prosperity among the East African nations. While this is a positive step towards regional integration and economic development, there are several reasons for pessimism about the potential success of Somalia’s membership in the EAC.

Somalia must also showcase a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration.

Somalia has faced significant challenges due to prolonged conflict and instability. The decades-long civil war, coupled with the persistent threat of terrorism, has had a devastating impact on the country’s infrastructure, economy, governance systems, and overall stability.

The following fundamental factors raise valid concerns about Somalia’s readiness to effectively participate in the EAC.

Infrastructure development

Infrastructure plays a critical role in regional integration and economic growth. However, Somalia’s infrastructure has been severely damaged and neglected due to years of conflict. The country lacks adequate transportation networks, reliable energy systems, and while communications infrastructure has improved, internet penetration rates remain low and mobile networks – which are crucial for seamless integration with the EAC – can be unavailable outside of urban centres. Rebuilding such infrastructure requires substantial investments, technical expertise, and stability, all of which remain significant challenges for Somalia.

Political stability and governance

The EAC places emphasis on good governance, democracy, and the rule of law as prerequisites for membership. Somalia’s journey towards political stability and effective governance has been arduous, with numerous setbacks and ongoing power struggles. The lack of a unified government, coupled with weak state institutions and a history of corruption, raises doubts about Somalia’s ability to meet the EAC’s standards. Without a stable and inclusive political environment, Somalia may struggle to effectively contribute to the decision-making processes within the regional bloc.

Economic development and trade

Somalia’s economy has been heavily dependent on the informal sector and faces substantial economic disparities. The country needs to demonstrate a vibrant market economy that fosters regional trade and collaboration, as required by the EAC. However, the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn economy, tackling high poverty rates, and addressing widespread unemployment hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in regional trade and reap the benefits of integration.

Security Concerns

Somalia continues to grapple with security challenges, including the presence of extremist groups and maritime piracy. These issues have not only hindered the country’s development but also pose potential risks to the stability and security of the entire EAC region. It is crucial for Somalia to address these security concerns comprehensively and to establish effective mechanisms to contribute to the EAC’s collective security efforts.

Economic Disparity and Compatibility

Somalia’s economy primarily relies on livestock, agriculture, and fishing, which may not align well with the more quasi-industralised economies of the other EAC member states. This mismatch could result in trade imbalances and pose challenges for integrating Somalia into the regional economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, Somalia’s GDP per capita was US$447 in 2021 whereas it is US$2081 for Kenya, US$1099 for Tanzania, and US$883 for Uganda. Furthermore, Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.

This divergence in economic structures could lead to trade imbalances and impede the seamless integration of Somalia into the regional economy. The substantial economic gap between Somalia and other EAC member states suggests a significant disparity that may hinder Somalia’s ability to fully participate in the EAC’s economic activities. Additionally, Somalia has yet to demonstrate fiscal or economic discipline that would make it eligible for EAC membership. While Somalia has a functioning Central Bank and the US dollar remains the primary mode of financial transactions, the risk of integration lies with the other EAC members; cross-border trade would occur in an environment of instability, posing potential risks to the other member state.

Somalia faces significant economic challenges, including capital flight that drains resources from the country, contributing to its status as a consumer-based economy.

While these fundamental challenges remain, it is important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent years. This includes the gradual improvement in security conditions, the establishment of key governmental institutions, and the peaceful transfer of power. One can also argue that many of these fundamental economic, infrastructure, political instability, and security concerns exist across the East African Community. However, what makes Somalia unique is the scale of the challenges it faces today. Somalia has adopted a federal political structure, which has not worked well so far. This level of fragmentation and civil political distrust makes Somalia’s case unique. More than ever, Somalia needs meaningful political and social reconciliation before it can embark on a new regional journey.

The absence of an impact assessment by the relevant ministries in Somalia is alarming. Without this assessment, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions about the potential benefits of joining the EAC and the impact on our economy and society. Conducting this assessment should be a priority for Somalia’s ministries to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of the potential benefits and risks involved in EAC membership. Furthermore, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s decision to pursue Somalia’s integration into the EAC lacks political legitimacy as a decision of this nature would normally require ratification through a popular vote and other legal means through parliament. The failure to achieve this could potentially allow another president in the future to unilaterally announce withdrawal from the EAC.

Fragile state of Affairs and internal disputes

The recent reopening of the Gatunda border post between Uganda and Rwanda after a three-year period of strained relations indicates a fragile state of affairs. The East African Court of Justice has ruled that Rwanda’s initial closure of the border was illegal, highlighting the contentious nature of inter-country disputes. Furthermore, Tanzania and Uganda have formally lodged complaints against Kenya, alleging unfair advantages in trade relations, and have even gone as far as threatening Kenya with export bans. These grievances underscore the underlying tensions and competition between member states, which could potentially hinder the harmonious functioning of the East African Community. These political and economic disagreements among member states increase the risks associated with Somalia’s membership. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions. Joining the East African Community at this juncture carries the risk of being drawn into ongoing disputes and potentially being caught in the crossfire of inter-country rivalries.

Conflict in South Sudan

The prolonged conflict in South Sudan, which has been ongoing since its admission to the East African Community (EAC) in 2016, serves as a cautionary tale for Somalia. Despite the EAC’s efforts to mediate and foster peace in the region, the outcomes have been mixed, resulting in an unsustainable peace. This lack of success highlights the challenges faced by member states in resolving conflicts and maintaining stability within the community. Somalia must carefully evaluate whether its participation in the EAC will genuinely contribute to its stability, economic growth, and development, or if it risks exacerbating existing internal conflicts. Joining the community without a solid foundation of political stability, institutions, and peace could potentially divert resources and attention away from domestic issues, hindering Somalia’s progress towards resolving its own challenges. South Sudan’s admission to the EAC in 2016 was seen as a major step towards regional integration and stability. However, the country has been mired in conflict ever since, with two civil wars breaking out in 2013 and 2016. The EAC has been involved in mediation efforts, with mixed results.

Assessing Readiness

Somalia must evaluate the readiness of its institutions, infrastructure, and economy to effectively engage with the East African Community. Comprehensive preparations are crucial to ensure that joining the community is a well thought-out and strategic decision, rather than a hasty move that could further destabilise the nation. Somalia needs to assess whether its infrastructure, institutions, and economy are sufficiently developed to cope with the challenges and demands of integration. Premature membership could strain Somalia’s resources, impede its growth, and leave it at a disadvantage compared to more established member states.

Somalia must carefully evaluate whether it is entering a united and cohesive bloc or one plagued by internal divisions.

Somalia must ensure sustained progress in stability, infrastructure development, governance, and economic growth before considering full membership of the EAC. A phased approach that prioritises capacity building, institution-strengthening, and inclusive governance would enable Somalia to lay a solid foundation for successful integration and reap the maximum benefits from EAC membership in the long term. Failure to address these concerns would make Somalia vulnerable to exploitation and market monopolies by stronger economies, and could also risk a lack of seamless convergence for Somalia’s membership. While there is political will from EAC leaders to support Somalia’s membership, it is vitally important that they make the right decision for Somalia and the EAC bloc as a whole to ensure a successful integration. I believe that, at this juncture, the disadvantages of Somalia joining the EAC outweigh the benefits.

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2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?

It was a landmark case for its time, a first for East Africa and possibly for the continent. A group of Africans challenged a colonial power in a colonial court to appeal a major land grab and demand reparations. They lost on a technicality but the ripple effects of the Maasai Case continue to be felt.



2023 Marks 110 Years Since the Maasai Case 1913: Does it Still Matter?
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In the name Parsaloi Ole Gilisho there lies an irony. It was spelled Legalishu by the colonial British. Say it out loud. He gave them a legal issue, all right. And a 110-year-old headache.

This extraordinary age-set spokesman (a traditional leader called ol-aiguenani, pl. il-aiguenak) led non-violent resistance to the British, in what was then British East Africa, that culminated in the Maasai Case 1913. Ole Gilisho was then a senior warrior, who was probably in his mid- to late thirties. In bringing the case before the High Court of British East Africa, he was not only challenging the British but also the Maasai elders who had signed away thousands of acres of community land via a 1904 Maasai Agreement or Treaty with the British. This and the 1911 Agreement – which effectively rendered the first void – are often wrongly called the Anglo-Maasai Agreements. In Ole Gilisho’s view, and those of his fellow plaintiffs, these elders had sold out. The suit accused them of having had no authority to make this decision on behalf of the community. This represented a very serious challenge by warriors to traditional authority, including that of the late laibon (prophet) Olonana, who had signed in 1904, and died in 1911.

The British had expected the Maasai to violently rebel in response to these issues and to colonial rule in general. But contrary to modern-day myths that the Maasai fought their colonisers, here they resisted peacefully via legal means. They hired British lawyers and took the British to their own cleaners. Spoiler: they lost, went to appeal, and lost again. But archival research reveals that the British government was so convinced it would eventually lose, if the Maasai appealed to the Privy Council in London (they didn’t), that officials began discussing how much compensation to pay.

The facts are these. The lawsuit was launched in 1912. There were four plaintiffs, Ole Gilisho and three fellow Purko (one of the 16 Maasai territorial sections) Maasai. In Civil Case No. 91 they claimed that the 1911 Maasai Agreement was not binding on them and other Laikipia Maasai, that the 1904 Agreement remained in force, and they contested the legality of the second move. They demanded the return of Laikipia, and £5,000 in damages for loss of livestock during the second move (explained below). Ole Gilisho was illiterate and had never been to school. But he and his fellow plaintiffs were assisted by sympathetic Europeans who were angered by the injustice they saw being perpetrated against a “tribe” that British administrators conceded had never given them any trouble. These sympathisers included people who worked for the colonial government, notably medical Dr Norman Leys and some district officials, lawyers, a few missionaries, the odd settler, and a wider group of left-wing MPs and anti-colonial agitators in Britain.

What had led up to this? After the 1904 Agreement, certain groups or sections of Maasai had been forcibly moved from their grazing grounds in the central Rift Valley around Naivasha into two reserves – one in Laikipia, the other in the south on the border with German East Africa. The British had pledged that this arrangement was permanent, that it would last “so long as the Maasai as a race shall exist”. But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the “northern” Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve. In all, it is estimated that the Maasai lost at least 50 per cent of their land, but that figure could be nearer 70 per cent. The ostensible reason for moving them was to “free up” land for white settlement – largely for British settlers but also for South Africans fleeing the Boer War (also called the South African War).

But just seven years later, the British went back on their word and moved the ‘northern’ Maasai again, forcing them at gunpoint to vacate Laikipia and move to the Southern Reserve.

By the time the case came to court, Ole Gilisho had become a defendant, even though he was in favour of the plaint. So were at least eight other defendants. He had signed the 1904 Agreement, and now stood accused with 17 other Maasai of having no authority to enter into such a contract. The first defendant was the Attorney General. Ole Gilisho’s son-in-law Murket Ole Nchoko, misspelled Ol le Njogo by the British, and described as a leading moran (il-murran or warrior) of the Purko section, was now the lead plaintiff. The plaint was called Ol le Njogo and others v. The Attorney General and others.

Challenges facing the plaintiffs

Most Maasai were illiterate in those days, and this obviously placed them at a major disadvantage. They could not write down their version of events. They were forced to rely, in their dealings with officials and their own lawyers, upon translators and semiliterate mediators whose reliability was questionable. But it is evident, from the archival record which includes verbatim accounts of meetings between Maasai leaders and British officials in the run-up to the moves and case, that the level of verbal discourse was highly sophisticated. This comes as no surprise; verbal debate is a cornerstone of Maasai society and customary justice. Unfortunately, that alone could not help them here. They knew they needed lawyers, and asked their friends for help. Leys, who was later sacked from the colonial service for his activism, admitted in a private letter: “I procured the best one in the country for them.” This was more than he ever admitted openly.

Local administrators used intimidation and all kinds of devious means to try and stop the case. (I didn’t come across any evidence that the Colonial Office in London sanctioned this; in fact, it ordered the Governor not to obstruct the main lawyer or his clients.) They allegedly threatened Ole Gilisho with flogging and deportation. They threatened and cross-questioned suspected European sympathisers, including Leys and the lawyers. They banned Maasai from selling cattle to raise the legal fees, and placed the Southern Reserve in continuous quarantine. It was hard for the plaintiffs, confined to a reserve, to meet their lawyers at all. At one point, lawyers were refused passes to enter the reserve, and their clients were prevented from leaving it.

We hear Ole Gilisho’s voice in the archival record. Forced to give a statement explaining his actions to officials at Enderit River on 21 June 1912, when asked if he had called Europeans to his boma, he replied: “Is it possible for a black man to call a white man?” He denied having called the Europeans (probably lawyers or go-betweens), saying they had come to him. Leys later explained to a friend that Ole Gilisho had probably been “terrified out of his wits”, and hadn’t meant what he said.

What happened in court

The case was thrown out when it first came before the High Court in Mombasa in May 1913. The Maasai appealed, and that is when the legal arguments were fully aired by both sides – lawyers for the Crown and the Maasai. The appeal was dismissed in December on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims were not cognisable in municipal courts. The two agreements were ruled not to be agreements but treaties, which were Acts of State. They could not, therefore, be challenged in a local court. It was impossible for the plaintiffs to seek to enforce the provisions of a treaty, said the judges – “The paramount chief himself could not bring such an action, still less can his people”. Claims for damages were also dismissed.

The Court of Appeal’s judgement centred on the status of a protectorate, in which the King was said to exercise powers granted to him under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890. Irrational as it sounds, the Crown claimed that British East Africa was not British territory, and the Maasai were not British subjects with any rights of access to British law, but “protected foreigners, who, in return for that protection, owe obedience” to the Crown. As Yash Pal Ghai and Patrick McAuslan later put it, when discussing the case in a 1970 book: “A British protected person is protected against everyone except the British.” On the plus side, the judges ruled that the Maasai still retained some “vestige” of sovereignty. (The Maasai’s lawyer argued that they did not.) This triggered later moves by Maasai politicians, in the 1960s, to float the idea of secession from Kenya and the possible creation of a sovereign Maasai state. John Keen had threatened this in 1962 at the second Lancaster House Conference in London, attended by a Maasai delegation.

Alexander Morrison, lawyer for the Maasai, argued that British rule and courts were established in the protectorate, which had not been the case 30 years earlier. The Maasai were not foreigners but equal to other British subjects in every way. The agreements were civil contracts, enforceable in the courts, and not unenforceable treaties. If one took the Crown’s claim about Acts of State to its logical conclusion, he argued, a squatter refusing to leave land reserved for the Maasai could only be removed by an Act of State. None of his arguments washed with the judges. (See my 2006 book Moving the Maasai for a fuller account.)

Morrison advised his clients to appeal. It seems they couldn’t raise the funds. However, oral testimony from elders reveals a different story: Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea. This is impossible to verify, but it rings true.

In an interview carried out on my behalf in 2008 by Michael Tiampati, my old friend John Keen had this to say about the outcome of the case: “If the hyena was the magistrate and the accused was a goat, you should probably know that the goat would not get any form of justice. So this is exactly how it was that the Maasai could not get any fair justice from British courts.”

Contemporary African resistance

Unbeknown to the Maasai, there was growing anti-colonial resistance in the same period in other parts of Africa. All these acts of resistance have inspired African activists in their continuing struggles. To mention a few: the Chilembwe rebellion in Nyasaland, now Malawi (1915); the Herero revolt in German South West Africa, now Namibia (1904–1908); resistance in present-day Kenya by Mekatilili wa Menza (largely 1913-14); the First Chimurenga or First War of Independence in what is now Zimbabwe (1896–1897); and the Maji Maji rebellion in German East Africa, now Tanzania (1905–1907). But none of these rebellions involved lawsuits. The closest precedent may have been R vs Earl of Crewe, Ex-parte Sekgoma in 1910. Chief Sekgoma, who had been jailed by the British in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) after many attempts to remove him as chief, instructed his lawyer to bring a writ of habeus corpus against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Crewe. He demanded to be tried in an English court, refusing an offer of release on condition that he agrees to live in a restricted area of the Transvaal. The suit was dismissed, the court ruling that the King had unfettered jurisdiction in a protectorate, and his right to detain Sekgoma was upheld. Sekgoma apparently said: “I would rather be killed than go to the Transvaal. I will not go because I have committed no crime – I wish to have my case tried before the courts in England or else be killed.” Freed in 1912, he died two years later.

Enduring myths

The case, and other key events in early twentieth century Maasai history, have given rise to several myths. They include the idea that the stolen land should “revert” to the Maasai after 100 years, but that was not stated in the 1904 Agreement, which was not limited in time, was not a land lease, and has not “expired” as many people claim. Neither agreement has. Keen knew this, but nonetheless called for the land to “revert”. Other myths include the idea that Olonana’s thumbprint was placed on the 1911 Agreement posthumously, and it must therefore be invalid. But neither his thumbprint nor name are on the document, which was “signed” by his son Seggi. Anyhow, Olonana was a key ally of the British, who had no reason to kill him (which is another myth).

The original of the 1904 Agreement has never been found, which has led some Maasai to believe that it never existed and therefore all the land must be restored and compensation paid for its use to date. There may be sound legal arguments for restorative justice, but this is not one of them. These myths are ahistorical and unhelpful, but may be understood as attempts to rationalise and make sense of what happened. Some activists may wish that the Maasai had resisted violently, rather than taken the legal route. Hence the insistence by some that there was a seamless history of armed resistance from the start of colonial rule. Not true. There are much better arguments to be made, by professional lawyers with an understanding of international treaty rights and aboriginal title, which could possibly produce results.

Ole Gilisho had planned to sail to England to appeal to the Privy Council, but he was threatened with drowning at sea.

Where does all this leave the Maasai today? Over the years, there has been much talk of revisiting the case and bringing a claim against Britain (or Kenya) for the return of land or reparations for its loss. None of this has resulted in concrete action. I attended a planning workshop in Nairobi in 2006 when plans were laid for a lawsuit. VIPs present included the late Ole Ntimama, scholar Ben Kantai and John Keen. Keen declared, with his customary flourish, that he would stump up a million shillings to get the ball rolling. I don’t know how much money was raised in total, but it disappeared into thin air. As did the lawyers.

Leading lawyers have advised that too much time has passed, and (unlike the successful Mau Mau veterans’ suit) there are no living witnesses who could give evidence in court. It is unclear whether the agreements still have any legal validity. The British government might argue, as it previously has, including in response to my questions, that it handed over all responsibility for its pre-1963 actions to the Kenyan government at independence. This is a ludicrous argument, which is also morally wrong. Former colonial powers such as Germany have accepted responsibility for historical injustices in their former colonies, notably Namibia. Has the time come for Ole Gilisho’s descendants to call a white man to court?

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Who Is Hustling Who?

In Kenya, political elites across the spectrum are trying to sell off the country for themselves—capitulation is inevitable.



Who Is Hustling Who?
Photo: bennett tobias on Unsplash.
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There should be no doubt that Kenya is in an intractable economic crisis. Filling up gas for a drive from Nairobi to my hometown in Limuru cost 10,000 ksh (about USD70). As a result of the high gas costs prices for everything else have gone up, including public transportation. And those who cannot hike up operating costs, such as the hordes of boda boda motorcycle taxis, are hardly making anything or operating at a loss.Tax hikes mean those who are employed are taking less money home. And no point in kidding ourselves, in a corrupt country some of that money being generated from the higher taxes is going to the politicians. As will the promised 1 billion USD loan from the IMF on whose behest the new austerity measures are being implemented. It is a form of madness to think that a corrupt government will only steal money generated by taxes and do public good with the IMF loan. In short, in a country where close to half the population lives on less than USD2 a day, Kenya is simply unaffordable and the promise of relief is a lie—certainly a convenient lie for the government and IMF officials but a devastating one for Kenya’s majority poor.

My drive to Limuru happened on the first Wednesday (July 19) of the protests. Everything was eerily quiet, Nairobi, renowned for its traffic jams, was quiet. Matatus and buses were parked in their hubs. Shops and stalls were closed. Even the hawkers that dot the roads and highways stayed home. Save for the heavy police presence everywhere, it felt like the country had come to a standstill.

We got to Kangemi shortly after the police had shot and wounded two protestors—the road was strewn with stones and armed riot police huddled by the side of the road waiting for the next wave of attacks that never came. In the end, six people would be shot to death throughout the country, and countless were injured and arrested. Coming from the US, where police arrest protestors and shoot black people, there were no surprises here. The US can hardly be the standard of good policing or democratic practices, but the lives lost simply for asking the government to center the people in its economic planning seemed especially cruel.

But it was the emptiness of the roads that made the whole drive eerie. Perhaps I was refracting what was happening in Kenya through what followed the 1982 coup in which 240 people were killed; or the ethnic clashes of the 1990s that culminated in the 2007 post-election violence. Yet, there was a general agreement among people that there was something different about the Kenya of today—that something was already broken and the nightmares to come were slowly but surely revealing themselves—like a bus carrying passengers and the driver realizing the brakes were out just as it was about to descend a steep hill.

Voting with the middle finger

But all this was predictable. President Ruto has been a known quantity since the 1990s when he led the violent Moi youth wingers. He and his running mate and later president, Uhuru Kenyatta, were brought in front of the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity following the post-election violence in 2007. Some key witnesses disappeared and others were intimidated into silence. Who in their right mind gives evidence against those in control of the state? The ICC was already discredited as being Western-crimes-against-humanity friendly (the US has never been a signatory rightly afraid its former presidents, such as George Bush, would be hauled before the court). The ICC eventually withdrew the case in March 2015.

I kept asking everyone I met, why was Ruto voted in spite of his history? The answers varied: He rigged the elections; he did not rig and if he did, he only managed to be better at it than Raila Odinga; he appealed to the youth with the idea of building a hustler nation (what a telling term); the Kikuyus have vowed never to have a Luo president and therefore opted for Ruto who is Kalenjin as opposed to Odinga who is Luo.

I sat with older Kikuyu men in the little Nyama Choma spot in Limuru Market and they talked about a generational divide between the Kikuyu and youth (Ruto) and the elderly Kikuyus (Odinga). But the one I heard over and over again was that Kenyans are tired of the Kenyatta and Odinga political dynasties. As one Trump supporter was to say, they voted for him with the middle finger. And so, the Kenyans who voted for Ruto were giving a middle finger to the Kenyatta, Moi and Odinga political dynasties. But no one had really expected buyer’s remorse to kick in one year into the Ruto presidency.

I also asked about Odinga’s protests: what was the end game? One theory is that he was looking at power-sharing, having done it once before, following the 2007 elections. In our shorthand political language, he was looking for another handshake. Some said the people have a right to protest their government, and he is simply asking the government to repeal the tax hikes and reinstate the fuel subsidies. Others believed that he wants to be a genuine and useful voice of opposition for the good of the country and its poor.

My own theory is that he is attempting a people-powered, centered, democratic, and largely peaceful takeover—where people take to the streets to overthrow an unpopular government. We saw this in Latin America in the 2000s. In response to Odinga’s absence during the three days of protests (he was sick), some leaders in his Azimio party have started using this language. The only problem with this strategy is that the sitting government has to be wildly unpopular. Ruto still has a lot of support, meaning that he does not have to compromise or give up power. It was to my mind turning into a stalemate and I was worried that the state would respond with more state-sponsored violence.

But real economics broke the stalemate. In a country where people are barely surviving and the majority are poor without savings to rely on, or relatives to reach out to for help, the hawkers, small stall and shop owners simply went back to work. In other words, those that would have been hurt the most by three days of protests (a day at home literally means a day without food for the family) simply went back to work, and the matatus and buses hummed back to life, slowly on Thursday and full throttle by Friday.

Saturday around Westlands might as well have been as busy as a Monday as people overcompensated for lost time to either sell or shop. If the protests were going to succeed the opposition (composed of some of the wealthiest families in Kenya, including Odinga’s) really should have thought about how best to protect those who would be the most affected. They should find legal and innovative ways to put their money where their political mouths are.

Cuba as Kenya’s north star

Odinga had to change tactics and called for a day of protest against police violence instead of three-day weekly protests in perpetuity. He is now in danger of turning into a caricature of his old revolutionary self and becoming an Al Sharpton, who instead of protesting the American government for the police killings of black people, protests the police themselves leaving the government feeling sanctimonious. Obama or Biden could weigh in, in righteous indignation without offering any real change (remember Obama’s emotional pleas over gun shootings and police shootings as if he was not the one occupying the most powerful office in the US)?

The one question that keeps eating at me is this: why is the most apparent outcome at the time a surprise later? Ruto was always going to sell off Kenya with a percentage for himself and his friends. Odinga was always going to capitulate. The end result is that the Kenyan bus will continue to careen on without brakes. So, what is to be done?

I was in Cuba earlier this year. I got a sense of the same desperation I felt in Kenya but the difference is Cubans have free access to healthcare, education, housing, and food security. They have free access to all the things that make basic survival possible. Before calling for the tax hikes and cutting fuel subsidies might it not have been more prudent to have a safety net for Kenyans? Would that not have been the most logical thing? But of course not, Ruto is acting at the behest of the IMF and big money. Ruto has learned the art of pan-African political rhetoric. Abroad he can call for a different non-US-centered economic system and castigate the French president over paternalism but at home, his politics are hustler politics.

Life in Cuba is difficult, as a result of relentless sanctions from the US,  but it is far from impossible. It remains the north star for those who understand discussions around fundamental change as the only starting point. We can have arguments about the nature of those fundamental changes, but we can all agree we should not be a country where one family, say the Kenyatta family, owns more than half a million acres of land. Or where, as Oxfam reported, four individuals hold more wealth than that held by 22 million Kenyans. The kind of politics that begin with a necessity for fundamental change will obviously not come from Ruto.

But one hopes it can still come from the Odinga camp.  Or even better, from a genuinely progressive people-powered movement that has inbuilt questions of fundamental change in its political, economic, and cultural platform.

In spite of the empty roads, Limuru Market was thriving and Wakari Bar kept its reputation as one of the best places for Nyama Choma and for lively political conversations. People are paying attention, after all, it is their lives and livelihoods on the line. Politicians, especially those in the opposition and the political left should listen as well.

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 every week.

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