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Sanitising Moi in the Age of Kenyatta, and the Heroics of Official Revisionism

7 min read.

The revival of Moi Day marks a high point in Jubilee’s rehabilitation of the retired autocrat. Refashioned as a kindly, old gentleman who held the nation together in trying times, for Mzee Moi’s victims the latest attempt to celebrate official criminality is testimony of who exactly Mr Kenyatta sides with. By RASNA WARAH.



Sanitising Moi in the Age of Kenyatta, and the Heroics of Official Revisionism
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Sometime in the early 1980s, my father, who owned a photo studio on Moi Avenue in Nairobi, became a life member of the KANU party. The 1000-shilling membership came with a certificate and pins, the kind worn on coat lapels, with Mtukufu Rais Moi’s image on them. My father dutifully framed the certificate and hung it strategically in his studio where his customers could see it. In the studio’s window, he placed a large photo of His Excellency sitting at his desk in State House – a photo he had taken shortly after Moi’s inauguration in 1978.

At that time, many Kenyan Asian businessmen became life members of Kenya’s ruling (and only) political party. It was a way of showing loyalty to a president who was becoming increasingly insecure about his grip on power. For Kenyan Asians, who have always been uncertain about their citizenship, and who have on occasion been threatened with expulsion, demonstrating loyalty to Moi was a kind of insurance, a survival tactic.

In those days, the overriding concern among Kenya’s Asian minority was that Kenya could go the way of its neighbours, such as Somalia and Uganda, and become a military dictatorship. The abortive coup staged by the Kenya Air Force on 1 August 1982 had left Asians fearful; many Asian-owned shops had been looted on that day and some of the poorer Asians living in neighbourhoods like Ngara and Pangani had been robbed and physically assaulted by looters who had taken advantage of the chaotic situation.

Barely ten years before the coup attempt, in August 1972, President Idi Amin had expelled 70,000 Asians from Uganda. There were fears then that Kenya might also “do an Amin” and get rid of its economically prosperous Asian community. So when the coup in 1982 failed, Kenya’s Asians were more than relieved. For them, Moi had averted an economic and political catastrophe that could have adversely affected their business interests, and they were grateful to him for that.

Because Moi had entrenched a patronage system where sycophancy was encouraged, wealthy Kenyan Asian businessmen and industrialists made it a habit of visiting State House and making donations to Moi’s favourite causes. This financial support was often rewarded with government tenders or with assurances that the donors’ economic interests would be protected.

The devastating consequence of this system was that it enabled corruption among some unscrupulous members of Kenya’s Asian community, who began using their close connections to Moi and senior government officials to enrich themselves and their benefactors by using dubious means. Crooked Asian tycoons, like the Goldenberg scandal’s architect, Kamlesh Pattni, and Ketan Somaia (who is currently serving a jail sentence in the UK for fraud) flourished during this period.

Because Moi had entrenched a patronage system where sycophancy was encouraged, wealthy Kenyan Asian businessmen and industrialists made it a habit of visiting State House and making donations to Moi’s favourite causes. This financial support was often rewarded with government tenders or with assurances that the donors’ economic interests would be protected.

It was, therefore, not surprising that when it became clear that Moi’s reign was coming to an end, a panic set in among many Kenyan Asians. What kind of future would they have in a post-Moi era? Would the new rulers punish them for their past crimes? How would they secure their business interests? Would the whole community pay the price for the economic crimes of a few? (They needn’t have worried: corruption had by then become a way of life in Kenya, and members of the Mwai Kibaki administration, like those in Moi’s government, were adept at using Asian businessmen as front men to carry out its own grand corruption schemes, such as Anglo Leasing.)

When it became clear that Moi’s reign was coming to an end, a panic set in among many Kenyan Asians. What kind of future would they have in a post-Moi era?

After a brief venting period, where Kenyans were allowed to express their anger at what Moi had allowed the country to become, a process of sanitising Moi began. The historical revisionism argued that while Moi had proved to be a dictator, he had in fact been a benevolent one, one who supplied primary school students with free “Nyayo” milk, the one who brokered peace deals with troublesome neighbouring countries, the one who ensured that Kenya remained an “island of tranquility” in a strife-torn region – a line of reasoning that Kenya’s Asian business community had also adopted to explain why they supported Moi.

This process of sanitising Moi has been escalating since Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto (both protégés of Moi), assumed power in 2013. President Uhuru makes regular visits to his political godfather in his Kabarak home, and images of the man who held an iron grip over the country for 24 years have begun appearing more frequently in the media. Moi is increasingly being portrayed as a kindly old man who once held the country together. His prophecy that Kenya would disintegrate into tribal factions under multipartyism even appeared to come true after the 2007 elections when the country appeared to be on the verge of civil war. Twelve years after KANU was ousted, on Moi’s 90th birthday in September 2014, local newspapers carried glowing tributes to the aging dictator, prompting Daily Nation columnist Macharia Gaitho to wonder whether about the shortness of Kenyan memories.

After a brief venting period, where Kenyans were allowed to express their anger at what Moi had allowed the country to become, a process of sanitising Moi began… This proces…has been escalating since Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto (both protégés of Moi), assumed power in 2013… It reached a crescendo this month when Moi Day was celebrated. The official reason given was that the day had not been de-gazetted…

This whitewashing reached a crescendo this month when Moi Day was celebrated, albeit amid controversy. The day has not been observed since the new constitution was promulgated in 2010. (The constitution does not recognise Moi Day as a public holiday.) The official reason given for its return was that the day had not been de-gazetted and so technically and legally, Kenyans had no choice but to recognise it. So, millions of Kenyans who had planned to be at work or school on 10 October had to stay at home because the government ordered them to. Many wondered: of all the public holidays that this government chose to recognise, why would it choose the one that brought back painful memories for so many Kenyans?

Younger Kenyans who came of age in the Kibaki era have little recollection of the Moi days and the retrogressive policies that stunted the country’s economic growth and development by several decades. I once asked a 30-something what he remembered most about Moi, and his answer was simple: the free milk his school got every Tuesday and Thursday, thanks to Baba Moi. He seemed vaguely aware that Moi had done some bad things, but he was not exactly sure what those things were.

While it is true that Moi allocated a large chunk of the national budget to education, and schools bearing his name flourished, he also entrenched mediocrity and corruption within the civil service that allowed the country’s institutions to decay. The “Kalenjinisation” of all arms of government, the wanton grabbing of public land, the siphoning of public funds through friends and cronies, the looting of Kenya’s treasury and other forms of economic sabotage became endemic during his tenure. Moi also oversaw austerity measures imposed by the World Bank and the IMF in the 1990s that led to the deterioration of public services, such as health. By the time Moi left office in 2002, the country was virtually on its knees.

For the people who paid a heavy price for opposing the Moi regime, the declaration of Moi Day as a public holiday was like a slap in the face. Some of these people, like the environmentalist Wangari Maathai (who defied his regime and was beaten black and blue for opposing the construction of a tower at Uhuru Park), my journalist friend, Wahome Mutahi (who spent one year in jail on trumped-up charges of sedition), and opposition leader Kenneth Matiba (who was arrested and tortured and developed a debilitating illness as a result) are now dead, but among the living, there are still those who bear the wounds Moi’s government inflicted on them. I am thinking in particular of the thousands of Kenyans who were tortured or illegally detained by Moi’s men because they were suspected of being dissidents belonging to underground movements like Mwakenya or because they resisted Moi’s authoritarian regime.

For the people who paid a heavy price for opposing the Moi regime, the declaration of Moi Day as a public holiday was like a slap in the face.

The genius of the Moi system is that it normalised everything. Nyayo House, which housed both the Immigration Department and Kenya’s slick new TV channel, KTN, was a site of unspeakable torture. In the torture chambers in the basement, Special Branch officers worked on the detainees. The most dreaded of them was James Opiyo. His name still sends shudders through his victims’ spines. Upstairs, people formed orderly queues for new passports on the ground floor, or read the news on the top floor. They were aware of what was happening in the basement. No one mentioned it or thought it was weird.

‘The Nyayo House basement was no ordinary police cell. In the water-logged rooms detainees stood naked for hours on end. One victim, George Odido, told the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission that he was left submerged in one foot of water for three days without food, and in total silence. Because of the fear of drowning, the detainees did not sleep. Many were crippled for life or suffered severe psychological trauma. Some of these detainees’ fake trials took place in the middle of the night, where compromised judges would hand them harsh jail sentences for crimes that they had not committed.

The genius of Moi was that he made everything look normal even when it was not. He turned Nyayo House, which housed both the Immigration Department and Kenya’s slickest new TV channel, KTN, into a site of unspeakable torture. In the basement of detainees Special Branch officers worked on them. Those applying for passports or reading the news were aware people being tortured downstairs…no one mentioned it or thought it was weird.

We must also remember than it was during Moi’s tenure that the Wagalla massacre in Wajir took place, a shameful “security operation” that resulted in the death of an estimated 4,000 ethnic Somalis in Kenya’s north-east. Moi was president when Foreign Affairs minister, Robert Ouko, was assassinated. And despite his rhetoric of ethnic harmony, his leadership saw the killing and expulsion of thousands of Kikuyus in Rift Valley Province prior to the 1992 and 1997 elections. Not to mention the many anti-government protestors who lost their lives at the hands of the police during demonstrations, such as Saba Saba.

There was also collateral damage. There were the mysterious deaths of people linked to Ouko’s death, including that of Hezekiah Oyugi, the head of Internal Security and one of the main suspects in Ouko’s murder, and Philip Kilonzo, who was the Commissioner of Police when Ouko was killed. One does wonder: if Moi’s government was capable of orchestrating the deaths of his own people, people who were loyal to him, then how many of his opponents were also made to “disappear”?

The Nyayo House basement was no ordinary police cell. In the water-logged rooms detainees stood naked for hours on end. One victim, George Odido, told the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission that he was left submerged in one foot of water for three days without food, and in total silence. Because of the fear of drowning, the detainees did not sleep.

For all those who suffered physical or emotional torture, illegal detention or financial ruin at the hands of Moi, the reinstatement of Moi Day is a painful reminder of not just what they lost during his rule, but also of how his shadow still lurks over Kenya.

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Rasna Warah

Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and journalist. In a previous incarnation, she was an editor at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). She has published two books on Somalia – War Crimes (2014) and Mogadishu Then and Now (2012) – and is the author UNsilenced (2016), and Triple Heritage (1998).


The G20 Is Gathering. Debt Justice Is Our Demand

As the G20 meet to discuss the global economic recovery, the Debt Justice group calls for a radical break with extraction and austerity — and proposes a new system in its place.



The G20 Is Gathering - Debt Justice Is Our Demand
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A tsunami of debt has crashed over the world, and billions of people are drowning. This week, the G20 will meet to decide the direction of global economic recovery. Their power — and their responsibility — point in one direction: drop debt, drive investment, and deliver justice for all peoples of the world.

The pandemic has accelerated inequalities across the planet. Workers have lost $3.7 trillion in income, while billionaires have increased their wealth by $3.9 trillion. Wealthy countries have invested trillions of dollars to inflate their economies. But poor countries have been paralyzed by a $2.5 trillion financing gap that has prevented sufficient pandemic response.

Of more than $13 trillion spent on pandemic recovery worldwide, less than one per cent has gone to the Global South.

But things can get much worse. Before the pandemic, 64 lower-income countries were already spending more to service their international debts than on strengthening their local health systems. Now, the burden of their public debts has increased by around $1.9 trillion — four times the size of Sub-Saharan economy.

The ability to borrow money is critical to government capacity. The domination of imperial currencies like the US dollar, however, means that governments in the Global South must borrow in a foreign currency — and these debts come with higher interest rates than those of their foreign neighbors.

Even in good times, the global economy works to extract cash from the South to deliver to the North.

But when crises hit, Southern currencies lose value against the dollar at the same time that public revenues dry up. The result is a deadly trade-off. To repay debt means shredding the social safety net — a net that stands between billions of people and severe poverty. But failure to pay may be even worse: poor countries risk losing their ability to borrow in the future — all but guaranteeing the disappearance of the safety net they have now.

As the major creditors to the world, the G20 governments have done little to address this deadly trade-off. In 2020, the G20 suspended only 1.66% of the total debt payments due by lower income countries. Instead, they protected the power of vulture funds and holdout creditors to collect money that is desperately needed for response, recovery and climate action.

The G20 have now offered a ‘Common Framework’ to address the emerging debt crisis. This offer is an ultimatum. Either renew the vicious cycle — of indebtedness, austerity, and privatisation — or enter complete financial meltdown.

The G20 Common Framework is not a lifeline for the governments of the Global South. It is their debtors’ prison.

We need to break this system of neo-colonial exploitation — and replace it with a system centred on debt justice and the delivery of green and just transitions everywhere.

What, then, are our demands of the G20?

First, every creditor must participate. In the last ten years alone, private creditors like BlackRock and Glencore have doubled their share of lower income government debt. The G20 must compel all creditors to come to the table and end their exploitation of government desperation.

Second, the G20 must give all countries the chance to restructure their debt — not just those deemed cheap enough by creditors. The G20 system of debt relief serves creditors who give feeble concessions for ‘cheaper’ countries while leaving others to descend deeper into crisis. A debt workout process must be available to any country that asks for it.

Third, the debt workout system must move out of the hands of creditors and into transparent, multilateral oversight. Secrecy and complexity only protect creditors at the expense of self-determination.

Fourth, the system cannot be measured by a ‘Debt Sustainability Framework’ that is designed by the creditors themselves. We need independent debt assessments that incorporate debtors’ basic concerns for health, welfare, and development.

Fifth — and crucially — the G20 must move ahead with real debt cancellation. This is not a short-term liquidity crisis. Only large-scale write-offs will get debt to sustainable levels and kickstart recovery.

Sixth, the G20 must put a final end to austerity. Austerity conditionalities have exposed countries to waves of crises, intensified inequalities, and hollowed out public health systems. It is time to turn on the taps to secure green and just transitions everywhere.

The G20 will try and tell us that they’re doing everything they can — that we should be thankful for their efforts. But the world is not suffering from a lack of resource. We suffer because gargantuan amounts of cash are funneled into the pockets of the few. There is no shortage of ideas we can pursue to reverse this flow. What we lack is the political will, and we won’t stop until we get it.

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USA: For Right-Wing Extremists the Attack on Capitol Hill Was a Victory

The successful attack on Capitol Hill will fuel years of recruitment and mythologising for post-Trump extremists.



USA: For Right-Wing Extremists the Attack on Capitol Hill Was a Victory
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This article was first published by Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

As attacks grow more shocking and dramatic, the size of their audience increases accordingly. While most observers are terrified and outraged by such violence, a small minority become inspired enough to plan attacks of their own. This is how extremist movements grow. This is how they seek to bend the world to their will.

Social media has dramatically increased the effectiveness of spectacular acts of terror. In 2014, ISIS militants used the viral executions of two American hostages to declare war on the United States. They were rewarded with an exponential increase in Western media coverage and tens of thousands of recruits from more than 100 countries. In 2019, a New Zealand-based white supremacist livestreamed his murder of 51 Muslim congregants in the city of Christchurch. His actions prompted numerous copycat attacks and a global resurgence of white ethno-nationalism.

Yet the media impact and symbolic power of these attacks are dwarfed by the events of January 6, 2021, during which far-right extremists stormed and occupied the U.S. Capitol at the encouragement of President Trump. Several carried firearms. Others reportedly planted improvised explosive devices. In less than two hours, they overwhelmed federal police and forced the Congress to flee. They breached the seat of American government that had stood inviolate for 211 years. It was a violent, extraordinary, unthinkable victory; one whose images and videos captivated the world.

This was the most spectacular domestic extremist attack in American history. The individuals who perpetrated this attack will be mythologized as heroes among future extremists. A generation of far-right recruits too young to have participated will spend their lives dreaming of again seizing the U.S. Capitol. In the words of writer Osita Nwanevu, this will become the “Woodstock” of the far-right — the victory and spectacle by which all future actions are measured.

Many of the individuals who directly participated in this action have undergone years of radicalization in extremist online communities and developed a unique culture steeped in ironic violence. They have come to venerate street fighting as the ultimate form of political expression and can name various skirmishes — the 2017 U.S. presidential inauguration, protests in Berkeley and Portland, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the deadly counter-protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin — as a veteran might count battles. Their ranks have swelled in recent months thanks to the popularity of the QAnon delusion and baseless claims of voter fraud that have been aggressively amplified by Trump and his allies.

In some ways, the attack on the U.S. Capitol was the culmination of this violent and conspiratorial movement of pro-Trump communities. Yet because the attack was so catastrophically effective, it also represents the birth of the post-Trump extremist movement. As casual Trump supporters peel away from the network in the weeks to come, they will be replaced by a new cadre who are less politically engaged but far more likely to undertake acts of violence. So it has been with the evolution of extremist movements around the world; so it will now be in the United States.

(Source: @etbrooking/via

(Source: @etbrooking/via

Two factors will make this post-Trump extremist movement uniquely dangerous. The first is the transition to anti-state violence. Participants in the January 6 attack routinely assaulted U.S. Capitol Police (often, ironically, while carrying pro-police paraphernalia). Following the killing of one female participant by law enforcement, online supporters of the attack darkly speculated that the police had been infiltrated by antifa “terrorists.” The woman was quickly recast as a martyr, one whose death might be the spark of a bloody revolution.

Previous far-right, anti-state movements have struggled to gain traction under the Trump presidency. The most successful of these — the so-called “Boogaloo” movement — hid its overt anti-state violence under layers of subtext and irony. When Boogaloo supporters did engage in acts of anti-state terrorism, as with the murder of two California security officers in June 2020, they sapped the movement of popular support. Under a Biden administration, however, this cognitive dissonance will no longer be an issue. If state authorities are seen to be corrupt and working at the behest of a Democratic administration, they will be targets.

The second factor is the mainstream popularity of the far-right extremist movement in the United States. For years, Trump has conditioned Republican voters to support violence as a means of settling political disputes. From the podium, Trump has regularly encouraged assaults on journalists and dehumanized racial and ethnic minorities. This rhetoric has carried terrible consequences. According to a January 6 YouGov poll, 45 percent of Republican voters supported the storming of the U.S. Capitol, seeing it as just another kind of political expression.

This means that a post-Trump extremist movement — even one that routinely engages in violence — may benefit from a level of political support not seen since that of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction-era American South. And so long as the movement remains politically popular, there will be politicians who seek to court it. As much could already be seen when the U.S. Congress reconvened early in the morning of January 7. In their remarks, several Republican legislators sought to trivialize or excuse the attack that had forced them from their chamber. Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-1) went so far as to blame antifa activists, whom he alleged — without evidence — had initiated the attack to give Trump supporters a bad name.

The violent extremist movement inspired by the events of January 6 will rank as one of the great challenges of the Biden presidency. Diminishing the strength of this movement will require disentangling isolated, angry Trump supporters from the much smaller core of extremists who seek to do Americans harm. It will require sapping the January 6 attack of its myth-making potential and to ensure that it is viewed, rightly, as a national embarrassment. Most of all, it will require confronting the pundits and conspiracy theorists who will seek to boost the far-right extremist movement in a grasping bid to retain their relevancy.

This work must begin immediately. The stakes were high before. They are higher now.

The DFRLab team in Cape Town works in partnership with Code for Africa.

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Dismantling and Transcending Colonialism’s Legacy

Nkrumah, Nyerere and Senghor were acutely aware of the need to displace the epistemic conditions of colonization in order to transcend it.



Dismantling and Transcending Colonialism’s Legacy
Photo: Unsplash/berenice melis
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In “decolonial” discourse, the African leadership landscape is flattened to the point of becoming a caricature. In an earlier variation of this caricature, Kwame Nkrumah’s injunction of “seek ye first the political kingdom” was presented by political scientist Ali Mazrui as a deficient obsession with political power to the neglect of the economic. In the current variation, the neglect of epistemic “decoloniality” is characterised as the deficient underbelly of the “nationalist” movement.

Kwame Nkrumah, Sédar Senghor, and Julius Nyerere are not only three of the most cerebral figures of Africa’s “nationalist” movement, but unlike Amilcar Cabral they lived to lead their countries in the aftermath of formal colonial rule.

Contrary declarations notwithstanding, Senghor, Nkrumah, and Nyerere were acutely aware of the colonial epistemological project and the need to transcend it. Indeed, philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s re-reading of Negritude as epistemology argued that its salience lies in the dissolution of the binary opposition of subject and object in the logic of René Descartes. Whatever one’s take on the specificity of Senghor’s claims of Africa’s modes of knowing—by insisting on the interconnectedness of subject and object—he deliberately sought to mark out what is deficient in modern European epistemology and valorise African systems of knowledge. This epistemological project is built on a distinct African ontological premise.

Nkrumah and Nyerere were most acutely aware of the urgent need to displace the epistemic conditions of colonisation. In the case of Nkrumah, the imperative of epistemic decolonisation was most forcefully expressed in the 1962 launch of the Encyclopedia Africana project, initially with W.E.B. Du Bois as editor, and the 1963 launch of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon.

Nkrumah’s 1963 speech at the launch of the Institute stressed the epistemic erasure at the heart of colonialism, linking political and epistemic freedom. “It is only in conditions of total freedom and independence from foreign rule and interferences that the aspirations of our people will see real fulfillment and the African genius finds its best expression,” Nkrumah argued. If colonialism involves the study of Africa from the standpoint of the colonialist, the new Institute of African Studies was charged with studying Africa from the standpoint of Africans. Its responsibility, Nkrumah argued, is the excavation, validation, restoration, and valorisation of African knowledge systems.

Nkrumah exhorted the staff and students at the new Institute to “embrace and develop those aspirations and responsibilities which are clearly essential for maintaining a progressive and dynamic African society.” The study of Africa’s “history, culture, and institutions, languages and arts” must be done, Nkrumah insisted, in “new African centered ways—in entire freedom from the propositions and presuppositions of the colonial epoch.” It is also worth remembering that the subtitle of the most philosophical of Nkrumah’s writings, Consciencism, is “philosophy and ideology for de-colonization.

Much is made about Nyerere surrounding “himself with foreign ‘Fabian socialists.’” Yet the most profound influence on Nyerere’s thoughts and practice was not the varieties of European “socialisms” but the “socialism” of the African village in which he was born and raised—with its norms of mutuality, convivial hospitality, and shared labour. Nyerere’s modes of sense-making (which after all is what epistemology means) was rooted in this ontology and norms of sociality.

For Nyerere, the ethics that are inherent in these norms of sociality stand in sharp contrast to the colonial project. It was, perhaps, in Education for Self-Reliance (1967) that Nyerere set out, most clearly, the task of the educational system in postcolonial Tanganyika, one that is not simply about the production of technical skill but the contents of its pedagogy. It is a pedagogy that requires the transformation of the inherited colonial system of education (Ujamaa: Essays on Socialism, 1968). The pedagogy is anchored on the three principles of Nyerere’s idea of a society framed by African socialism: “quality and respect for human dignity; sharing of the resources which are produced by our efforts; work by everyone and exploitation by none.” It frames the ethics of a new, postcolonial society.

Whatever their limitations, it was not for lack of aspiration and imagination. Nyerere is the one who most aptly communicated to us the responsibility of the current generation to pick up the baton where the older generation laid it down. The struggle for political independence was never understood as an end in itself. The ‘flag independence’ we so decry makes possible the task that subsequent generations must undertake and fulfill. The task of realising the postcolonial vision is as much a responsibility of the current generation as it was of the older generation.

Finally, as Mwalimu reminds us, on matters concerning Africa, “the sin of despair would be the most unforgivable.” Avoiding that sin starts with acknowledging and embracing the positive efforts of the older generation while advancing the pan-African project today.

This piece is part of the “Reclaiming Africa’s Early Post-Independence History” series from Post-Colonialisms Today (PCT), a research and advocacy project of activist-intellectuals on the continent recapturing progressive thought and policies from early post-independence Africa to address contemporary development challenges. Sign up for updates here.

This post is from a new 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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