In the weeks leading up to Kenya’s 2022 presidential election I wrote a piece that attempted to explain why Raila Odinga was not winning by a landslide and sent it in to the Elephant. It started by pointing out that given that Odinga was a long-term opposition leader who enjoyed strong support among the country’s marginalised and disenchanted communities, he might have expected to win the election at a canter after receiving the backing of President Uhuru Kenyatta. After all, the “handshake” between the two leaders appeared to have removed one of the main barriers to Odinga winning a general election, namely the state machinery that he and his supporters have consistently argued has been used to lock him out of power.
Yet despite the Azimio coalition bringing together the sitting president and the country’s most powerful opposition leader, Odinga did not seem to be running away with the election. The feeling I got from different parts of the country was that many voters were disenchanted with the handshake and the prospects of an Odinga/Kenyatta alliance. Opinion polls also suggested that the campaign was struggling to get into first gear, and that his main rival, William Ruto, retained an advantage. So I sat down to try and explain why, and wrote a piece about the four challenges that I thought his campaign faced, and why they meant he could lose the popular vote.
Then something changed.
The opinion polls began to shift. According to newspapers such as the Daily Nation, Odinga first went into a slight lead and then began to pull away. In one influential poll released just six days to polling day, the Daily Nation put Odinga 8 per cent ahead of Ruto. I distrusted these polls for a number of reasons: a nationally representative private poll my research group had commissioned put the election much closer, with Odinga leading by just over 2 per cent; telephone-based and computer-assisted polls would ignore the poorest members of society, who might be more likely to support Ruto’s “bottom up” economic message; some respondent’s may have been worried about saying they would vote for a candidate not favoured by the president; and, the media had tended to favour Odinga in its coverage. But as more and more polls came out giving Odinga a large lead, my belief in my argument waned. Maybe I had got it wrong, and the Azimio campaign had found a way of overcoming its own contradictions.
I soon lost confidence in my argument and, not wanting to publish analysis that I wasn’t sure about, I wrote to the editors at the Elephant asking them to shelve the piece.
In the wake of the announcement that William Ruto had won the presidential election with 50.49 per cent of the vote, my mind has consistently returned to the piece, because I think it may shed some light on the outcome. The results, of course, have been rejected by Odinga’s team which has petitioned the Supreme Court to try and overturn Ruto’s victory. But even if Kenya heads to a “fresh” election, or a run-off, it seems clear that Azimio struggled to excite and mobilise the electorate – including in his “home” counties. Whatever this was, it was not a resounding victory for Odinga and the “handshake”.
So in the hope that it might help those seeking to understand what happened in the elections – and because the analysis will still be relevant if the country requires a second presidential poll – I decided to publish the initial piece. The main analysis – which starts in the first section below – remains untouched. All that has been changed is this introduction, with a new conclusion inserted at the end of the piece to connect the discussion to the actual election results.
My argument ran as follows. Odinga’s campaign suffered from four major challenges: the fact that he lost popular trust following the handshake with Kenyatta, the president’s own unpopularity among key communities and his inability to deliver his own community, the mixed messages being sent out by the campaign, and a complacency that the election was in the bag. These weaknesses threatened to undermine his support not only in competitive areas such as central Kenya, but also in his own heartlands. This might not have mattered against a weak opponent, but Odinga was facing one of the most effective strategists in Kenyan politics. Ruto had begun to lay the groundwork for the 2022 campaign well in advance of 2017, ensuring that his allies were elected in key areas in that year’s general elections. In addition, through his “hustler” narrative and critique of privileged “dynasties” Ruto had hit upon a message that resonated with a cross-section of Kenyans suffering significant economic hardships.
If Odinga’s campaign did not resolve its internal contradictions, I argued, Ruto could well emerge victorious.
From this point onwards, I reproduce original article.
No longer the people’s president
Odinga’s reputation as an opposition stalwart was hard won and well deserved. He played a key role in helping Mwai Kibaki to mobilise support ahead of the 2002 elections, securing the country’s first ever transfer of power at the ballot box. Odinga then broke from President Kibaki when it became clear that he had no intention of either pursuing constitutional reform or keeping the promises he had made to his allies. Having defeated Kibaki in a constitutional referendum that would have taken the country backwards, he continued to campaign for reform.
Ruto had begun to lay the groundwork for the 2022 campaign well in advance of 2017, ensuring that his allies were elected in key areas in that year’s general elections.
In this way, Odinga played a major role in the introduction of a new constitution in 2010, even if it took the 2007/8 post-election crisis to generate the necessary political will to change the rules of Kenya’s political game. With the introduction of a Supreme Court and a system of devolution that created 47 new county governments, this represented a major democratic breakthrough that has profoundly shaped the country’s politics ever since.
Despite serving as Prime Minister in the power sharing administration that ushered in the new constitution, Odinga’s reputation as an opposition leader was further cemented in the years that followed. On the one hand, he was declared the loser in a series of close and often bruising election defeats in 2007, 2013 and 2017, which were made even harder to take by the fact that each time he was convinced he had been cheated. On the other hand, Odinga increasingly refused to play politics by the rules laid down by President Kenyatta, boycotting the “fresh” presidential election in 2017 and then refusing to accept the legitimacy of Kenyatta’s victory – ultimately being sworn in as the “people’s president” by his supporters in a controversial ceremony in Nairobi.
Against this backdrop, the “handshake” between Odinga and Kenyatta that ended their long-running standoff on 9 March 2018 took many of his supporters by surprise. Moving into government, and securing no immediate concessions in return for calling off his protests, made it look like Odinga had given up his fight for political change. Worse still, it opened him up to accusations that he had sold out those who had made great sacrifices to fight his corner, prioritising his own wealth and security ahead of their dreams.
The impact of this move on Odinga’s reputation continues to be underestimated, even today. At the elite level, it led to figures such as public intellectual and political strategist David Ndii abandoning Odinga and throwing their weight behind Ruto on the basis that he represented the only credible challenge to the corrupt ruling clique. But perhaps the biggest impact was among ordinary Kenyans. In a nationally representative survey conducted in mid-July 2020, only 18 per cent of respondents said that they trusted Odinga “a lot” and 42 per cent said “not at all”. This decline was not only felt among groups that have historically not associated with Odinga such as those who live in central (51 per cent “not at all”), it also extended to western (45 per cent) and even Nyanza itself (31 per cent).
Controversial primaries or “nominations” don’t help this situation. As I wrote at the time, discussing the winners and losers of the process, “Odinga—and his ODM party—have come out rather bruised. They have been accused of nepotism, bribery and of ignoring local wishes. This is a particularly dangerous accusation for Odinga, as it plays into popular concerns that, following his “handshake” with President Kenyatta and his adoption as the candidate of the “establishment”, he is a “project” of wealthy and powerful individuals who wish to retain power through the backdoor after Kenyatta stands down having served two-terms in office.”
What is particularly striking about the trust numbers from July 2020 is that at the time the poll was conducted – the numbers shifted in later surveys – trust in Odinga lagged considerably behind William Ruto. According to the poll, only 23 per cent of Kenyans trusted Ruto “not at all” and this figure was particularly low in key battleground regions such as central (19 per cent). This represented a remarkable turnaround for Ruto – who was once found by a survey to be the most feared leader in Kenya – and meant that Odinga started the 2022 election campaign from a position of weakness.
The Kenyatta problem
The reputational fallout from the handshake has been reinforced by the strong support Odinga’s candidacy has received from President Kenyatta and his allies. Not only is the president visibly in Odinga’s corner, but his allies in the ruling party are active parts of the Azimio coalition. This has created the perception that Odinga is being used as a stooge by the Kenyatta family and their clique to protect their interests in the next government.
Such an accusation would not have been so damaging in the past, but Kenyatta’s credibility has fallen in the last five years. Against the backdrop of a struggling economy and rising unemployment and poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, the president’s failure to deliver on key election promises, or to reduce corruption, has created the perception that he and his government are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. This situation is only likely to get worse over the coming months, as the fallout from the war in Ukraine and the food shortages in the region push up the prices of essentials. Petrol prices are already set to be the highest in Kenyan history.
The reputational fallout from the handshake has been reinforced by the strong support Odinga’s candidacy has received from President Kenyatta and his allies.
Odinga’s dependence on Kenyatta for financial and state support is thus as much of a curse as it is a blessing. At a moment when many Kenyans are desperate for change, Odinga’s alliance with Kenyatta makes him look like the continuity candidate.
Yet this is not the worst of it. Being seen to be a “project” or a “puppet” for other interests can be politically fatal in Kenya because it implies that a leader cannot be trusted to deliver to their own communities. Odinga should know this well, because it was in part this accusation that undermined the efforts of Musalia Mudavadi to mobilise the support of his Luhya community in the 2013 general election, and so enabled Odinga to dominate the vote in western province. Mudavadi’s career has never fully recovered.
Odinga may also gain little from Kenyatta’s support in central Kenya itself. At present he is losing the region in most credible opinion polls despite Kenyatta’s support, and it is unclear whether Kikuyu leaders can really rally support for a leader who they have demonised repeatedly for decades. Kenyatta is also highly unpopular in parts of central Kenya himself – in a survey our research team conducted in July 2022, 21 per cent of Kikuyu, Embu and Meru voters said that Kenyatta’s endorsement made them less likely to vote for a candidate, compared to 17 per cent of Luos.
Yet despite this, Azimio has done little to counter the idea that Odinga is not his own man. Instead of creating clear blue water between the two leaders when setting up the new coalition, Azimio appointed Kenyatta as its chairman. And by using Kenyatta’s speeches as a vehicle to demonise Ruto and so try and so limit his support in central Kenya, Azimio has consistently reminded Kenyans that Kenyatta is a central part of the Odinga team. This created a gaping open goal, enabling Odinga’s opponents to score numerous points at his expense. Most notably, Ruto – always one to find a punchy phrase to sum up popular frustrations – has taken great delight in warning that if Odinga were to win, Kenyans would suffer a “remote-controlled presidency”.
In the past, Odinga’s messaging was powerful and clear, but it is now unconvincing. This is partly because his campaign has to cope with the internal contradictions of being an opposition leader backed by the establishment. But it also reflects muddled thinking and a failure to capture the public imagination.
Back in the day, you knew where you were with an Odinga campaign. He was in favour of constitutional reform, devolution, and shifting power and resources in the direction of the country’s economically and politically marginalised ethnic groups. This gave him a clear brand and an obvious set of slogans. Things have looked rather different since 2010, however, and it is important to realise that the challenges facing Odinga have a history that predates the 2022 general elections.
Being seen to be a “project” or a “puppet” for other interests can be politically fatal in Kenya because it implies that a leader cannot be trusted to deliver to their own communities.
In one respect, Odinga was a victim of his own success. The achievement of a new constitution complete with devolution took away one of his main demands. Thereafter, Odinga’s team has struggled to find as effective a framing device that would resonate with as wide a range of communities. In post-2010 elections, Odinga has presented himself as the defender of the new arrangements – the only leader who could be trusted to make sure that devolution was protected and extended. In some ways this made sense – devolution was very popular – but as all good politicians know, promising to make something a bit better is never going to excite voters as much as promising something completely new and game changing.
Campaigning on the same issue also risked making Odinga look like a one trick pony – something that his then Jubilee rivals took full advantage of. In 2013, for example, Jubilee leaders sought to tap into popular excitement at the new technological opportunities transforming the country by claiming that they were “digital” while Odinga was “analogue”.
The 2022 campaign has brought with it even greater challenges. By presenting himself as the opposition candidate on the side of Kenya’s hard working “hustlers”, Ruto has appropriated Odinga’s approach and updated it for a new generation. At the same time, the closer relationship between Odinga and Kenyatta has generated suspicions that an Azimio government would predominantly benefit their Kikuyu and Luo communities, respectively. The obvious implication of this is that an Odinga presidency would preserve rather than challenge the greater economic and political opportunities that communities that have held the presidency currently enjoy. Along with Odinga’s damaged reputation, this has made it much harder to craft a message that resonates with communities that have never tasted power – i.e. with Odinga’s historical support base.
These issues have led Odinga to make a series of speeches that have been couched in warm tones, identifying important lessons from Kenya’s past without presenting any clear blueprint for how to navigate its future. Such narratives no doubt evoke warm memories, in particular the role that Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta – Raila and Uhuru’s fathers – played in the nationalist struggle. But they are unlikely to excite the county’s youth, who are too young remember this history, have borne the brunt of recent economic downturn, and represent more than three-quarters of the population.
These challenges could have been overcome by a creative campaign that highlighted past government failings and promised to put them right. But Azimio has gotten itself in such a mess that such a campaign has not been possible. There are two aspects to this. First, it is unclear who is actually in control of Odinga’s campaign. Strong rumours suggest that powerful figures around Kenyatta – most notably his influential brother Muhoho – have as much sway as long-time ODM leaders. It is not hard to see how such a situation would lead to mixed messages and undermine Odinga’s ability to position himself against Kenyatta’s legacy. While the president is understood to have informed Odinga’s team that he understands that they may need to distance his candidacy from the current government, others around Kenyatta are said to be extremely sensitive about any criticism, binding the hands of Odinga’s speech writers.
As all good politicians know, promising to make something a bit better is never going to excite voters as much as promising something completely new and game changing.
Second, the Azimio coalition has struggled for unity and purpose. The difficulty of integrating its numerous parties into a common organization and slate of candidates was so great that it proved to be easier to change the law to allow coalitions to be registered as parties than to create a more unified political vehicle. Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza alliance is not without these challenges, but the greater number of leaders and parties involved on the Azimio side mitigates against a clear and coherent structure and leadership. As Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) spokesperson Lucas Maitha put it, as his party tried to quit the coalition: “There is a lot of confusion in the coalition today. Nobody knows who is calling the shots in Azimio”.
The lack of integration within the coalition also means that it risks fighting against itself when it comes to some downstream races for Governor, Senator, Member of Parliament and MCA. Kenyans don’t have to look back far in history to see the impact that this kind of fragmented campaign can have. It was exactly the same set of challenges that undermined the campaign of President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity in 2007, and led to what was effectively the “incumbent” grouping losing control of the National Assembly.
The complacency of the powerful
You might have thought that the challenges outlined above would lead to significant changes to the campaign structure and a real sense of urgency. Instead, what is striking is the apparent complacency within the Azimio coalition. This appears to be rooted in two assumptions. The first is that Kenyan politics is still essentially an ethnic census, in which success simply requires you to recruit the most “Big Men” (or “Big Women”). The second is that whichever candidate has the backing of the state is bound to win. On that basis, Odinga cannot lose.
But these are flawed and deeply dangerous assumptions. Many of the leaders behind Odinga have no capacity to direct the votes of the communities they claim to lead. Odinga gained ground on Ruto when other leaders such as Kalonzo Musyoka officially joined his side, but the likes of Gideon Moi and Charity Ngilu bring few votes with them. Ruto has also demonstrated a remarkable ability to penetrate the support base of his rivals, and is currently the most popular candidate among the Kikuyu, turning assumptions about ethnic voting on their head.
The assumption that the state can simply deliver an election is also problematic. Spending more money doesn’t mean you necessarily get more votes – especially if the money is seen to be tainted by corruption. Using the security forces to intimidate rival voters or applying pressure to the electoral commission can be effective, but if Odinga remains behind in the polls, any blatant attempt to manipulate the process would return Kenya to the political crisis of 2007/8. Moreover, with the emergence of an assertive Supreme Court that just rejected Odinga’s proposed “Building Bridges Initiative” constitutional changes, even these more cynical strategies can no longer guarantee victory.
Spending more money doesn’t mean you necessarily get more votes – especially if the money is seen to be tainted by corruption.
Azimio leaders therefore have no room for complacency. Yet that is just what they are demonstrating.
The original text ends here; what follows is a reflection on the official results of the election, and what they tell us about the accuracy of the foregoing arguments.
The 2022 election results: The Handshake blues
It is too early to know what the 2022 election results will look like after a Supreme Court petition, and correlation is not causation, but some of the results suggest that the intuitions outlined above may have been on the money.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the results was the strength of support for Ruto in Central Kenya. Most notably, neither Kenyatta nor Odinga’s running mate Martha Karua proved able to mobilise much support in the region. While Odinga performed better than he had done in 2017 – demonstrating that he did gain something from his chosen alliances – Ruto convincingly defeated him in Kenyatta and Karua’s home polling stations. In Murang’a County, Ruto secured over 343,000 and Odinga just over 73,000, with a turnout of 68 per cent. In Nyeri, Ruto won with 272,000 votes and Odinga just 52,000, on another 68 per cent turnout. And in Kiambu Ruto polled a massive 606,000 to Odinga’s 210,000 on a 65 per cent turnout.
Much less commentary has focussed on the elections in what are usually thought of as Odinga’s home areas, in part because much of the Azimio accusations of electoral manipulation have focussed on central Kenya, but there is an interesting story to be told here as well.
Things don’t look that damaging for Odinga if you just scan the numbers quickly without putting them in context. In Homa Bay, Odinga polled almost 400,000 votes and Ruto got under 4,000 on a 74 per cent turnout. Odinga also won overwhelmingly in Siaya (371,000 to 4,000) on a 71 per cent turnout and in Kisumu (420,000 to 10,000) on a 71 per cent turnout. These landslide victories are the stuff of politicians’ dreams, and turnout percentages in the 70s look healthy compared to most parts of the world.
Indeed, these results look pretty good until you remember that these counties are in Odinga’s electoral base, where he was hoping for the kind of overwhelming wall of support he received in previous elections. In 2013, turnout in Nyanza was 89 per cent. Homa Bay recorded 94 per cent, Siaya, 92 per cent, Kisumu 90 per cent – an average of around 20 per cent higher than 2022. Moreover, comparing the 2022 turnout in these areas with Ruto’s heartlands reveals striking differences. In Bomet, Ruto won 283,000 votes to Odinga’s 13,000 on a turnout of 80 per cent. In Elgeyo Marakwet, he secured 160,000 to Odinga’s 5,000 on a 78 per cent turnout. And in Kericho he polled 319,000 to Odinga’s 15,000 on a turnout of 79 per cent. Overall, the four counties in the country with the highest turnout all went to Ruto.
Odinga also suffered from a similar drop in turnout in other areas that have historically supported him. While he won the vote at the Coast, in a number of counties it was much closer and turnout collapsed. In Mombasa, Odinga polled 161,000 votes to Ruto’s 113,000 on a turnout of just 44 per cent. Azimio leaders will complain that this was due to the last minute cancellation of the governorship election, and that that may have had an impact, but Mombasa was far from the only county in the Coast to see a decline. In Kwale, it was 125,000 for Odinga and 52,000 for Ruto on a 55 per cent turnout. Back in 2013, turnout had been 66 per cent in Mombasa and 72 per cent in Kwale. While turnout declined in every county in 2022, the route to victory planned by the Odinga team assumed that they would be able to at least match his 2017 performance in his home areas now that he was backed by the power of the state.
Taken together, these figures suggest a common story. Potential Azimio voters in all three regions were unpersuaded by the handshake. In central Kenya, former Kenyatta supporters were not prepared to accept Odinga and instead flocked to Ruto. In Nyanza and the Coast, some Odinga supporters, disenchanted by his alliance with Kenyatta stayed at home, denying him the numbers needed for victory. Had Nyanza and the Coast turned out as they have done in the past, Odinga would not just have secured a second round run-off, he would probably have won outright.
Odinga also suffered from a similar drop in turnout in other areas that have historically supported him.
This is not to imply that Ruto did not earn his victory – he campaigned hard on a message cleverly designed to profit from Odinga’s difficulties, and many of the votes he won were not simply negative rejections of the handshake but a vote for change. But that message was so effective against Odinga – the archetypal “change” candidate – precisely because the handshake and his alliance with Kenyatta undermined his ability to persuade potential supporters that his presidency would deliver anything different to the last eight years.
This core challenge will remain if the presidential election needs to be re-run, and even now it seems like key lessons are not being learned. With so much effort going into making allegations of electoral manipulation, there seems to have been little time for Azimio leaders to reflect on what may have gone wrong and why. Even if those around Odinga believe they were hard done by in Central, it doesn’t seem plausible that their performance was undermined by manipulation in Nyanza, an area in which Ruto’s team has had very little presence. Yet there seems to be little recognition that Azimio may have simply have gotten its tactics badly wrong.
If the campaign strategy remains the same, with the added challenge of having to re-mobilise citizens who are tired of the election and may blame Azimio for further disruption on the basis that they refused to accept defeat, the outcome of a “fresh” election is unlikely to be different to the first.
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Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy
If Rwanda is to attain its stated ambition to become of a middle-income country by 2035 driven by the knowledge economy, then it must inject significant investments in the education and related sectors.
Rwanda has shown commitment to bring improvements to its education sector. The development of Human capital that involves the enhancement of the education and health sectors was one of the main pillars of Rwanda’s development programme launched in 2000 to transform the country into a middle income state driven by the knowledge economy by 2020. Many developed countries joined in to financially support Rwanda to fulfil its development ambitions.
But while Rwanda did not meet its target to transform into a middle-income state by 2020, it has nevertheless made progress in the education sector that should be recognised. The country has now near-universal access to primary education with net enrolment rates of 98 per cent. There are also roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Rwanda. Compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda has made great improvements in the education sector based on the gains made in primary school gross enrolment, out-of-school and retention rates and considering that the country came out of a genocidal civil war in the 1990s. Those of us living and travelling across the country can also see that the government of Rwanda has built more schools across the country to address congestion in classrooms.
However, education in Rwanda is faced with serious challenges which, if not addressed, the country will not attain its ambition to become a middle-income by 2035 and a high-income by 2050. The World Bank’s comparison with middle- and high-income countries, to whose ranks Rwanda aspires to join, shows that Rwanda lags far behind in primary and lower secondary school completion levels.
The gains made in education are not equally distributed across Rwanda. There are, for instance, wide disparities in lower secondary education by income and urban–rural residence. Whereas lower secondary school gross enrolment ratio level is 82 per cent in urban areas, it is only 44 per cent in rural areas. Moreover, transition rates between primary and lower secondary education are 53 per cent in urban areas, and 33 per cent in rural areas. School completion is 52 per cent among the richest quintile while it is 26 per cent among the poorest. Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.
The standard of education in Rwanda is another major challenge. At the end of Grade 3, 85 per cent of Rwandan students were rated “below comprehension” in a recent reading test, and one in six could not answer any reading comprehension question. In my view, the quality of education has been partly affected by the abrupt changes in the language of instruction that have taken place without much planning since 2008.
Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.
Learning levels in basic education remain low in Rwanda. Children in the country can expect to complete 6.5 years of pre-primary and basic education by the age of 18 years. However, when this is adjusted for learning it translates to only about 3.8 years, implying that children in Rwanda have a learning gap of 2.7 years. This is a concern.
Education in Rwanda is also impended by high levels of malnutrition for children under 5 years. Although there have been improvements over time, malnutrition levels remain significantly high at 33 per cent. Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings. It also deprives the economy of quality human capital that is critical to Rwanda attaining its economic goals and sustaining its economic gains. In 2012, Rwanda lost 11.5 per cent of GDP as a result of child undernutrition.
Because of low learning levels and high levels of malnutrition in children under 5 years, Rwanda has consistently ranked below average on the World Bank’s Human Capital index since 2018, the year the index was first published. HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens.
If Rwanda is to develop the competent workforce needed to transform the country into a knowledge-based economy and bring it into the ranks of middle-income states, the government must put significant public spending in basic education. This has not been the case over the past decades. According to the World Bank, Rwanda’s public spending on primary education has been significantly lower than the average for sub-Saharan African countries with similar coverage of primary school level as Rwanda. This low spending on primary education has translated into relatively modest pay for teachers and low investment in their professional development which in turn affects the provision of quality education in Rwanda. The government recently increased teachers’ salary but the increment is being eroded by, among other things, food price inflation in Rwanda.
Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings.
Going forward, Rwanda’s spending on education needs to be increased and allocated to improving standards. Considering that the underlying cause of the high rate of malnourishment in children is food insecurity, the government needs to spend more on the agriculture sector. This sector employs 70 per cent of the labour force but has received only 10 per cent of total public investment. Public investment in Rwanda has in the past gone to the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions sector rather than towards addressing pressing scarcities. This approach must be reviewed.
Increasing public expenditure in education and connected sectors should also be combined with strengthening accountability in the government institutions responsible for promoting the quality of education in basic schools and in promoting food security and livelihoods in Rwanda. This is because not a year goes by without the office of the Rwanda auditor general reporting dire inefficiencies in these institutions.
Strengthening institutional accountability can be achieved if the country adapts its consensual democracy by opening up the political space to dissenting voices. Doing so would surely enhance the effectiveness of checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda, including in the education sector, and would enable the country to efficiently reach its development targets.
No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States
Adam Mayer praises a new collection, Liberated Texts, which includes rediscovered books on Africa’s socialist intellectual history and political economy, looking at the startling, and frequently long ignored work of Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu and Makhan Singh.
Liberated Texts is a magnificent, essential, exciting tome that feels like a bombshell. This incredibly rich collection is a selection that is deep, wide, as well as entertaining. The book focuses on twenty-one volumes from the previous one hundred years, with a geographical range from the UK, the US, Vietnam, Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, the Middle East, Ireland, Malaysia, Africa (especially East Africa), Europe, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, focusing on books that are without exception, foundational.
The collection is nothing less than a truth pill: in composite form, the volume corrects world history that Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States offered for the sterile, historical curriculum on domestic (US) history. The volume consists of relatively short reviews (written by a wide collection of young and old academics and activists from every corner of the globe) but together they reflect such a unified vision that I would recommend Liberated Texts as compulsory reading for undergraduate students (as well as graduates!) Although the text is a broad canvas it speaks to our age (despite some of the reviewed book having been written in the 1920s).
Each review is by default, a buried tresure. The writer of this very review is a middle-aged Hungarian, which means that some of the works and authors discussed were more familiar to me than they would be to others. For example, Anton Makarenko’s name was, when the author grew up in the People’s Republic of Hungary, a household word. Makarenko’s continued relevance for South America and the oppressed everywhere, as well as his rootedness in the revolutionary transformations of the Soviet experiment, are dealt with here marvellosly by Alex Turrall (p. 289). In loving detail Turrall also discusses his hero the pedagogue Sukhomlinsky’s love for Stalinist reforms of Soviet education (p. 334).
There is one locus, and one locus only, where death is given reign, perhaps even celebrated: in a Palestinian case (p. 133) the revolutionary horizons are firmly focused on the past, not on any kind of future. The entire problematic of Israeli society’s recent ultra right-wing turn (a terrible outcome from the left’s point of view) is altogther missing here. Yet it is difficult to fault the authors or editors with this (after all, they painstakingly included an exemplary anti-Nazi Palestinian fighter in the text, p. 152) but it might be in order to challenge a fascination with martyrdom as a revolutionary option on the radical left.
In every other aspect, Liberated Texts enlightens without embarrassment, and affirms life itself. Imperialism is taken on in the form of unresolved murders of Chinese researchers in the United States as a focus (p. 307), and in uncovering the diabolical machinations of the peer-review system – racist, classist, prestige-driven as it is (p. 305).
The bravery of this collection is such that we find few authors within academia’s tenure track: authors are either emeriti, tenured, very young academics, or those dedicated to political work: actual grassroots organizers, comrades at high schools, or as language teachers. This has a very beneficial effect on the edited volume as an enterprise at the forefront of knowledge, indeed of creating new knowledge. Career considerations are absent entirely from this volume, in which thankfully even the whiff of mainstream liberalism is anathema.
I can say with certainty regarding the collection’s Africanist chapters that certain specialists globally, on African radical intellectual history, have been included: Leo Zeilig, Zeyad el-Nabolsy, Paul O’Connell, Noosim Naimasiah and Corinna Mullin all shed light on East African (as well as Caribbean) socialist intellectual history in ways that clear new paths in a sub-discipline that is underfunded, purposely confined to obscurity, and which lacks standard go-to syntheses especially in the English language (Hakim Adi’s celebrated history on pan-Africanism and communism stops with the 1950s, and other works are in the making).
Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu, Makhan Singh are the central authors dealt with here. Rodney is enjoying a magnificent and much deserved renaissance (but this collection deals with a lost collection of Rodney’s 1978 Hamburg lectures by Zeilig!) Nabolsy shows us how Nyerere’s Marxist opposition experienced Ujamaa, and Tanzanian ’socialism’. Nabudere – a quintessential organic intellectual as much as Rodney – is encountered in praxis as well as through his thought and academic achievements in a chapter by Corinna Mullin. Nabudere emerges as a towering figure whose renaissance might be in the making right at this juncture. Singh makes us face the real essence of British imperialism. Nabudere, Babu and even Hirji’s achievements in analysing imperialism and its political economy are all celebrated in the collection.
Where Shivji focuses on empire in its less violent aspect (notably NGOs and human rights discourse) powerfully described by Paul O’Connell, Naimasiah reminds us that violence had been as constitutive to Britain’s empire, as it has been to the Unites States (in Vietnam or in Korea). An fascinating chapter in the collection is provided by Marion Ettinger’s review of Richard Boyle’s Mutiny in Vietnam, an account based entirely on journalism, indeed impromptu testimony, of mutinous US soldiers tired of fighting for Vietnam’s landlord class.
Many readers of this anthology will identify with those veterans (since the collection appears in the English language) perhaps more than with East Asia’s magnificent, conscious fighters also written about in the book. Even in armies of the imperialist core, humanity shines through. Simply put, there are no imperialist peoples, only imperialist states.
Zeilig’s nuanced take on this important matter is revealed in Rodney’s rediscovered lectures. Also, the subtlety of class analysis in relation to workers versus peasants, and the bureacratic bourgeoisie profiting from this constellation (p. 219) brings to mind the contradiction that had arguably brought down Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist president who nevertheless found himself opposing working class demands. Rodney’s politics in Guyana invited the same fate as Sankara, as we know.
Nabolsy’s review on Hirji’s The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher touches on very interesting issues of Rodney’s role especially in the context of Ujamaa and Nyerere’s idiosyncratic version of African socialism. Nabolsy appreciates Nyerere efforts but analyses his politics with great candour: Ujamaa provided national unification, but failed to undermine Tanzania’s dependency in any real sense. The sad realization of the failure of Tanzania’s experience startles the reader with its implications for the history of African socialism.
On an emotional and personal level, I remain most endeared by the Soviet authors celebrated in this text. So Makarenko and Sukhomlinsky are both Soviet success stories and they demonstrate that this combination of words in no oxymoron, and neither is it necessarily, revisionist mumbo-jumbo. Their artificial removal from their historical context (which had happened many times over in Makarenko’s case, and in one particular account when it comes to Sukhomlinsky) are fought against by the author with Leninist gusto.
Sukhomlinsky had not fought against a supposedly Stalinist education reform: he built it, and it became one of the most important achievements of the country by the 1960s due partly to his efforts. The former educational pioneer did not harm children: he gave them purpose, responsibility, self-respect, and self-esteem. The implication of Sukhomlinsky and Makarenko is that true freedom constructs its own order, and that freedom ultimately thrives on responsibility, and revolutionary freedom.
As this collection is subtitled Volume One, it is my hope and expectation that this shall be the beginning of a series of books, dealing with other foundational texts, and even become a revolutionary alternative to The London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, both of which still demonstrate how much readers crave review collections. Volumes like Liberated Texts might be the very future of book review magazines in changed form. A luta continua!
This article was first published by ROAPE.
We Must Democratize the Economy
In the UK, prices for basic goods are soaring while corporations rake in ever-bigger profits. The solution, Jeremy Corbyn argues, is to bring basic resources like energy, water, railways, and the postal service into democratic public ownership.
On Thursday, December 15, the Royal College of Nursing went on strike for the first time in their 106-year history. Understaffed, underpaid, and overworked, tens of thousands of National Health Service (NHS) nurses walked out after being denied decent, livable pay rises. Hailed as heroes one year, forced to use food banks the next, nurses’ wages have fallen more than £3,000 in real terms since 2010; three in four now say they work overtime to meet rising energy bills.
People will remember 2022 as the year that the Conservative Party plunged this country into political turmoil. However, behind the melodrama is a cost-of-living crisis that has pushed desperate people into destitution and the so-called middle classes to the brink. We should remember 2022 as the year in which relative child poverty reached its highest levels since 2007 and real wage growth reached its lowest levels in half a century. (Average earnings have shrunk by £80 a month and a staggering £180 a month for public sector workers.) These are the real scandals.
For some MPs, this was the year they kick-started their reality TV careers. For others, this was the year they told their children they couldn’t afford any Christmas presents. For energy companies, it was the year they laughed all the way to the bank; in the same amount of time it took for Rishi Sunak to both lose and then win a leadership contest, Shell returned £8.2 billion in profit. SSE, a multinational energy company headquartered in Scotland, saw their profits triple in just one year. Profits across the world’s seven biggest oil firms rose to almost £150 billion.
Tackling the cost-of-living crisis means offering an alternative to our existing economic model — a model that empowers unaccountable companies to profit off the misery of consumers and the destruction of our earth. And that means defending a value, a doctrine, and a tradition that unites us all: democracy.
Labour recently announced “the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people.” I welcomed the renewal of many of the policies from the manifesto in 2019: abolishing the House of Lords and handing powers to devolved governments, local authorities, and mayors. These plans should work hand in hand, to ensure any second chamber reflects the geographical diversity of the country. If implemented, this would decentralize a Whitehall-centric model of governance that wastes so much of this country’s regional talent, energy, and creativity.
However, devolution, decentralization, and democracy are not just matters for the constitution. They should characterize our economy too. Regional governments are demanding greater powers for the same reason an unelected second chamber is patently arcane: we want a say over the things that affect our everyday lives. This, surely, includes the way in which our basic resources are produced and distributed.
From energy to water and from rail to mail, a small number of companies monopolize the production of basic resources to the detriment of the workers they exploit and the customers they fleece. We rely on these services, and workers keep them running, but it is remote chief executive officers and unaccountable shareholders who decide how they are run and profit off their provision. Would it not make more sense for workers and consumers to decide how to run the services they provide and consume?
As prices and profits soar, it’s time to put basic resources like energy, water, rail, and mail back where they belong: in public hands. Crucially, this mold of public ownership would not be a return to 1940s-style patronage-appointed boards but a restoration of civic accountability. Water, for example, should be a regional entity controlled by consumers, workers, and local authorities, and work closely with environmental agencies on water conservation, sewage discharges, the preservation of coastlines, and the protection of our natural world. This democratic body would be answerable to the public, and the public alone, rather than to the dividends of distant hedge funds.
Bringing energy, water, rail, and mail into democratic public ownership is about giving local people agency over the resources they use. It’s about making sure these resources are sustainably produced and universally distributed in the interests of workers, communities, and the planet.
Beyond key utilities, a whole host of services and resources require investment, investment that local communities should control. That’s why, in 2019, we pledged to establish regional investment banks across the country, run by local stakeholders who can decide — collectively — how best to direct public investment. Those seeking this investment would not make their case with reference to how much profit they could make in private but how much they could benefit the public as a whole.
To democratize our economy, we need to democratize workplaces too. We can end workplace hierarchies and wage inequalities by giving workers the right to decide, together, how their team operates and how their pay structures are organized. If we want to kick-start a mass transfer of power, we need to redistribute wealth from those who hoard it to those who create it.
Local people know the issues facing them, and they know how to meet them better than anyone else. If we want to practice what we preach, then the same principles of democracy, devolution, and decentralization must apply to our own parties as well. Local party members, not party leaders, should choose their candidates, create policy, and decide what their movement stands for.
Only a democratic party can provide the necessary space for creative and transformative solutions to the crises facing us all. In a world where the division between rich and poor is greater than ever before, our aim should be to unite the country around a more hopeful alternative — an alternative that recognizes how we all rely on each other to survive and thrive.
This alternative is not some abstract ideal to be imagined. It is an alternative that workers are fighting for on the picket line. Even before the nurses went on strike, 2022 was a record-breaking year for industrial action. Striking workers are not just fighting for pay, essential as these demands are. They are fighting for a society without poverty, hunger, and inequality. They are fighting for a future that puts the interests of the community ahead of the greed of energy companies. They are fighting for us all.
Their collective struggle teaches us that democracy exists — it thrives — outside of Westminster. The government is trying its best to turn dedicated postal workers and railway workers into enemies of the general public — a general public that apparently also excludes university staff, bus drivers, barristers, baggage handlers, civil servants, ambulance drivers, firefighters, and charity workers. As the enormous scale of industrial action shows, striking workers are the general public. The year 2022 will go down in history, not as the year the Tories took the public for fools, but as the year the public fought back. United in their thousands, they are sending a clear message: this is what democracy looks like.
This article was first published by Progressive International
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