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At Supreme Court, Kenya Is Also on Trial

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To have honest elections, its not just the electoral machinery but Kenya itself which will have to change.

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Soon after the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of the presidential election on 8 April 2013, I was startled to see a call coming in from Gen. Michael Gichangi, the head of Kenya’s National Intelligence Service. I was in New York, having hurriedly left the country a month before the election because of death threats designed to keep me out of the campaign. Gichangi had been my nemesis during the 2007 election crisis, but once the Kibaki-Odinga Grand Coalition government was formed, we would occasionally have candid chats.

Anyway, Gen. Gichangi wanted to know how Raila would respond to the IEBC verdict. I assured him that Raila would do nothing which might lead to public protests. Oh, so he will accept the election result? Gichangi asked. I said no, he will not, he will appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court. There was silence for a moment before he said, “Even if going to the court could lead to protests and unrest? Are you sure you want that again?”

I was stunned. Raila was being asked by one of the most powerful officials in Kenya to forego his right to challenge the presidential election outcome in our Supreme Court that was newly created with the express mandate of determining presidential election disputes. That was done in part to provide breathing room and hope for redress for the losing candidate’s supporters while the three-week period that the court has to deliver judgement would diminish tensions. Indeed our universally hailed 2010 Constitution that created the court owed its promulgation to the violence that erupted immediately after the results of the bitterly disputed 2007 election were announced.

Gen. Gichangi’s suggestion that Raila desist from petitioning the Supreme Court was for me yet another indication of how far we as a country had fallen despite the new constitution, with the state openly flaunting its power by trying to prevent an electoral challenge.

Fast forward to a decade later—to 15 August 2022, when IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati declared William Ruto the election winner and president-elect. Within a few hours I was doing a very interesting BBC interview until I was blown away by the presenter’s last question:  Was it right for Odinga to challenge and therefore delay the final election result when Kenya was facing profound economic problems that needed urgent attention?

The question was startling, bizarre in fact, because it came not from a state operative but from the democratic world’s best known broadcaster that constantly pushes for greater democracy and for electoral integrity. Would the BBC discourage a lawful challenge by a losing candidate in a Western nation?

It was not lost on me that the British High Commissioner to Kenya, Jane Marriott, was perceived as being partial to Ruto, a claim she publicly rebutted after he was declared president-elect.

Interestingly, the United States has also been seen as being partial in this election. The US embassy twice put out an election-related travel advisory urging Americans to move about with caution. The first advisory, issued on 3 August, was criticized by Kisumu officials for mentioning only their city, the capital of Raila’s region, as being specifically dangerous. The implication was that Raila was expected to lose the election and that violence by his supporters might break out.

On Friday 2 September, a second US advisory went farther and imposed restrictions of movement on US government personnel in Kisumu ahead of Monday’s Supreme Court decision.  

Separately, a US delegation led by Senator Chris Coons came to Nairobi and held talks with president-elect Ruto on security and anti-terror issues, even though it was known that Raila was to petition the Supreme Court and could potentially become president. Such signals from major powers at critical moments have significant impact as they can be read to indicate political preferences.

To come back to Gen. Gichangi’s 2013 suggestion, it seemed much more acceptable than the interventions of the UK and the US. Kenya’s intelligence and security services are the prime protectors of both national security and the continued rule of our entrenched political and economic establishment. This “establishment” has had an unbroken hold on our country for almost 60 years, ruling by hook or by crook—and through regularly rigged elections.

So it is no surprise that every single one of the four elections that followed our first—and only—fair election in 2002 has been deeply tainted by the actions of the electoral commission and other powerful actors. Such unlawful interference seems to have reached a new peak during the current election, judging by the submissions from Raila and other petitioners.

What has made the difference in the significantly increased revelations of illicit actions is that Raila, the long-time insurgent outsider, had joined forces with President Uhuru Kenyatta. Once seen as a poster child of extreme wealth and leader of the Kikuyu elite, Uhuru has adopted a reformist stance and was committed to neutralizing Kenya’s powerful election subverters (the “deep state”). He has also been preaching a strong multi-ethnic message of inclusion and, at political risk to himself, has repeatedly declared that presidents cannot continue to emanate from only two communities (his own and Ruto’s) for nearly 60 years, while at the same time expecting all Kenyans to feel that they are part of one nation.

So for the first time, the police service uncovered a number of rigging schemes, the most visible being their arrest of the three Venezuelan citizens who were in possession of IEBC election materials that they should not have been in possession of. Chairman Chebukati claimed that he had hired the three as IT specialists but could produce no evidence of such hiring. The police service also produced its own detailed forensic audit of the election tally that has helped identify problematic counts.

At the Supreme Court hearing of the petition, what stood out was Chief Justice Martha Koome’s skilful handling of the complex proceedings, comfortably asserting her authority and mastery of the law, as well as her decisive rulings. She also demonstrated collegiality and respect for the autonomy of the other Justices. I recall the difficulties she faced from what was a moderate vetting group who thought she rooted too much for women! How her mastery has grown—and now both top posts at the judiciary are held by women! This is among the many remarkable achievements Kenyans have been recognized for globally.

Raila had a strong petition, presented by his team of eminent and highly experienced lawyers who have long supported his democratic politics. Other petitioners’ lawyers added significant value to the case as well.

We have no idea if the Supreme Court will find the numerous allegedly unlawful actions to have decisively refuted Chebukati’s declaration of Ruto as president-elect. But the verdict that will be delivered on Monday will have a high degree of credibility. There is intense anticipation and excitement over the possibility that the Supreme Court ruling will be historic. We will know Monday.

The Supreme Court verdict does not, of course, automatically put an end to legal wrangles. In 2017, Raila’s petition led to the election being annulled by the court for “irregularities and illegalities”. It was a stunning verdict, the first ever in Africa. A re-run was ordered—but it was to be conducted by the same electoral commission that had committed the irregularities and illegalities!

Raila refused to run, and Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were re-elected. The famed “Handshake” between Raila and the president took place the following year, in 2018, designed to overcome decades of political turbulence with a much more inclusive and collaborative model to unite the country. The last four years have seen a significant easing of historical political tensions, but there have been quite a few hitches too.

There is intense anticipation and excitement over the possibility that the Supreme Court will uphold Raila’s petition, which would be a huge boost for democracy and electoral participation.

So, if the justices accept the petitions, how will they propose to move forward? Clearly, Chebukati and his team cannot be entrusted with any responsibilities. Moreover, there is the question whether the 60-day constitutional limit within which the next election must take place can be amended through special constitutional measures.

Time has been a huge constraint in every petition. In 2013, a substantial chunk of Raila’s petition was disallowed by Willy Mutunga’s court for having been filed late. In many countries, there is a much longer lag between the election and assumption of office. In the US, it is over 75 days. In some countries it is four months. It is time to review the Supreme Court’s intense electoral experience over its decade-plus existence to see what lessons have been learned.

The rigging of four elections in a row is a shameful stain not just on the electoral machinery and the election officials but also for our nation and its many institutions. With election after election providing evidence of irregularities and illegalities at a minimum, faith in our democracy has been slowly dying. As observed, the turnout on 9 August was dramatically down, to about 65 per cent. It was 85 percent in 2013. 

It is extremely ironic that the only fair presidential election ever held in independent Kenya took place in 2002 under the highly anti-democratic autocrat, President Daniel arap Moi. He had served his second and final term under the constitution but his anointed successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, lost to an unprecedented cross-national opposition— the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) led jointly by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

(There is a widely mistaken notion that the 1963 election was the first fair election held in independent Kenya; it was held in May of that year under colonial rule).

Electoral misdeeds are an extension of the rampant, massive corruption and theft that is literally killing Kenyans as the wealth of the country is siphoned off by the growing number of shilling billionaires. This is nothing less than the taking of food from the mouths of babes by those who have already made fortunes but show no sign of being sated!

With election after election rigged, faith in democracy was dying in Kenya. The turnout on 9 August was dramatically down, to 65 per cent at most, compared to 85 per cent in 2013.

This is grand corruption at its worst, very deeply entrenched and seemingly uncontrollable. Ironically, it is that vast pot of corruption gold that makes Kenya’s winner-take-all results of presidential and other polls so very desirable for those seeking riches and power. For some, even assassinations are part of their toolkit for success.

In the 2017 election, Chris Msando, the IEBC’s chief ICT officer responsible for ensuring the integrity of the election, was murdered just before the election. An incorruptible civil servant, he had assured Kenyans in a television interview that only he had the necessary electronic passwords and that the election would be fairly tallied. Photographs of his mutilated body were published, sending a clear message to those who might want to be brave.

Roselyn Akombe, an IEBC commissioner who was on sabbatical from the United Nations, resigned soon after and fled the country during the rerun of the presidential poll. Akombe had received many death threats and, alluding to Msando, said “You’d be suicidal to think that nothing will happen to you.”

In the current election, the Returning Officer for Nairobi’s Embakasi East Constituency, Daniel Musyoka, was whisked away after he briefly stepped out of his office; his body was found 150 miles away. The media has hardly probed into this awful killing by those who want to sway elections without having worked hard to win votes. If we did not enjoy close ties with the West, we would be pariah nation.

Assassinations of election officials occur because that tool has been used as a matter of course since right after independence. Elections are in fact a microcosm of all the horrors that afflict our nation. Kenya has had more political murders of potential future leaders—including renowned ones who were not part of the inner sanctum of power—than any other democratic country in the world. Fortunately there have been none in the last few years.

Kenya’s elections per capita are just about the most expensive in the world, costing a remarkable one third of a billion dollars each time. The electoral commission basically gets what it wants as Kenyans are willing to pay whatever it takes to have a secure, honest election. What they invariably get is the opposite.

The electoral commission engaged in rigging the last four elections. But the current one became much harder to pull off when Raila, the long-time insurgent, joined forces with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

From 2007 onwards, Raila Odinga has been the petitioner in all the four deeply tainted elections. He is indisputably the only presidential aspirant who has fought for real, pro-people change in the last 25 years, having earlier made major sacrifices including nine years as a political prisoner. But he rarely, if ever, speaks about any of the profound traumas that have been visited upon him and his family.

Like some credible independent analysts, I am convinced that Raila won the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections. But not only has he kept going without a hint of bitterness, he has remained a larger-than-life figure, returning again and again to fight for a better Kenya.

And yet Raila is routinely referred to as the candidate who never accepts defeat. He has lost narrowly in the last four elections, and with regards to 2007 and 2017 (when the election results were annulled by the Supreme Court), there is consensus that he did not lose those elections. Did he lose the August 9 2022 polls? We will know Monday.

Because he is the only presidential candidate who fights for pro-people change and is immensely popular because of it, Raila is naturally the target of all the other major candidates, none of whom have reformist credentials. He is also the target of some foreign countries too.

The most vivid example of international anti-Raila animus came after the 2017 election, when former Secretary of State John Kerry, the senior-most US observer in Kenya representing the Carter Center, noted “Election day voting and counting processes had functioned smoothly with only isolated instances of procedural irregularities [which] did not appear to affect the integrity of those processes.” To make sure that his message was clear, Kerry publicly asked the “losing” candidate, Raila Odinga, to “move on”.

As we know, the Supreme Court annulled that election. Kerry was forced to publish an op-ed in the New York Times to camouflage his blunder. This episode again confirmed that foreign observers have no clue about whether an election has been free and fair. They mainly go by how voting day went, which in Kenya is invariably peacefully. But a peaceful election does not a fair election make. Africa needs to review the observer system from the ground up; and certainly, observers should specifically indicate what particular elements they looked at in their assessment.

The international media’s perception of Raila fails to reflect his commitment to reforms and change. To give a more current example than the interview mentioned above, a recent BBC article explored whether “results sheets were altered as Odinga claims?” “We’ve compared images of the original results sheets from these polling stations with those registered on the electoral commission website” it wrote. “In every case the results from the polling stations matched the official tallies published by the electoral commission.”

To have honest elections, it is not just the electoral machinery but Kenya itself that will have to change.

Given the BBC’s reputation and reach, people around the world will take this to mean that charges of fraud by the Raila team do not have a lot of credibility. But Prof. Walter Mebane, a renowned election expert at the University of Michigan, extensively studied this election’s results and found significant fraud, indicating however that the polling stations the BBC studied had revealed very low or no fraud.

The New York Times also shows a strong anti-Raila bias. Right after William Ruto was declared president-elect last month, the paper published a lengthy article portraying Raila as a leader who had lost even his hold on his ethnic base, quoting five of Raila’s kinsmen and Nic Cheeseman, a British scholar, to back its claims. The authors seemingly could not find a single voice with a differing perspective of Raila!

In a second article, the New York Times went harder at Raila. Prof Cheeseman now equated him to Donald Trump after the latter lost the 2020 election: “Misinformation, one side making wild accusations to excuse defeat, and a significant number of people who believe their candidate didn’t lose — it’s very Trumpian,” he said.

The article, titled In Kenyan Elections, the People Decide First. Then Come the Judges, asserted that “his legal team appear to have taken a kitchen sink approach, making a wide range of charges that, analysts say, range from the plausible to the outlandish.”  The article goes on to mention “vicious personal attacks directed at the same electoral commission chairman who only recently was being praised for a polling process seen by many as a model for Africa, and beyond.”

I would like to mention that I have never heard anyone describe Chebukati in terms remotely approaching such hagiography. In 2017, it was he and his commission who were blamed by the Supreme Court for the “irregularities and illegalities” that led to the election’s annulment.

I think most readers will get the idea of what the New York Times thinks of Raila’s election petition. This is a man who at a minimum came close to winning the last four presidential elections. You would never realize that from reading any of these articles.

To avoid any misunderstanding, I should mention that I am not remotely implying that Raila cannot be criticized or his political weaknesses pointed out. I am a media person myself and I criticize people regularly. But unless I am writing about a recognized pariah, I avoid demonization and try to find a bit of balance.

We look forward to Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court on the petition filed by Raila. Whatever the decision, one can say that an awful lot of electoral re-thinking is urgently needed.

I can also say we will never have free and fair elections as long as corruption is not curbed, and addressing the extreme inequality and mass deprivation that are now part of Kenyan life becomes the nation’s most urgent priority.

A President Raila Amolo Odinga is what we need to get this clean-up process started. I very much hope the Supreme Court upholds his petition.

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Salim Lone is a Kenyan journalist who was Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Spokesman, and before that was a Director Communications under Kofi Annan at the United Nations, where he worked for two decades until retiring in 2003.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States
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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.

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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.

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Jeremy Corbyn: We Must Democratize the Economy
Photo: Chatham House, London
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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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