My least preferred candidate is about to become the fourth president of Kenya. This is a big disappointment for truth and justice forces in our country, but we must accept it, regroup, and continue with the struggle for a better Kenya. The entire campaign period has been characterized by overt ethnic bigotry that seems to have heightened after the presidential results were released on Saturday.
This ethnicization of our politics can only be combated by raising class consciousness in Kenyan society. The presidential race was hotly contested because the office of the president safeguards the political and economic interests of a particular faction of the ruling class. For this ruling class, money and power are far more important than ethnicity. That’s why Mount Kenya elites were, at some point, willing to support Musalia Mudavadi’s candidature because they knew they could coerce him into protecting their interests if they made him president. Ethnicity only becomes important when the various factions of the ruling class are flexing their muscles and fighting for control over various sectors of the economy. Currently, Mount Kenya elites control the banking sector, insurance sector, real estate, drug trade, and the multi-billion shilling industry that is the M-Pesa Service. Control of these sectors is what was at stake in these elections.
In my view, Kenya needed the fourth president to come from a different faction of the ruling class, besides Mount Kenya. At the very least, he/she needed to be a non-Gikuyu even if, like Mudavadi, they would have been puppets of Mount Kenya elitist interests. Having such a president would have made it easier for Kenyans to realize that specific class interests, and not ethnicity, are the main driving force in our politics. This is because, after one or two presidential terms, their material conditions would have remained more or less the same. However, the same realization is more difficult to arrive at with Uhuru Kenyatta as president. This is because of the nationwide contempt for what is perceived to be absolute Gikuyu hegemony— but what is, in fact, only a hegemony of the Mount Kenya faction of the ruling class. Gikuyu peasant farmers and workers face the same challenges as peasant farmers and workers from Nyanza and Rift Valley: low wages, landlessness, and lack of government incentives. Even though the Mount Kenya middle class—consisting of intellectuals, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals—sometimes benefits from the hegemony of Gikuyu elites, they are still held hostage like all other members of the Kenyan middle class. They might secure some jobs, promotions, and business tenders—crumbs from the master’s table—but they are still forced into the rat-race of trying to eke out a comfortable living. Just like in American southern plantations, the “house slaves” were better treated than the “field slaves” but, at the end of the day, all of them were still enslaved people who were used, abused, and dehumanized for the pleasure and profits of their master.
But this does not mean we can simply wish away the ethnic chauvinism that has been on display throughout the election campaign period and after the announcement of the presidential results. We must have honest dialogue about the privileges and setbacks that our last names have accorded us with regard to securing jobs in government and private institutions, gaining school admissions, getting services in public offices, and accessing regional infrastructure. Such an honest dialogue would pave the way for healing and reconciliation, and enable us to replace deep-seated ethnic chauvinism with the sharp class consciousness needed in order to clearly articulate our class interests. By “our” I mean the Kenyan peasant farmers, workers, and middle classes who form 98% of the population.
These class interests would be the basis on which we make political decisions. For example, a class-conscious electorate in Nairobi would have pushed Kidero, Waititu, Sonko, and Wanjiru to formulate concrete plans for efficient public transportation in the county. Public transportation cannot be left in the hands of private investors and cartels that are only out to make profits. A class conscious electorate would have demanded for a centralized transportation system similar to the old Kenya Bus Service, albeit a more efficient one. The fare to be charged from Buru Buru to the CBD should not be left to the discretion of an arrogant and intoxicated matatu tout who exploitatively charges whatever he want. Mere signs of rain should not be a justification for Githurai residents to pay fares of almost Ksh.300 to get home from the CBD.
Raising class consciousness is imperative for the next phase of the struggle for a better Kenya. It will unite Kenyans and help us to effectively articulate and demand for efficient public services. I want my children to grow up knowing that they have very little in common with Kalonzo Musyoka’s children and grandchildren. Despite being Kambas, our families live in very different neighborhoods, attend very different schools, go to different hospitals, and use very different means of transportation. I want them to know that we have much more in common with Mama Rahma, our Swahili neighbor from Lamu, than with the incumbent Vice-President. Hopefully, raising class consciousness will give more substance to ongoing discussions about class in Kenya. As my mentor Wandia Njoya says, “to be middle-class is not to tweet about your cappuccino experiences at Java!” Rather, it is to rely on public transport, public hospitals, public schools, public housing, and other public utilities.
Time will be ripe for the Kenyan revolution when peasant farmers, workers, and the middle classes come together and transcend ethnic chauvinism, class bias, regional marginalization, religious fundamentalism, and gender discrimination. This will not be easy under an Uhuru presidency but the struggle has never been easy, anyway. It will require love, prayer, reading and dedication in order to restore the dignity and humanity of every Kenyan citizen. The future of our country cannot be left in the hands of just one percent of the population, which is fighting for political and economic power. The struggle for a better Kenya continues with or without the son of Jomo as president.
possibly the most nuanced, informed and well thought-out view i have read about the kenyan condition. wananchi must realize that eventually, destiny is in their hands and not in their politicans’.