The Standard has posted an interesting story on-line for the Sunday paper under the headline: “The hidden battle of class and power in Central Kenya”.
The endorsement of Uhuru Kenyatta as the leader of the Kikuyu by the Minister for Environment, John Michuki, has raised eyebrows but many think there is more to the statement.
Several personalities and political forces are digging in to inherit President Kibaki’s Central Province voting bloc and mantle, which is estimated to be worth four million-plus votes.
However, underlying this succession battle is a simmering rivalry in the politics of class and power that has been playing out for about a century.
Macharia Munene, a professor of history at the United States International University, Nairobi, says this class struggle dates back to colonial times. Then, peasants invented a tradition of resistance against colonialism.
However, a section of Africans, the so-called loyalists, collaborators and homeguards, opted to work for the colonial authorities in exchange for privileges and goodies like education, land, and jobs.
The resistance would culminate in the violent confrontation between the natives coming together under the Mau Mau resistance movement, and the British colonial government.
Central Province saw the most intense action for the seven years the Mau Mau uprising lasted. The relationship and roles of both loyalists and nationalists was more pronounced and hostile in the region than in other areas.
However, at independence, collaborators seized the levers of power and proceeded to economically and politically dominate State affairs, including distribution of resources, opportunities, senior civil service and parastatal jobs.
“Unfortunately, it was the loyalists who were better placed to take over power, having enjoyed cosy relationships with the departing colonial powers, but also having enjoyed privileges like better education than their nationalist brethren,” says Macharia.
It is in this context that Michuki’s statement has re-ignited the twin narrative that has defined Kenya’s and central Kenya politics.
The narrative of one community, two classes in perpetual struggle for political and economic power. It is a context in which a wealthy minority uses its access to political power to increase its economic fortunes at the expense of the majority.
First it was the British colonial settler minority (1895-1963), and then the Kenyan political and economic elite (1963-to date).
The scholar says this elite in central Kenya has dominated regional politics and seeks to succeed Kibaki.
President Kibaki himself was through out the Kenyatta regime considered an outsider. Even in 2002, he only made it to power on the back of a broad and most inclusive political movement the original National Rainbow Coalition and was even abandoned by his erstwhile ally Njenga Karume.
The foremost politician seeking to destabilise the status quo in Central Province is Gichugu MP Martha Karua who has made it clear she would be gunning for president in 2012. Political analysts saw Michuki’s statement as a warning to Karua, whom this vcartel sees as a spoiler.
Former Subukia MP, Koigi Wamwere, says Michuki’s endorsement of Uhuru is an attempt by this economic elite to perpetuate itself.
“Michuki is warning other pretenders to the throne not to dare even try,” Koigi said.
By coincidence I started reading Koigi Wamwere’s autobiography I Refuse to Die during my trip to Washington to the MCC this week, so this is especially topical for me.
As I noted previously, Uhuru Kenyatta has been in New York and Washington of late as Kenya’s Finance Minister, as well as co-Deputy Prime Minister, attending UN and World Bank meetings and advocating for MCC compact status for Kenya. Amos Kimunya was Kibaki’s initial appointment to the Finance Ministry when he named the key cabinet spots during the post-election period. When Kimunya was forced to step aside due to the scandal over the sale of the Grand Regency hotel, Kibaki tapped Michuki, who was then succeeded by Kenyatta.
It’s especially interesting to look at how this plays in relation to the U.S. During the post-colonial heyday of the Cold War of course, the U.S. aligned with Jomo Kenyatta (and reportedly helped fund Tom Mboya covertly while the Soviets reportedly helped fund Oginga Odinga) and KANU “conservatives”, including Moi in his day. The U.S. interests supposedly served were both direct military alliance (access to bases and such) and other security cooperation, and seemingly some sort of ideological alliance based on the notion that the Kenyan model of one party formal “African socialism” involving conservative patronage, and state-created and supported oligarchy was preferable from a U.S. perspective to a version more akin to Nyerere’s or other more traditional, populist or radical “socialisms”.
Since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall things have been complicated. Smith Hempstone, George H.W. Bush’s political appointment to the Ambassadorship, really stuck his neck out to push democratic reform and made a major contribution to forcing Moi to amend the constitution to allow competing parties, while maintaining military and security cooperation. Hempstone, a former editor of the Washington Times clearly came to the post with U.S. conservative bona fides and was vigorously anti-socialist. At the same time, however, other Americans continued to support Moi. As I noted in a previous post, one of Washington’s leading conservative think tanks generated a pro-Moi position paper in 1990 and Republican consultant and lobbyist Charlie Black and his firm represented Moi on past the first multi-party election in 1992 and into 1993 according to their foreign agent registration filings.
Hempstone believed that supporting democratic ideals, in itself, was a key part of the United States’ proper role in world affairs. In his book Rogue Ambassador: an African Memoir he writes “I told Raila it was untrue that the U.S. would not accept because of his leftist past his father’s election as president if he won freely, fairly, and lawfully. The mistakes of thirty years ago were water over the dam. Raila said he had never believed otherwise.” After Hempstone’s term ended in 1993, however, active U.S. interest in supporting democratic opposition to Moi waned.
Just as Hempstone did not think there were major ideological differences between the opposition candidates in 1992, the USAID officials that I spoke to in the run up to the 2007 election did not see major ideological differences among the opposition contenders or between Raila as ODM nominee and Kibaki. Nonetheless, the U.S. through Ambassador Ranneberger took a pro-Kibaki stance toward the election (this was not just my direct experience “on the ground”, but also the perception of one of America’s leading Africanists and Kenya experts who said on a panel at the African Studies Association last fall that he was convinced that the U.S. had supported Kibaki).
In their January 2009 New York Times story on the exit poll and election controversy, Mike McIntire and Jeffrey Gettleman wrote:
Despite initial economic successes and popular support after his election in 2002, Mr. Kibaki had gained a reputation for playing divisive tribal politics, and his administration had become tainted by scandal. Still, he had a good relationship with the Bush administration and generally supported American counterterrorism policies in East Africa.
Mr. Odinga was viewed skeptically by some in Washington because of his flamboyant manner and his background: he was educated in East Germany and named his son after Fidel Castro.
At the same time, then-Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, now with the Whitaker Group lobby firm and Carnegie Mellon University, was by reputation thought of as close to the Kenyatta family. Uhuru, however, was named in the Waki Commission report on the post-election violence as a suspect in playing a role in supporting revenge attacks by tribal militia and he is said to be likewise a key suspect in the current International Criminal Court investigation on this basis.
Ironically the Washington Times was conspicuous in publishing 2008 attacks on Raila Odinga, and linking him to Obama and the U.S. presidential race. Now, Glenn Beck attacks the new Kenyan constitution and Dinesh D’Souza and Newt Gingrich are attacking President Obama for being linked to his father who was of the same “tribe” as Oginga Odinga (even though Obama, Sr. was part of the U.S. government “airlift” to study in the United States while Raila is criticized for having studied in the Eastern bloc).
Looking ahead to a 2012 race in Kenya, during the 2012 race in the United States, if the Kenyan contest comes down to Raila Odinga versus Uhuru Kenyatta, with rich “class” and “tribal” subtexts understood by few Americans, what will the United States and other Americans do officially and unofficially? Will we prioritize democracy?; stability?; some notion of ideological compatibility?; some particular policy objective? And where does the issue of the post-election violence and the ICC fit in?