As the country chokes in the stranglehold of structural unemployment, massive displacement for the downtrodden, extrajudicial killings, systemic corruption, failed healthcare and education systems, those vying for elective seats are vigorously seeking votes ahead of the 2022 polls.
At no other point in the history of our nation has the working class been pushed so much to the edge that even the dominant bourgeois parties have switched their narrative to welfarism and class war to deceptively woo Kenyan voters. Interestingly, there is no discussion of class-consciousness, nor is there an acknowledgment of class struggle. The rhetoric is an unprincipled path to power.
The rhetoric in these campaigns sounds both revolutionary and progressive, with a lot of populist vocabulary. Yet such narratives are dissociated from Kenya’s reality. Prof Ngúgí wa Thiong’o says in Decolonizing the Mind that the prescription of the correct cure is dependent on rigorous analysis of reality.1 Thus, we must scrutinise the populist progressive rhetoric embraced by the bourgeoisie in these coming elections.
Kenya’s former prime minister, Raila Odinga, is vying for the presidency under the Azimio la Umoja banner. Back in 1967, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania and its ruling party, TANU, wrote the Azimio la Arusha (Arusha Declaration). It put forth the policy of Ujamaa (familyhood) as a social and economic policy to recapture the principles of joint production, egalitarian distribution, and the universal obligation to work found within African communalism. The declaration called for socialism and self-reliance. Raila’s Azimio Manifesto is promising social justice, universal healthcare, and free education through its 10-point agenda. The most ambitious social welfare agenda is Inua Jamii, Pesa Mfukoni, (Empower the family, money in the pocket) where his government plans to deliver Sh6000 per month to the most needy families.
We cannot dispute that Raila has a history of struggle, and is a repository of progressive politics over many years. His supporters are always quick to remind us that he has suffered years in detention, endured torture and exile during the Moi regime. Members of the Kenya Left probably support his candidature because, among the mainstream politicians, he is the only one with whom they have a shared political history of protest and persecution. They graced his birthday at the Bomas of Kenya recently, and some later hosted him at Kibichiku where he had earlier met mothers of political prisoners.2 His biography can inform us of his first ideological mentors:
My wide reading covered Fanon, Lenin, Marx, Nkrumah, Rodney, Mao, Dubois, and Garvey as well as Liberal Western thinkers like Galbraith and Adam Smith and it shaped my intellectual and political outlook. Imperialism was enemy number one and international solidarity of progressive forces was the answer to imperialistic expansion. We believed that collective ownership of means of production was the only way to ensure equitable distribution of wealth, poverty reduction, and faster socioeconomic development.
The relationship between the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga with the Kenyan masses is therefore very conditional. If he makes a mistake against the masses, it can only be analysed as a deliberate act, not one based on ignorance. Raila Odinga’s support for the Morocco empire against western Sahara4 or taking the French line in the recent Mali coup d’etat would be opportunism. Further, in his biography, he signals his ideological shift, saying in his own words:
We must adjust to the realities of neoliberal globalization that became triumphant after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s/early 1990s. In this regard, we support political and economic reforms that are in line with liberal democracy along with social justice. In other words, we concur with Francis Fukuyama when he states that, as mankind approached the end of the millennium, the twin crises of authoritarianism and socialist central planning left only one competitor standing in the ring of an ideology of potentially universal validity. This was Liberal Democracy, the doctrine of individual freedom and popular sovereignty. This is the ideology upon which our party, The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is founded’.
The ideological shift is what the Kenya Left does not want to acknowledge. The coming election is not a prize-giving event for previous contributions to the struggle; we must be guided by the positions a leader has taken when faced with our current conditions. Raila Odinga has chosen Martha Karua as his running mate on the Azimio ticket. Human rights organisations and non-governmental organisations have endorsed the team, citing their history in the human rights struggle. They perhaps see a chance to rejoin the government after many years in the cold, as the regime of the previous decade cannot be said to have been accommodating to them. This would be a moment similar to 2002 when many in the human rights sector like Mukhisa Kituyi and Kivutha Kibwana joined the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government as Cabinet ministers.
William Ruto, on the other hand, has historical and ideological limitations. Ruto does not have a history of being part of progressive political struggles. He also has a legion corruption cases pending in court.5 He was part of the Youth for Kanu ‘92 (YK92) leadership that vehemently defended the dictatorship of then President Moi. He was also among those who vehemently opposed the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.6 However, his Bottom-up economics rhetoric seems to resonate readily with the masses. His hustler-dynasty narrative is setting the poor against the rich.
Ruto might have belatedly discovered the great socio-economic divide between the walala-hoi (the oppressed) and the walala-hai (the oppressor) in Kenya. He talks of how he walked barefoot and how he hawked chicken in his rural home, offering the poor something to identify with. The retired Chief Justice and one-time political detainee, Dr Willy Mutunga, notes that the author of the hustler narrative identifies four dynastic families: Kenyatta, Odinga, Mudavadi, and Moi as being the cause of all societal problems in Kenya, but refuses to acknowledge he is the political orphan of the Moi dynasty and part of the comprador bourgeoisie that can be characterised as dynasty/ monarchy.. The coalition politics we are witnessing are led by a clique of right-wing stooges determined to cling to their privileges. They have degenerated the slogans of the revolutionary proletariat into their opportunistic power-seeking tactics. Unfortunately, the masses are falling for the gospel of these deceptive messiahs.
Liberal Western democracy’s entry into Kenya in the late 1970s under the tutelage of neoliberalist capitalism brought some individual rights that would affect the rule of President Moi. Taken at face value, liberal democracy looks very progressive but it is elusive for third-world countries like Kenya as it comes with strings attached such as open markets and privatisation of key sectors such as health and education, which greatly affects Kenya as inequality sharpens to unimaginable levels. It was an antithesis of the dictatorship system led by President Moi then. However, the liberal goal is to prioritise individual interests. The Liberal capitalist world outlook is characterised by the separation of self and society. It brought individual prosperity as opposed to collective prosperity, which cultivated opportunism, and unnecessary competition, thus putting Kenya at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
From a Marxist outlook, the whole world is an organic whole: there is chaos when we go against that order. Social production must be accompanied by social appropriation. In our society, laws guiding the relationship between labour and products do not work. Those making the wealth are not the ones who appropriate it. Anywhere neoliberal market forces rule, money inevitably rules. It is impractical to talk of the common good in the family or business without talking of the common good of the political system.
It is imperative to diagnose the biggest obstacle standing before our masses and true independence.
There is the mistaken belief that black people achieved power with independence, e.g. Malaya, Jamaica, Kenya, but a black man ruling a dependent state within the imperialist system has no power. He is simply an agent of the whites in the metropolis, with an army and a police force designed to maintain the imperialist way of things in that particular colonial area..
Our obstacle is still our neo-colonial state and its local comprador bourgeois class. Wananchi (the masses) must reject the comprador bourgeois cliques. People must organise to smash the existing neo-colonial state and set up a National Democratic State. There is a need to foster class consciousness more now than ever, to organise and mobilise; this will take a major shift in class, social and political relations in Kenya and bring to an end the brutality of neo-colonialism and capitalism that has caused misery for many. In 2022, the high cost of living has become unbearable for many, with inflation at an all-time high. Yet, with the state supporting Raila Odinga’s candidacy for the presidency on August 9, 2022, the once considered pro-people leader is silent on the matter. His opponent, Ruto, has ingrained the issue within his populist rhetoric to confirm that his bottom-up economics model is the solution to Kenya’s problems.
The coalitions we in process are designed to defend class interests and the capitalist system. They are advocates of a system that has dispossessed the Kenyan workers, turning them into commodities and forcing them to rent themselves to survive. We must exercise great caution now that these coalitions masquerade as progressive alliances, as the longawaited messiahs who will turn things around. It is fundamental for the Left in Kenya to build an analysis of our history and current conditions and then engage in debates to decide what is to be done. Without debates and discussions, the 2022 elections will only divide us while reversing the gains made within an already disintegrated Left. The main task is the struggle to abolish classes for economic and social equality; offer free and quality education, good roads, and other quality social amenities. The present Kenyan ruling class must be overthrown and the working class must come to power.
Our present conditions require a true opposition party that is ideologically different from the parties and coalitions presently dominating the national space. There is no ideological justification for members of the Left to entertain bourgeoisie ethnic barons. A refusal to acknowledge this is the equivalent of taking an opportunistic line. It is betraying and selling the interest of the masses and it protects the temporary privileges of a minority class while converting the Left into a mere supporting pillar of capitalism. In Reform or Revolution, Rosa Luxembourg warns:
People who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer, and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society, they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society. Our program becomes not the realization of Socialism, but the reform of capitalism; not the suppression of the system of wage labor, but the diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of the suppression of capitalism itself
During the August 9 elections, Kenyans must think of freedom and liberation from ethnic barons of the comprador class in their struggles to capture political power and not be persuaded through empty slogans and populist politics. Students, activists, community, and political organisers must be based within organisations and social movements, and also embrace political education as a guide to dismantling the populist rhetoric. Only then can we have a revolutionary change in its true sense.
Motherland! – Africa Uncensored. [online] Africa Uncensored. Available at: [Accessed 6 July 2022].
Thiong’o, W. N. (1986). Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. James Currey Ltd / Heinemann.
Rodney, W., & Davis, A. (2018). How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Verso.
Reporter, S. (2015, September 21). Raila drawn into fight for Western Sahara. The Star. [Retrieved July 6, 2022, from https://googleweblight comsp? u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.the-starco.ke%2 Fnews %2F2015-09-21-raila-drawn-into fight-for-western sahara%2F&grqid=Y7lGWsX&hl=enKE]
Uncensored, A., 2022. A letter to Kenya’s youth: If you want peace in 2022, protect your 5 scandals that make William Ruto unfit for president. AfroCave. (2021, January 1). Retrieved July 6, 2022, from https://googleweblight.com/sp?u=https%3A% 2F%2Fafrocave.com%2Fruto-scandals%2F& grqid=Xu3xgpdc&hl=en-KE