Patrice Riemens on Sun, 13 Jan 2008 10:46:10 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Mukoma wa Ngugi: Let us not find revolutionaries where there are none - A look at the Kenyan opposition party

Again from the excellent Pambazuka newssite (original at:

Mukumo wa Ngugi raises questions already asked as early as the        
post-(Balkan) war Serbian 'revolution', and every time after, and     
never very much answered beyond a "do you then want the old dinosaurs 
to stay in power?". Even ODM's color seems to match! (and in the      
Netherlands it's the color of the royals - and of the football fans)  

On a lighter note, James Bond afficionados and new media cultural
workers alike will smile at the name of Raila Odinga's business
powerhouse... Cheers from patrizio & Diiiinooos!


Let us not find revolutionaries where there are none -
A look at the Kenyan opposition party
Mukoma wa Ngugi (2008-01-10)

Mukoma Wa Ngugi argues that rather than being a people power movement,
Kenya's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is modeled after political
parties that consolidate democracy for International capital and US
Foreign Policy. He discusses the differences between a people powered
movement and one such as ODM that employs techniques modeled after the
Ukrainian orange revolution and the ouster of Aristide in Haiti

One cannot fully grasp what is happening in Kenya and Africa without
considering the changing nature of opposition movements and the
differences between a people powered movement, or a democratic
revolution, and a plethora of movements that consolidate democratic
institutions for international capital while flying under the radar of

Even though here below I am mainly speaking about Raila Odinga and
the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), I could just as easily be
speaking about Mwai Kibaki and the Party of National Unity (PNU). It
is only because ODM has actively courted the image of being a people
powered movement engaged in a democratic revolution that I draw your
attention to it. Amilcar Cabral once said "tell no lies, claim no
small victories" It is in that spirit that I write.

Let me begin by pointing to the question of ethnicity and say this:
In the same way you ought to be surprised to meet a white American
denying the existence of racism in American politics, so should you
be when you meet an African denying that ethnocentrism is deeply
entrenched in African politics. Racism is a historical creation that
serves a function and so is tribalism. In the same way that leaders in
the West manipulate race and fear for political goals, so do African
leaders. Ethnocentrism can be benign or extremely vicious depending
on its conductor. Ethnocracy, like a racist power structure, exists
to the extent it is able to obscure for the victim and the activist
the root causes of economic, political and social exploitation. It

Let us also consider Kwame Ture's (Stokely Carmichael) reminder that
we should not mistake individual success for collective success. The
majority of Kenyans -- Luos, Kikuyus, Luhyas etc -- are poor. The
60 percent of Kenyans living under two dollars a day cut across all
ethnicities. The Kikuyu elite live at the expense of the Kikuyu poor;
it is the same for other ethnicities. There is much more in common
between the poor across ethnicities, than between the elite and the
poor of each ethnicity. Racism, nationalism, and ethnocracy all ask
that the poor die in the defense of economic and social structures
that keep them poor. It is no surprise that those who have been both
dying and doing the killing in Kenya in the past week are the poor.
Yet they are killing along ethnic, not class, lines.

And in the same way that over time western political parties come
to represent different and contradictory positions, so have African
political parties. In the dictatorships of the 1960s, 70s and 80s,
the opposition parties were the good guys. Progressive international
political analysts are still working with that framework, which has
blinded us to glaring present-day contradictions. The assumption
that opposition immediately means people-power cannot be sustained
by an analysis informed by the complex shifts in African politics
in the last two decades. Take Zimbabwe, for example. The opposition
Movement for Democratic Change is a neo-liberal party. Calling it
revolutionary or anti-imperialist would be wrong. In Kenya, both the
sitting government and the opposition exchange members fluidly as
they position and reposition themselves, eyes on the national cake.
William Ruto, a top leader in the ODM was previously a treasurer for
the KANU Youth Wing, a political thug organization created by former
dictator (Daniel Toroitich Arap) Moi, who is now in Kibaki's camp.
And the recent church killings that claimed over 50 lives took place
in Eldoret, which William Ruto has represented in parliament for many

Therefore not all opposition parties are anti-imperialist or opposed
to the move by global capital to consolidate the world. At a time
when the rich nations and their elite are getting richer, and the
poorer nations and the poor within them are getting poorer, some
opposition parties will choose the side of global capital. ODM
is composed of some of the wealthiest people in the country. For
example, the Odinga family owns Spectre International, a molasses
company in conjunction with a multi national petroleum and diamond
mining company. The international press, which refers to Raila as a
"flamboyant millionaire", is not entirely wrong.

With the above said, analysis of what it means to be a people powered
movement is crucial. For people-power politics to be effective,
solidarity has to be across ethnicity not along it. In other words,
a people power movement has to at its basis be informed by the
consciousness of a collective oppressed. Because it has no real grass
roots developed over years of working with and for the people, ODM
can only rile up discontentment by pointing to one ethnicity rather
than organizing the whole country against elite exploitation. Like any
populist movement it takes the worst fears of a people (fear of Kikuyu
domination for example) and plays them out in the national stage. A
people power movement on the other hand peels away these fears to
reveal how power and wealth are being distributed. Because ODM has not
done this, its supporters have identified the fellow poor Kikuyu as
the enemy. A people power movement would have directed its energies
and anger at the state not at another ethnicity.

A people power movement declares its solidarity with other
marginalized peoples across the world. It is third-worldist in
vision. A people power movement, because its vision grows organically
from its struggle and engagement with the people, exhibits a stand
against exploitative international economic arrangements because its
constituents are impoverished through them. ODM cannot be termed as
radical pan-Africanist or third-worldist, rather it has a populist

Also, the shell, the facade -- of a people power movement can be
used by a national elite to seize power for international capital.
Rather than use the term populist/people power to refer to ODM, it
is appropriate to borrow a term from the International Republican
Institute. The term the IRI ( uses is "consolidating
democracy", referring to a technique it used in the Ukrainian Orange
Revolution and in Haiti against Aristide. Consolidating democracy
translates into bringing together civil organizations (religious,
universities, local NGOs, womens' organizations etc), and uniting
various opposition factions into one large electoral force. If
missionaries paved the way for colonialism, evangelists of western
democracy like IRI pave the way for US foreign policy.

The sole purpose of consolidating democracy is to remove the sitting
government. There is no coherent underlying people centered ideology
in this goal, no interest in empowering the people, or returning
economic and political institutions to them. Rather than develop real
roots with the people so that when in power ODM becomes an extension
of them, ODM has taken the easy route of consolidating democracy
following the IRI model.

We urgently need to distinguish between people power movements
(such as those we have seen in Latin America), populist movements,
and neo-liberal opposition movements that consolidate democratic
institutions for global capitalism. People power movements are a
fifth force usually in opposition to the legislature, executive,
judiciary and military. When they seize power through democratic
means, they immediately attempt to transform the other four forces
into revolutionary instruments. Laws nationalizing resources or
redistributing land and resources are passed. The army is transformed
from an instrument of intimidation into one that helps in times of
disasters, in short a people power government places the people at
the center of the state. When a movement that has been consolidating
democracy gets into power it does the opposite, and the democratic
structures become instruments of global capital and US Foreign policy.
Liberia, for example, after working with IRI is one of the few
countries to open its national door to the US African Command Center.

We should at least consider that the ODM has in the last few weeks
not been engaged in the last phase of a people power revolution but
rather in the last stage of consolidating neo-liberal democracy -
using the people as the battling ram against the state. This is where
the neo-liberal party calls for millions to take to the streets with
the hope of immobilizing the state. Because consolidating democracy
requires the ebb and flow of violence from the state and protest from
the people, Raila could cynically tell a BBC reporter when asked
whether he will appeal for calm that "I refuse to be asked to give the
Kenyan people an anesthetic so that they can be raped."

In case you are wondering, let me say this: for progressives,
Kibaki is not the answer. Before the elections, the Kenyan Human
Rights Commission released a report implicating the Kenya police in
extra-judicial killings of close to 500 young men, all from poverty
stricken areas such as Kibera and Mathare, slums currently up in
flames. This is a stark reminder that the 6 percent economic growth
was not trickling down to the people. Also that vote rigging took
place (on both sides it is turning out) is almost certain. Enough
doubt has been cast by the electoral commissioners to make a recount
of the votes, a reelection, a united government or another suitable
solution a matter of democratic principle.

If the country is to heal, reconcile and find justice, progressive
voices should call for a UN probe into the December/ January
post-election ethnic cleansing in Eldoret and other areas. There
should be calls and support for a United Nations probe into the 1994
Rift Valley killings in which a reported hundreds of Kikuyus were
killed and thousands displaced during Moi's regime, and The Wagalla
Massacre of 1984 (again during Moi's regime) in which hundreds of
Somali Kenyans were shot to death. Finally the non-electoral extra
judicial killings of the 500 young men last year should also be

Progressives should also call for the crisis to be resolved within
democratic structures. When Bush won an election that the rest of
the world understood as rigged, we did not ask Al Gore to try and
overthrow the government through an Orange revolution, we did not ask
him to divide the country across racial lines, blacks pitted against
whites, whites pitted against Latinos; we asked him to find redress
through peaceful and democratic processes. And for that, the United
States remains standing, in spite of Bush. Al Gore did not ask for a
recount of all the votes, or for a re-election. But both Raila and
Kibaki can form a united government; ask for a recount, and even a
re-election. Whatever process or option is used to adjudicate this
must be one that leaves Kenya standing for generations to come.

My plea to you is this: Let us not find revolutionaries where there
are none. A whole nation, where ethnic cleansing has already started,
is at stake. International solidarity should be with the Kenyan people
and not with individual leaders. The best thing for Kenya right now
is a return to a non-violent path governed by principled democratic
structures that will outlive both Raila and Kibaki. It is this that
will make possible a people powered government through a democratic

* Mukoma wa Ngugi is co-editor of Pambazuka News (,
author of Hurling Words at Consciousness and a political columnist for
the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.

* Please send comments to or comment online at

Donate to Pambazuka - they need it. Donation window on the site!

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact: