The Left in Kenyan politics not only lost polls but also its reason to exist

What you need to know:

  • But Mr Kenyatta’s victory means that dominant figures from the protest movement and the former Marxists who constituted the Left are out of power. So what happened?

I have been thinking about the result of this election for weeks now.

The book I am reading, Patrick Bond’s Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation, gave me an idea about what really is happening over Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s defeat (it was defeat; stealing 800,000 votes under the eyes of the large complement of international observers, even by the best riggers on the continent, is impossible) and what it tells us about the underlying structure of Kenyan politics: The Kenyan Left is the new Right.

But let me lay some of foundation. Bond’s analysis is Marxist (or neo-marxist, I forget which is which) and he begins by acknowledging a long list of leftist scholars to whom he owes a debt of gratitude.

They include Kenyans. In my understanding, our politics is made up of a cluster of politicians who favour accumulative economics and a more capitalistic outlook.

They clustered around Jomo Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki and they favour a centralised country with a strong central government.

The other political tendency is more socialistic and distributive with emphasis on equal access to national wealth.

This group, which clustered at inception around Jaramogi Oginga and Bildad Kaggia, I think, may be regarded to have included all those bearded 1960s Marxists  from the University of Nairobi, and even the unbearded ones like Dr Willy Mutunga.

This school was joined over time by human rights advocates and the protest movement.

In 1992, a lot of progressive-type activists and scholars got into Parliament and in 2002 in government.

Narc was actually a coalition between these two branches of politics.

It looked as if, for the first time, intellectuals who had done time in detention without trial and spent their careers fighting the establishment were going to finally get power.

But Mr Kenyatta’s victory means that dominant figures from the protest movement and the former Marxists who constituted the Left are out of power. So what happened?

The struggles that the Left has undergone are the same struggles that I am just beginning to understand about my own father.

I think in his less sober moments, he thought of himself as a revolutionary guerrilla fighter having seen some action in Nairobi in 1952 and spending some seven years in detention.

He may have retained a lifelong interest in Marxism and revolutionaries, but the native acquisitive instinct and the sheer pleasure of owning property meant that in his heart was a serious contradiction: he was a capitalist fascinated with Marxism.

Even his style of dress was somewhat a political symbol. The charcoal grey suit of the businessman worn with a white cap was at once a tip of the hat to the struggle of the Left as well as a nationalistic embrace of our Muslim neighbours.

But the most popular was a fedora won over what looked to me like some Pol Pot battle dress with big pockets, then popular with Maoists in Asia and Africa.

To my father — and all his ignorant Mau Mau comrades — after the war, ideology became a hobby and capitalism a career.
Today, the remnants of the Left are indistinguishable from the establishment.

The Left in Kenya no longer opposes the neo-colonial state, it is part of the neo-colonial state; the Kenyan Left does not fight imperialism and exploitation of poor nations, it is part of the comprador and works to facilitate that exploitation; the Kenyan Left no longer questions neo-liberalism and what traditional Leftists would regard as the instruments of international subjugation such as the IMF, WTO, the World Bank, the ICC and so on, they are instruments of these institutions; the Kenyan Left is not fighting to lead the people to freedom but rather deeper into the dark embrace of imperial slavery; the Kenyan Left has new heroes and they are not Mao Tse-tung or Thomas Sankara, it is Johnnie Carson, or the French ambassador or the British and Dutch ambassador and Western journalists with more prejudice than genuine understanding of Africa.

The Left has learnt all the bad manners of the old establishment: Primitive accumulation, electoral dishonesty, nepotism and moral ambivalence, intellectual debauchery and brutality. The Left didn’t just lose an election; it lost its reason to exist.


Governors and MPs should shut up about a pay raise.

The job is available at that salary. If you don’t like it, it’s ok. Just resign, we’ll elect someone else in short order.


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