Saturday, 2 August 2014


In March, Paul Mwangi  a former legal advisor to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, gave Kenyans a glimpse of what really ails their nation: a neo-colonial political system that serves the elite. He revealed that while in office for slightly over a year, his monthly airtime allowance in the form of cards from various telephone service providers was Sh27,000 [about $310]. Millions of Kenyans do not make that kind of money. ‘And though I took only about three to five cups of tea in the office, I learnt that my secretary was entitled to pick Sh20,000 [$230] to Sh40,000 [$460] to make my tea every month,’ he stated. Mwangi was entitled to an official car, an armed driver, an armed bodyguard and two police guards at home - on top of a hefty salary and allowances. And he was just an advisor; not even a cabinet minister.

‘I learnt that all senior government ministers have confidential accounts that run into millions of shillings from which they are authorised to spend money without the scrutiny of the auditor general, or the controller of budget, or parliament…I don’t know but I have heard that the president’s confidential account often runs into billions of shillings and in the last regime was the cause of the short and tumultuous tenures of many a comptroller of State House under whose office the account is operated.’ No one has come out to deny these claims.

A perfect picture of this sickening profligacy in a land stricken by so much want emerged last year when Deputy President William Ruto reportedly hired a luxury jet at a cost of more than $1 million to tour four African nations accompanied by hand-picked politicians and aides – who, of course, collected handsome per diems and stayed in top hotels. The agenda of that tour was never made public. Although Ruto denied the jet cost that much, the matter has never been fully settled. Meanwhile, the DP’s new official residence in Nairobi cost over $5 million to construct. But he has not moved in yet, as a further $1 million needs to be poured in to refurbish sections of the new house that were allegedly poorly done.

A lot of taxpayers’ money is gobbled up in this way, while citizens are told by the rulers that there are no adequate funds to meet their many needs. Just last month tax audit firm RSM Ashvir [6] warned that Kenya could lose well over 300 billion shillings through government wastage and shady procurement. The motorcade of President Kenyatta comprising a glitzy fleet of top-of-the-range limousines, or those of other government nabobs, always disrupts traffic in Nairobi, sometimes for hours. It is robbing the people, simple. 

A report  published in February, following a five-year survey, stated that a tiny clique of 8,300 super-wealthy individuals control nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s $50 billion economy. The clique of dollar millionaires is on average worth $83 million each. A small group of 105 of these super-rich Kenyans own about a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product, with each of them laying claim to about $93 million on average.

Did these super-rich individuals work harder than everyone else to make their millions? Are they just lucky or blessed? The answer is no. The Wealth in Kenya 2014 report [8] says that a common thread running through almost all the dollar millionaires is their political connections as well as their ownership of large tracts of land. The wealthy political dynasties and billionaire landowners reflect Kenya’s top political leadership. 

The family of first president Jomo Kenyatta, whose son Uhuru is the current head of state, tops the list of the super-rich. The exact size of their massive land in Kenya is the subject of endless speculation. Besides land, the Kenyatta family has investments in banking, tourism, mining, insurance, media, airline, education, real estate, energy, telecommunications, the dairy sector and transport.

Former president Daniel Arap Moi who ruled Kenya for 24 years has business interests in banking, media, hotel and tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, airline and education. Former civil servant and retired cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae has business interests in manufacturing, transport, farming, banking and ranching.

Essentially, the last 50 years of independence have been about massive concentration of the nation’s wealth in the hands of a few people while the masses languish in poverty. Since independence, public office whether elective or appointive has remained the most important stepping stone to fabulous wealth through corruption, land grabbing and all manner of economic crimes against the people of Kenya.


Two weeks ago, police told a Kenyan TV station that they receive an average of 2,000 applications every month from people seeking a licence to own a gun. This is not a small number. But there would be far more applicants if more people could afford a gun. Insecurity in Kenya is a major national crisis, ranging from gun-totting thugs to organised gangs and hardcore terrorist networks.

But what could one expect in a country where unemployment stands at 40 per cent, and 70 per cent of the jobless people are aged between 15 and 35 years? About 800,000 Kenyans join the labour market each year, but only a paltry 50,000 succeed in getting professional jobs.

Millions of people feel completely alienated by the current dysfunctional system. For several years now the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a secessionist movement, has been operating at the Kenyan coastal region under the slogan ‘Pwani si Kenya’ (the coastal region is not part of Kenya). Last year, MRC nearly marred the national elections through a campaign urging the people in the region not to vote. Kenya’s coast is important for the country’s tourism and has many other resources. But many local people remain very poor and are mostly landless. Who took their land and why? 

Believe it or not, it was only in March this year that the Court of Appeal overturned a verbal decree [9] issued by President Jomo Kenyatta 40 years ago requiring anyone who wanted to buy a plot on the Indian Ocean beaches to seek presidential approval. Of course it was Kenyatta’s kin, ethnic elites and cronies who got the prime beach plots!

Until now the people of the neglected arid north and northeast of the country do not consider themselves Kenyan. It is churches and non-governmental organisations that play the role of government there. People from Nairobi and other parts of the country visiting these two regions are still greeted with the words ‘How is Kenya?’, which underline the sense of exclusion.

National unity remains elusive. The country is deeply divided along ethnic lines. Kenya has at least 42 tribes and in 50 years of independence, the four presidents have come from two tribes, the Kikuyu (three presidents, including the incumbent) and the Kalenjin (one). The present government is an ethnic alliance between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin elites. All the presidents deepened negative ethnicity by rewarding their people with public resources and positions. They bought ethnic loyalty by similarly rewarding ethnic elites and punished entire ethnic groups by excluding them from meaningful development. As a result Kenyans generally think of themselves first as members of their ethnic groups and not citizens of a nation.

A new constitution was overwhelmingly passed in a referendum in 2010 after a relentless and painful struggle lasting at least two decades. Its extensive Bill of Rights, provisions for devolved government, the whittling down of the previously ‘imperial’ powers of the president and creation of numerous independent bodies to oversee government, filled people with optimism. But in the first year of a government under the new constitution, President Kenyatta has demonstrated that a constitution is just words on paper; it can be ignored when it stands in the way of political expediency. The new 47 counties seem to be doing well in using devolved funds to serve the people. But corruption and misuse of taxpayer’s money remain rife in the counties. Fundamentally, there is no indication that the constitution will, in a hundred years, bridge the yawning inequalities in Kenya, end corruption or stop rampant negative ethnicity.


In the days preceding 7 July 2014, Kenya witnessed extreme national anxiety not seen since the post-election violence of 2007-2008. Media reports said members of certain ethnic communities were fleeing their homes and places of work and returning to their ancestral homes for fear of attacks by members of other ethnic groups. Bus companies in Nairobi did roaring business transporting panicked city residents upcountry.

Leaflets appeared in Naivasha - a town in the Rift Valley region that bore some of the worst violence in the 2007-8 ethnic conflagration - warning specifically members of the Luo community to leave or they would be slaughtered.

A newspaper said that a major supermarket in Nairobi had reported huge sales of machetes.

Social media was aflame, with ethnic bigots firing choicest insults and issuing dire proclamations. A state information agency said hate speech had gone up dramatically on cyberspace, although no one was charged with the crime. Other Kenyans on Twitter and Facebook posted anguished messages urging love for country and for fellow citizens. 

In Nairobi, a member of parliament called out to members of the Kikuyu community to come out in full force to defend the presidency of Uhuru Kenyatta.

Religious leaders of all shades urged restraint, appealed for national unity and set aside days for special prayers. Long-faced bishops and ‘men of God’ of various titles declared in delirious sermons from pulpits around the country that they had ‘covered Kenya with the blood of Jesus’ and therefore the politically instigated violence of the past would not recur.

A source visiting State House in those days described to this writer a visibly disturbed and distracted President Kenyatta scurrying from one meeting to another. Numerous delegations were at State House daily to confer with the President about the situation in the country.

Kenya was headed to a certain apocalypse, no doubt about that.

But what was really happening? What threw the country into such a paroxysm of hysteria? Nothing much. The opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, had announced that it would conduct countrywide rallies to press the Jubilee Coalition government to deal with a number of urgent national issues including escalating insecurity, high cost of living, extensive official corruption, tribalism in public appointments, violation of the constitution by the president and a raft of unfulfilled election pledges. Mr Odinga had called for a national dialogue on these issues. But when the Jubilee administration rejected the call, CORD announced national mobilisation.

The rallies would culminate on Saba Saba day, which CORD had declared a public holiday. Saba Saba (7/7 in Kiswahili) refers to 7 July 1990 when Kenya’s pro-democracy brigade staged daring protests in Nairobi to demand an end to the tyrannical rule of President Daniel Arap Moi and for the restoration of multiparty democracy.

The call for nationwide rallies sent shockwaves throughout the Jubilee government. There were fears that CORD was actually planning a people’s revolution that would depose President Kenyatta and install Mr Odinga in his place.

The panicked government unleashed a series of strategies to counter this supposed eventuality. The Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo at first imposed a ban on all political rallies. But after this order elicited protests, he rescinded it. Next, the government embarked on a campaign of ethnic mobilisation and vilification of Mr Odinga by attempting to pin rising national insecurity on him. Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku even made the preposterous claim that opposition leaders were working with criminal gangs and outlawed groups to destabilise the country. Yet no politician was arrested.

Less than three weeks before Saba Saba, more than 60 people were killed in a two-day orgy of violence at the Kenyan coast. Media reports quoted intelligence reports saying police had prior information about the planning of the attacks, for which the Somali-based terrorist group Al Shabaab claimed responsibility. But instead of finding out and fixing the alleged security lapses, President Kenyatta stunned everyone when he told the nation that the killings were the work of ‘local political networks’ targeting members of one ethnic group. Most of the dead were ethnic Kikuyus, like the president. 

At the time of writing, two months after the attacks, the government has not exposed any political networks responsible for the massacres at the Coast. Nor has it explained the alleged targeting of the Kikuyu. But the message from President Kenyatta had achieved its intended political purpose: to signal to the Kikuyu that they were under attack and to unite the ethnic block solidly behind him. This makes sense when one considers that the opposition leader organising political rallies around the country was a Luo, who are political enemies of the Kikuyu.

Another strategy employed by the government to defeat Saba Saba rallies was to heighten the fear of ethnic violence, particularly between the Luo and Kikuyu. Pro-government politicians, analysts, commentators and bloggers predicted darkly that the rallies would plunge the country into chaos. 

The Church is very influential in Kenya and solidly pro-establishment. After clerics made trips to State House, they came out scaring citizens with reminders of the post-election violence of 2007/8. Priests from the so-called mainstream churches pleaded with ‘the President and the leader of CORD to call off all political rallies, meetings and demonstrations unconditionally and indefinitely.’

How the religious leaders, or anyone else for that matter, figured out that the political rallies would endanger peace and that it was therefore necessary to suspend the freedom of assembly guaranteed in the constitution remains unclear. No evidence was adduced to show that anyone was planning violence. The government had simply resorted to fear- mongering in an attempt to stop people from attending the CORD rallies. But people turned out in large numbers at the rallies all the same and no incidents of violence were reported.

Another strategy deployed by the state was to prevail on Kenya’s much-vaunted ‘independent and vibrant’ media not to provide live TV coverage of the Saba Saba rally in Nairobi. Despite pretensions of independence, Kenya’s media retains umbilical links to the country’s ruling class.

Eventually, the Saba Saba rally at Nairobi’s historic Uhuru Park took place. It was peaceful. The government poured thousands of armed police officers at the venue. A tight security cordon was thrown around State House, possibly to prevent a march to the presidency. But no such thing was even attempted.

The events surrounding Saba Saba show one thing: Kenya is a very fragile nation. The people are restless. The government is terribly scared of them. That is why it survives on force, not popular legitimacy. The people are fed up with the pampered political class. They want fundamental change, not another package of negotiated reforms. No amount of reforms can cure the ravages of years of elite politics. Other than revolutionary change, nothing is going to improve the lives of the majority of Kenyans. The 8,300 super-rich individuals will certainly grow richer, while the conditions of life of millions of other Kenyans will worsen. The fabulous wealth of the dollar millionaires is not going to trickle down to the masses. Never!

The people themselves must rise up to dismantle this system. And they can. Most people never thought British colonialism would end. It did. Not many people imagined apartheid could be defeated by the people of South Africa. It was. Few people thought the deeply entrenched Moi kleptocracy would go. It did. It took the single selfless protest action of a young Tunisian street vendor, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, (not some powerful politician or grouping!) to bring down the 22-year-old dictatorship of Ben Ali in 2011.

The revolution will not come for the political elite; not even the opposition. A new radical leadership must emerge. The people should be mobilised. They are not as helpless as some might think. They have the power to overthrow this predatory system and put in place a new one that genuinely serves their interests. We need a new consciousness. People ought to understand that their conditions of poverty, famine, disease, insecurity, unemployment, landlessness, are not the will of God- or a result of lack of faith. It is not that we do not pray enough. Or that the so-called national cake is not big enough for everyone. Rather, the people are victims of an unjust order. This order must be destroyed.

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