Author: Shem Ochuodo
Publ: Adage Publishers & Information Services, Nairobi
Reviewer: Tom Odhiambo
WHY KENYAN POLITICAL INTRIGUES AREN’T REALLY INTRIGUING
Political intrigues aren’t really intriguing. In many cases what writers call political intrigues are poor tales of betrayal, backstabbing and abandonment of ideas or ideals that weren’t focused in the first place. The key characteristic of politicians is that they just can’t tell the plain truth or honour an agreement. And this habit describes politicians the world over. One would say that politics is the only profession where no qualification is really needed. Except the ability to say what you don’t mean and to mean what you don’t say.
If you doubt me then think of the so-called dishonoured memorandum of understanding of 2002 between Kenyan politicians, in this case represented by Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki. Or have you wondered how some Kenyans claiming to be remnants of the Mau Mau freedom fighters are filing a case in England, seeking compensation from the British for land alienation by the colonialists and atrocities committed against them over 50 years ago? Why has independent Kenyan governments not been willing to resettle and compensate these women and men who liberated this country? What did the politicians who took over from colonialists do with the land that reverted to the government? How much money, really, was needed to compensate these persons for their sufferings?
It is this for this reason that one should read Shem Ochuodho’s book, Dawn of a Rainbow: The Untold intrigues of Kenya’s First Coalition Government (2012). Well, wasn’t NARC just a bad dream? How could a dream be pegged on the image of a ‘rainbow’? If you consider that a rainbow signals the passing of rain, and yet rain generally symbolizes blessing – the water will nourish crops, crops will yield food, food will keep away hunger – then whoever dreamt about the rainbow coalition should really have know that the dream wasn’t going to last for long.
Indeed the dream didn’t last long. The memorandum was trashed and in tears the losing partners subsequently turned enemies. We know where that led us: the December 2007 general elections which shamed and nearly destroyed Kenya. So, what does Ochuodho think of the NARC dream?
Dawn of a Rainbow concludes on this note: ‘Contrary to the popular belief, the NARC dream and spirit of 2002 is still very much alive – may be not so much with the political leadership, but certainly with the people and progressive Kenyan leadership found from among all the cadres of society, including ordinary Kenyans, politicians, professionals, entrepreneurs, clergy, civil society, the youth, Diaspora, and so on.’ Interestingly this positive outlook is immediately betrayed by the conclusions that follow it: ‘At the onset of NARC, we said we would deliver a new Constitution. Kenyans had to wait for nearly 10 years for a new constitutional order. We said we would stamp out corruption. Kenyans still yearn for a corruption-free country. We said we would de-ethnicize the Kenyan mind. Kenyans still want nepotism and tribalism permanently kicked out of its midst (sic), especially in government. We said we will build a genuine “Government of National Unity (GNU)”, and Kenyans still yearn for such a government, instead of the “Grand Collusion” that we brought upon ourselves.”
The theme that runs through this book is the betrayal of the collective dreams of Kenyans to be liberated from the tyranny, underdevelopment and hopelessness of the KANU regime. It is the collective wish and will of Kenyans that watered and nurtured the roots of resistance to KANU.
And Dawn of a Rainbow highlights the different initiatives and efforts by Kenyans of different races, tribes, religions, ideological convictions, social classes, gender, their pan-African friends and supporters from the rest of the world to unseat the oppressive post-1982 state. All these efforts were characterized as seeking more democratic space through the registration of parties other than KANU, demanding that the state recognizes the rights of each and every Kenyan to hold a political or ideological view, and free and fair elections.
Ochuodho tells of the stillbirth of many of these initiatives. Some were betrayed by the very same founding individuals. Others were, undoubtedly, sabotaged by the government. Forums such as The Progressive People’s Forum (PPF) and the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) that preceded NARC might have been born from noble ideals but they didn’t have a strong foundational philosophy, or if you will, ideology, to drive them. It was quite easy for such groupings to flounder and die away.
Even subsequently when NARC was formed, one gets from Dawn of a Rainbow, the same deficits that afflicted prodemocracy movements of the 1990s, haunted it. Mistrust based on ethnic, political, economic, ideological or even religious differences always threatened to undermine the progressive rhetoric that so galvanized Kenyans to shake off the KANU regime in 2002. Definitely there were many pro-KANU and reactionary forces ready to betray the NARC dream. It is not easy for individuals, groups and institutions that have been in power for so long to simply give up the trappings of office because citizens have democratically voted in new people.
For instance, NARC was too full of individuals from the ancien regime. Also, the civil service wasn’t likely to reform as quickly as the citizens anticipated. Consider that there was really no ideological connection between NAK and LDP, the two groupings that made up NARC. Or, how was the ‘new’ state to deal with the civic society rhetoric that demanded wholesale changes including an overhaul of the constitution, the remaking of the judiciary and the police force or the introduction of a code of ethics to govern the activities of all civil servants? Weren’t these shocks too much to bear for the new government?
I am not surprised that the optimism that was carried in the symbol of the Rainbow Coalition dissipated barely a year into the new regime. Definitely, although Dawn of a Rainbow doesn’t detail the really juicy shenanigans in the NARC regime (unlike Miguna Miguna’s unmasking of the high and low dramas of the post-2007 Coalition Government between Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki in Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya), it is a worthy archive of cloak and dagger nature of postcolonial Kenyan politics. I read Dawn of a Rainbow as both an insider’s account of how power is captured and kept in Africa but also as a narrative of how simple acts of betrayal can bring a country to its knees.
What is really intriguing in this book is the question: was there really a locally-driven ideology informing all these struggles for change in Kenya in the 1990s and early 2000s? Yes, the KANU regime may have turned against Kenyans but did the reformists offer a better vision? The last nine years of the post-Moi regime seem to have extremely undermined the ‘change’ vision; even though there have been such minor victories like the new constitution and a new judiciary. Dawn of a Rainbow: The Untold intrigues of Kenya’s First Coalition Government is a warning to Kenyans not to take for granted such small victories but to remain ever vigilant against conservatives amongst them.