Sunday, March 17, 2013

Kenya’s abortive class struggle

On election day, the armed guard at my polling station said to me and others present, “The most foolish thing is when poor people vote to make rich men richer.” He was speaking dangerously – he talked the language of class consciousness. I know the universities have done a thorough job implanting a knee-jerk reaction against socialist-communist-sounding themes in our educated psyches. However, the reality of the matter is that class struggle is Kenya’s real problem, and tribalism is the smokescreen by which class consciousness is being obscured and successfully prevented.

Every five years an opportunity comes around for the wretched of the earth to overhaul government in their favor. As classes, we have more challenges in common with one another than we have with our self-appointed tribal representatives. Thanks to democracy, the lower classes have the wherewithal to take their destiny in their own hands, rather than subscribing to tribal scions to elevate them into the much coveted middle-class. Individuals proudly and audaciously claim to embody the interests of entire tribes, yet we know we are in the 21st century. We also know they will go ahead to fill their own stomachs if elected. Come Election Day a circus lately baptized “tyranny of numbers” dictates the outcome: the tribes with the biggest numbers vote their candidate in.

In such a neo-patrimonial political game, two things could happen: either the president forgets them till Election Day, in which case they’ve been fooled; or the president remembers them richly, in which case the other tribes grow resentful and the next election will be much too tense. Either way the voter loses.

Kenya today stands where democracy and tribalism overlap, even if right now that democracy is on trial (twitter #democracyontrial) and the tribalism is, well, tribalism. I dare to prescribe to Kenya that class consciousness is the way out of our current myopic cold war. Too many speeches have been made by impassioned Kenyans about how the wealthy politicians play golf together while their respective poor tribesmen stare daggers at one another amidst squalor.

Class consciousness is the stuff of revolution – but democracy is the means by which that revolution can be peaceful and 100% legal. Then afterwards we can all turn our attention to a future in which tribal identity is good for diversity rather than for division.

Dare we approach Vision 2030 galloping straight ahead with our tunnel-vision tribal blinkers in place?

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