30-YEAR CYCLE

Do established historical patterns still apply?

A friend posited every 30 years the country goes through a major 'reset'.

In Summary
  • Kenya’s independence in the early 1960s was part of a post-World War 2 wave of decolonisation that swept through Asia and Africa.
  • The collapse of the Berlin Wall, which marked the end of the Cold War, in 1990 triggered a new political reality—pluralism.

One of the perennial temptations for historians, is a desire to impose patterns on purely random events. A friend of mine, for example, used to claim that he had figured out an undisputable pattern in Kenyan history. And this was that every 30 years, the country goes through a major “reset” during which old certainties are demolished and transformational change leads to a new political order.

He further added that these tectonic shifts were usually initiated by events at the global level over which Kenya had no control.

As evidence of this view he would point out that Kenya gained independence in the early 1960s. But though the struggle for independence was a process which created many heroes, the fact remains that Kenya’s independence was part of a post-World War 2 wave of decolonisation that swept through Asia and Africa. The trigger that made independence possible lay in events beyond our borders.

 

But we then saw our experience of independence gradually slide from that of a liberal democracy to an authoritarian police state. I would argue that by the late 1980s, most Kenyans were reconciled to President Moi being a classic African Big Man President-for-Life.

But then in the early 1990s, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which marked the end of the Cold War, triggered a new political reality. The leaders of African nations like Kenya, which had long been American client-states, suddenly found that opposing communism was not enough to keep them in their patron’s good books. The new requirement was for “pluralism” which was another word for a multiparty electoral system in which the long-serving president would have to scramble for votes like any other politician.

Once again, it was events in distant lands that made possible the transformational change within Kenya and put an end to institutionalised oppression. And it all happened exactly on schedule – 30 years after the last major transformational change, which was independence.

But it seems that this time around, history is mocking us. I am inclined to throw away my friend’s theory of Kenya’s “30-year cycle” history, and insist that this latest epic event is not part of any pattern. That it can as easily lead to an ultimately positive outcome, as it could lead to ever greater disasters.

I believe some readers will by now have noticed that this year, 2020, is exactly 30 years after 1990. And so, they will be wondering what major blessing might be in store for us – something epic, beneficial, and roughly equivalent to our gaining independence or “the second liberation” (as the return to multiparty politics used to be called).

But it seems that this time around, history is mocking us. Consider the events thus far: Not so long ago, there were politicians who openly argued that our future lay in the new bonds of friendship we were forging with China. And that we could afford to disregard our previous benefactors such as the US, various European nations, and also Japan.

But instead what we now see is a previously unheard-of virus, arising from within China, landing here via JKIA, and within months, turning our lives upside down. All the little things which previously made life pleasant – visits to restaurants; sports events; attendance of church and mosque – all these had to be abruptly stopped, if we were to prevent the infection from spreading and causing thousands of deaths in its wake.

And of course, for poor or unemployed Kenyans the question is not one of whether or not they will be able to eat in nice restaurants, but rather whether their families will be able to eat at all.

So, we are definitely going through a major shakeup. We face an invisible oppressor, which is not imposing political oppression, but a far more broadly felt economic and societal oppression. And though some say that we will emerge from this “stronger and better” I am not so sure how and why this will be possible.

So, I am inclined to throw away my friend’s theory of Kenya’s “30-year cycle” history, and insist that this latest epic event is not part of any pattern.

That it can as easily lead to an ultimately positive outcome, as it could lead to ever greater disasters.

And that we are – as is so often the case – mere bystanders, who can only watch and wait, since the final resolution on these events currently weighing on us, can only arrive from biomedical research currently being carried out in laboratories in faraway nations.