Are we doomed to repeat past actions?

I wonder if it is mere coincidence as current events echo history

In Summary

• Karl Marx famously said: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce

Truly, as Karl Marx said, history repeats itself. Actually, what the German economist and philosopher said in full was: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. 

However, for the purposes of this article, I will concentrate more on the repeats and less on the tragedies and farce.

Looking at headlines and news stories from the early 1990s and seeing how some of the same topics keep coming up, I have found that Marx was right in the sense that our propensity to identify patterns and learn lessons from experience cannot always be taken for granted.

For instance, recently there has been an uproar ofter the High Court nullified the employment of 1,406 new staff hired by the Kenya Revenue Authority.

The recruitment process, the court found, was purely tribal and, therefore, unconstitutional. 

In fact, over the last year or so, there have been quite a few news stories claiming that government appointments seem to be dominated by two ethnic groups, the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu. Similar claims were made about the previous administration.

In fact, the “tribalisation” of public service appointments has been an issue since independent Kenya came into being.

I remember being a young reporter at the Kanu-owned Sunday Times towards the end of February 1991 when similar fuss was made.

Gitobu Imanyara’s Nairobi Law Monthly (NLM) had come up with an edition in which it criticised the government of President Daniel arap Moi of “gross tribalism in the allocation of jobs in the public sector”.

It ran an editorial in which it listed many public bodies headed by members of the Kalenjin ethnic cluster.

Under the stewardship of the venerable Philip Ochieng, our sister paper Kenya Times had taken on the role of the government’s “shield and defender”.

Shortly after the NLM hit the streets with its claims, the Times published a front-page story that carried the government’s response to the tribalist tag.

The story, in fact, was more of a list of the chairperson and CEO of every single public sector organisation in Kenya.

It took up four pages of the newspaper in an effort to show that the NLM’s list of key parastatals headed by Kalenjins was unfair and biased.

However, even in this rebuttal of sorts by the government, there was no denial of the fact that the NLM’s list of key public bodies was correct and that indeed, many organisations were headed by Kalenjins.

They included Central Bank, Kenya Posts and Telecommunications, CID and GSU.

Others were National Youth Service, Kenya Cooperative Creameries, Kenya Literature Bureau, Kenya Industrial Estates and Kenya Institute of Education.

Under Moi’s predecessor, Jomo Kenyatta, there had also been complaints about one tribe, this time the Kikuyu, dominating public service jobs. 

It would seem that this retrogressive trend has become part of Kenyan political culture, in which ethnic voting blocs are rewarded with top jobs, and history has taught us nothing.

Back to the present day. The Kenya government recently announced plans to divest from or privatise 17 state-owned entities, much to the horror of a number of Kenyans, who fear the process will not be transparent.

Thirty-three years ago in July 1991, the Kenya government announced its intention of selling 139 state firms. 

That process also had many Kenyans concerned that the family silver, such as it were, would be sold off to government cronies, and the general public would not get a piece of the action. They were right. In the final analysis, mass privatisation was, at best, contentious.

As I write this, the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) is in the news after a High Court ruling threw the FKF’s plans for an Annual General Meeting and an election into disarray.

In March 1990, the then Culture and Social Services Minister James Njiru announced that the Kenya Football Federation (KFF) the FKF’s predecessor, would soon hold elections to replace the caretaker committee that had been running football in the country.

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