Kenya hurtling into world of extreme politics

Politics of extremes encompasses ideologies of both the far right and the far left

In Summary

• The institutions that should provide checks against these trends such as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission have been overrun.

• Both sides have become hawkish and vulgar.

Members of team Kieleweke along Kuku Lane in Nyeri town on Sunday
Members of team Kieleweke along Kuku Lane in Nyeri town on Sunday

The world is embracing the politics of extremes at a breathtaking rate.

The recent European Union elections confirmed that voters are not excited by centrist politics. This trend has been going on since PM David Cameron lost in the Brexit vote in 2017, followed by the surprise election of Emmanuel Macron as French President in May 2017.

The politics of extremes encompasses the ideologies of both the far right and the far left. The right belongs to parties of conservatism. This is where capital is given a central role in development and the market is freely allowed to control the exchange of goods and provision of services.

 The best examples of rightist parties are the Conservative Party of Britain, the Republican Party of the US and the Christian Democratic Union Party in alliance with the Social Christian Union Party (CDU/CSU) of Germany.

The left, on the other hand, comprises parties that propagate ideologies of liberalism and human social welfare. The state is given wider control of the lives of citizens and capital is managed through collectivism. Human development is a government intervention endeavour that makes social welfare the key plank of the relationship between the state and its citizens.

Some examples of the parties in the left the Democrats (US), the Labour Party (UK), the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The dichotomy of right and left in party politics functions best in parliamentary democracies.

In the USSR of old, the Communist Party being totalitarian in character and practice, brooked no competition and was thus at the extreme alone to its eventual death. In parliamentary democracies, however, the parties occupy what may appear as a continuum in the competition spectrum.

Parties would be considered extreme or moderate depending on how accommodative they may be of their opposite ideologies. Those political parties on the left that are most accommodative of conservative ideologies are considered centre left, those that are mild in their tolerance of the same are taken to be middle of the left while those extremely opposed are the far left.

The converse is true for those parties on the right on the basis of their tolerance of liberal ideologies. Those that are extremely opposed to liberalism are referred to as far right. Those who are mild are middle right while those warm to liberalism are taken to be centre right.

Kenya’s politics has traditionally not been based on conventional party ideologies. However, there has been relative sensitivities to extreme policies that appear to upset the status quo. The country has been guided largely by the colonial heritage that has promoted the concept of stability and a market-driven economy.

This legacy has pushed the capitalist ideology with a strong centrist government playing a major role in supporting open markets. The country has thus been susceptible to global political and economic trends dictated by the superpowers. National interests have largely been subservient to the strategic interests of the major benefactors, the US and Britain.

Lately, China has also emerged as a key influence on the national political psyche. Kenya has always listened to what the US and Britain say to guide its international relations. The two countries have also been keen to ensure Kenya remains their ally for their strategic interests in the Horn of Africa.

Historically, the Horn is strategic to the West because of the Suez Canal. It is a key economic zone for Europe and the Middle East. On numerous occasions, Kenya’s nationalist interests have been sacrificed on the altar of superpower interests.

When the colonialists discovered that the radical Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had teamed up with firebrand Jomo Kenyatta, they dropped the idea of propping up the moderate Ronald Ngala as president. They immediately embarked on a scheme to mellow the old Jomo through psychological reorientation.

The age of the erstwhile right-wing nationalist worked in favour of the departing white colonialists. Soon Jaramogi discovered that the Kenyatta at Independence was different from the one he had earlier received at Ahero. Thereafter, the US was at hand to facilitate the removal of the now left-leaning Vice-President from the party and government.

JM Kariuki sought to move from the centre-right to far left in the mid-1970s and was soon liquidated. The sophisticated intelligence machinery of the West assisted both the Kenyatta and Moi governments to identify leftist political operatives. The elements were branded subversive and subjected to an oppressive legal framework, including detention and execution.

Raila Odinga belonged to these anti-establishment forces and this association has largely been responsible for his many failed presidential bids. In 2007, Raila was considered the winner with a comfortable majority. However, speculation has been rife that his extremist politics made it in the international interest to jointly force him to play second fiddle in the ensuing Grand Coalition government.

He has been branded a socialist and anti-business. His early days at the Technical University of Magdeburg in communist East Germany hang on his neck like an albatross. His compatriots in the Second Liberation struggle have been all but politically annihilated. This includes even latter-day converts such as populist Kenneth Matiba, whose business empire painfully suffered under the status quo adherents.

It is said that the more things change the more they remain the same and that what goes around comes around. History also has a cunning way of repeating itself.

The priests of globalisation led by the US and Britain have turned around full circle. Their leaders are today more inward-looking and care less about world stability. They are more concerned with the immediate interests of their people than the long-term strategic interests of the state.

The leaders of developing countries, which have long depended on the benevolence of the superpowers for their survival, have to re-engineer their strategies. Those whose careers have heavily relied on external orientation will soon find themselves in the woods and overtaken by events.

Kenya has benefitted from its strategic importance to regularly churn out leaders that care least about national interests. Successive leaders have manipulated international interests to win elections and later maintain themselves in power. Those who espouse nationalist agendas are considered extreme by international economic and political interests. Their careers have foundered.

The unfolding events on the global stage are a groundswell for local nationalist politics. They may lack ideological sophistication but will bear the hallmark of extremism. Recent activities by the Kieleweke and Tangatanga groups point to a polarised general election. Both sides have become hawkish and indecent. They employ inflammatory communication as their stock in trade besides balkanising the country. At a function in Central Kenya, the Kieleweke leaders declared Deputy President William Ruto persona non grata in the region.

On the other hand, the Tangatanga leaders have spared no public function to warn of dire consequences should some communities not toe the Ruto line. Obviously, these lines of the campaign are parochial but emotive and easily mobilise support.

The institutions that should provide checks against these trends such as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission have been overrun.

The next election is not likely to be a battle of ideologies of national stability and decency within the international community. The two sides are more or less engaged in a bitter rivalry over past scores to be settled. By default, the country would have joined the global politics of extremism. In the West, the leaders put the citizens’ interests at the core of their agenda.

Whether the citizens in Kenya will be at the centre of the politicians’ plans as they seek the high office is a matter of debate.