Guest Post: By Denis Otingo-Onyango
Also published earlier today: Open Letter To Phil of Kumekucha
Last weekend Nation’s article ‘Khalwale: Is he a political gun for hire or reformist?' was very catchy in its title on the backdrop of the ‘Unga Saga’ proceedings but was less intriguing to read though after fulfilling a much punier task of deciphering what the subjected Member of Parliament stands for or represents. In my humble view, he is not a political gun for hire but the ‘new-kid-on-the Populist Political block’ without any real reform agenda. Even more sinister, he can be viewed as a pretending reformer but for popularity sake but at the expense of the deeply vulnerable and clinically disenchanted Wananchi. I might be wrong but spare me your judgement before reading this.
At least now it's official. Let all the media outlets and the public be warned that "Political Populism” of the eighties is back with a big bang and it’s the new flavour in politics, and the Unofficial Opposition is lapping it up. Clouding the citizenry with mixed feelings also in the process, because the "populist" stories have a perennial quality in style and rhetoric but however leaves one wanting if you are in search for true substance. It’s more about grabbing the next headline and making news than speaking for the downtrodden in bid of real reforms, and doing so with anyone or anything whose appeal ‘seems’ down home, down to earth or down market right. Khalwale has not stolen anybody’s show, apart from Kalembe Ndile, Wafwoli Bwakwoli and Ramadhan Kajembe. He is effectively the new Martin Shikuku and Kamau-wa- Nyoike hecklers type but only just without a bow-tie. His Budalangi counterpart has chosen a pocket handkerchief rather than a bow tie.
Notwithstanding, the unofficial opposition and with its new ‘political populism’ as championed by Khalwale, Bwafwoli, Namwamba and et al have been fortunate to have gigantic scandals like Grand Regency and The Unga Saga play into their hands promising great hopes to the oppressed of possible breaking of the yoke of Poverty institution. If they could have fully capitalized on them in their submissions and deployed the stick ability endurance in a seeking to convert them to bold Bills that can bring amendments and subsequently fundamental reforms. Comparatively with what presidents have been impeached about in similar other cases are realistically whimsical in proportions compared with our sagas.
The Maize Scandal in retrospect is an example of classic case that exposes the ‘Populist Politics’, here Khalwale and Co failed to see the inextricable link between ‘Ugali’ hunger of the common voiceless mwananchi they claim to speak on behalf with the Sangwachan Tanker Disaster only to let the culprits of other sagas that have taken bread out the hand of suffering like Kroll Saga and Anglo Leasing go and lecture peoples on totally peripheral issues on how to avoid similar catastrophes. I’m sorry these people do not know the pain of losing a loved one and not to have a grave to remember them with because of poverty and they should leap back into their choppers of X-4’s back to their palatial homes. A ‘Sangchangwan Bill’ would have been a progressive populism move of forcing the government to renew its commitment in fighting endemic graft that is killing its citizens with poverty, luring some of them to death like a mouse to a mousetrap. The sub-sections of the bill would suggest that, it would be a criminal offence punishable with two years imprisonment if one is found guilty of trying to siphon petrol from a Tanker illegally because the thought of serving a term might give one hind sight with the care of their loved ones in mind.
In ‘The Grand Regency Saga’ and ‘The Kimunya must go’ rendition, Khalwale in my view did not fair better than the state house draft players live alone some other chess players. He could not predict the shuffling of the furniture and his unrepentant return as if to say ‘Kwani uta do?’ meaning ‘I don’t care attitude’. With apparent signs of sending Kimunya packing, Khalwale preferred glorying in stealing the show from Bwafwoli Wakoli and his new title of the ‘Bullfighter’ from Ikolomani than considering fully the implications of his motives whether it’s about publicity or reforms. If it was for the latter rather than the former, he could have checkmated the government by tabling a positive ethnic discrimination bill for the any further appointments to the sensitive Finance docket in the spirit of New Accord and the desperation for healing following the events of last year. In my opinion with this second example, Dr.Khalwale is like a wicked Gynaecologist inducing labour in a birth process and walks away leading to still baby deaths’. He and his cohorts have lacked a hot headed analysis that can confront a national decline from top-down with all their ugly manifestations.
In a more pragmatic sense, may be some of these ‘new populists politicians’ like Gitobu Imanyara yearn to begin the kind of broad-gauged assault on the status quo as the real reformers of our historical past in the seventies and eighties such as the ‘Seven Bearded sisters’ George Anyona, Koigi Wamwere, Mwashengu-wa-Mwachofi and James Aggrey Orengo just to mention a few. They had a genuine concern about the paupers and the gap their opulent ‘masters’ lived in and did not stop at anything or anybody. They were fearless bullfighters who were not shy on taking the state machinery head on even with detention gates within sights. Here the begging question is , where is the ‘Unofficial Opposition’ party's comprehensive critique of the delay of Agenda 4--not just the wild indifferent delay but the corrupted nature of it that has left all the state security apparatus in the hands of an elite Kenyan society. It’s a factual statement that such state machinery is the primary sustenance of inept leadership with all manner of ‘Muppet Show’ presidents like in our neighbouring African countries.
Nowadays, ''power to the people'' is a slogan used even by both Microsoft and I.B.M. and '' a man of the people'' by a man who with his several wives cannot go without his favourite ‘Ugali’ and ‘mrenda’ usually has a sarcastic inflection. Dr Khalwale was reported in the article as a staunch opponent of taxation of MPs’ perks. He was also quoted to be s saying that such a move would render legislators “as poor as their constituents’’. I rest my case, this is tentatively playing politics with people’s lives and leaving the historic meaning of reform politics corrupting and trivializing it with as a sentimental oddity known as ‘New populism’ invoked by the press and embraced by powerful interests operatives. They are not any different from Newt Gingrich and George Galloway of western world’s politics who leapt at any ‘hot potato’ media issues to be relevant with the latter even going to a greater length of dining and seizing a photo opportunity with Saddam the tyrant.
The ‘Progressive Populism’ which I subscribe to is exemplified by the Obama’s ’08 Movement; it was creative and robustly defiant of the entrenched power. Giving hope to the disillusioned people in their bleakest of circumstances and with their five, ten dollars, they forged their own politics and audaciously took on the Washington’s establishment and Wall Street. Setting their eyes on the ‘big price’ and armed with one solid agenda that was ultimately going to change their nation. It was rich in big ideas about how they were going to use government to protect their society from further depredations of concentrated wealth and corporate power. They then incorporated the intellectual seedbed of socialist scholars like David Axelor to influencing the change agenda with tangible health, social and economic justice policies. Climaxing with a delivery strategy that culminated to the ‘New America’ they are now experiencing.
Hey, let us be warned, these ‘new populist politicians’ are just talking as if they might actually do something for the common folks. How quaint or daft, it is all ‘domo’ meaning rhetoric and impossible in our current political system that is accustomed to serving a particular interest. If they are absolutely serious, they should stop these media antics or risk being branded as ‘‘wild-eyed, rattle-brained fanatics'' or disparage demagogues hecklers without any concept of sustainable strategy. They should then start advocating for the breaking of the corporate power, the chief perpetrator of the quagmire we have found ourselves in with a ‘hands-tied-in-the-back boxer’ Prime Minister Raila Odinga as graphically describe by the former Anti-Graft tsar and an Oxford Scholar John Githongo.
The writer is a UK Based Kenyan, Progressive Populist Political Activist.