On March 4, Kenya took a sharp turn to the right

Saturday March 16 2013

Kenya under Kanu shared many characteristics with right wing governments in Latin America.

In those regimes, wealth was kept within powerful, well-connected families. Protected by the political and legal order, those close to the regime amassed legendary fortunes, much of the money being stashed away in Swiss banks.

The only legal political expression was sycophancy towards the regime. Those suspected of independent political thought and libertarian social ideas were treated with extreme brutality, including systematic torture and execution at the hands of death squads operating under the control of the security apparatus.

In Argentina, the regime devised a particularly gruesome method of dealing with its political and social misfits — making them disappear.

Thousands of intellectuals and ordinary people fled into exile. Those who remained behind were reduced to impoverished cheerleaders of truly evil regimes.

As this went on, the regimes camouflaged themselves in religious garb and rhetoric, claiming that they were protecting Christian values from erosion by anti-Christ ideas (shetani ashindwe!).


The Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile is the prototype of these regimes, whose egregious brutality is echoed by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch.

So the agenda of the NARC revolution was to dismantle the oppressive Kanu machine built over four decades.

This took various forms: Enacting pro-people policies, ending corruption, dismantling the secret police, ending impunity of people close to the regime, creating an environment where intellectuals, debate and artistic creativity could once again thrive, reforming the judiciary so that it could once again be the protector of people, not regime types, investigating past injustices and crimes, etc, and, importantly, negotiating a new constitutional framework to guide Kenya as it transformed itself from a police state into a democracy.

The question, then, in the aftermath of the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president and William Ruto as his deputy, is whether the two are capable of driving an agenda that was crafted and pushed by the anti-Kanu movement at great cost in blood and tears.

My sense — looking at their political and social history, how they galvanised their political support, and their positions on various issues in the recent past — point to an ideological outlook opposed to a social democratic agenda.

For instance, both have profited immensely, politically and materially, from Kanu patronage. Ruto campaigned vigorously against the new Constitution and was opposed to the appointment of human-rights crusader Willy Mutunga as Chief Justice, and both he and Kenyatta supported the unconstitutional appointment of high-level officials by President Mwai Kibaki.

Again, both not only invoked the Kanu era tribal configurations of Gema (Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association) and Kamatusa (Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana, Samburu ), but also used them as the central organising principles of their campaigns.

Lastly, both have shown a hostile attitude towards the history of the bitter struggle for human rights in Kenya, often haranguing people to forget the past, and neither has ever condemned human-rights abuses in Uganda or Zimbabwe, etc.

So Kenyans should expect to see appointment of Kanu types to the Cabinet and other positions, a less than robust implementation of constitutional provisions on integrity, slowing down of investigations into Kanu-era mega-corruption scandals, a less enthusiastic approach to the land question, official banishment of the glorious struggle for democracy in Kenya, a warming up to rogue states that spew anti-Western rhetoric, subtle and not-so-subtle restrictions on intellectual and creative spaces.

Expect, too, that those who will be identified and feted as national heroes will not be people like George Anyona or JM Kariuki, but those at the centre of the Kanu regime. And forget any movement towards recovery of the billions stolen under Kanu and stashed in foreign banks as reported in the Kroll report, or towards the recovery of the huge chunks of land hived from the crucial Mau Forest water tower and parcelled out to powerful Kanu operatives.

Just as important, expect — because of the ICC situation — an unhelpful, adversarial relationship with the international community and important international organisations, including the UN. On March 4, Kenya took a sharp turn back to the political right.

Tee Ngugi is a social and political commentator based in Nairobi