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Man plans, and the gods laugh

Banchi

Aug. 11, 2019

Global changes always catch the political elite of the day completely off guard.
• They are usually a by-product of major global trends over which we have no control.
It is sometimes hard to believe that the next General Election is still three years away. For the country seems to be in full campaign mode already.
Barely a day passes but we hear some leading political figure pouring scorn on the weekend fundraiser campaigns undertaken mostly by Deputy President William Ruto’s supporters.
Or alternatively, a voice will be raised defiantly announcing that this type of fundraising has been granted the mandate of heaven and will continue regardless.
There is also talk of a comprehensive constitutional review before the 2022 General Election: supported by some and opposed by others.
From all this arises much speculation as to where the country is heading. Such speculations, however, generally focus on the events occurring within the country.
And so, they overlook the fact that major shifts in Kenyan political history rarely originate from inside our borders. They are usually a by-product of major global trends over which we have no control.
For example, while there is no doubt that there were many Kenyan heroes who fought for independence from way back in the 1950s, a far more decisive factor in making independence possible was the historical “wind of change” speech given by the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in February 1960.
For example, while there is no doubt that there were many Kenyan heroes who fought for independence from way back in the 1950s, a far more decisive factor in making independence possible was the historical “wind of change” speech given by the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in February 1960.
This speech, which was met with a deep and hostile silence, signalled that the British Conservative government which Macmillan led, had embarked – irretrievably – on a process of decolonisation.
This is not to say that the sacrifices made by those who struggled for independence was of only marginal significance. Not at all. But on the other hand, neither Uganda nor Tanzania had a full-scale armed insurrection like that of the Mau Mau in Kenya. And yet they got independence from the same British government at roughly the same time as we did.
In any case, if Britain had been determined to hold onto its colonies, indigenous Kenyans simply did not possess the resources to evict a well-equipped and resolute British occupying force.
We could never have won a “war of independence” like that waged in the US between “the 13 colonies” and the might of the British Empire from 1775 to 1783.
And much the same pattern was to be revealed in the “return to multiparty democracy” era which began here in the early 1990s, with the campaign for an end to single-party authoritarianism.
Although there were mass incarcerations around that time, the three heroic political detainees usually associated with the demand for political pluralism are Moi-era Cabinet ministers, the late Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia; and the former Prime Minster Raila Odinga.
Here too we find that however admirable the sacrifices made in this mass agitation for political freedoms, the greater picture is one over which Kenyans had no control.
Similarly...With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, and the end of the Cold War, American policymakers at last felt free to end their longstanding policy of supporting “friendly dictators”. And they started pushing for a restoration of democracy in all the African countries which fell within their sphere of influence.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, and the end of the Cold War, American policymakers at last felt free to end their longstanding policy of supporting “friendly dictators”. And they started pushing for a restoration of democracy in all the African countries which fell within their sphere of influence.
Indeed, foreign aid which had long been dished out with abandon to the classically corrupt and oppressive regimes run by Africa’s ‘big men”, was suddenly based on such issues as “good governance” which had been unheard of as “aid conditionalities” prior to 1990.
It is only within the context of such a profoundly changed global political environment, that the struggle for a return to multiparty politics could succeed. Not just in Kenya but all over Africa.
Both of these are examples which I have used often to illustrate just how unpredictable changes in the tides of politics often are. And how such changes always catch the political elite of the day, completely off guard.
So, as we look ahead, we should constantly bear it in mind that the one thing which the future will most definitely hold for the top leadership in this country, is some epic and totally unwelcome surprise.
Or, as the old Yiddish saying has it, “Man plans; and the gods laugh”.
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