Kenya is now in the unique position of having two “presidents” – Uhuru Kenyatta, the current head of state, and Raila Odinga, the self-declared people’s president. Raila Odinga was sworn in at Uhuru Park on 30th January 2018 in the presence of massive crowds. It was an an oddly peaceful event because the police were not present. In the days following the event, I have observed with much concern the open movement towards fascism by Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and the state in general.
If it feels like we’re on the verge of the breakdown of democracy as we know it, it’s because we are. World over, the rug has been pulled from underneath our feet. But for Kenyans, this is nothing new. It’s just more pronounced now. There is no simple, straightforward way to describe fascism. It has its roots in Benito Mussolini’s Italy. In 1919, there was a movement called the Blackshirts in Italy, named after the black shirts they used to wear.
It was built on the disenfranchisement of the every-man by industrialization. Mussolini harnessed this disenfranchisement and diverted it into political action. When he founded the fascist party, he said that fascism “is the wedding of state and corporate power.” His followers were nationalist and totalitarian, and used violence to consolidate political power in him. The more his power grew, the worse they became. This ideology is fundamentally violent, and praises war and conflict.
Mussolini believed that war was the highest expression of human ability and society, and that life was a continuing conflict between people for limited resources. This same thought was shared by his German counterpart at the time, Adolf Hitler, which is why he wrote a book called Mein Kampf – which translates directly to My Struggle. To fascists, war and conflict are good things. They let nations or “races” decide who the strongest is, and who deserves the already “limited” resources. Yet not all modern day fascism can have direct lines drawn between it and Mussolini’s fascism. Or Hitler’s. It cuts across multiple forms of government, and multiple ideologies. Yet, its traits are always the same.
Fascists are nationalistic. I’ve talked about nationalism and why it’s dangerous here before, as well as the differences between nationalism and patriotism. Fascists believe in the exceptionalism and greatness of their nation for no reason other than they were born there. Everything they do is said to be for the good of the nation. They speak in terms of greatness in past days. For example, Uhuru Kenyatta’s focus on Kenya being a powerhouse regionally and in the continent even when his government does everything possible to undermine this in reality.
In the aftermath of Raila Odinga’s swearing-in, Uhuru Kenyatta and his government have broken multiple laws in the name of national security, and gone against the spirit of our constitution – they allegedly summoned media stakeholders to State House the day before the swearing in for a lecture on why they must not cover the events. When the chairperson of the Kenya Editors Guild brought to light these events and said they would not be intimidated, they waited until the next day and switched off Citizen TV, Inooro TV NTV and KTN – a gross violation of press freedom. After seven days, NTV and KTN were back on air on the 5th of February 2018. However, Inooro TV and Citizen TV, owned by Royal Media Services, remain switched off.
They have outlawed the National Resistance Movement, which amounts to outlawing the opposition, listing it as an organized crime group. Other groups on this list include terrorist/vigilante/militia groups like Al Shabaab, Mungiki, Chinkororo, Forty Two Brothers and the Baghdad Boys. Yet, NRM agitates for electoral reform and the boycott of companies they perceive to be “wedded to the state” (as Mussolini may have described it), while the other groups routinely commit murder.
Arrests were also made of parties involved in the swearing in, such as Tom Kajwang, George Aladwa, and Miguna Miguna. The charge is treason, which attracts the death penalty. Miguna, in particular, was arrested on the 2nd of February 2018 for administering Raila Odinga’s oath and being a member of an outlawed group. The High Court ordered his release on a bond of KES 50,000. He was not released. The court then ordered the police to produce him in court at 2pm on the 5th of February 2018 or risk the Inspector-General of Police and Director of Criminal Investigations being held in contempt of court. He was not produced.
The executive arm of the state seems to gleefully undermine the judiciary, as if to say they do not care about the law – they are a law unto themselves. Fascism cannot operate without divisions. A fascist leader has to create an in group and one that’s the enemy. The in group tends to be a majority that this leader controls and feels he belongs to. The enemy? That tends to be minorities. Which is why under fascist regimes, women suffer. Queer people suffer. Ethnic minorities suffer. Foreigners suffer. Religious intolerance thrives. Sexism thrives. Racism thrives. Xenophobia thrives. Tribalism thrives. Homophobia thrives. Anyone that does not belong to the in group suffers.
This is why, despite harping on and on about it, the Jubilee regime has not made a dent in youth unemployment. Why they have not passed the two-thirds gender bill despite having a parliamentary majority. Why they run around the country screaming “I have been unable to perform because of Raila.” Fascists are able to get away with this behaviour partly because of their charisma – they know how to sell the dream. I remember when Kenyans were convinced we were going to achieve great things when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto wore matching red ties early in their first term. Adding onto their charisma is their love of controlling and gagging the media. Uhuru Kenyatta famously said newspapers were only good for wrapping meat. Recently, he shut down TV stations and drunkenly kicked the media out of an event they were covering. His regime has been in a covert tussle with the media since he invited them for tea and snacks at the beginning of his first term.
A charismatic fascist will sell you a ticket to hell for twice the price and you will go gladly, thinking you got a deal. How else do you explain Uthamaki, which is a nonsensical concept engendered by older generation Kikuyus (and some very misguided young ones)? How else do you explain the Nairobi Business Community? They believe that leadership is rightfully theirs. That uthamaki belongs to muthamaki (the fisherman). This fisherman being a fisher of men, currently Uhuru Kenyatta. Who is stoking this fascist sentiment? This is why we are forever caught up in tribal politics and clashes. Because every “tribe” ends up wanting Uthamaki.
Fascist leaders, and their states, easily trample on human rights. If you don’t belong to their in group, you may as well not exist. Fascists are terrible for the working classes. Under them, ethnic cleansing is routine, detainment for arbitrary reasons is the norm, and slums and ghettos thrive because they do not care about inequality. We only need to look at the state of our public schools and hospitals, and the high rates of unemployment to see proof. Our public schools are in shambles, with a majority of the children who sat KCSE last year not making the cutoff for university. Look at our public universities, where lecturers are perpetually on strike because of poor pay, yet that is where most can afford to take their children to school. Under fascism, the common man comes last.
Fascists are excellent at corporatism. Everything must be privatized. This is why our president sees no problem with a company he is associated with (Brookside Dairies) basically owning and controlling Kenya’s entire dairy sector. This is also why instead of fixing our public healthcare system, he prefers to entice private investors to offer more expensive healthcare. They love public-private partnerships and corporate takeovers of industries and sectors that have no business being privatized. When a fascist is done, there are little to no public goods and services. Instead, all you have is rampant corruption, fraud, cronyism and corporate greed.
Fascism is contradictory, as it is packaged to appeal to the every-man, yet the every-man is most harmed by it. It is irrational – it does not make sense because it is not supposed to make sense. It merely capitalizes on emotions and societal tensions and directs them towards political actions that the fascist in charge fancies. Under a fascist regime, a drought can be stopped by a president’s prayers for rain. Defying all logic and good sense, people will believe that the president’s prayers made it rain. They will believe that if he continues to pray, a drought, which is man made and curable by policy and not prayer, will end.
Fascist leaders are masters at shifting goalposts. For those who feel secure within the in group but are not in power, or those who do not belong to the fascist’s group of cronies – security is not guaranteed. One minute you are in, the next, you are an enemy of progress. Only the fascist knows where the goalposts are, and he can shift them at will.
This is why fascists are so disdainful of intellectuals and artists. Naturally, these people will call them out on their actions, and they don’t want that. So they berate them publicly, as you may have witnessed Uhuru Kenyatta do many times, and work hard to stifle the creative sector as Ezekiel Mutua and others in the government are doing. They also defund arts programmes, as William Ruto and Fred Matiang’i hope to do. Make no mistake, this is intentional. They have to do this to quash dissent now, and in the future.
How do we counteract this? The first step is recognizing and accepting that we live in a fascist state. Fascists and their followers live in an alternate reality where “alternative facts” exist – we do not have that luxury. Fascism, unfortunately, cannot be fought purely through facts and logic. It is a heightened emotional state. We have to appeal to the people’s emotions, just like the fascist. Why are they afraid? What are they afraid of? Because many times, fascism stems from a fear of the “other.” What is this that is so bad, it makes them hateful and intolerant towards their fellow citizens and human beings?
How do we make them trust us? How do we bring them into our shared reality? It all boils down to trust. The rest of us cannot trust our fascist governments, and the supporters of fascist governments cannot trust us.