Kibaki as Moi with a Human Face

Respondent 1:

Kenyans forget that Reddykyulass made rude fun of Moi every day through the 1990s. The idea we have of Moi’s days as a tyranny is really just the 1982-1990 stage. 8 years out of 24 (I do not mean to excuse them), but this contrasting allows a really weird permissiveness about Kibaki and the ruling ideas of now, their peculiar continuity with the 1980s.

There’s a veneer of ethnic chauvinism behind the refusal to see that Kibaki has improved from Moi primarily by borrowing hand over fist for his splurges—like Thika Road or the war on Somalia, etc. Yes, much more money in the economy, a great splashing about in real estate, etc, but much of it financed in ways that postpone the pain.

There really is no difference politically between Kenya today and Kenya in 1992. And we are still in the single-party system, different factions competing (like they did in the KANU days) but essentially a single party system with regard to histories, ideas, styles, ambitions for the country, methods, etc.

University students riots are still broken up by the state’s massive force, the nurses are still on strike, the force against MRC and SDLF shows dissent is still not permitted. The destruction of Syokimau closely mirrors Muoroto, the privatisation and looting persists afoot, etc.

Did Moi do anything like the 1500 extra-judicial murders of Mungiki youth? Or is that not as central in our imaginations because we aren’t of the same class and background as them? For Moi’s Wagalla, see Kibaki’s Mt Elgon—except Mt Elgon isn’t a minute’s madness, but calculated policy over months and months; for Moi’s 1992 and 1997, see Kibaki’s 2007-2008.

Moi starts the liberalisation processes that Kibaki continues and that make the Kenyan middle class so happy. The new airports, the power company, Kenya Airways, KenGen, National Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank, the overwhelming technocratic, bureaucratic approach of the Dream Team, and the importation of the ethic of the private sector into public service provision. All of these are continuities.

Yes, there’s a nice bourgeois freedom under Kibaki, but much else remains the same.

Respondent 2:

This is interesting, because I’m thinking about that stretch of time, 1982-1990 and its aftermath. Which is to say, I think we get into weird territory if we believe that what happens over 8 years does not have a very palpable afterlife: families destroyed, parents killed, family friends in crisis well into the 1990s.

I invoke these things, perhaps unfairly, to suggest the long life of Kenyatta’s and Moi’s actions, in part because we are not yet past Kibaki, even as I suspect the long life of his actions will also have to be detailed. Moi is, of course, simply a name for structures that preceded him, came into being under him, and persist after him, but he is also the name (and history) that dominated Kenyan life.

I don’t think it’s fair to say we forget what happened in the 1990s: Reddykulass’s emergence into the Kenyan public is well documented and widely known. But I think it’s dangerous to take a few instances of expression as markers of broader freedoms: again, the affective afterlives of repression remain, and we have no reliable way of tracking them, because affective dispositions are so very hard to track. Asians are still leaving Kenya for the U.K. and Australia: this is because of Idi Amin, Kenyatta, Moi, and now Kibaki. There is a life and after-life to this act that, I think, really deserves study.

Is the state apparatus just as brutal? Some would say so, as would residents of Mt. Elgon and elsewhere. There is nothing exculpatory about Kibaki. And, yes, the only people who really celebrate him are those who think with their checkbooks. Do we have an accurate account of how many died under Moi? I have a list of at least 200 people tortured under him in Nyayo House—a list that emphasizes that is not exhaustive. Those are the ones who made it to Nyayo House. I have no clue what else happened where.

Which is to say, yes, I get the argument about continuities, but I think we also have to be very careful about the kinds of claims we are willing to make: If Kibaki is “as bad,” then let’s also recognize the force of that description. “As bad” cannot mean Moi was “not bad.”

Respondent 1:

I am interested in what Kibaki has made us, beyond the brutality of Moi, and Kibaki here being a metonym for the logics of developmentalism through an unabashed technocratic and entrepreneurial frame. If something happens under Kibaki that is wrong, we’re trained to believe it just and deserved.

I am interested in how neoliberalism’s enticements recruit us into its ways, so not just the chequebooks but the idea of freedoms that it comes with, and this bounding of the imagination, a stifling of the will that is so pervasive it is often not resisted. This is the true success of Kibaki.

Which is why someone was shot in broad daylight on Langata Road, by police officers, in a traffic jam, but this registers in the imagination differently that Ouko’s death. Or how several Hague related deaths, including of Maina Njenga’s wife, of Oscar Kingara and Oulu, or Crispin Mbayi over the constitution, or the raid of Standard Newspapers (offices and press) haven’t either established themselves in the imagination as the Moi era ones did or even Kones or Saitoti, or Mugabe Were and David Too.

So where Moi would not confess to the crimes, the Kibaki state does and asks, what will you do? And the country mostly cheers or nods in uncomfortable silence.

The nurses strike is still on.

Not a single high level official has been held to account for corruption in Kenya.

We’ve invaded another country.

The Mt. Elgon invasions are without parallel in our history. An actual incident of the state going to war against people in its territory, camping there to rape and kill and murder.

I am not so much interested in the state and how it works, but more in why these things—and there are several Kibaki era atrocities—refuse to register in an age of information and open-ness.

So maybe not as bad, but a different perhaps even longer lasting kind of bad.

4 thoughts on “Kibaki as Moi with a Human Face

  1. Actually, but for our love-in with neoliberalism, Kibaki’s probably doing and has done far more lasting damage. Don’t know how we get to the conclusion that he’s Moi with a human face.

  2. Yes, to call him Moi with a human face is—again—to pander to the ideology of Moi as a singularity of evil in the Kenyan imaginary. Which is why I am waiting for your article on how this ideology of “nothing can be as bad as the Moi days” invites us into accepting present atrocities as those which cannot exceed the damage of the past regime.

  3. I will confess to being thus far, a chequebook thinker. So much of this argument is true. The analysis quite impeccable – a longer, detailed essay is due Kweli.

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