Opinion: Uhuru Kenyatta Vs Fear

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On December 12, 2020 I wrote this piece “Uhuru vs Fear”, for Medium:

It was a certain American President who faced a country reeling from dire economic difficulties wrought by the “great depression” and warned against fear.

“This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Today, some 87 years later, President Uhuru took to the presidential podium at the newly refurbished Nyayo Stadium and in an unusually solemn, religious gentility, warned against this ‘nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror’.

“I appeal to all within our nation to unshackle our nationhood from the bondage of fear; and to boldly seize this moment of hope”.

President Uhuru is acutely aware that the most terrified group in Kenya today are his supporters, most of whom are his tribesmen, particularly the indigent hoi polloi of his Mt. Kenya backwater.

Their terror, misplaced as it is, is to a large measure the result of a pathologically corrosive ethnic dogma that for much of Kenya’s a half a century of independence has front-pedalled the Kikuyu as having some exalted entitlement to this land — and the sum of its resources and opportunities.

On the other hand, the terror is also — I allege — partly a failure on Uhuru to grow the kind of commonwealth that takes care of ethnic greed at its most primitive level. These two forces, all evil, are driving the average Kikuyu to gnash over a sense of communal loss of some imaginary pedestal atop the Kenyan society.

You know, things would have been easier if the situation was this dire and there was an object or particular group to scapegoat. But the ‘handshake’ took that off the table.

Used to benefiting from the nation’s prosperity at the disadvantage of others, Uhuru’s backyard cannot fathom the world of equality and equity they are being told to ‘boldly seize’. Because that is not what they were promised.

Uhuru himself has admitted he never really started out with some nationalist conviction as his polestar. As much as everyone else, he participated, and precipitated, this current melee. And then he stopped.

No one really knows why Uhuru took the high road. But by embracing Raila Odinga, he detoured to a politics hitherto unimagined, and caused in the psychology of his core base the sort of mental dissonance that’s turned into this current terror— and revolt.

Life was already hard when 2017 elections happened. Why it was tolerable to Uhuru’s base, however, was that they had been told, and somehow believed, that the cause of their problems was not so much the government that wasn’t creating any more wealth, but the opposition and their relentless sabotage of the economy.

They had a bogey. Like the Aryans and the Hutus. So their anger, indifference and vindictiveness summed up much of Uhuru’s first term. And launched the cruelty that so pervaded 2017.

At its acne, there was this false sense of economic security, laced in a dubious belief that the ‘others’ will completely be shut out, even by force.

And so much force was really used to subdue those the system had singled out for total annihilation. But as the novelist James Baldwin observed, force does not work the way its advocates seem to think it does.

“ It does not, for example, reveal to the victim the strength of his adversary. On the contrary, it reveals the weakness…and this revelation invests the victim with patience.”

President Uhuru is often emphatic when recollecting the reason(s) he decided to seek peace. The apparatus of the state had won him a pyrrhic victory, scratched at fatal costs, on the cold bodies of the old and the young, including infants.

He knew — and glad he did — that however long his government would endure, anchored as much by repression, not legitimacy; there would never be victory.

For all the high-sounding jingoism of his base, he knew they would spend all their energies bound in an ominous existential terror. The fear of the unknown.

Today, as Uhuru battled this fear — this terror — he once again reminded his base that their failure to capitalize on this détente will whack them where it hurts most, because those they see as unfit to co-exist with in this country have learnt, through years of isolation, dispossession and disempowerment, something more valuable in a long drawn war: patience!

Dikembe Disembe is a Political Researcher and Writer

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