The incorporation of Kenya into the global economy and the imposition of European cultural values could not have taken place without the application of force by the British through the colonial state. The coercive apparatus of the state utilizing the British forces and collaborative Africans often used naked violence against the local populace when and if it refused to "cooperate". There is no doubt that without repression classical colonialism would never have succeeded in Kenya. Repression by the state becomes important to maintain the status quo — the whole gamut of economic, social, political and cultural values. Without it, the cultural emasculation of a people is impossible.
Nowhere in Africa did the masses of the people fully accept or welcome colonialism and the cultural ramifications that went with it. For instance, Kenyan history is punctuated with all forms of popular protest and resistance throughout the colonial period. The heroic Mau Mau struggle waged by the workers and peasants of that country to regain freedom and land climaxed resistance to colonial rule in Kenya. The combatant wing of the Mau Mau, the Kenya Land Freedom Army, inflicted substantial damage on the colonial state and by weakening it forced the British to realize that the sun was setting fast on that portion of their empire. With nationalism sweeping across the colonies, the British started to groom local leaders to whom they would hand over colonies intact as "independent nations". The late Harold Macmillan, the then British prime minister who presided over the disintegration of the British Empire, lamented local nationalism in the famous "Winds of change" speech in 1960. Speaking in Cape Town, South Africa, the prime minister talked about the need to coopt African nationalists and keep them away from communism.1 Sir Andrew Cohen, the one-time Head of the African Department of the Colonial Office, also urged cooperation with nationalists by "guiding" their energies into "constructive" channels. According to him, nationalists were the greatest bulwarks against Marxism in Africa.2 Cooperation with liberation movements would keep them friendly to the western world so that, once independent, they would remain within the western sphere of influence.3
The need to "guide" and control the nationalist movements became extremely important: thus, the movements came under the influence of the western world and objectively worked hand in glove with it. In Kenya, the British cultivated the two largest political parties (KANU and KADU) after the disorganization of the more radical Mau Mau. Constitutional conferences between western governments and the political parties were then arranged in London or Paris to make sure that the friendly movements would retain the colonial social and economic systems once they were allowed to sit at the high table. All these conferences came out with constitutions which, in essence, guaranteed the retention of the colonial social and economic fabric. The Western European powers ensured a smooth transition from colonialism to flag independence. The "independent state" did not undergo any fundamental transformation: all the social, economic and political institutions that linked the colonial state to the west were left firmly in place. Students of African history have observed that:
Flag independence was only legal but not economic. Therefore, independence made no change, it signalled a continuity and entrenchment, the changing of personnel comprising government. It was a tactical withdrawal of direct control by the real dominant class — the metropolitan bourgeoisie. The colonial bureaucracy was withdrawn and a neo-colonial petty-bourgeoisie took its place as the "watchdogs" or the "caretaker committee" if you would like to call them. A necessary adjunct to this changing of "guards" is that politics were transferred from Westminster to Dar-es-Salaam.4
The "independent" governments retained the colonial state machinery and the colonial legal structures; effectively the economic structures remained the same: an export-oriented economy based on the production of raw materials was stressed. There was little industrialization and even that was not industrialization proper as it was mere import-substitution. The economies were now open to foreign economic interests, which have on many occasions been at odds with national priorities. Underdevelopment and dependency thus became the lot of many of the emergent states. This is the phenomenon referred to by Nkrumah as neo-colonialism in which outward trappings of sovereignty do not tell the whole story of economic bondage.5 In 1976 in a celebrated speech, the former Tanzanian President described to a convocation at Ibadan University the "meaning" and "practice" of neo-colonialism.6
The Kenyan state, under the governorship of the late Jomo Kenyatta, provided (and still does) a classic study of neo-colonialism. Upon his release from detention in 1961, just before he ascended to the throne, Kenyatta assured the foreign business community that the African government would respect and maintain the structures then in place; he appealed for calm promising that this would not be a "gangster" government that would not respect private property.7 If any doubts remain about the aspirations of the independent Kenyan state, let us allow the first Kenyan African Minister for Finance, the late James Gichuru, speak for it:
I have said before, and I have no doubt I shall say it again, how much importance this government attaches to new investment, and if any doubts still remain I believe that new measures under consideration (legislative guarantees for foreign investment) will make even the most skeptical potential investor realize how much we indeed welcome any project which genuinely contributes to our economic well-being . . . You do not have to go far in Nairobi today to become aware of people in our society, with new tastes, frequently with the money to satisfy them, and themselves creating a demand among their fellows for the better things of life — in fact creating a new market. This development will not be confined to Nairobi. At the same time I hear too frequently of the inadequacy of our distribution system, or the cost of reaching much of the potential market, and incidentally stimulating consumer demands and setting in train the urge ''to keep up with the Joneses" which can contribute so much to our productivity. I suggest that the best way of making good these deficiencies is through the African businessman.8
The Minister in question here was addressing the settler and foreign business community in Kenya. In a nutshell his speech left no doubt that the colonial economic policies would be continued into the new era; that the "new" state would receive as many investors as cared to invest; that the state would endeavor to create a large consumer market for manufactured goods; that the distribution system would be improved; and finally that the state would pass the necessary legislation to protect aliens and their property. His speech contained only one demand — if one can even call it that — that African businessmen should be allowed more access into the distribution system. This "demand" for the inclusion of the African businessman into distribution represented an attempt by the emergent state to create an African elite that would benefit itself from association with multinational corporations. It is this fraction of the petty-bourgeoisie which, through its marriage with foreign capital, continues to facilitate the exploitation of the working people of Kenya through underdevelopment and dependency.
How then does underdevelopment relate to cultural issues? In what ways is an underdeveloped society like Kenya culturally dependent and emasculated? Governing classes in underdeveloped societies live in the image of their creators, powerful western economic concerns. Their ideology — be it economic, political or cultural — is predicated upon the reproduction, albeit in crude forms, of the values of their masters. Educational systems, religious institutions, theater and drama are usually poor imitations of western standards. This is what governing classes impose on the general populace. Individual members of these societies have no choice but to live within the "legitimate" bounds of these values as defined by the state. Non-compliance is usually defined as "failure" or simply outlawed. Some forms of cultural domination are obvious whereas others may be subtle. I remember how as a kid I was addicted to Pepsi which I thought was a great Kenyan drink! Or how the names Jane or David sounded so normal to my African ears. Even being bedecked in a three-piece suit in sometimes steaming sun! Or how we used to read English pieces of literature about winter and the snow. All these are cultural values which are imported and in subtle ways forced upon the people. These images of self on the part of Kenyans have produced a citizenry that is receptive to even the most undesirable western cultural values. Any attempt to question these values or their socio-economic bases is met with brutal repression by the state. In Kenya the state has played a crucial role in suppressing popular and authentic attempts by the people to shake off the yoke of cultural dependency and evolve values that reflect the harsh conditions of their existence. To this development we now turn.
Like any other dictator, President Daniel arap Moi uses iron and blood to suppress human rights in Kenya. Western human rights organizations and the media have done their part in exposing the violations of basic freedoms going on there. In 1987, when Moi made an official trip to Washington the American media greeted him with documented cases of these blatant abuses. I shall now attempt to establish how state repression stifles the evolution of genuine and authentic popular cultural values.
The curtailment of basic freedoms and the general suppression of the people by unpopular regimes cannot be divorced from the domination and exploitation of the people by foreign capital in alliance with local elites. One more "fallout" from this marriage has been the ruthless and systemic suppression of the people by the ruling cliques, as these regimes have desperately tried to remain in control and create appearances of stability which is essential and crucial for the reception of foreign capital. Governing classes through the use state power and backed up by the coercive apparatus — the armed forces, the courts, etc. — strive to suppress the aspirations of the people for a better lifestyle and self-identity.
At the base of the repression and the denial of basic democratic rights is the struggle to maintain the status quo. Such regimes do not, and cannot have, a popular base in the people, hence the use of totalitarian and repressive methods to maintain and perpetuate the exploitation of the working people. Instruments of state power, which are at the disposal of those who govern, have therefore been employed unsparingly to safeguard the existing conditions. Those who have dared to criticize government development strategies and political choices have found themselves behind bars or have been denied the means to a professional livelihood. In some cases struggles for power between the governing factions have escalated to the countryside causing floods of refugees. Those who have remained inside the country, intimidated by the power of the state, exploited and hungry, have been disorganized. In these dire circumstances a culture of silence and muted acceptance of the powers that be have become the norm. At the level of socialization, the mass media and the educational system continue to imbue the people with false hopes while justifying their conditions of existence.
The local agents of foreign capital, themselves benefactors of the system, have left no stone unturned in stifling the people's consciousness. It is true that when these states have felt seriously threatened, they have resorted to the use of naked violence to suppress the people, but less visible, and equally effective, has been the use of legislative processes and the single party machinery to impose their will on the people under ostensibly legitimate auspices and the "general good of all."
The general picture painted above for emergent nations applies to Kenya as I shall presently endeavor to show. When Kenya became independent in 1963, it inherited intact all the structures — economic, political, legal and cultural — of the colonial state. The transition from colonialism to flag independence was remarkably smooth. Different sectors of the society expected the new era to bring with it social, economic and political benefits for the African population. But not all sectors agreed on how these benefits would be created, let alone shared. Among the petty-bourgeoisie within the ruling party, KANU, two distinct viewpoints emerged. While both factions basically agreed on the "appropriateness" of a free market economy, they nevertheless disagreed on the manner in which benefits would be distributed and the degree and pace of indigenization of the economy. There were those (represented in the persons of Oginga Odinga and Bildad Kaggia) who favored sweeping nationalizations and strict constraints on foreign capital, and others (headed by Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya) who advocated an unrestricted "open door policy" and the gradual assimilation of African businessmen into certain sectors of the economy, particularly in agriculture, commerce and transportation. Simply put, KANU was divided between the more radical, nationalist elements and the more collaborative comprador faction. The compradorial faction which in the main controlled the ruling party was favored from the very beginning in this conflict and, as William Atwood, the American Ambassador to Kenya at the time, tells it, adopted all manner of tactics and tricks to elbow out and discredit the nationalists.9
The struggle for supremacy within the party continued until 1966, when Odinga resigned and formed the Kenya Peoples Union (KPU). The KPU, which constituted the official opposition in parliament, soon published its manifesto and attacked government policies which promoted a small privileged class of Africans. It deplored foreign control of the economy and called for nationalization and land redistribution.10 Thereafter the party began to attack and expose the practices of multinational corporations. By addressing issues of landlessness, widespread poverty and the domination of the country by foreign capital, the KPU struck a familiar chord in the dispossessed masses and drew widespread support. The state felt threatened and resorted to tactics of terror and repression. KPU officials were generally harassed and jailed. The state employed the ideology of tribalism, describing the KPU as a "tribal" organization whose support, it argued, was mainly among the Luo people. The issues the KPU raised were trivialized and painted as parochial, tribal, irrelevant and anti-development. At this time the state started to show signs of increased reliance on coercion to suppress dissent among those who questioned foreign capital and the state's development strategies. In this volatile and confrontational atmosphere, Kenyatta visited Odinga's region in 1969. What came to pass is indelibly imprinted in the minds of Kenyans:
The centerpiece of the visit was the opening ceremony of a hospital. The crowd was hostile and when Kenyatta in his speech launched a bitter and offensive attack on Odinga, who was present, the atmosphere became extremely tense. As Kenyatta's car left, the crowd pressed toward it; his body-guard fired into the people, killing ten and wounding seventy. Five days later the KPU was banned and all its major leaders detained.11
The banning of the KPU marked the end of official opposition, making Kenya a defacto one party state. This marked the disintegration of liberal democracy which the British had attempted to impose on Kenya after their physical withdrawal. In 1982, amidst the talk of the formation of another party by Odinga and other Kenyans, the state amended the constitution, declared KANU the sole political party and institutionalized Kenya as a de jure one party state.
The erosion of basic liberal democratic rights like free speech, the right of assembly and association and the accumulation of enormous power by the state has been so total that members of parliament have had to think twice before speaking up in the "august" house. The state has not hesitated to detain them when they have "spoken out of turn."
The Kenyan parliament which in the past had been given some credit for being vocal has become a rubber stamp for unpopular government policies. The latest example of the nature of the parliament captured international attention in August 1988 when it approved, without debate, two troubling constitutional amendments. The first amendment extended from 24 hours to 14 days the period during which the police may detain those suspected of committing capital offenses incommunicado without recourse to judicial scrutiny. The second amendment removed security of tenure from senior judges and from the members of the Public Service Commission, which is responsible for the appointment and discipline of civil servants. The subordination of the parliament to the executive has become so total that only sycophantic candidates can be elected. To insure this the government introduced the "queuing" elections requirement. During the February 1988 party nominations to contest national parliamentary elections in March, party members were required to indicate their preference by publicly standing behind photographs of the nominee of their choice. The same procedure was used in September during the elections of KANU officials at the local and district levels. This measure — ending secret ballot — had the effect of intimidating voters who were supporting candidates critical of party and government policies. None of the parliamentarians who previously had been critical of government or party policies was re-elected.
Since 1976 vocal members of parliament have been regularly detained or forced into lonely exile. Some, like J. M. Kariuki, the populist representative, have not been that lucky: they have been assassinated. Apart from parliamentarians, the other organized social group — the working people — has long been muzzled through the government-sanctioned Central Organization of Trade Unions, the sole and official trade union. Any other vocal expression of discontent in the form of rallies and "unlawful assemblies" is likely to be dealt with by the General Service Unit, a mobile paramilitary force, which has been employed constantly to coerce university students, remove squatters and deal with all forms of opposition. This leaves the peasantry and the progressive intelligentsia.
The position of the peasantry, who constitute the bulk of the nation's populace, is well known and unenviable. Relegated to an underdeveloped and deteriorating countryside, they are only useful to the state as long as they produce crops for export and provide a market for consumer goods. Impoverished and disorganized, they constitute the silent majority which produces to support the elite while the remainder of their surplus is exported abroad. At present, these poor souls carry the country on their tired backs as the corrupt and exploitative governing class continues to marginalize their existence. In the meantime, they watch on, trying to perform the miracle of five loaves and two fishes. Theirs is a culture of survival, in disappointed resignation and silence. Every now and then they burst into acts of animated and confrontational protest, but they lack the organizational skills to articulate and coherently channel their grievances in a manner that would present a credible challenge to the neo-colonial state.
The progressive intelligentsia in Kenya has, however, remained a thorn in the flesh of the repressive state. Over the years the institution of the university has proved to be an important forum for discussion both by teachers and students of important national issues and government policies. Under the rather thin cloak of academic freedom students, a great number of whom have rural, peasant and working class origins, have criticized government policies, called attention to the control of the economy by foreigners and suggested that reforms — and sometimes fundamental changes — are badly needed. In a country where criticism of the state is taboo and intolerable, students and teachers have refused to be completely silenced, choosing instead to lock horns with the powers that be. During these countless popular struggles against the state, students have had to face the coercive apparatus of the state. Expulsions and some killings of students have been reported in the past. One of the latest victims of the harsh treatment that the government metes out to critical students was Titus Adungosi, who died of serious hemorrhaging stomach ulcers in January 1989. Adungosi, a former university student leader, was serving a ten-year jail sentence imposed after his conviction on charges arising from the 1982 abortive coup attempt. The government had charged Adungosi and numerous other university students of meeting with members of the Kenya Air Force, who attempted the failed coup. The state usually blames these popular protests, which are rooted in the country's material conditions, on foreign ideologies and cultures, which is a euphemism for Marxism. The truth of the matter is the student struggles are not inspired by foreigners or Marxism, but seek to address the problems of dictatorship, underdevelopment, cultural dependency and state unaccountability.
University professors who are progressive or critical have not been spared either. The cases of Ngugi wa Thiong'o and many others who have been forced into exile because of daring to tell it like it is, are well known. Since the attempted coup of 1982, the university has come under close scrutiny and supervision from the state and the last pretensions of academic freedom and honesty have been discarded. Even the press, which was never free or progressive anyway, has been silenced. Writing on the aftermath of the 1982 abortive coup attempt (brought on by contradictions within the governing clique) Ngugi wa Thiong'o had this to say:
The August 1 attempted coup came as a God-sent opportunity for the regime to root out and silence its critics. The same pattern of repression it had embarked upon has since been intensified and accelerated. More lecturers and students and critical politicians have been arrested; detained without trial or else imprisoned in the same dubious legal circumstances. More students have been killed. Many Kenyan Air Force members were killed or imprisoned after the coup attempt was crushed. Now American and British Royal Air Force personnel fly Kenyan planes. More American and British advisers have been added to the neocolonial think-tank of the regime.12
In 1986 the state uncovered what is alleged was an underground political movement called Mwakenya13 which was planning to overthrow it. Another spate of arrests, trials and outright detentions of teachers, lawyers, students, workers and even peasants started and, as of this writing, these acts of repression are still going on. In 1987 a law lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Gibson Kamau Kuria, was detained for nine months the day after he announced a suit on behalf of individuals who claimed to have been tortured by the government while in detention. Following his detention in 1987, Kuria had his passport withdrawn, effectively preventing him from traveling. In 1988, the government refused to return it to him, thereby preventing him from coming to the United States to accept several human rights awards, including the Lawyers Committee's Third Annual Human Rights Award in October and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award in November 1988.14 Kuria's lawyer, Paul Muite, who received the Kennedy Award on his behalf, also had his passport confiscated upon his return to Kenya in November. The significance of the government's harassment of Kuria and Muite and other lawyers (some, like Mirugi Kariuki15 and Wanyiri Kihoro,16 have been in detention since 1986 without charge or trial) is testimony to the state's restriction of political and civil liberties. In Kuria's case, the state could not even tolerate honest legal representation!
The effect of state repression on the people has been to create a terrorized population which lives in fear, unable to freely create its own cultural values out of its conditions of existence. A culture of fear and silence reigns supreme. State repression extends to activities by the people which seek to re-educate and correctly re-interpret history from the point of view of those who live it. Any attempt by the people to understand and express their social conditions of existence is perceived as seditious or treasonous by the state because it would depict their impoverishment under the current regime. The Kamiriithu Educational and Cultural Center situated in Kiambu raised alarm in government because it was the theater through which local people would perform and act out plays and songs which they had written about their existence. The themes of these plays and songs were deemed subversive and dangerous. The state responded by demolishing the structure:
On March 12, 1982, the regime sent three truckloads of armed policemen to Kamiriithu Community and Education Centre and razed the Open Air Theater to the ground. Kamiriithu Open Air Theater was built by the peasants and workers of the village. The day before, March 11, 1982, the regime had de-registered Kamiriithu Education and Cultural Centre and banned all drama and theater activities in the area.17
This naked state brutality and repressive practice has muzzled nearly all popular and democratic efforts by the people to realize and understand themselves. In contrast the Kenya National Theatre and the cultural centers of foreign missions continue to stage plays and events which are either alien or trivial and do not address the crucial issues facing the country. These do so without state interference; in fact approving government officials are often found in the audience.
Over the last decade, autocracy has been on the rise in Kenya. Surrounded by an increasingly impoverished population but determined to maintain political stability in order to attract more foreign capital, Kenya has become a police state. Howard E. Wolpe, a member of the United States House of Representatives, while on a two-day visit to Kenya in January 1987, noticed increased totalitarianism on the part of the state:
Wolpe said he saw evidence during his two-day stay in Kenya of a "drastic increase in intimidation of individuals in Kenya who may be critical of government policies." Wolpe said meetings scheduled for the weekend with church leaders, development organizations and a member of parliament were either called off or broken up at the last minute by "state interference."18
An aide travelling with Wolpe recounted how a clergyman who is critical of the Kenya government was pulled aside by a plainclothes police officer while talking to Wolpe and warned that "it was not in the interest of the state to continue the meeting."19 The point here is that even a casual visitor unfamiliar with the terrain, like a United States Congressman, could not but notice the climate of fear fostered by the state. If the Kenyan state can dare restrict the freedom of association of a United States Congressman (particularly given the strong US presence there), what will it not do against its own citizenry?
Under these adverse circumstances the bulk of the Kenyan population has been unable to evolve cultural values which reflect the strains and stresses of its existence. In the place of authentic cultural values, cultural dependency (reflecting the dependent nature of the state) has been fostered by the governing class. It is thus acceptable to gyrate to the "Coca-Cola Culture" and "break-dance" but it is illegitimate to write songs about the heroic struggles of the Mau Mau or to write literature that reflects and depicts our dependency in most spheres of life. Such is the impact of state repression on culture in Kenya today.
To sum up, in most African countries, and Kenya is not an exception, there is a great deal of talk about African culture by the state. This is evidenced by the presence of a Minister for Culture in almost every African cabinet. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The talk of "African culture" by African leaders has been used to legitimate and validate unpopular and repressive regimes. In rejecting the applicability of "alien" economic models to Tanzania, the state, under the governorship of Julius Nyerere, resorted to Ujamaa, a philosophy that held that African cultures and traditions were socialistic by nature. This philosophy denied the existence or evolution of social classes in Africa and provided that African, and not scientific, socialism would be constructed in Tanzania. As Mohamed Babu20 and countless other scholars have shown, African socialism or Kenneth Kaunda's humanism are simple apologia for economic dependency.
In Kenya, in 1965, the state passed Sessional Paper No. 10 which was described by the late Kenyatta as Kenya's economic Bible! In validating Kenya's unregulated free enterprise system, the paper rejected the applicability of Marxism to Africa and promised to build African socialism. Here too there was talk of African culture and traditions knowing no social class. When one considers the title of the Paper — "African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya" — and then ponders its central thesis, one must wonder what was African or socialist about it. Essentially it reads like blueprint for the legitimation and validation of the incorporation of Kenya into the global economy. It represented the local articulation by the governing class of its surrogate and client status. It heralded, under the guise of promoting African cultural values, the ideological maturity of Kenya as a neocolonial state. The validation of political and economic policies under the cloak of African culture is but one of the many uses that African states have made to justify economic, political and social policies.
What, then, is left of African culture under these circumstances? Frankly, not much. The Minister for Culture has reduced the meaning of African culture to only include "traditional" dancing troupes who either perform for state officials (in particular the President) or visiting foreign dignitaries. The Bomas of Kenya (institutionalized "traditional" dancers) form the nucleus of "African culture" in Kenya today. Concerned Kenyans have bitterly assailed this fossilization of culture in the following words:
A national culture is not something static, for display only. It is not a fossilized museum piece. Instead, it must be seen as a dynamic process, involving people and their creative capacities. What we call culture is the representation of the meaning and values which people give to life and society. It is produced by a complex reciprocal relationship between the community and its entire environment — physical, social and political. It is something vital: a living, ever-changing process of self discovery.21
State limitation on cultural growth is also fostered by the state-owned Voice of Kenya (VOK) radio and television which has been in the forefront of "westernizing" the tastes of the Kenyan public. Apart from being the media by which the public is tantalized and mesmerized by manufactured goods (both local and foreign) through advertisements, the VOK decides what the public will listen to by virtue of monopoly. The two most important VOK radio stations (the English Language General Service and the Kiswahili National Service) banned music in so-called vernacular languages from getting airtime. Music in African languages (Kenyan except Kiswahili) will only be played in the vernacular service in this "fight against tribalism".22 It must be stated that tribalism was not created through music and the banning of local music will not eradicate it. Tribalism as a phenomenon was a creation of the colonial policy of "divide and rule" which emergent states regimes have continued to utilize to keep the people divided. It was used to, for example, discredit the KPU. This suppression of popular local music by the state must be seen as yet another mechanism of denying the people all the options of expression in languages they understand well. It is another nail in the coffin of popular culture. This move also means that foreign music (namely English and American) will receive more airtime. This in turn will bring about deeper cultural dependency and emasculation.
In taking all these measures, the state does not bat an eyelid. Filling the airwaves with Boy George, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, banning tunes in national languages and outlawing "Solid Gold" in the name of African culture, while promoting Coca-Cola, Ngong Horse races, Johnson Baby Shampoo and Toyota makes a mockery of African culture. But I guess cultural emasculation and state repression go hand in hand.
1 Harold Macmillan, Speech to the House of Assembly, Cape Town, South Africa, 3 February 1960.