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Kenyans, like other citizens elsewhere in Africa, demand and hope for “free and fair” elections. But the key issue is that Kenya is still a neo-colony. In these circumstances elections, whatever the outcome, will not fundamentally change the material conditions of life the people. The struggle against neocolonialism must continue.


I limit my contribution to making some general observations of a theoretical nature. That, hopefully, would provide a broader historical and global perspective to the forthcoming elections in Kenya on issues of electoral politics and state policies.

The base and the superstructure

There are many things that Karl Marx had said with which I disagree (and I will not go into these here). However, there is one fundamental point he made that remains valid and important to keep in our mind whilst analysing elections in our time, not only in Kenya and Africa but the world over.

Marx divides society into essentially two parts: the base and the superstructure. To put it simply, the "base" comprises of the economy, the forces and relations of production (e.g. in agriculture, industry, etc.), and the science and technology applied in production, and the relationship between workers and the owners of capital. The "superstructure" comprises of the government, laws, religion, ideology, culture, education, etc.




 Science & Technology of Production     BASE          Relations of Production


It is better to quote Marx directly, for it is one of his most his profound observations, and worth reading over until one understands its deep significance. 

In his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Marx explains:

"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely [the] relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or - this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms - with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution".

I should add that this is a long view of history when the material forces of production – the economic structure of society – determine the superstructure - the social and political processes, and our “consciousness” about what is going around us.

Politics in command

 At the same time, however, as events develop from day to day, it is the social and political consciousness of the people that shapes the events.  People are poor. This is their material reality. Out of this arises, their political consciousness – the significance of self-empowerment.

As Mao Tse-tung said, in the short run it is politics that are in command.  He said: “You should put politics in command, go to the masses and be one with them ...” [1][1]

People want elections

Political independence is a significant stage in the fight against imperialism.  The “common man” is brought into the democratic process directly. Political parties are formed to vie for power. They have to reach out to the people for votes. The problem is that elections are regularly manipulated by political leaders. Nonetheless, people continue to demand “free and fair” elections. 

Above all, political independence exposes the internal class contradictions - class oppression and class struggle - more clearly.  The danger is that these are interpreted in ethnic, religious and other identities, which are then presented by the political elite to the people as “principal” contradictions. They are not. They are “secondary” contradictions among the people, and exploited by the empire for its own ends.  I will return to this point later.

Is Kenya a neocolonial state?

This is an important question, one that applies to all Africa and most of the countries of the so-called third world.  It is important to understand the phenomenon of neocolonialism. The best source of this is, of course, Kwame Nkrumah. In his Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism (1965), he argued that Africa is not yet independent; it is still under the control of the empire. Neocolonialism is imperialism’s final stage. Nkrumah waged a fierce battle against it, but the empire manipulated the economic system (especially the global cocoa market) - and its neocolonial agents within Ghana - to stage a military coup and oust him.  Ghana to this day remains a neocolonial state.

In order to end imperial interference in our countries it is necessary to study, understand, expose and actively combat neocolonialism. Here I describe its three principal features:

  1. A neocolonial condition does not negate the rule of the international financial oligarchy. The petty bourgeoisie arising out of the colonial period is blocked from becoming a fully fledged national bourgeoisie, their interests locked up with monopoly finance capital. 
  2. However, political independence is a significant step towards liberation from the empire. It makes it more cumbersome for the empire to control the neocolonies compared to direct colonial rule. Why? … Because the empire has to work through its local agents. The Chinese, during their 1949 revolution, called them “comprador” agents that are engaged in trade, investments and politics in collusion with the empire.

How the political elite divide and rule

The compradors, in liaison with the empire, use all they have to divide the people – ethnic loyalties, religion, gender, class, and above all, money to “bribe” the people to vote for them.

In an excellent analytical piece on South Africa,[2][2] Oupa Lehulere argues: “Monopoly capitalists and their allies in the ANC … have corrupted the dream of a free and egalitarian nation. For over two decades, the ANC has presided over entrenched corruption, which must now be resisted.”

We might ask a similar question in relation to Kenya.

How can it be different?  Learning from Uganda

In January 1986, following a guerrilla war, Museveni took over power.  In his “Sowing the Mustard Seed” Museveni says:  “By 1966 ... the dominant economic interests in Uganda were imperialist … Obote was creating artificial divisions among the people. ... He thus actually served imperialism by emphasising internal differences … “ [3][3] Accordingly, the NRM set about a “correct” ideological orientation in the form of the "The Ten-Point Programme". 

That was in 1986. Thirty years down the road, on 12 May 2016, President Museveni was sworn in for a fifth term following an election that the opposition declared was not "free and fair".

In March 2017, an Oxfam report on Uganda [4][4] found that Uganda's resources are exploited largely by the dominant western finance capital. Museveni’s government has been obliged by the World Bank and the IMF (like in Kenya) to pursue liberalisation policies. These have led to the removal of protection from local industry and agriculture, and inequitable access to productive resources like land – leading to conflict and political dissension.

The question is: where did Museveni and the NRM go wrong?  What happened to Museveni’s revolutionary idealism? To understand this, some knowledge of Uganda’s history is necessary.

Immediately after Uganda’s independence in 1962, John Kakonge had led the left wing of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) - much like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga did in Kenya within the Kenya African Union (KAU). Kakonge had proposed a "socialist project" for Uganda. This was hijacked, and a right wing of the UPC took over the leadership.

At the March 1979, after the defeat of Amin by mainly Tanzanian forces, 21 organisations that were fighting Amin in their various ways sent their representative to the Moshi Unity Conference, which led to the creation of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF). Its principal ideological motive force was the late Dani Wadada Nabudere, who had taken over the leadership of the left of the UPC from John Kakonge.  After Amin was dislodged, the UNLF took over. However, the UNLF rule lasted only one year. In May 1980 there was another military coup masterminded by Obote. 

The UNLF leadership went into exile in Kenya from where they launched a guerrilla war. Within a year, the guerrilla force was disbanded.  I cannot go deeper into this here, but the principal reason was our discovery that the leadership was far ahead of the masses. Their material reality had not changed.  The common man was still poor.  But the people’s consciousness about the reasons behind their poverty was lagging. We were trying to emulate the Chinese and Cuban models, but discovered that there are no models to emulate.

 But one thing came out strongly.  There can be no revolution without a vanguard party.

That still remains our challenge.

This article previously appeared on Awaaz magazine. @Yash Tandon.



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