Monthly Archives: May 2020

Do Africans Have a Monopoly on Their Continent’s History?

I am an avid collector of books – a budding bibliophile if you may. My goal is build a collection of books – rare and current – on as broad a range of genres and subjects as possible. However, my focus will be, in order of import, books on Kenyan, African, African-American history and historical figures. And ideally, a fair share of these books will be by Kenyan, African, and African-American writers and historians.

During a recent exchange on a Facebook page dedicated to the socio-political and cultural history of East Africa, someone posed an interesting but common question. In response to a comment I made citing two books on Idi Amin – The Most Evil Men and Women in History by Miranda Twiss and The World’s Most Evil People: The Epitome of Evil by Rodney Castleden, someone asked me whether I had “investigated the authors of the 2 books and their sources….(and if) they ever live in Uganda?” My response?

Great point. Both authors are British and thus far, I cannot tell whether they’ve lived in Uganda.

As a follow-up to the question and to my inability to respond affirmatively to the question, I researched the two authors and aside from the following information, sought to expand the question beyond the two western writers and their books on Idi Amin.

As far as I can tell, Ms. Twiss, a self-described “Londoner” has degrees from the University of London and Goldsmiths’ College and an MA in Historical Research from Birkbeck. She has also written for Evening Standard, the Sunday Times, and Vogue. Her section on Idi Amin cites four books including Phares Mutibwa’s Uganda Since Independence. The other three authors she cites are Martin, Jamison (Idi Amin: an annotated bibliography, Greenwood, London, 1992); J. H. Listowed (Amin, IUP Books, Dublin, 1973); and David Martin (General Amin, Faber, London, 1974).

The website lists Rodney Castleden as a member since 2008 who specializes in History, Geography, and Archeology. The site indicates that he has “68 distinct works” of which “The World’s Most Evil” is one. Castleden does not provide any references on any of the men and women he refers to a the “world’s most evil.” However, one can scroll through the internet and find material from within and outside Uganda written by Ugandans and non-Ugandans alike that dovetail with his “evil” characterization of Idi Amin. One tidbit he reveals that I would like to see corroborated is the claim that while British Foreign Secretary between 1977-70, David Owen “proposed that General Amin should be assassinated in order to bring the bloodshed to an end” – a proposal that was turned down. I would be curious to read up on Who proposed the assassination of a foreign leader; Who turned down” the proposal, and Why they turned it down given that some proposals actually materialized.

The preceding preamble is to credentialize the two authors on a public African personality who is caricatured as the prototypical African “Big Man” – mostly by the western media/press. The preamble also seeks to contextualize if not answer the question about the sources of the two authors and whether they have traveled to Uganda – presumably “genchi genbutsu,” i.e., “go and see” their subject Idi Amin – in his natural element.

The set-up also seeks to answer the following questions: Do Africans have a monopoly on their continent’s history do non-African writers of Africa’s history lack the credibility writing about the continent’s past?

My take:

Given the ease and frequency with which historians and writers, particularly western ones, have papered over or lied about the continent’s past and about the atrocities committed by their respective countries (Belgium, France, UK, Portugal, Germany, etc.), Africans SHOULD play a more prominent role in writing about her past. This is not to say that these African historians and authors are innately more credible and trustworthy than their non-African counterparts when opining about the continent’s past. However, the implicit bias, romanticization, and outright bigoted and racist depiction of the continent and its people (by the latter) is not only too tempting, it is very real.

Also real is the sycophancy and fawning over the continent’s many “presidents-for-life” by certified historians as illustrated by Peter Kagwanja’s vacuous “Uhuru Kenyatta: A Legacy of Democracy and Development“. Fortunately, the 2018 release of the book by the Africa Policy Institute, effectively a collection of speeches by Kenya’s fourth president, coincided with a cavalcade of negative incidents and scandals that run counter to the title’s glowing characterization of its main subject.

On the other hand, a list of non-African historians and writers have put out an impressive list of well-researched and impartial historical books on the continent that only the most jaded Afro-centrist can disregard. Charles Hornsby (“Kenya: A History Since Independence“), Daniel Branch (“Kenya: Between Hope and Despair 1963-2011“), Nic Cheeseman (“The Oxford Handbook on Kenyan Politics“) and Caroline Elkins (“Imperial Reckoning” and “Britain’s Gulag“) are some titles on Kenya by non-Africans. These titles rank up there in balance and accuracy with the works of Gideon Were (“East Africa through a Thousand Years“), B.A. Ogot & W.R. Ochieng (“Decolonization & Independence in Kenya: 1940-93“).

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The Ruai Land-grab: Comeuppance of Hubris Or Jubilee’s Circular Firing Squad?

It is fascinating and instructive to watch the on-going high-tech lynching of Uhuru Kenyatta’s deputy and one-time “brother” William Ruto. It is fascinating because it underscores how duplicitous even a supposedly “God-chosen leader” can be. This full-throated assault on the Deputy President’s (DP’s) character by the Uhuru-wing of the ruling Jubilee coalition is intended to damage, ideally mortally, the (2022) presidential aspirations of the man singularly responsible for saving the two former crimes-against-humanity suspects from conviction at The Hague.

The onslaught against Ruto is instructive because it explains why competition for Kenya’s presidency remains a dangerous affair.

Lest I am accused of condoning theft or misappropriation of public property, let me be categorical from the get-go: William Samoei Ruto’s time in the public eye going back to his Youth for KANU (YK ’92) days remains a dodgy and downright tawdry affair. The man’s dodginess only got worse once he became Kenya’s Deputy President and Uhuru Kenyatta’s No.2. Not only did Ruto’s pace of wealth accumulation and self-dealing rival that of his boss’ family, comported himself with an arrogance and hubris that remains absolutely galling – especially to his detractors. The DP stepped on so many toes that the schadenfreude now surrounding his on-going legal and political trials and tribulations was a long time coming.

The harsh reality is that Ruto’s usefulness to Uhuru Kenyatta expired in 2015 after the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda withdrew the crimes-against-humanity charges – first against Uhuru and subsequently against Ruto. Before that, the two halves of the incumbent Jubilee Party – Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) and William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) – held fast to their reported “Gentleman’s Agreement” to share the spoils of their 2013 electoral victory. Not surprising, this agreement had a rich history going back to Kenya’s attainment of independence when the likes of Bildad Kaggai were mocked for refusing to partake in “eating matunda ya uhuru”. Said history, combined with the duo’s desperate need to thwart the charges at The Hague, blinded those now baying for Ruto’s political scalp of his unbridled greed; all except supporters of the National Super Alliance (NASA) opposition party.

William Ruto’s fate was sealed after he, along with Uhuru Kenyatta, “won” the 2017 “Elections.” Suddenly, the man became the poster child for all that was corrupt and unseemly about the ruling coalition.

It is also this turn of events that I totally reject.

Painting Ruto’s rapacity as unique to his person or unusual in Kenya’s body politics is laughable and disingenuous. It is also dangerous for the long-term viability of Kenya – as a stable and mature democracy – not to mention her fight against grand corruption.

To be clear, humans are corrupt and greedy – some more than the others – and Kenya’s reputation as a cesspool of corruption and greed has garnered the country as much fame (and notoriety) as its world-conquering distance runners.

Land-grabbing and wealth accumulation, including via use of public office, is not unique to William Ruto nor is the speed with which he acted to attain either. This is particularly true when his exploits are viewed alongside the history of land-grabbing and wealth accumulation by Kenyan politicians shortly after independence. On this claim, Joe Khamisi’s “Looters and Grabbers” is my go-to compendium.

The on-going verbal and cyber-lynching of the man by the likes of David Murathe, Francis Atwoli, and their merry band of keyboard warriors is hypocritical and convenient as are his legal woes. The latter also exposes the malleability and politicization of Kenya’s legal system.

This latest iteration of Kenya’s war against corruption has been weaponized – against William Ruto.

If this were not the case, other high profile Kenyans who have also been implicated in the theft or abuse of public funds including billions from the National Youth Service (NYS) and from Afya House (Ministry of Health) would be receiving the same intensity of scrutiny and pressure that William Ruto and his acolytes face on a near-daily basis. This is not the case and in the recent re-possession of a 1,600-acre piece of land in Ruai allegedly belonging to the DP and his associates, fair-minded Kenyans can see what biased prosecutorial prerogative or discretion looks like. Any leader committed to fighting corruption and impunity would impress upon their Justice Department and in Kenya’s case, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), the importance of avoiding even the appearance of partiality, bias, or favoritism. Thus far, DPP Noordin Haji’s office appears to have his prosecutorial crosshairs trained solely on DP William Ruto’s transgressions. The DPP’s fixation on Ruto belies the fact that documentation and million-shilling-commission reports going back decades detail transgressions far worse than the ones Ruto is accused of perpetrating and whose collective values dwarf by orders of magnitude, the amount he is accused of or implicated in skiving from the public coffers.

(On a side but related note, last I checked, Kenya does not have a statute of limitation regarding investigating and prosecuting grabbed public lands and resources.)

This selective prosecution of wrongdoing explains why the race for Kenya’s top job and literal control of the scales of justice remains a uniquely deadly affair: The use of political office to prosecute opponents, real or perceived, is very real as is the fear of being on the receiving end of that abuse of power. William Ruto’s enemies are using their superior political and economic power to stymie his efforts to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta. They are doing this because they are afraid of what a President William Ruto will do, not to Kenya, but to them.

The way I see it, short of a “Come-to-Jesus” moment regarding high-level corruption in Kenya and an opening up of its body politics beyond the usual suspects, the on-going troubles of the Deputy President sets the stage for what Macharia Gaitho described as “violent internal spasms,” a circular firing squad within a Jubilee Party whose matching white-shirt-&-red-tie-wearing “digital duo” were supposed to rule Kenya, one after the other, well into the 3rd Decade of the 21st Century.

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Filed under Corruption, International Criminal Court - ICC, Kenya, Land, Land-grabbing, Law & Order, Ruai, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto