William Ochieng': It's time to compare the past with the present

MANY KENYANS ARE DISTUR-bed by the interest which the rich Western powers have shown in our political crisis, and their determination to ensure that we do not go the Somali or Burundi way. They ask: Are we really free? Is our independence fake?

We emerged from colonialism not long ago. There are still many of us who were born and went to school during the colonial period. We remember the subordination, humiliations and racism. I am sure very few of us, if any, would wish to be re-colonised.

On the other hand, across Africa, like in Somalia and Zimbabwe, there are millions who are oppressed, starved, silenced, dehumanised and detained by their post-colonial regimes. There are also those who are hunted like wildlife and those forced into exile.

TO ALL THESE PEOPLE, AND THEY are the majority, the difference between colonialism and independence is the same. Given real option, most such people would happily opt to live under imperial sovereignty. I stand to be corrected, but I think we were happier and more secure in my Yimbo Village, than we have been since independence.

Why, then, did we join the anti-colonial struggle, if we were happy under colonialism? It was because of the glorious picture which was painted for us by the educated nationalists, about the splendour of Uhuru.

Once they took over the reins of power from the white oppressors, the African nationalists did not behave differently. They did not only take over the right to rule, they took over the colonial infrastructure, laws, values and properties.

Instead of returning settler farms to the original owners, they simply grabbed them. So, colonialism really went on, although now it was nicknamed Uhuru.

True, independence opened for us different gates. It also opened venues that had been plugged by colonialism. Now a few of us could happily go to high school and university. We even began to send our children overseas. That, too, opened up the world for us.

But back at home, the nationalists were busy entrenching themselves in power, acquiring more and more land, changing the country’s Constitution to suit their whims, passing drastic laws to protect their wealth and loot, and fighting amongst themselves over leadership and other issues.

The objectives of freedom were soon forgotten. Indeed, some people have become so strong that they refer to Kenya as a sovereign state!

Sovereign? I thought that is a term that was used to define monarchical dictatorships in the Medieval period in Europe? Do they now wish Kenya to be a kingdom? Are we independent?

True, but we still need a lot of support from the older, richer and more enlightened friends in the world. There is no point bragging about being independent if we cannot even make a bicycle.

And how can we manufacture a bicycle if our possible investments on the project have been illicitly banked abroad? What joy is there in a sovereign state where individuals hide billions of stolen funds in foreign banks, while millions of their countrymen go hungry?

During the colonial period, in my village, we were truly uneducated and ignorant about science, the arts, and the world, but — I repeat — we were solidly happy and well fed. Occasionally we had famine, but that was occasionally. Today’s maladies like hypertension, gonorrhoea, and homosexuality were unknown.

DO I SOUND LIKE A REACTIONARY? A neo-colonial stooge? You are free to choose your epithet. We have to start afresh, to re-define our conduct, to restate our policies and to confirm whether we are human.

There is too much suffering and tears in Africa because of a handful of people. Must we support these soulless people simply because they are our race?

In schools and discourses, over the last 40 years, we have been persuaded to take a firm nationalist stand against colonialism and imperialism. We have failed to evaluate colonialism objectively.

No doubt, most of the colonial agents on the ground, including white settlers, were ill-educated and detestable. Forty years later, we must begin to compare the colonial era and the post-colonial period. From this comparison we might develop sounder humanist policies for the future. Is oppression by foreigners worse than exploitation by our black brothers? Is it?

Prof Ochieng’ teaches history at Maseno University.

Bookmark the permalink.