Archive for May, 2011

The class struggle in Kenya: since Obama Snr.’s death, what has changed really?

“Kenyatta said to Mr. Obama: “Because you cannot keep your mouth shut, you will not work again until you have no shoes on your feet,”

Often so much attention is focused on Barack Obama, the President of the United States, that little is ever said of his father, Barack Obama Snr. However, the late Obama Snr. himself was a very remarkable person, in his own right, albeit with a penchant for the finer things in life; chain smoking, white women and braggadocio. It is not intention however to dissect his life as a person, but rather to put back on the radar his thoughts on Kenya’s economy two years after independence and compare that to today. His musings are erudite, as one would expect of an Obama, and are presented here verbatim as an excerpt from a paper he wrote in 1965, and for which he was sacked and rendered a pariah, as a result of which he sadly died a broken man, given to alcohol and hopelessness.

The paper that led to his tribulations was in some sense a call for a Kenyan version of socialism as opposed to the wholesale form of cliche socialism that was being peddled in the name of African socialism. The crux of Obama Snr.’s argument was summarised in this statement that he wrote: “The question is how are we going to remove the disparities in our country, such as the concentration of economic power in Asian and European hands, while not destroying what has already been achieved and at the same time assimilating these groups to build one country,”

He further expounded: “One need not be a Kenyan to note that nearly all commercial enterprises from small shops in River road to big shops in Government Road, and industries in the industrial area were mostly owned by Asians and Europeans. One need not be a Kenyan to note that most hotels and entertainment places are owned by Asians and Europeans. One need not be a Kenyan to note that when one goes to a good restaurant, he mostly finds Asians and Europeans, nor has he to be a Kenyan to see that the majority of cars running in Kenya are run by Asians and Europeans. How then can we say that we are going to be indiscriminate in rectifying the imbalance? We have to give the African his place in his own country, and we have to give him his economic power if he is going to develop”

For this views he was summoned and summarily dismissed by the then President thus: “Kenyatta said to the Old Man that because he could not keep his mouth shut, he would not work again until he had no shoes on his feet,”

It is my belief the profound questions posed by the late Obama Snr are still relevant today and should give us a benchmark by which to put into perspective how far we have or have not come as a country in terms of economic integration and equitable spread of opportunity.

Does the generation of today, well read and informed, but a majority of whom are either underpaid, overworked, underemployed or unemployed, feel the dismissal of Obama’s train of thought (considering that he was then a senior government economist who had trained at Harvard no less) was justified? Have the degree holders actualized their dreams? Do they have access to ownership of any means of production?

PS. It is necessary to point out that Obama Snr. was not really an ingrained socialist/communist lackey, his views were contrary to the accepted African traditional socialism — the sort Tanzania had tried with ujamaa–, which stressed communal ownership of major means of production and sharing of fruits of collective labor, so expended in production, to the benefit of all. His views in the same paper advocate issuing of land title deeds and private ownership of land which is itself a crucial means of production.

Link to the full paper as written by Barack Obama Snr. here: http://politi.co/kqgYaM

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