Not So Fast, Ndii: Tell me, Where is the Light of Your Intellectual Candle?


I read Dr. David Ndii’s article on Saturday March 26th with great horror and disappointment. It was provocative in the extreme. You see, I have always respected him as a dependable, conscientious and expert bipartisan analyst with an experienced, thoroughly informed and conciliatory thumb over the pulse of Kenya’s political economy. Although he might not know me personally, Ndii is a respectable public intellectual that I have admired since his Kenya Leadership Institute (KLI) days at Hughes Building where I stopped numerous times as a young University of Nairobi graduate student eager to soak up policy gems from some of his people, friends who worked for and with him. That is why I always eagerly and regularly read his column. Because I know the hardy intellectual stuff that he is made of. But his article really shook this faith and respect.

Make no mistake. Ndii was right on many a score. I still do respect him immensely in spite of his ridiculously depressing ruminations that must have been conceived and crafted from the dark depths of intellectual disillusionment and personal frustrations to which he has, obviously sunk. That is not an unfamiliar murky and dark backwater territory. Not even to me. I perfectly understand your lonely place of frustration, brother Ndii. Often times, the Kenyan intelligentsia, and to some extent, the middle class, find themselves, hemmed in, it seems, by an almost impregnable glass ceiling of the monopoly of influence and domination from a few dynastic political families suffering from a perennial lack of vision; and, well, their criminal henchmen and abominable sidekicks. No amount of worthy and sacrificial offerings of expertise distilled from some of the very best institutions of higher learning at home and abroad, including the London School of Economics where Ndii was trained, it seems, makes members of the intelligentsia at all worthy of entering, and sharing their vast knowledge and collective responsibility in, and for, the sound running of state affairs, and the steady and stable management of the Kenyan economy. Ndii is not the first casualty to suffer from the jealous and ever watchful cordon that the multiethnic economic and political elite, winner-take-it all gangsters in Kenya, have put around the running of the country as if it belonged to them and them only.

I could mention many names of amazingly great, dependable and stunningly brilliant fellows all of whom started off shooting stars across the usually depressingly gloomy and, at times, strangely comical theater of the absurd that is Kenyan politics impaired, as it is, by dangerous inbreeding of the elite that is responsible for lackluster dwarfy politicians and near never-ending political demagoguery and thuggery. But their little light and heat has, unfortunately, been short-lived and no matter how brilliantly these guys shine, they always seem to burn out and crash. The leaven becomes a dud. One such individual is, of course, Mutahi Ngunyi, who another would be great son of Kenya, Barrack Muluka, quite deservedly, singled out for an unforgiving lambast in a similarly themed article calling for “divorce” (published, this time around, by Standard, “Why Should Africans be Trapped in National Borders full of Mutual Hate?,” August 22nd 2015). When his Sunday Nation column was still fresh, Ngunyi’s analysis was always scintillating, weighty yet offering soft–soothing refreshing and restorative words mending our collective social fabric. But, increasingly, the more he was sought after by the political class for generous consultancy work, the more his apparent erudition suffered, got progressively eroded and became muddled beyond recognition. As he stands right now, he is an arrogant and divisive fellow who seriously needs (self-)redemption. I will not mention Mutava Musyimi nor his response to the Ndii piece. Once a towering and promising illustrious leader, Musyimi is a prodigal son who has fallen by the wayside having perhaps fraternized on the dark side of high Kenyan politics thus dimming his light that’s now under the bushel of political power. Little wonder, then, that his response to Ndii was reactionary and unnecessarily defensive. Numerous talented others have shut out the messy political field of action choosing the safe intellectual abode and ivory tower of high academic learning or are so wrapped up in professional and business careers. But many of them are committed journalists who, every day, heroically defend the gains of personal freedoms and human rights; amazing individuals who, guided by their moral courage, refuse to be cowed or gagged by state power.

But I digress. In one fell swoop, Ndii betrayed a moment of self-doubt. The manner in which he casually referred to political bloodletting was chilling, inciteful and rather careless. Callous, even. It was irresponsible, indefensible, untenable and absurd. Moreover, this article, and not to forget Muluka’s, expose a dire and sorry lack of knowledge in statecraft. Common, folks: really? Don’t you think that the constitution and organization of societies is a far more complex matter than a simple marriage between two individuals? Will calculated ethnic fragmentation resolve Kenya’s institutional shortcomings; lead to a better and swift implementation of the constitution; banish impunity; magically resolve stubborn issues of historical injustices; eradicate systemic corruption driven by insatiable greed overnight; promote human rights and human dignity; will it settle, once and for all, issues of citizenship, values, rights and relationships within and between communities; and will it end power wrangles and promote accountability of leaders to Wananchi? How different is your call for “divorce” from the laughable consolation of ordinary folks that it is better for one to be devoured by a familiar ethnic hyena (s)he knows than by another hyena from another ethnic group? Cannot the postcolonial nation-building and state project be salvaged, redeemed and be put back in orbit, on course? Of course, it can; but not if the ranks of public intellectuals are constantly assailed by the political elite and wooed, being led astray by cold hard cash stuffed into their pockets to do politicians’ bidding. Not if they succumb to divisive and monotonous carping and plaintive but empty political complaining on behalf of their paymasters. Indeed, in so doing, they abscond their God-given duty to protect the gullible weak in society for personal gain. They side with the enemies of the people who pillage and squander state coffers without respite.

If Kenya does burn, Ndii, it is because the Kenyan intelligentsia is doing, and has done, nothing to remedy the situation. If Kenya does burn, it is because intellectuals like you have allowed their collective conscience to be seared. If Kenya does burn, it is because people like you and I have sold out. If Kenya does burn, it is because we have despaired, allowed ourselves to think small, and embraced fear. If Kenya does burn, it is because we have refused to wear our thinking caps. If Kenya does burn, it will be because we have listened to lies for far too long. Granted, African international and internal borders were artificially created, but how can we make them work? Given, it’s a cruel political reality; the high national politics of intrigue harp, fan, and feed on, external ethnic competition characterized, as it is, by the dull and frosty echo and auction chamber of tribalism. But, it should also be quite clear, especially to us, on whose faces the brilliant light of books has shone, that an analysis of Kenyan politics that neglects the deep politics of moral ethnicity must be shallow and misleading (John Lonsdale 1992: 466). Knowing this only too well, why can’t we all stand and offer leadership, to both political leaders and the masses, and rise together, as we once did, against foreign colonial oppression and dictatorship, with one voice of protest; all of us together (the church, the official opposition and civil society)?

Tell me, where is our moral courage to do so, Ndii? Yes; tell me, Ndii, where is the light of your intellectual candle that brightly burns keeping darkness at bay in Kenya, a place that is our shared home; our only home? It is this candle light that we must jealously guard as intelligentsia, run into this ever threatening darkness and pull out ignorant masses from the grip of their notorious ethnic kingpins. It is this light of our intellectual candle that exorcises the confusion of the masses spawned by lying malfeasant political thugs; and that will melt blatant lies that are the currency of the politics of ethnic hatred and division in Kenya.

We have been lied to for far too long. We have been robbed blind for far too long. We have held on to candles without a flame for far too long.

So, let’s all, with one accord, rekindle our candles. And no; burning candle vigils and associated cute campaigns of burning candle images set against the emblazoned flag and map of Kenya after wanton carnage, calling for a return to peace, just will not, and cannot do!

This is why, Ndii, your certitude that Kenya is going to burn in 2017 if President Uhuru Kenyatta wins is discomforting.

You, of all people should know; if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Your article just dug us that much deeper into our miry political morass.

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Nicholas Githuku

Assistant Professor, African History at York College, CUNY
Nicholas Githuku is a Ph.D. holder in African Studies. His research interests include: War & Peace Studies in general; Conflict and Security and mediation in general and trends in the Great Lakes the Horn Regions of Africa; Memorialization of War; Development studies (Sub-Saharan Africa): Postcolonial/Contemporary Kenyan Politics; European History (1648 to 1900); First and Second World Wars; and Post-1989 Eastern Europe (Balkans) History.