From Moral Ethnicity to Moral Anarchy: The Colonial Ideology of Order and Political Disorder in Postcolonial Kenya


Generally, people’s attitudes, set of ideas, values, and beliefs, and how they conduct themselves and work for survival and reputation—their sense of purpose, and of being in the world—is determined by the ecological, socio-political and cultural environmental, and ideological circumstances in which they find themselves. Or, as John Lonsdale (2019) eloquently puts it, a people’s foundation of their ethnic culture, their ethnic morality, what he has called “moral ethnicity,” is determined, as it is, by how they learn “to manage their struggle with nature.”  This chapter concerns itself with a range of such evident conventions, ideas and practices governing individual responsibility and self-conduct in society. They include moral ethnicity, householder ideology, working class consciousness, the ideology of law and order or the tendency toward moral anarchy and subsequent political disorder characterized by runaway corruption in the absence of redistributive civic virtue and reciprocity. While my work (Githuku, 2016) extensively examines the first three aggregated under “the mentalité of struggle in Kenya,” the ideology of law and order that, in the postcolony protects metropolitan economic interests and those of the wealthy and ruling elite, is minimally treated. This chapter is, therefore, dedicated to unmasking this hegemonic ideology. It is a close analysis of the various manifestations of this surviving and ever-evolving colonial ideology of order in contemporary Kenyan politics. This is with the aim of reflecting on the importance and impact of these manifestations for social and political processes.

All human history, and that of any political society or entity, is the history of human struggle, with the forces of nature and/or over the process of the allocation of natural resources and the resultant products when the former are mixed with human labor (Thiong’o, 1987; and Lonsdale, 2019), a struggle determined in the realm of politics. Hence the definition of politics as the process of determining who gets what, when and how (Lasswell, 1936), or the authoritative allocation of values for a society (Easton, 1965). It, of necessity, follows that “political societies are characterized by the practice of political competition” hence multivocality within any social formation reflecting competing oppositional and divergent political perspectives horizontal but, for the most part, vertical (Odhiambo, 1987, pp. 178-179).  And since the distribution of resources in society is a function and/or dynamic of authority or power, the be-all and end-all of the political process in the modern state, is the pursuit and capture of state power. As a theoretical abstraction, as an ideological expression (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 180), the state in general, and the Kenyan state in particular, is a product of competing ideological constructions (Githuku 2016, pp. 4-5). The capture of state power, within the political arena of established rules of structured consensual interaction characterized by dialogue, discourse and/or bounded conflict, is the objective of different groups, classes or factions working exclusively, or in combination—struggling, as it were, “for the agenda,” in a struggle that is for both “positions of power and for programs on the basis of issues” (Zartman, 1986). Only then can the triumphant group construct the state in its own ideological image at the expense of its political competition.

Historically, reaching back to its early beginnings in the early 1890s onwards, the Kenyan state, its institutional, legal and policy architecture, has consistently evolved and developed informed by the ideological leaning of two triumphal groups; its erstwhile British white settlers and the African bigwigs who replaced them at independence. The Kenyan state, by design, and construction, is, therefore, suffused by a logic that still points to London as the state’s raison d’être (Githuku, 2016, p. 4). It remains a conquest state (Lonsdale, 1986) whose sole raison d’être remains domination attested to by its “instrumentalities … manifest … variously as force, authority, bureaucracy, or power” (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 180). This, the investment of force or the deployment of violence on a scale that was locally unprecedented (Lonsdale, 1990, pp. 395-396) was necessary in order “to drain” the African “people of all sovereignty and to transfer this from” their “rulers and the myriads of institutional networks to a single State” (Ajayi, 1983, p. 193). The envisioned result of domineering conquest, institutional and systematic preponderance of the British colonial state was absolute subservience of the subjugated colonial people or imperial subjects (Githuku, 2016, p. 12). The deployment of force was also necessary, furthermore, for this revolutionary colonial construct to build a capacity that would allow it to “coerce obedience, exact labor, and extract surpluses” (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 180).

Suffice it to say that the British colonial state, in what would become Kenya colony, created a law and order understood and seen through imperial and European settler eyes but one that was hotly contested and disputed first by Indians, Asians and Arabs, and by Africans themselves. A mature and effervescent African ideology of bread and butter politics (mentalité of struggle) would continue to oppose the colonial ideology of order that survived independence in postcolonial Kenya. This is the subject of Odhiambo’s masterfully analytical chapter, “Democracy and the Ideology of Order in Kenya,” in Michael G. Schatzberg’s edited volume, The Political Economy of Kenya (1987). Odhiambo’s is a clinical analysis attended to by rare and succinct theoretical clarity of the twin legacies of the state (the colonial state that succeeded itself at independence dictated to by the ideology of order) and its countervailing opposing ideology, the mentalité of struggle between 1963 and 1987. What follows below are some of the main highlights of Odhiambo’s penetrating analysis of the preponderant ideology of the colonial and postcolonial Kenya state—how the state has been transforming itself since 1895 to 1987; what underpins the ideology of order; the group, class or factions behind it; and why this ideology is preoccupied with the search for, and preservation of, power as a hegemonic project (Odhiambo, 1987, p.191). This brief summary is then followed by my own attempt at examining this prevalent ideology and its socioeconomic and political implications for the country since 1987 to the present.

Odhiambo (1987, pp. 179-192) aptly observes that, both, the intrinsic instinct seared and embedded in the human spirit of freedom and self-mastery that drives the undying quest for democracy (politics), and the state with its hegemonic stamp or imperative, are legacies of decolonization. The most distinctive element of the Kenyan state is coercive character and process of “an ongoing process of power accumulation” (Schatzberg, 1986). Citing Lonsdale (1986b, pp. 13-14), Odhiambo points out the state as a function of power, simultaneously, survives because it is external to society, and is, therefore, above it; but works only because it is internal to society, and is, for that reason, within it. Moreover, reading from Lonsdale (1981), Odhiambo states that the state is a process. As such, the Kenyan state “must be seen as an apparatus transforming society” while, at the same time, “also being transformed by society” (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 181). This paper is an examination of the way the state (and its ideology of order) has historically transformed Kenyan society and how the latter, has in turn, transformed the state.[1] In the interim, it is important to focus on another important aspect of the state as a process Viz.—its various stages of evolution.


The State as a Process: The State Producing Society While Transforming Itself

Odhiambo (1987) argues that not only have the society and the state been acting upon each other but, simultaneously, and crucially, the latter has been transforming itself throughout its life since its inauguration in 1895.

Odhiambo (1987, pp. 181-182) aptly observes that, in its inceptive form,

When it initially launched by an early multinational corporation, the Imperial British East Africa Corporation in 1888, the state was essentially a tribute-gathering apparatus, collecting “the goods of nature (…) such as ivory and ostrich feathers. The failure of The Company saw this apparatus transform itself into a conquest state (Lonsdale 1977, 1986b) between 1902 and 1920, “pacifying” such diverse groups as the Kikuyu and the Turkana. It was also a mediating state, claiming wardship over Africans, under the code name of Trusteeship (…) as against more blatant settler demands for coerced labor.

During the interwar years this state transformed itself yet again into a settler-dominated social formation, engaged in organizing production and marketing for capital, while at the same time mediating between the European, Asian, and African races. In its post-World War guise, this state initiated the “second colonial occupation” (Low and Lonsdale, 1976), and engaged in introducing rapid agrarian change in the African reserves through the twin processes of soil conservation and cash crop development. This phase ushered in agrarian reforms, significantly the Swynnerton Plan. Its reformist activities were punctuated in the mid-1950s by the military operations during the Mau Mau war but otherwise continuing to the present. At the end of this phase, from 1964 to 1986, this interventionism … functioned under a presidential system and the state … governed through an executive presidency. This process … involved “regime-building (…) and presidency-building …. By the mid-1980s, the state is the presidency, the bureaucracy, and the security apparatuses.

From the foregoing, five stages of the consistent evolution of the Kenyan state are notable including the fetal stage of primitive accumulation (1888-1896); the phase of the deployment of the instrumentalities of the state namely force, authority, bureaucracy and/or power(1896-1914); the phase of the capture and configuration of its social organization of power in favor of white settlers when the Colonial Office in London temporarily lost the policy-making initiative at the opening of the First World War (Maxon, 1993); the post-1945 “second colonial occupation” phase qualified by crucial agrarian reforms to respond to, and ease, pressing African socioeconomic grievances and, ultimately, after the outbreak of the political crisis of the early 1950s, to reorder and reconfigure the political economy thereby building a substantial “middle class of all races to be the back bone of the country” (Githuku, 2016, p. 33); and the postindependence era during which time the now newly reconfigured colonial order and state, characterized by the conflux of moderate African elite and British commercial interests, matured into a political entity dominated by an executive presidency, an overweening bureaucracy and a security apparatus on steroids, otherwise aptly described as the “the bureaucratic-executive state” (Branch and Cheeseman, 2006).

Indeed, at the turn of the twenty-first century, one can talk of a multi-level hybridized form of this state. That is, the contemporary state onto which a dash of salutary democratic and constitutional reforms, institutions, and deconcentration and devolution of power, have been grafted against the background of what can only be described as the Third Colonial Occupation[2] characterized by unprecedented corruption scandals coupled to massive indebtedness to foreign governments. Infused with the profuse influx of foreign direct capital to which the comprador national elite act as middlemen, the bureaucratic-security state has, in the 21st Century, been given a new lease of life. For this reason, the return to multipartism in the early 1990s, the writing and implementation of the 2010 constitution that engendered the devolution of government and deconcentration of power and provisional of public goods from the center, have been a thin veneer of democratic change presenting a beguiling façade on what remains an unaltered and strengthened bureaucratic-security state. Granted, there has been notable improvement in the distribution of public services and infrastructure development. Nonetheless, the essential character of the executive-bureaucratic state remains the same. At any rate, devolution and deconcentration of power to the various county governments only serves to reproduce and replicate it into mini-county-level executive-bureaucratic forms. At the national level, the continuity and longevity of the colonial order/state with its underlying ideological foundation and insistence on law and order, the hybridized bureaucratic-security state underscored by moral anarchy and political disorder, is attributable to the reproduction of the elite group, class and the factions behind it. The people behind this ideology of order and the bureaucratic-security state have, over time, reproduced themselves both in terms of their class and commercial interests and, also, literally—that is, dynastically. This merits attention.

The First Corruption— Vulgarization of Power: The (Re)Production of “Big Men”

As Lonsdale observes (2019, p. 17), early British state-building, the second phase of the evolution of the state, required the transformation of traditional African authority into power. Harnessing African traditional economies onto a fairly developed modern British colonial economy required the incorporation of the pre-European economic and political institutions and structures into the newly created colonial order. The colonial conquest state, put differently, “needed African allies in the work of conquest, tax-collection, and labour recruitment” (Lonsdale, 2019). Eventually, the forces of the new British colonial political economy produced economic, political and social changes that destroyed traditions patterns of authority and production (Lonsdale, 1989, pp. 21-22). In effect, whatever little legitimacy the early colonial state hoped for, muster and claim, was appropriated or borrowed, better still, “from such African authority as already existed” (Robinson, 1972, pp. 117-142; and Lonsdale, 2019, p. 17). Indigenous African authority by this very fact of allowing itself to be appropriated for British colonial ends, was irrevocably corrupted. This is what Lonsdale (1989) refers to as “the vulgarization of power.” The admixture of a colonial social organization of power which privileged the small white settler community with indigenous authority corrupted it.

Thus, African authority which had been traditionally beholden through civic virtue and householder individual responsibility to communal or ethnic clients, aligned itself with the burgeoning colonial state-building enterprise. This hybridization, the subsuming of the African householder ideology and practice under the new British colonial order through the policy of indirect rule, produced a collaborating class of African “big men” who Odhiambo (1987, p. 183) calls “insiders,” whose loyalty was not to kinship networks and ties or their traditional clients. Rather, they owed their loyalty to the newly established colonial government. And instead of drawing legitimacy primarily from the demands of civic virtue and mutual obligation, this newfangled chiefly power and leadership of men like Koinange wa Mbiyu, Karuri wa Gakure, Njiiri wa Karanja, Mumia of Wange, Ole Murumbi of the Maasai, Owuor Kere of Nyakach, Kinyanjui wa Gathirimu, Muhoho wa Gathecha, Michuki wa Kagwi, Ogola Ayieke, Kioi, derived it from “processual reproduction within the colonial system” (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 183; Clough, 1990; & Wamagatta, 2016 ). No one has advanced our understanding of the (re)production of this African class more than Kipkorir (1969 & 1974). Under the aegis of the colonial state, the first crop of chiefly “big men” has reproduced itself overtime and, eventually, providing a ready-made socioeconomic and political class to whom independence and state power could be entrusted in the postcolonial era.

As Odhiambo (1987, p.184) observes, by the 1920s, missionary boys, the Western/missionary-educated sons, cousins and some of their unwitting clients replaced the first crop of African chiefly men. These patriarchs such as Waruhiu wa Kung’u, Josiah Njonjo, Joel Omino, Musa Nyandusi, Mwendwa Kitavi (of Kitui) among others,

… Further consolidated and refined the patrimony, while simultaneously educating their sons in upper primary schools, at Alliance High School, Kabaa-Mangu, and at Government African Schools like Kakamega, Kagumo, and Kisii, which were built during the interwar period. A few of the grandsons of the pioneers received some higher education in Makerere and overseas. They joined the civil service and the professions between 1946 and 1962. They became the real heirs of the colonial state at independence. Their names stood out: Charles Njonjo, Simeon Nyachae, Peter Shiyukah, Kyale Mwendwa, … Michuki. Kipkorir (1974) argues that the grandfathers had “seen far,’ educated the sons, whose sons in turn inherited the state. From within these ranks had been nominated the first African members of the Legislative Council: Eliud “half loaf is better than none” Mathu in 1944, B.A. Ohanga in 1946, and D.T. arap Moi, the most enduring of them, in 1955.

From these political dynasties of the colonial era derives their biological scions, politicians and senior government administrators, who have dominated the high echelons of government and the civil service such as Simeon Nyachae (son of Chief Musa Nyandusi), Joab Omino, the Mwendwa brothers (Eliud Ngala Mwendwa, who served as the Minister of Labor in Jomo Kenyatta’s cabinet and Kitili Mwendwa, the first African Chief Justice of Kenya), John Njoroge Michuki, Kariuki wa Njiiri,  Peter Mbiyu Koinange (son of chief Koinange who also served as a powerful Kenyatta minister), to mention but a few. It is important to point out that consciously or not, Jomo Kenyattta married wisely into chief Koinange wa Mbiyu’s family, and, later, that of chief Muhoho wa Gathecha thus inaugurating one of Kenya’s foremost and what promises to be a long-lasting political dynasty. Moi, his immediate successor, established his own that similarly demonstrates the same political tenacity. Ditto; Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s third president.

Indeed, there is no surprise that all of President Kenyatta’s men (Moi, Kibaki and Uhuru Muigai wa Kenyatta, who is more so than the first two) have read from the same refrain on the eve of independence, the very script of the ideology of law and order Viz.—the principle of “willing seller, willing buyer” with regard to land ownership. But it was Moi who, waxing lyrical early during his presidency in the 1980s, and through a masterful stroke of political genius, movingly repackaged the colonial ideology of order into the populist appeal of his Nyayo philosophy of love, peace and unity. There was, however, precious little love lost when his government was rocked with Kenya’s first largest corruption scandal, Goldenberg in which no less than US $600 million was funneled out of the Central Bank of Kenya (Hornsby, 2012, pp. 506, 291-292 & 302; Branch, 2011, pp. 217-221; Burbidge, 2015, pp. 33-35; and Githuku, 2016, pp. 344, 345-347). Similarly, charged with the task of sustaining a unified nation—as the state “has the particular function of constituting the factor of social cohesion between the” different “levels of … social formation” (Poulantzas 1975, p. 44)— President Kibaki, for his part, hinted at the same ideology of order by reminding people that Kenya was a working nation. In a public address on 1 June 2013, Kibaki told his audience that the era of free things, if ever there was any, was over. Kenyans had, therefore, to work hard. The Kenyan state has had, therefore, at whatever state of its evolution, a steady hand at the helm ensuring the continuity of the ideology of order thus promulgating and overseeing the status quo. This, political stability and the peaceful maintenance of the status quo enshrining the twin pillars of capital, the protection of life and private property, is the single objective of this class of “big men.” Consequently, ensuring the survival of this vision and political reality of the Kenyan state, with its concomitant veneer of (guided) democracy, demands the suppression of alternative(s) articulated and championed by the opposing mentalité of struggle characterized by a long history and lineage of political dissent. Besides its preoccupation with the preservation of power, the ideology of order is also committed to protecting the Kenyan state and its brand of democracy from the people.

“The Danger of Democracy is the People”

One of the colonial state’s greatest fears was the masses. Colonial authorities, and independent Kenya’s African ruling elite, were afraid that the madding crowd of have-nots could, as they had in 1952, leap over the barriers and invade the pitch of sanitized politics of “law and order.” The final order of colonial business and, by natural default, the first order of Kenyatta’s post-independence government, was to protect the colonial/postcolonial state by creating political “order in society by either incorporating, excluding, or liquidating all discordant political noises in society” (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 190). This is a task that the political heirs of the colonial state led by Kenyatta and other scions of chiefly power such as his attorney general Charles Njonjo fulfilled to the hilt.

The former, having already been recognized as the rallying political symbol through whom the hopes of the European community, London’s commercial interests and continued military presence, and the ideology of order could be secured, just before his release, early in his premiership and presidency, had his task already cut out before him. Kenyatta faced-off with Mau Mau elements, dubbed the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, hellbent on challenging and reconfiguring colonially inaugurated social relations of power to create an equitable political economy. This dissenting group, among others, on the eve, and during the early years, of independence was committed to disrupting the evolution of the state in a political economy that privileged a select few by any means necessary including violently. Unsurprisingly, much of the time early during Kenyatta’s tenure at the helm was spent coaxing such radical dissenting groups, and members of the original forest fighters of the Mau Mau movement, to leave the forest and surrender their weapons. On the whole, the Father of the nation attempted to temper the high expectations of ordinary Kenyans with his calls for Harambee (pooling together); pleading all to forgive and forget the evils and experiences of the past; and, consistent with the ideology of order, which he understood only too well, charging people to celebrate and embrace “uhuru na kazi” (freedom and work)—an appeal echoed by Kibaki who, towing the same line, would tell his listeners that Kenya was a working nation where nobody should expect free things.

Toward the end of  Kenyatta’s tenure , at a time when the president’s faculties were dulled by age, reading from the same script, more or less, his ideological lieutenant, Njonjo, a chiefly big man in his own right, would hold guard against “dangerous agitators,” political activists and petitioners of a now firmed-up bureaucratic-executive state. Njonjo openly threatened to jail the radical novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o who had just penned his incendiary novel, Petals of Blood. Both London and Nairobi feared that the novel would inspire a revolution. The vast crowd of virtual spectators who, time and again, threatened to leap over the barriers and invade the pitch of sanitized politics of order, could very well do so at the invitation and encouragement of their wilder spirits such as this writer who epitomized the spirit of political dissent. An establishment man such as Njonjo was under no illusions about the dangers of the crowd joining in.[3] This palpable and shared crowd-phobia of London and Nairobi demonstrates that the forces of the ideology of order understood that “the danger of democracy is the people,” who had to be thwarted at every turn possible using the instrumentalities of the state. After all, the injunctions of the ideology of order were clearly spelled out (Odhiambo, 1987, pp. 189-190):

The need for obedience among the governed rather than any profound acceptance of the rulers; the crucial role of the political elite in the sustenance of this ideology; the necessity of lowering newly acquired expectations and levels of activity of the ruled; the entrusting of the management of the state to a bureaucracy; the need for accumulation and concentration of power in the hands of the political elite, and not its dispersion into society and legal lawlessness by the ruling class. Order, institutions, and elite are the basic components of this construct, while “danger to democracy is the people” (D. Cruise O’Brien 1972, p. 372).

The people are perceived as a danger to order because they insist that there ought to be accountability in society ….

…The ideology of order mediates between the people’s freedom and the ruler’s irresponsibility.

Only through strict adherence to these injunctions can the state, not only search for power, which is its single most important objective, but also continue to accumulate and perpetuate power. Hegemony is the be-all and end-all of the state. Vested class interests of both the colonial and post-independence state saw in “the state a potential instrument for extending the hegemony of their specific class interests on the rest of society.” This endless “quest for hegemony by the state in all spheres of national life” is an established pattern that Odhiambo, 1987) sought to explain with reference to the work of prominent social and political science specialists.


Figure 1 The injunctions of the ideology of order dictate the search for, and accumulation and perpetuation of, power. Hegemony is the be-all and end-all of the state. Source: “The Emperor Drunk with Power,” Gado Cartoon, @Igaddo, Twitter, 20 February 2018.


The Second Absolute Corruption— The State’s Quest for Hegemony: The Reign Supreme of Moral Anarchy

Citing Goran Hyden (1980), Odhiambo writes that “in a peasant society such as Kenya, where the economic base” was fragmented, the common political response to existent structural contradictions was to create a unified, coercive super-structure. As such, post-independence regimes that took over power were bound “to be responsive to the forces generated by various peasantries that, presumably, were articulated at the level of contradictions with the state system rather than in harmony with it, since peasants are guardians of their autonomy and therefore duty-bound to be wary of the state systems” (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 191). The state, therefore, had no choice but to create political structures capable of containing the divisive effects of these contradictions (Hyden, 1980, p. 26). The best rationale behind the process of the search for, and accumulation and perpetuation of, power was elaborated by Donal Cruise O’Brien (1972). O’Brien presented an explanation that traced this tendency back to the colonial system. According to O’Brien, the intrusion of the colonial system in traditional African societies proved effective in undermining established normative patterns which, subsequently, resulted to moral anarchy. Pre-European normative patterns, principles and practices were so effectively undermined to the extent that there was little basis left for the construction of a new moral system. Where “the old social sway of interdependence” (Lonsdale, 2019, p. 17) had prevailed, moral anarchy now reigned supreme.

Furthermore, Odhiambo (1987, p. 191) continues, returning to Hyden, “the primordial moral public realm (read ethnic community) commands the prior loyalty of African leadership, as against the civic public realm (read territorial society).” The former, the ethnic realm, is a reservoir of moral obligations which one works to preserve whereas the latter, the civic realm, is a place from which one seeks to gain, if possible, in order to benefit the moral primordial public realm (Hyden, 1908, p. 27). This, then, is the prism through which, the grand corruption that is the bane of Africa, and Kenya in particular, should be seen. In this sense, political tribalism is the driver of this hegemonic quest of the state elite (Leys, 1974, pp. 198-206), which then explains corruption scandals in series that are a part of the general run-of-the-mill. Bringing his insight to bear on this, Nyong’o (1983) argued that the absence, or the lack of a strong civil society, not only exacerbates this tendency, but is what necessitates this hegemonic tendency. Indeed, according to Nyong’o, on the one hand, the repressive state apparatus are introduced in order to create civil society while, on the other, the same instruments are contradictorily deployed “to negate civil society” As such, there was no civil society at Uhuru that could have compelled representatives to be representatives hence the search for, and accumulation of, power[4] without accountability (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 192). Lastly, Odhiambo points to Jackson and Rosberg (1984) who offered the argument that political regimes are not only primarily institutional and procedural but are also “essentially personal and … discretionary.” As such, the “mistrust of rivals and fear of competition,” also act as drivers for the state’s quest for hegemony. This is O’Brien’s “the danger to democracy if the people” explanation come full circle. This mistrust of rivals and fear of the people is what then dictates that the tradition of political dissent, read the archetypal Mau Mau mentalité of struggle, must be constantly held in check and be emasculated (Odhiambo, p. 192). The state’s incessant quest for hegemony; the demise of moral ethnicity, the disruption, unravelling, rupture and irretrievable breakdown of African village life with its customs and values, and social fabric of mutual networks of support that left a vacuum that was now filled by moral anarchy; and the pillaging and looting of the civic public realm in order to reward the moral primordial public realm, and, therefore, how political tribalism and corruption bleed-into each other, has:

  1. Hybridized and transformed the colonial ideology of order a brazen and vaunted all-pervasive culture of impunity.


  1. Limited the authoritative allocation and distribution of value in quite distinctive ways during the Kenyatta and Moi regimes (see Figures 5 & 6 on the configuration of state patronage under the Kenyatta and Moi regimes below).


  • Perpetrated the twin tyranny of the masses on their respective ethnic elites and that of the latter on the former.


  1. Weakened and stultified the political party system


  1. And, the combination of (i) and (iii), ensures the overlordship of political tribalism and corruption.

The rest of this essay is dedicated to an examination and discussion of some of the implications of the supreme reign of moral anarchy in Kenya.

Moral Anarchy and the Culture of Impunity: A Corruption of the Moral Economy of Affection

As observed above, the ideology of law and order, like the state, is not static. Indeed, as conceived and performed by the state and its agents, the ideology of order is self-legitimizing and justifying. After all, the state is erected upon the unlawful and, indeed, criminal foundations of the colonial state which was an imposition effected through the investment of force. At the very inception of the state, therefore, there was need for “pacification,” for obedience among the British imperial subjects “rather than any profound acceptance of the rulers.” Put differently, the colonial state was built not through consensus as a democracy, but by fiat. Not only did the colonial system vulgarize or corrupt African traditional authority and contribute to the demise of established normative patterns leaving no basis for the construction of a new moral system (thus creating moral anarchy) but it also sowed seeds of a political culture of impunity. Indeed, it was, itself, an act and/or as a result, of impunity.

This colonially inaugurated culture of impunity can be seen at work, for instance, in how the British colonial authorities went about imposing a tax regime where there had been none, and alienating land and labor, two key factors of production upon which the economic viability of the state was dependent. The African ecological arena was curtailed, and the African body subjected colonial discipline, and to imperial structures of systematized violence, through legal prestidigitation. That is, through the writing and implementation of illegal colonial laws. The subsequent imperial order and colonial order was, naturally, detested and contested. This witnessed the birth of the tradition of political dissent counterpoised against the ideology of order. The morphing of this ruling class ideology into its unmasked colonial original cannot be said to be a case of chickens coming home to roost. Flagrant and rampant corruption in the post-independence era has surprised even Kenya’s erstwhile rulers. Reacting to Anglo-Leasing, Kibaki government’s “multi-faceted graft project on par with Goldenberg” (Burbidge, p. 37), Sir Edward Clay, then the British High Commissioner to Kenya, lamented that top figures of the hegemonic regime were eating “like gluttons” and vomiting “over all our shoes.”[5]

Kenya’s first two largest corruption scandals, Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing attest the murky-black shark infested liquid mass of local, national and international networks gnarled by a culture of impunity that has its headwaters in the criminal foundations of the colonial state (Githuku, 2016, p. 339). The Goldenberg scandal, which occurred under the Moi imperious presidency between 1990 and 1993, entailed the government paying Goldenberg International “special compensation for earning foreign exchange reserves by exporting” non-existent “gold and diamonds to the international market.” At least US $600 was funneled out of the Central Bank of Kenya then returned with a 20% bonus (Burbidge, 2015, pp. 33; Hornsby, 2012, pp. 506, 291-292 & 302; and Branch, 2011, pp. 217-221). This marked the height of the vulgarization of power, far from conventional leadership and management principles. Fiscal wisdom was out of the window. Ethical norms such as responsibility and accountability and demands of civic virtue and mutual obligation were pushed to the margins or ignored altogether. As a result, the margins of universal norms were pushed to the limit and ruptured with impunity. As a result of this scandal, Kenyans were made 30% poorer, and the country’s gross domestic product slashed by 10% (Lonsdale, 2009, p. 61).

Anglo-Leasing, which occurred between 1997 and 2003, involved payments to a British company “under the guise of investing to improve Kenyan security services, such as US $36 million to for” new high-technology “tamper-proof passports” (Burbidge, 2015, p. 37)—however, the scandal also involved payments to other fictitious corporate entities that were paid to supply naval ships and forensic laboratories.[6] The fact that this scandal straddles both the Moi and Kibaki administrations is quite telling. This scandal was unfolding since 1997 when the first “contracts” were signed, and again in 2003 with payments going out until May 2015. What this means is that high-level corruption in the country is entrenched deeply in the bureaucracy and is, therefore, systemic or institutionalized. Alluding to this repugnant systemic morass of corruption, John Githongo, the former anti-corruption tsar and whistleblower who served in the first half of Kibaki’s first administration as the Governance and Ethics Permanent Secretary, sadly observed in a public personal statement on 2 May 2019 that:

… The Anglo Leasing model of misappropriation of resources from the Kenyan people has continued unabated since 2001. … Over the past six years in particular the plunder of public resources has accelerated to levels unprecedented in Kenyan history since independence. Increasingly the economic, political, social and very personal cost of this plunder by officials in positions of authority has been borne by the Kenyan people directly.[7]

Burbidge (2015) describes this systemic decay as “an established method of state-sponsored corruption” (Burbidge, 2015, pp. 37-38). Burbidge’s book subtitle, Widespread Expectations of Widespread Corruption, could not be more apt in describing the situation in Kenya. Presently, the level of corruption is such that no citizen trusts their fellow citizens. There is, therefore, no prospect of a united demand for clean government.[8] Indeed, one would even venture to argue, aptly, that only a meagre number of Kenyans qualify to make such a demand. Ordinary people have been “diminished by their inescapable complicity in corruption and disqualified, therefore, from cleansing the state themselves” (Lonsdale, 2016, p. 7). Kenya scored 27 points out of 100 on the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index and ranks at 145 out of 174 countries according to Transparency International’s global corruption perceptions index.[9] It is not surprising that skyrocketing corruption under President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, the country’s fourth, dwarfs all previous corruption scandals.


Figure 2 Ordinary people have been diminished by their inescapable complicity in corruption and disqualified, therefore, from cleansing the state themselves. Their languid attitude ensures that, collectively, ordinary people are unsafe and are, often, not at the table but, rather, on the menu. Source: Gado.

The Uhuru Kenyatta government has been rocked by several corruption scandals including the mysterious disappearance of over US $1 billion after Kenya issued its first sovereign bond in 2014. Two years after the country made the biggest debut of any African country on the international bond market raising US $2.75 billion, the national treasury—under the government ministry which formulates financial and economic policies and oversees effective coordination of Government financial operations—these monies could not be accounted for. The government, however, claimed that the money had been allocated to various government departments. Findings of a government audit, though, revealed that, contrary to this claim, there was no proof of “receipt of expenditure” of this money anywhere in government. For instance, the department of water and irrigation was reported to have received KES 11.2 billion but there was neither documentation showing receipt nor expenditure of said funds.[10] Criticizing the government mismanagement of public finances, the opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga accused the Kenyatta administration of an “elaborate scheme of deception.”[11]

According to Odinga, $999 million of the proceeds from the Eurobond was transferred from the government’s account with JP Morgan Chase in New York to one with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Sept 8, 2014, according to transfer receipts. He claims the money has not shown up in auditor reports for the last two years and that it was never deposited in the government’s public funds account. Odinga also called on US banks to give a full account of the funds and prove that they were “not part of this grand theft.” “Nobody knows whose account it ended up in or whether it came into Kenya at all,” he told reporters.

… Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission said it found no proof that any money from the Eurobond had been stolen. Treasury secretary Kamau Thugge said that the missing money was not on the budget for last year because it has been allocated for this financial year. “CORD’s is an issue of misreading the tables,” he told Bloomberg last month.[12]

Dubbed the Eurobond corruption scandal, this suspected misplacement of funds intended to lower interest rates, reduce inflation, and raise funds for infrastructure projects like geothermal plants, expanded airports, or a railway between Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa,[13] remains a mystery.[14] Nonetheless, this scandal appears to betray the new modus operandi of grand corruption that employs what Kenyans humorously describe as “tenderpreneurs.” Bureaucratic functionaries and top-level government officials are, increasingly, targeting huge sums of money earmarked for infrastructure and other construction projects. It came as no surprise, then, when it emerged that an Italian construction company, CMC di Ravenna, was paid KES 21 billion as down payment even before it began work on two dam projects in Elgeyo Marakwet County of the Rift Valley region.[15] According to private investigations by a Daily Nation team, this “tenderpreneur” scandal is part and parcel of an apparent construction of a host of dams under the government’s Engineering, Procurements, Construction and Financing (EPCF) scheme. Since the Kenyatta administration assumed office in 2013, various government agencies have signed or were planning to enter into contracts worth over KES 700 billion for dam construction.[16] Amounts of money said to have gone missing during the administration of Kenyatta are staggering. In Kenya, as in Rob Marsh’s South Africa, it is white-collar crime that is most likely to “bring the country to its knees” (Marsh, 1999, p. 178). But criminal and corruption instincts of authorities pervade Kenyan society and all sectors of the economy. This top-level “eating” culture, in various levels of bureaucracy and high echelons of government, is mirrored throughout society. Corruption permeates Kenyan society because it is the sort of society that the predatory state has fashioned. In 2015, exasperated by rampant corruption, Dr. Willy Mutunga, then Kenya’s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya, concluded that Kenya had become a “bandit economy.” The respected and high-ranking jurist complained that corruption stretched from the very bottom to the very top of society.[17] As an apparatus transforming society, the Kenyan predatory state has transformed society into a sukuma wiki bandit economy characterized by survival by any means necessary.

Indeed, corruption so permeates society like an unavoidable hydra that scarcely leaves anyone untouched or unaffected. The unwritten code is expressed in the African proverb, “the goat eats where it’s tethered.” It is, therefore, not surprising to find corruption and the “trading of favors,” bakshish, among lawmakers; among revenue collection officials; among parents, teachers and students in schools and universities; among doctors, nurses and staff in hospitals; in corridors of justice among judges and magistrates; and even in the so-called “disciplined armed forces” including the police etc. Poor remuneration of public servants, a poor incentive system for hard and honest work (due to nepotism and ethnic discrimination) and socioeconomic frustrations occasioned by unemployment or underemployment, forces ordinary citizens to resort to corruption. Socioeconomic struggles, like the quest for hegemony behind the production of the state spurred by the political elite, bear the hallmarks of the rush for spoils in which all actors—both rich and poor—participate in the world of shady corruption networks. Working people, not unlike a tethered goat, tend to eat where they are “tethered,” or, put differently, use the nature of their work to look after themselves. State-sanctioned corruption is, therefore, not only institutionalized and systemic, but it also stems from cultural repertoires, which, according to Bayart (1999), are a composite element of the felonious or predator state. A great example is Jomo Kenyatta’s apparent tacit acknowledgement of petty corruption using traditional Kikuyu folklore. According to Wamwere (1992), Jomo did so by alluding to a popular Kikuyu childhood play song to apparently tell corrupt officials that if they were “careful” not to get caught, he did not mind whatever they did:

Kanyoni gakwa wihithahithe

Na wonwo, nduri wakwa


(My little bird, conceal yourself

and if you allow yourself to get caught

you are not mine i.e., you will be on your own).


Overseeing a corruption-rampant DRC-Congo, President Mobutu Seseko once warned people against brazen corruption. Using a similar cultural repertoire sanctioning corruption, Mobutu, like Jomo, urged them to “bana mayele” (steal cleverly). Professional people, therefore, do not only find it necessary but also easy (morally) to exploit their professions or their workplace because of such tacit African cultural sanction of bakshish—acceptance of relatively small gifts or money in return for services rendered. In the meld of African traditional values and modernity in a society imbued by corruption, the line between gratitude and corruption is blurred. Subsequently, the predatory state is augmented by cultural repertoires—which, then, is the way in which the state has been transformed by society. In this way, therefore, the strategies adopted for material survival by school principals, the military, lawmakers, judges, magistrates, the police and other civil servants, people in the private sector, even criminals, are not dissimilar from those used by leaders to accumulate power and wealth. Thus, the tempting image of innocent, bystanding masses, or viewing the Kenyan public as victims of grand corruption, is shattered. After all, corruption and predatoriness are not exclusive to the very powerful. Rather, they are modes of social and political behavior shared by a plurality of actors on a great scale, more or less (Bayart, 1993, pp. 235-241).


Figure 3 Kenya has become a sukuma wiki bandit economy characterized by predatoriness, survival is at any cost. Hence, the civil servant and other officials who are poorly remunerated, or simply harbor an insatiable greed for riches, make their living or build their fortunes off the people they serve rather than from their meagre official remuneration. Source: Afrobarometer.

In the civil service, within the Kenya revenue authority system, the judiciary and the police force, for example, opportunities for extortion present themselves in the line of duty in the administration of birth, death and marriage certificates or “justice” and the collection of taxes.  In Kenya, the prebends collected go by many words, for example, bakshish, chai (tea) or kitu kidogo (something small).  In this sukuma wiki bandit economy characterized by predatoriness, survival is at any cost. Hence, the civil servant and other officials who are poorly remunerated, or simply harbor an insatiable greed for riches, make their living or build their fortunes off the people they serve rather than from their meagre official remuneration. As such, government departments and public enterprises become “virtually bottomless financial reservoirs for those who manage them and for the political authorities, which head them” (Bayart, 1993, pp. 78-79). Even elementary and high school principals are known to charge exorbitant tuition and/or to illegally admit students while in hospitals, necessities like mattresses and bed-sheets, even prescription drugs, are known to be sold-off by poorly paid staff.  At times, members of the police force, politicians and other public authorities, are forced to collude with the criminal underworld.  Hunted by uncompromising police, faced by harsh laws or the lynch mob, young criminals have no choice but to kill or be killed unleashing a veritable balance of urban terror (Bayart, 1993, p. 240). This can also be interpreted as an unlawful effort at re-distribution of resources, which are hoarded by the rich in society. In fact, criminal violence is “immensely productive, sometimes horrifyingly so.” In Kenya, as elsewhere, violent crime has demonstrated an enormous capacity to redirect the flow of wealth (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2006, p. 279). In major cities, rural areas and townships, local people engage in all sorts of vandalism of public service installations and petty theft.  In other remote localities, traditional raiding or cattle rustling, for example, in the North Rift region and North Eastern Province under this survival-by-all-means bandit economy, translates into a form of political action. Such is the sukuma wiki bandit economy prevalent in Kenya, a postcolonial state characterized historically by plunder and greed, bottom-up and back. Culturally and structurally, both the state and Kenyan society have mutually transformed each other producing a national psyche characterized by moral anarchy and primal greed. In this sense, the state and society are mutually reinforcing in entrenching unabated, runaway corruption; a culture of impunity; and politics of (dis)order. The glue that makes this possible is the corruption of the moral economy of affection (alternatively, moral ethnicity or ME) through the politicization of ethnicity, read political tribalism (PT).


Figure 4 Opportunities for extortion present themselves in the line of duty in the administration of birth, death and marriage certificates or “justice” and the collection of taxes. Government departments and public enterprises become virtually bottomless financial reservoirs for those who manage them and for the political authorities, which head them. Source: “Justice Goes Digital,” by Gado.


Conclusion—The Twin Tyranny of Political Tribalism: Rising Din of Politics of (Dis)order

At the core of the bane of politics in postindependent Kenya is the twin tyranny of PT. On the one hand is the tyranny of the masses. That is, the high pork-barrel expectations and pressure that different ethnic groups and seasonal, and shifting ethnic political alliances, place on their respective ethnic bigwigs. On the other is the tyranny of the running class that is responsible for the institutionalization of grand malfesance. These two tyrannies feed off each other and are, as such, inextricably connected. This stems from the adulteration of the moral economy of affection or moral ethnicity (ME) and the preponderance of ethnicity as the driving force of politics (PT). ME and PT have historically always been in an uneasy conflict or symbiotic tension.[18] Here, it is important to pause to offer some clarity. ME refers to internal or intraethnic class dynamics which are often at the heart of debates and struggles within communities or internal deliberations over good leadership of/or within an ethnic group (Klopp, 2002; and Burbidge, 2014, p. 206). Lonsdale, credited with coining the term, defines ME as the “internal standard of civic virtue against which we measure our personal esteem” (Lonsdale, 1994, p. 131). Ideally, and especially in pre-European Africa, big chiefly men, that is, wealthy householders were not only held in respect “but only if they paid their social debts, loaning out their assets in livestock or land, in return for the assistance of kin and clients; any failure to meet these reciprocal expectations of a redistributive civic virtue risked popular anger and a fiery death. To refuse to share the use of one’s assets could be seen as sorcery, a denial of opportunity to others” (Lonsdale, 2019). For this reason, the primordial public realm (read, the ethnic realm) commanded the prior loyalty of African leadership. This was unadulterated ME at work. ME was the reservoir of moral or mutual obligations between the authoritative bigwigs and their traditional African clients. With political consciousness and organization encouraged only within the bounds of ethnic regions during the colonial era, however, then, and well into the postcolonial period, wealthy householders (politicians) act(ed) as guardians or custodians of their respective ethnic groups to the exclusion of others within the political context of perceived stiff competition for public goods or state power. Perdurably present and, therefore, not simply a resource of “false consciousness” exploited by manipulative leaders (Sithole, 1986), ethnicity is politicized and thus becomes a crucial point of reference in the process of the authoritative allocation of value or the determination of who gets what, when and how.


Fig. 5. This cartoon by Gado speaks to an interesting element in Kenyan political debate in which churches themselves, in general, perceived to be as corrupt as the state. The church in Kenya has come under heavy criticism for accepting, without question or demur, huge donations, offering and tithe from politicians. This cartoon was produced and circulated widely via Social Media after, while responding to his political detractors, the Deputy President, William Samoei Ruto, said that by donating money to churches, he was ‘investing in heavenly matters’ (see Kamau 2018; Lang’at and Gitau 2018).

The masses, as ethnic political “patrons,” either pursuing their real or perceived pan-ethnic interests neither have tribal innocence nor are they innocent of the endless accumulation and concentration of power in the hands of the political elite without accountability, and its corollary, the perpetuation of corruption. After all, when they act, whether at the ballot box or when they defend their ethnic elite “clients,” even when they are accused of grand corruption, they do so simply along ethnic lines. In so doing, they are rational actors engaged in an “intriguing cost-benefit analysis of many issues affecting them” (Murphree, 1986, p.158). Thus involved in a cost-benefit analysis of issues affecting or perceived to be affecting it, the tribe[19] ceases to be a “tribe-in-itself” and becomes the “tribe-for-itself” (Sithole, 1986). Both in the colonial and postcolonial periods, therefore, ethnicity (PT) acts as the main vehicle through which dominance and preservation of power and resources has been achieved (Kundu, 2000). In turn, political ethnic elites are beholden to “their own” (people). Ethnic political elites are expected by their respective ethnic groups to defend and expand real or perceived pan-ethnic interests and opportunities with regard to the modern economic, or civic public, sector. This, then, is the first tyarannical twin of PT. A classic case of the tail wagging the dog or, as Odhiambo puts it, the logic of patron-client relationships turned upside down. In the social science literature of the 1960s, patrons were thought to be almost always politicians. The masses were clients. In the Kenyan context, however, tribes as rational actors in the realm of politics are patrons, the politicians are clients (Odhiambo, 1987, p.184). According to Odhiambo (1987, p. 184-185), political entrepreneurs—


… Came to the threshold of state power with a specific objective. The bottom line for all of them was that they had to “deliver the goods,” …. To maintain and reproduce their bases of power, they had to recruit, sustain, and reward their followers from time to time. …The peasants have the latitude, at elections, to shift their patronage. The fascination with the fact that the Kenyan member of Parliament is vulnerable at election time should acknowledge the fact of peasant choice as well as the pesants’ success at insisting on accountability by the parliamentary representative to his constituents. Put more directly, the masses put the leaders on the run to the gates of Parliament. “They invaded the state with society at their heels rather than imposed it on the people. They were accountable to an elected democracy” (Londale 1986b), p. 27). ….


But at times, indeed, more often than not, and increasingly over the course of time, to do so—delivering public goods to sustain the support of their patrons, namely, their close individual supporters/enablers or cronies and tribes— politicians, as tribal clients, have no recourse but to attack with impunity the civic realm or seek to gain private capital out of the public domain. State coffers (read, the civic realm) are, therefore, raided rather blatantly by the political elite in order to benefit the moral primordial public realm of their immediate and extended families (nepotism), ethnic communities (tribalism) and/or elite cronies and political allies with patron-client networks of their own—which can, and should, be seen as abuse of the moral economy of affection. This, then, is the second twin tyranny of PT Viz.— rampant, massive and seemingly endemic institutionalized corruption unleashed upon the collective body politic by the political elite in their quest for the accumulation, concentration and perpetuation of power and (re)producing themselves. This is the conundrum of the twin tyranny of PT. On the one hand, a collection of patron-tribes acting as rational actors exacting high expectations of public goods on their clients, their corresponding ethnic political elites. And, on the other hand, insatiable politicians who exploit ethnicity and such tribal expectations and demands to profit by looting the public domain. There are, after all, no serious investigations into subsequent, and ever increasing corruption scandals. No one is ever called to account for lost multibillion-dollars in a state and society where such heinous financial and other economic crimes are sanctioned by cultural repertoires. Client tribal bigwigs are untouchable sacred cows even when implicated or involved in appalling corruption scandals. After all, they enjoy the unstinting support of/from their apparently “rational” patron-tribes who would rather be “eaten” by the hyena they think they know (a politician from their own ethnic group) than one they neither really know nor care to (a politician from a different ethnic group). It is not uncommon or least surprising, therefore, that when it comes to fighting corruption, Kenyans are rather resigned to their fate. Politics, for the most part, is viewed as an inherently flawed and dirty game. A rather cynical acceptance that ordinary citizens can do nothing about it except to vote for PT. This languid attitude ensures that, collectively, ordinary people are unsafe and are, more often than not, not at the table but, rather, on the menu.[20] And so goes the vicious cyle and Kenyan political circus window dressed as a paragon of Western democracy in Africa although multiparty elections are largely nothing more than quinquennial ethnic contests.


The Configuration of State Patronage / National Finance Grid (NFG)[21]


Figure 6: The distribution of state finance capital in the Kikuyu-centric Kenyatta state, 1963-1978


Figure 7: The distribution of state finance capital in the Kalenjin-centric Moi state, 1978-2002

Figures 6 & 7 Patron-tribes acting as rational actors exact high pork-barrel expectations on their clients—their corresponding ethnic political elites. In turn, insatiable politicians exploit ethnicity and such tribal expectations and demands to profit by looting the public domain with impunity to benefit their own families (nepotism), cronies and, sometimes, their respective ethnic groups. Source: Nicholas Githuku, “Ethnic Conflict and its Implications for Social and Economic Development in Kenya, 1963-2004,” M.A. Thesis, 2004, Department of History and Armed Conflict & Peace Studies, University of Nairobi, Unpublished.


The ideology of the propertied elite is thus shored up by the pervasive ideology of tribalism which defines the struggle and capture of state power. The corresponding democracy yielded in such a political system is one in which the big stakes reigns-of-power election winning strategy is based on an ethnic calculus.[22] Political and economic competition in the context of tense inter-ethnic relations has a deleterious and blighting effect on a range of important democratic institutions that generally give states their form, stability and longevity. The highly ethnicized nature of politics, and the stultifying and stunting sway and monopoly of ethnic kingpins, has historically created personality cults and hegemonic political dynasties that hark back to the very first collaborating class of African “big men” who were produced by the British colonial order of the early 20th Century. Having reproduced itself over the years, this political class has consolidated a hegemony that enables them to flaunt, subvert or circumvent institutions based on democratic values such as the constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of meeting, freedom of association, and rule of law; a free and independent judiciary; an independent election commission; public integrity and control bodies; and the civil service among others.


But, it is the generic political party founded on principles or championing social issues of concern, and pursuing clear ideological positions that has, arguably,  borne the brunt of dynastic and tribal politics. In the face of PT and dynastic politics, the democratic multiparty political system is weakened and stultified. The ethnic tinge, the fulcrum on which national politics revolves has, therefore, implied the inexorable dearth of the political party in Kenya.[23] This is the unspoken consequence of the double tragedy of the twin tyranny of PT that exists beneath the thin veneer of the prepoderant ideological insistence on “order.” A political “order” underpinned by moral anarchy and assorted vagaries of PT. One, moreover, that suppresses political dissent and one, therefore, that is, at once, anti-people and, thus, anti-democratic, chaotic and, oftentimes violent; and one that perpetuates the endless search for, and accumulation of, power attended by skyrocketing corruption. It is, alas, political disorder that is based on faux political stability enforced by security institutions of rule—regular and anti-riot police, intelligence services and the army (read, the continued investment of force). The colonially inaugurated ideology of order is, in postindependent Kenya, therefore, sustained through the very instrumentalities behind its inception—force, authority, bureaucracy and power. Perhaps, at least at this moment in the evolution of the state, there is no other avenue available to harness the attitudes, set of ideas, values, and beliefs, and the conduct of the political class in the unswerving pursuit of their own survival and interests, on the counterveiling ideological vision and aspirations of the majority of ordinary people.  Interrogating ameliorative avenues that can bridge the ideology of order and dissenting mentalités, however, is beyond the purview of this chapter. Nonetheless, in spite of its format limitations, it is hoped that this chapter does shed light on, at least, the outer rough edges of the pathology of the uber-rich who ruled and still run Kenya; and, it is further hoped that, herein, the reader finds a successful argument which demonstrates that the uber-rich in Kenya, as elsewhere, to conclude with the passionate and eloquent words of Chris Hedges:


Have seized total political power. … The uber-rich are almost always amoral. ….


… Spend their lives protected by their inherited wealth, the power it wields and an army of enablers, including other members of the fraternity of the uber-rich, along with their lawyers and publicists. There are almost never any consequences for their failures, abuses, mistreatment of others and crimes.

… They know no limits. They have never abided by the norms of society and never will. ….


The uber-rich live in an artificial bubble … of …private jets, cut off from our reality. Wealth … not only perpetuates itself but is used to monopolize … new opportunities for wealth creation. ….


… They do not know how to nurture or build. They know only how to feed their bottomless greed. … No matter how many billions they possess, they never have enough. … They seek, through the accumulation of power, money and objects ….


… The state apparatus the uber-rich controls now exclusively serves their interests [sic]. They are deaf to the cries of the dispossed. They empower those institutions that keep us oppressed—the security and surveillance systems of domestic control, militarized police … —and gut or degrade those institutions or programs that blunt social, economic and political inequality, among them public education, health care, welfare … an equitable tax system … public transportation and infrastructure, and the courts. The uber-rich extract greater and greater sums of money from those they steadily impoverish. And when citizens object or resist, they crush or kill them.


… [The uber-rich][24] ignore the moral squalor of their lives ….


There is no force within ruling institutions that will halt the pillage by the uber rich of the nation and the ecosystem. The uber-rich have nothing to fear from the corporate-controlled media, the elected officials they bankroll or the judicial system they have seized …. The uber-rich have destroyed popular movements, including labor unions, along with democratic mechanisms for reform that once allowed working people to pit power against power.


The uber-rich …celebrate the worst kind of freedom—the freedom “to exploit one’s fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community.…” The uber-rich make war on the “freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of meeting, freedom of association, freedom to choose once’s own job.”


The dark pathologies of the uber-rich, lionized by mass culture, have become our own. We have ingested their poison. We have been taught by the uber-rich to celebrate the bad freedoms and to denigrate the good ones. … We will repudiate these pathologies and organize to force the uber-rich from power or they will transform us ….




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[1] This is done within the limits possible considering the obvious constraints of the nature of this book contribution. As such, I have limited myself to a brief analysis of what I consider to be the three or so major or important implications of the preponderance of the ideology of Kenya from the early 1990s, a period that marks the return of multiparty politics in the country to 2019. These include what I see as the twin tyranny of the political elite on the one hand and the masses on the other in the overlordship of, and symbiotic relationship between, political tribalism and corruption; stultification of the political party system in favor of Gramscian “historical blocs” (Odhiambo, 1987, p. 182) of ethnicity; and the all-pervasive culture of impunity, a Sukuma wiki economy of survival by any means necessary or what the former Chief Justice Willy of the Supreme Court of Kenya referred to as a “bandit economy.” This, then, serve as the basis of my conclusion that contrary to the popular trend among political analysts and intellectual experts on Kenya that the ideology of order survived independence and has held sway since, it has not. I, for the first time, posit that the ideology of (law and) order is not static but, rather, dynamic. That, it has, as such, like the state, transformed itself since independence.

[2] Although this author proposes this notion of an on-going, contemporary Third Colonial Occupation, it is an idea that, I suspect, may be in use in common intellectual parlance (at least in my circle of academic peers). The idea of an on-going Third Colonial Occupation first presented itself in one of my many discussions with my academic supervisor, Robert M. Maxon, when developing and writing my dissertation at West Virginia University. As conceived, and used herein, it describes the huge and unprecedented influx of foreign capital, especially Chinese, in not only Kenya, but the rest of the continent. As it were, this has been accompanied by massive land-grabs by multinational corporations, local private companies and tycoons; and by skyrocketing corruption. Specifically, the influx of Chinese capital, and loans for infrastructure development, has led at least one notable scholar to opine that Africa is China’s second continent. See Howard W. French, China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014). This Third Colonial Occupation is unfolding in the same way the first one unfolded across Africa generally between 1890 and 1910 (and in Kenya specifically, between 1896 and 1914); and the post-1945 Second Colonial Occupation in Africa characterized by various socio-economic reforms in areas such as African agriculture and education, and development in general under the imperial aegis and idea of “partnership” with the ultimate objective of granting independence to European colonies in Africa and elsewhere. However, to the best of my knowledge, the term has not been used elsewhere or been written about as such—that is, the “Third Colonial Occupation.”

[3] See diplomatic correspondence, Hart to the High Commissioner, “Murder of J.M. Kariuki,” 17 March 1975, BNA: DO 226/1.

[4] Newly independent, the Kenyan political space was extremely limited and lacked a civil society that could act as a watchdog against the excesses of the African government or hold elected officials to account or ensure that they fulfilled their responsibilities to voters. To some extent, various churches and, more aptly, specific individual church leaders filled this gap especially in the late 1980s when, having developed a critical theology, the church plunged onto the national political stage taking on the government when and where other public actors, professionals and individuals, were content to fight anonymously underground. As a result, the church became the omnibus for legal protest, political expression and civic involvement leading to the growth and zenith of civil society in the early 1990s, and with this, greater scrutiny, accountability and, relatively, more responsible governance.

[5] Anne Penketh, “Kenya Tells Former Envoy, Clay he is ‘Persona non Grata,’” 6 February 2009, Independent,, Accessed 25 April 2019.

[6] See Walter Menya and Harry Misiko, “Court Orders Githongo to Pay Murungaru Sh27m for Defamation,” 2 May 2019, Daily Nation,, Accessed 25 April 2019.

[7] John Githongo, “John Githongo Personal Statement”—Statement on HCCC 466 of 2006 Chris Murungaru VS. John Githongo,” Published on Twitter, 2 May 2019. Githongo was reacting to the award of KE 27 million to Murungaru, Kibaki’s Internal Security and Provincial Affairs Minister of State in the Office of the President, for defamation by the High Court on Thursday 2 May 2019. As anti-corruption tsar, Githongo, in 2005, published a revealing dossier implicating several cabinet ministers including Murungaru, in the multimillion-dollar Anglo-Leasing scam.

[8] John Lonsdale to the author in a private Email correspondence, 2 August 2016.

[9] The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The Corruption Index in Kenya averaged 22.82 Points from 1996 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 28 Points in 2017 and a record low of 19 Points in 2002. See more on, “Kenya Corruption Index,” Trading Economics,, Accessed 25 January 2019.

[10] Paul Wafula, “Audit: Sh. 215b Eurobond cash unaccounted for,” Standard Digital News, 8 September 2016, Accessed 26 April 2019.

[11] Lily Kuo, “Kenya’s ex-PM Accuses US Banks of helping the Government steal $1 billion from the Country’s First Eurobond,” Quartz Africa, 14 January 2016,, Accessed 26 April 2019.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] It has become public knowledge that the Eurobond money was lost. This information was confirmed by a special audit report by the Auditor-Edward Ouko indicating that at least six ministries, through unprocedural means, “received and spent huge loads of loan money outside the Government’s integrated financial management system” either by design or by accident. See Paul Wafula, “Eurobond: How the Billions were Hidden,” Daily Nation, 22 April 2019,, Accessed 26 April 2019.

[15] Kipchumba Some, “Hard questions Linger on Dams Scandal,” Daily Nation, 3 March 2019,, and Nyambega Gisesa, “Dams: The New Cash Cow for Tenderpreneurs in Kenya,” Daily Nation, 28 February 2019,, Accessed 26 April 2019.

[16] Gisesa, “The New Cash Cow for Tenderpreneurs in Kenya.”

[17] Koert Lindijer, “Kenya has become a ‘bandit economy,’ says Chief Justice Willy Mutunga,” The Africanists, 11 January 2011,, Accessed 25 April 2019.

[18] John Lonsdale to author in wide-ranging Email correspondence, “Ethnographic Inquiry,” 21 July 2016.

[19] This author is acutely aware of the derogatory nature of the term “tribe” but takes license using it if only to express the less than desirable adulteration of the moral economy of affection by ethnicized politics or politicization of ethnicity (PT) in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa. At least, Lonsdale and I, in our Email correspondence of 21 July 2016, agreed to give the ethnic category “its unembarrassed Kenyan name!”

[20] Lonsdale Email to author, 21 July 2016.

[21] The “national finance grid” refers to the authoritative allocation of value or public goods throughout society. I owe this phrase to my M.A. thesis supervisor and mentor, Vincent G. Simiyu. In addition to this general meaning, Simiyu used it to specifically refer to state-based avenues of accumulation in high government among them senior cabinet and parastatal positions, credit facilities and bank loans, land and other sources of government revenue. The sum of all this is what Simiyu referred to as “state finance capital.”

[22] Nicholas Githuku, “Votes that Bind: Ethnic Politics and the Tyranny of Numbers,” Institute of African Studies Blog, Columbia University, 17 March 2013,

[23] Nicholas Githuku, “Dearth of the Political Party in Kenya,” 8 September 2014,

[24] The italics are the author’s.




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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.