By Alexander Opicho
It was Nicolai Gogol who first used the phrase ‘what is to be done’, in his categorical intellectual reaction to the politics of decay in Russia during the feudalist system of leadership in the Russian society of 16th Century. This statement is found in all the three books by Gogol; The Cloak, the Dead Souls and The Government Inspector.
Gogol borrowed this statement from a line in a poem by Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin was an Afro-Russian poet; his origin is in Abyssinia, Ethiopia. A century later, both Lenin and Tolstoy wrote a lot about what is to be done in regard to the politics of disorder and decay in Russia: Lenin wrote a long essay of a hundred pages under the title what is to be done, whereas Tolstoy intensively wrote in War and Peace about what is to be done in regard to the state of spiritual decay in the world of his time.
Actually, all Russian writers with an ideological bent towards socialism and liberalism in the likes of Fydor, Bakunin, Sholokhov, Chekhov, Trotsky, and vasily Grossman have severally and diversely dealt with the question of what is to be done about decay in the politics of their country. Karl Marx, in his essays German Philosophy, rhetorically peregrinated about what is to be done about the poor workers of the world; this is also the same case to W W Dubois in The Souls of the Black Folks, and also the same case for Ruhiu and Mutisio in their anthology of Modern Political Thoughts in Africa, in which they anthologised an essay by Kamel Abdul Nasser under the title What is to be done?
I now also ask this question to the Kenyan people of my time: what is to be done about political disorder and political decay in East Africa, especially about the decaying democracy in Kenya?
The background to my question is the observation of key political happenings that took place in the East African region between 2013 and 2017 – the rigging of elections, as Pierre Nkurunzinza did in Burundi, the use of state machinery to brutalise the electorate, the making of former democratic champions into despots, as was with Tanzania’s Magufuli, and the co-opting of Parliament, as happened in Rwanda under Paul Kagame. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab is running amok, Ethiopia is ever muzzling the opposition, and Southern Sudan is being buried under ethnic wars. In Kenya, the country is divided along ethnic lines, State operatives, to scare opposition leaders into submission, are targeting singular tribes, and a kind of dictatorship is fermenting. Even demonstrations have all but been banned. Persistence calls for secession and the plans for the formation of a people’s assembly (in opposition to the existing government) are in high gear. In brief, the country is fast hurtling down a cliff. The question is, what is to be done?
Kenyans have to go back to the key and fundamental components of political socialisation that have brought it to such volatility. Key among these is politics of patronage, clientelism and back-scratching culture that has been entrenched since independence. This is the politics that sired negative nationalism, or what we like to call negative ethnicity. The others are the politics of state corruption and political exclusion.
What is to be done?
Lenin partially answered this question by suggesting a revolution in the system of thought among the Russian youths. He identified literature as one of the media through which the minds of the youths could be modernised. Russian cultural revolution was all about this. Mikhail Sholokhov, the author of And Quiet Flows the Don, was one of the writers who worked hard to change system of thought among the Russian youths. The Yunen forum of China’s Mao tse Tung had a similar idea as it did the concept of weapon of theory among most of the revolutionary ideologues like Antonio Gramsci, Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Fidel Castro, Thomas Sankara, Frantz fanon and Paul Freire. The key challenge to agency of literature as media of mental revolution among the youth from the cocoon of narcissistic ethnicity to the mental state of collective nationalism and class consciousness is the question of where we can we get young people who can read objectively beyond the fancies of their tribes, and East African writers who are selfless enough not to write in praise of their clans or family traditions, but for the good of democracy and political order.
But perhaps this is too elitist.