Can Kenyans get angry enough to revolt?

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By Fuad Abdirahman

In Kenya, talk of revolution has always been on people’s lips, but the one unanswered question remains whether citizens can ever get fed up enough to revolt against their – in the words of various proponents of the idea – corrupt, uncaring, despotic government.

So far what we have witnessed are trend online fashioned along the lines of a tired populace that will one day rise against its oppressor. Before the now-famous handshake happened in March 2018, the conversation on resistance against the current regime was momentous, with opposition chief Raila Odinga declaring himself as the people’s presidents.

Mid last month, a conversation of resistance emerged on social media, which the organisers called the people’s march. Their message was that it is time for millions of Kenyans to take action against corruption and impunity. Predictably, the air went of its sails even before that ship could set off; on the appointed day, only a handful of people showed, who were immediately dispersed.

Kenya is a democratic space. The only legitimate method of removing a regime is through the ballot – the country holds elections every five years. Where revolutions have happened, predominantly in Muslim countries in recent times, the system allows leaders/governments, often hereditarily passed on, to stay in power for life. The semblance of change, even nothing really changes, is perhaps what hoodwinks and motivates Kenyans to trudge along, in the hope that someday things will be different.

Other than the consolidation of power by first families throughout the history of Kenya, there exist other ingredients of a proper popular revolution; these include but are not limited to massive, large-scale looting of public resources, rising costs of living, extreme poverty, brought about by joblessness, especially amongst youth populations – unemployment correlative to crime and most likely on the same level in motivating rebellion. 

Gizachew Tiruneh, an Ethiopian associate professor of Political Science, classifies revolutions into “spontaneous and planned”.  Spontaneous revolutions are ignited without any significant organised effort. Tiruneh quotes the Russian Revolution of 1917 as an example. The Chinese Revolution of 1949 is an example of a planned one.

It doesn’t take entire populations to rise all at once for revolutions to be successful; history teaches otherwise. In fact, some of the most resounding revolutions have begun with just a handful of people, sometimes with just an individual. For example, the self-immolation in December 2010 of Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, was the main catalyst of the Tunisian revolution that happened in 2011. Farther back in time, in 1953 the Cuban revolution started after only 160 men raided a military army barracks. 

Revolutions are never easy.

They are most defiantly not without violence. In fact, in most cases, those marching are bound to suffer tragic losses, especially where the military and police have been co-opted into government. In Kenya, simple street protests are often met with violent countermeasures with scores of murders by security forces at a time. Non-violent revolutions are rare, and the most perhaps, is the Velvet Revolution, also described as gentle revolution, where, after more than a month of protests, from November 17 to December 29, it resulted in the removal of the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechslovakia from  power.

Speaking of citizens removing their elected leaders, the 1776 US Declaration of Independence states that citizens have a duty to alter or abolish and institute a new Government in the case the existing one becomes destructive, among other reasons. It is also why the constitution of the United States endorses the self-arming of citizens as “…necessary to the security of a free State.”

I advance the argument that there can never be a successful civilian uprising in Kenya no matter how inept and thieving the government because the country is too segregated along tribe, region and religion to front a formidable front against social and government ills. This attribute got permanently ingrained in the psyches of Kenyans from the time of the struggle of independence – it has been imprinted time and again during election cycles.

Thus mentally programmed to hate each other so strongly upon tribe and religion, it is inconceivable to imagine citizens rising collectively to stand up to ills in government, unless they first let lose their chains and recognise that in adversity, common decency and social good trump everything else. (

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