The Specters Of Kabongo and Starting Over A New History Of Man

By Immanuel Lokwei,

While the spirits of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel, as Jacques Derrida argues, haunt the global social reality, on a micro level, certain specters quite contrary in nature to that philosophy of responsibility and radical critique espoused in Marx’s and Engel’s ideologies have taken center stage in Kabongo village. These are the specters of the lumpenproletariats of Kabongo who due to their lack of strong and concrete class consciousness, and political consciousness, and social agenda have consequently become the prototype of the contemporary victims of a retrograde “culture of conditionality.”

Barely a week ago we celebrated Mashujaa day. As some of the Kenyan populace tussled for the spot-on definition of what constitutes a hero and who should make the cut, the majority of the specters in Kabongo went about their daily routines absolutely ignorant and those not ignorant were indifferent to the symbolic meaning that that day carries for the nation. Like the immaterial spirits who have very minimal engagements with the material world, these specters of Kabongo seem to occupy a realm that is both apolitical and socially deluded and disengaged.

If the importance of Mashujaa day, let’s say, extended beyond national history to also include a commemoration of past and present hardcore drunks, there would be dawn to dusk reveling in Kabongo on the very day of the commemoration and every Tom, Dick and Harry would know what the occasion was. The specters of Kabongo would be up and about, full of spirit and fervor, and you could easily mistake them for first-rate historians and custodians of Kenyan history.

But the occupation of these specters (and this is precisely why they are ghosts in their own backyards) limits their awareness of important national and general social matters, let alone their engagement in them. What occupies their mind nearly every passing second is a quest for the next cup of liquor. You are a friend to them if you can help slake their eternal thirst otherwise they prefer invisibility and noninterference. The few times you could credit them with civic engagement would be when entangled in their drinking-den’s brawls and escaping from the local administrative police.

One can’t help but wonder why there exists a disconnect between this important day in Kenyan history and the lumpenproletariat of Kabongo. I premise that such a day is of vital importance to every Kenyan since freedom, even if only constitutional or theoretical, is way better than nothing; and since we are indebted to our martyrs and freedom fighters, the least we can afford are gestures of genuine commemoration of their heroic acts and self-sacrifice. But the question still persists: why does that disconnect still exists?

We can turn to Frantz Fannon for a brief rejoinder to this question. Fannon argues, “Decolonization demands a sustained, quotidian commitment to the struggle for national liberation, for when the high, heady wind of revolution loses its velocity, there is no ‘question of bridging the gap in one giant stride.’ The epic is played out on a difficult day to day basis and the suffering endured far exceeds that of the colonial period.” And elsewhere he asserts, “If nationalism is not explained, enriched, and deepened, if it does not very quickly turn into a social and political consciousness, into humanism, then it leads to a dead-end.”

It can easily be argued that, though we Kenyans got at least constitutional independence and have a day dedicated to remembrance of our heroes and heroines; that though neocolonialism is a global instrument for shaping international relations, its effect are felt even in isolated and one would deem insignificant places like Kabongo. The behavior of the specters of Kabongo is without doubt symptomatic of this neocolonial era where reproduction of dual economy, as Fannon, argues, is a preemptory enforcement of developed world’s policy. The late Jaramogi Oginga’s question still lingers on: is it Uhuru (in the strictest meaning of the word) yet?

Our freedom fighters attained the first form of independence through justified violence and blood. If decolonization demands a sustained struggle for national liberation especially in postcolonial era, as Fannon argues, then we are a long way off. This struggle for national liberation is not only educational; it is most importantly economic elevation of all citizens, the specters of Kabongo first and foremost. The first revolution can be said to be constitutional. The second then should be economic revolution and the third, perhaps the final, intellectual autonomy.

Homi K. Bhabha elaborates Fannon’s message: “Fanon’s call for a redistribution of wealth and technology beyond the rhetorical pieties of “moral reparation” is a timely reminder of the need for something like a “right” to equitable development (controversial though it may be)… Fanon’s demand for a fair distribution of rights and resources makes a timely intervention in a decade-long debate on social equity that has focused perhaps too exclusively on the culture wars, the politics of identity, and the politics of recognition.”

As one of the specters in Kabongo once explained, alcohol is not one of their choicest commodities but has become so due to the harsh economic realities surrounding them. Though they spend on alcohol, their self-esteem is thus elevated at least temporarily and they can face each day not like subhuman but like other humans however deluded they might be.

Finally, it is not just about the issues of decolonization, economic and intellectual liberation. Fannon adds that in order to strengthen man’s totality and full development, we must start all over again, that is the history of man; and we must start with genuine inspiration and cautious of the coercive cultures of neocolonialism and narrow-sighted nationalism.

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