On the 60th anniversary of Kenya’s independence, Gathanga Ndung’u writes that the country has spent decades as the loyal servant of imperialism. The country may have express highways, a busy international airport, a modern railway, and an emerging silicone savannah, but in reality, Kenya seeks only to endear itself to world leaders and potential investors through well-packaged imaginaries of the present and the future. Ndung’u lists some of Kenya’s extensive betrayals—not least support for Israel and the abandonment of Palestinians.
As Kenya marks 60 years of independence on 12 December, pundits are set with their narrow developmental lenses to examine the country’s progress over the years. Her growth is being tethered on capitalist metrics of growth such as Gross Domestic Product, Gross National Income, on geopolitical influence in Eastern and Central Africa, the global stage at large, and Kenya’s value and role in global capitalism. Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, has continued to be marketed as a growing node for global capitalism, an entry port into the region, and a major fintech capital apart from being the safari capital of the world. With express highways, a busy international airport, a modern railway, green energy, and an emerging silicone savannah, Kenya has continued to endear herself to world leaders and potential investors through well-packaged imaginaries of the present and the future. However, this growth and development has been achieved at a cost that forms the focal point of this piece.
In this blogpost I look at how Kenya has betrayed her independence war heroes: the Land and Freedom Army (popularly known as Mau Mau), and even went ahead to proscribe their activities and labelled them as terrorists. Surprisingly, Kenya has not only betrayed internally but also externally. These betrayals, to a larger extent, have allowed Kenya to dine with imperialist forces and cement her place on the global stage. As she betrayed her people on home soil, she did the same to her peers on the continent and the Global South in what should not be viewed just as mere diplomatic bluffs as in the case of rescinding recognition of Western Saharawi but rather as systematic work for an imperialist agenda.
However, this should be understood from the perspective of the state, since the Kenyan masses have always rallied with the oppressed across the world, joining hands and showing solidarity whenever the need arose such as the ongoing marches and activities in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Sudan. As we examine six decades of independence, I chose to take stock of our mistakes and external betrayals made by the state in siding with imperialists and oppressors when others showed solidarity.
A darling of apartheid regimes: Israel and South Africa
Kenya has continued to be one of Israel’s greatest allies in Africa in what has been christened as a mutually beneficial relationship with historical ties in military and technical cooperation. The apartheid state of Israel has been sanitized in Kenya’s churches by individuals who do not understand how Israel came into being as a state. This scripted misinformation and disinformation has been carefully disseminated to the Kenyan masses through both the state and the church.
In return, Kenya has received technological aid in military, police, agriculture, healthcare, communications, and surveillance. One of the outstanding legacies of this cooperation are the specially trained RECCE Squad (Reconnaissance Squadron) part of the dreaded General Service Unit (GSU), with the RECCE Squad being used in the suppression of demonstrators while the GSU being hardened for urban warfare.
Israeli’s experience in suppressing and wiping out Palestinians has systematically been passed on to our forces and the same tactics have been used on peaceful demonstrators in Kenya. This has over time connected Kenya to a perpetual cycle of aid dependency while the U.S. and Israel have turned the country into ‘their foster child’ in Africa in the global war on terror.
During the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, Kenya’s hypocrisy was unmasked through President William Ruto’s blatant statement giving unequivocal support to Israel while labelling Palestinians as terrorists even though the Land and Freedom Army faced similar treatment more than sixty years ago. Kenya has claimed to be in solidarity with oppressed people around the world while the country’s policies support global bullies and murderers. When other countries such as South Africa have recalled their ambassadors in Israel, Kenya continues to court imperialist forces with open arms while suppressing any solidarity marches so as not to provoke her benefactors and donors.
Kenya’s relationship with apartheid Israel is not an anomaly. At the height of South Africa’s liberation struggle, Kenya maintained a cordial relationship with the ruling apartheid regime. While other countries were boycotting international sporting fixtures with South Africa, and others such as Tanzania and Zambia were supporting the liberation struggle through the training of militants and offering technical support, the Kenyan government continued to engage with the regime as though it were a legitimate government. This happened despite the Organization of African Unity (OAU) having passed resolutions to its member states not to engage with the racist regime.
Kenya seemed to be unashamedly supportive of racist South Africa despite having gone through a bloody liberation struggle and her wounds still being fresh. In June 1991, the then president of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk visited Nairobi in an official capacity which was followed by a reciprocal visit by Kenyan President Daniel Moi the following year to Cape Town. His visit to South Africa was the first by a sitting African leader which legitimized an apartheid regime on African soil. This relationship with the apartheid regime shaped what came to be a frosty relationship between Kenya and South Africa’s first democratic government which viewed Kenya with suspicion.
Kenya’s Haiti Mission
In September 2023, Kenya declared its interest to lead the ‘peacekeeping’ mission in Haiti which has been plagued by gang violence after the assassination of the former president, Jovenel Moise, in his home in Port-au-Prince. In his address to the nation after the 2 October UN Security Council’s approval of the mission under resolution UNSCR 2699(2023), Ruto reiterated his Pan-African populist rhetoric of ‘cooperation’ and ‘solidarity’ among the black people everywhere.
The Kenyan president has been known to endear himself to fellow Africans as a pan-Africanist the same way he rode to power on a charade of populist, bottom-up economics and politics. This time, he has found an international platform to upscale his conmanship while at the same time to sit at the imperialist table. Through this mission, Kenya will be the face of imperialism backed up by the U.S., Britain and France which reply heavily on compliant states in the UN to support their mission s.
This step raises many questions on whose interests is Kenya acting, since the Constitution of Kenya in 2010 has no provision for external deployment of police officers. A closer look at the previous deployment of the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) shows the involvement of U.S., Britain, and their allies in backing Kenya on international missions.
Kenya’s mission in Somalia came after the abduction of two Spanish staff members working with Médecins Sans Frontières at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in 2011. This intervention was heavily backed up by the U.S., and other Western powers while the recent mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo follows nearly the same century-old script of maintaining law and order in a country rendered ungovernable as a result of foreign generated civil wars and political strife.
Kenyan forces have now become the foot soldiers of imperialism around the world which parallels the two World Wars in the 20th century when Africans were recruited (some forcefully) to fight and die in distant lands on behalf of the British government. The only difference is that this time, it is a comprador class in Kenya that is sacrificing our people on the altar of global capitalism as they seek acceptance, recognition and financial incentives that come with such missions.
Western powers understand the need to reconfigure their imperialist agenda to fit in the ever-changing geopolitical landscape. To avoid the criticism of interference by foreign powers, the U.S. has chosen to use Kenya’s armed forces to meddle in the affairs of Haiti. This has allowed them to take a backstage seat, relax and watch the wretched of the earth annihilate and oppress each other using tactics and techniques which have been shared to them through military trainings and exchange programs.
This is the role that Kenya is successfully executing on the global stage.
Red Carpet for King Charles III
Ruto has mastered the art of speaking from both sides of his mouth which led to Julius Malema the leader of South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) likening him to a chameleon who is impossible to understand. Malema who had visited the country to launch the Pan-African Institute at Lukenya University, reprimanded Ruto for siding with Israel and labelling Hamas as terrorist. He went on to criticize Ruto for the glamourous welcoming of King Charles III in the country which included according him a 21-gun salute by the country’s defense forces. Yet nothing was said on reparations for the many victims of British tyranny during colonial rule.
Charles chose Kenya for his first international visit after his coronation, coinciding with a year when Kenya was preparing to celebrate 60 years of independence. In a visit full of pomp and glamour, nothing substantive was achieved or addressed to benefit the common man.
Kenya has continued to provide a base for imperialist forces on the continent even those who have been directly involved in the oppression of Kenya’s people. Kenya continues to recognize the crown as the head of the Commonwealth at a time when many continue to reject the monarchy including young Britons, and other countries ditch the imperial institution.
Towards Kenya’s freedom
As we mark six decades of British and U.S. imperialism, and neoliberalism in the country, we need to have a candid interrogation into the country’s foreign policies and how we relate to the rest of the continent, and the Global South at large. We also need to ask if we are a truly an independent country or just another oversee territory of the Crown.
Tragically Kenya has been an appendage of global capitalism with Britain and the U.S. controlling their interests in the country. It is hard to undo these betrayals but there is still room for penitence. This penitence must start by addressing our internal betrayals to our freedom fighters who remain landless, and to the current betrayals of structural adjustment policies and the barrage of ruthless taxes supported by IMF which are slowly chocking the life out of Kenyans in the midst of a devastating economic crisis.
Only then can we deal with our past and current political and external betrayals. This should help us create meaningful solidarity with other oppressed countries and chart our way as a truly independent country.
Gathanga Ndung’u is a community organiser with Ruaraka Social Justice Centre which is under the Social Justice Centres’ Working Group. He is also part of Revolutionary Social League brigade that organizes political education in different political cells in the respective centres in Nairobi.