- The Missionary Gene In The Kenyan Polity: Representations of Contemporary Kenya in the British Media
Africa and the heart of darkness; how did the two get so terribly entwined?. . . . Some would say, some do say, it is because of their skin colour; a non-sequitur if ever there was one. Some would say, ‘give them time’; perhaps, but many of them have already had plenty. . . . [President Daniel arap] Moi [of Kenya], indeed, is almost the picture of the stock savage, who marks differences by sending groups of thugs (of which he has an ample supply) to beat up any remaining dissident. Very recently, that great man Richard Leakey, who not only tells the truth about Moi, but [also] stands against him with whatever scrap of real elections that remain, was, with his team, ferociously attacked by Moi’s brutes with an iron bar, heedless of the fact that Dr. Leakey is confined to a wheelchair having lost both his legs.—Bernard Levin, “Darkness and Devils” 1
Why, having lost both his kidneys . . . and then both his legs below the knee in a plane crash, doesn’t Dr. Leakey pull up a safari chair and enjoy the view of his eyrie overlooking the Rift Valley? Having been the much admired head of Kenya Wildlife Services and credited with saving Kenya’s elephants from extinction, he could make a handsome living, and enjoy celebrity, on the American lecture circuit . . . “Perhaps it is the missionary gene that brought my family here three generations ago. I do not think that sitting back and being quiet is in my blood” he says. 2
A little over a year ago, a group of Kenyan activists in Nairobi launched a new party in the political opposition, Safina. Without specifically proscribing this party, the Kenyan government has withheld formal recognition over the past year claiming that the party’s application for registration was receiving active processing. Safina has dominated and radically altered the Kenyan political landscape, notwithstanding its indeterminate legal status and its untested popular appeal. This apparent inconsistency belies a number of other anomalies. The new party does not, on the face of it, seem to represent a radical shift in the constitution of opposition politics in Kenya. Indeed, its manifesto and constitution appear to merely restate many of the same values espoused by preexisting opposition parties: a commitment to democracy, human rights, economic liberalization, privatization, progress and development. [End Page 223] Specifically, Safina reiterates the long-standing call that foreign aid (on which the survival of the Kenyan economy is dependent) be made conditional on the adoption by President Moi of a form of government satisfactory to the West.
Why then did events surrounding Safina come to dramatically define the Kenyan polity in representations in the British press as well as in domestic political debates? Why did the party seem to enjoy considerable credibility in the eyes of the British press when it belatedly repeated the same familiar charges against the Kanu government? 3 Why did Safina’s call for economic intervention against the Kanu government seem to enjoy a more sympathetic hearing in the British Foreign Office when similar calls by others in the political opposition (including such founding members of Safina as Gitobu Imanyara and Paul Muite) had previously gone unheeded? 4 Why did the party seem to provoke hysteria and paranoia within the ranks of the Kanu government for repeating statements which, when made by others in the previous three years, had passed off fairly innocuously? Perhaps because the launching of Safina marked what was perceived as the first moment in post-colonial Kenya when an ethnically fragmented political opposition had been legitimated by the presence of two white Kenyans (as they have been repeatedly and insistently characterized by the British media) in senior appointments? Perhaps because the presence of these two white Kenyans ensured the very extensive attention and unprecedented respectability the party has commanded?
It is instructive that, while consistently “darkening” the Kenyan landscape with repeated revelations of bad governance, widespread suffering, endemic corruption and an innate, if unrealized, capacity for mass violence, the British media has almost entirely reduced its coverage of Safina to laudatory and...