NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 26 – When the curtains finally closed on the life of Kenya’s first Vice-President Oginga Odinga on January 20, 1994, the vibrant politician had fought many wars; won some including detention but the one dark cloud that hung over his entire political life was the Communist tag and he couldn’t fight it off. It eventually cost him dearly.
According to historical accounts, he was vilified, blocked from being in the first Cabinet just before independence when the British said they would resign if he was appointed.
He stayed in the political cold for almost 20 years.
Almost two decades later, in what could have been considered career suicide in the cold war era, the Communist Party of China (CPC) visited Kenya and expressed keen interest to deepen its collaboration with the ruling Jubilee Party in order to enhance management and democracy.
Speaking when he paid a courtesy call on President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House Nairobi, Chinese Communist Party Deputy Director of the Policy and Research office Wang Xiaohui said the two political parties have agreed to establish collaboration mechanisms.
Prof Munene Macharia believes that JP can pick the good cherries from the CPC but discard the bad ones.
“The CPC didn’t begin yesterday, it began in 1921 after fighting a bloody war that almost lasted for 30 years. The tectonic plates of politics have shifted. No one can ignore China now,” he said.
Recently, when a report by the US-based Freedom House found that democratic rights are increasingly not respected in Kenya, Macharia questioned the authors of the report and said the US itself “is not a paragon of good behaviour”.
“Every country has a problem but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them,” posed the professor of History at the United States International University (USIU).
In a quick rebuttal Dr Patrick Asingo, a University of Nairobi lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration laughed off Macharia’s assertions asking, “what can a democracy learn from an autocracy?”
“Very soon they will be telling us to go and learn from ZANU PF in Zimbabwe,” he sarcastically added.
He wondered why in a world where there are numerous parties that excel in party organization but still respects human rights JP had to settle on the “the most well known autocratic party in the world”.
“Show me your friends and I will you show you who you are. That can tell you where we are moving to,” he said.
He argued that South Africa’s ruling party Africa National Congress (ANC), though has flaws would be a much better system to collaborate with and emulate if at all JP wasn’t more concerned with establishing a well-oiled machine for autocracy.
“South Africa’s ANC, Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) have lasted for centuries, there is something Jubilee can learn from them if at all they are genuine about understanding how parties can live for long.”
With over 1.2 billion people, Macharia pointed out the effectiveness of the party in rallying the nation behind one cause as something worth emulating.
“For Kenya, CPC is attractive because it has lasted long and managed to run a country of over 1.2 billion people. JP is trying to be serious and it needs help to achieve that.”
Rising from a feudal system with an elite society who oppressed the minority peasants with an unfair tax system, China has grown to be a global powerhouse but often accused of opening the taps of aid to African leaders without demanding accountability.
“A system that violates human rights cannot teach anything else except what it has perfected; autocracy,” Dr Asingo said adding that “China can help you to remain in power as long as you do business with them.”
The CPC was the founding and ruling political party of the People’s Republic of China was founded by Mao Zedong, a peasant who was raised in the Southern part of rural China.
Macharia says that the CPC had to find a way to stay in power “after they won power against all odds”.
“They have a way of reminding people how bad things were before the new China which according to them began in 1949. They have this century of humiliation which they remind people never to go back to,” he pointed out.
The Freedom House report which was released months after Kenya held its general election says the basic tenets – including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack.
Kenya got a freedom score of 48 out of 100 points, a drop from 51 points in the previous year’s report.
“Democracy has been shrinking since Jubilee came to power,” Asingo said adding that “Jubilee has learnt that the key to continue being in power is to shrink the democratic space and now they are looking to perfect it from CPC,” he said.
Sounding an alarm, Asingo called on the international community to be pro-human rights instead of being pro their country’s interests.
“But Kenyans are resilient. We defeated KANU and all the things that kept it in power. We will defeat another tyranny if it comes out again,” he said.
Macharia, however, said a rigid approach to how the world interacts especially in politics is not good and might impede the growth of strong parties in Kenya.
“We should be open-minded and learn from everybody including the democrats, republicans or even the Chinese. What we must avoid is picking their bad habits,” he concluded.