Table of Contents
The reformed background!
Metamendacity and epistemic domination
Politics the world over, and probably in all history, has always fed on incessant lies and half truths. However, the proliferation of the mass “media media-social media” convergence has engendered an explosive and domineering twist. This falls into what some thinkers now refer to as the “post-truth” era, revealing an historical angle to the pertinent subject matter. According to the Oxford dictionary “Post-truth” denote “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It is herein acknowledged that even though post-truth concept got its initial impetus from the US’ Nixonian Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, it climaxed during the 2016 Trump and Brexit campaigns, and now its synthesis blooms globally. The objective of the paper is to put the idea of post-truth into Kenyan perspective, construing the media-politics nexus there from. To achieve this, a history of colonial and post colonial systems of lies- “political-metamendacity matrix” PMM) is traced. It is established that the current wave of political lies in Kenya is a product of the very foundations of the state edifice, not only exacerbated by contemporary information implosion but also the myriad digital opportunities. The paper brings Kenya into the ongoing global conversation on the existence, meaning and ramification of the “post-truth.”
Key words: Colonialism: Epistemic domination: Kenya: Metamendacity: Neocolonialism: Neoliberalism: Post-truth: Subjugationism: Racism
“Post-truth” according to the Oxford dictionary denotes “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The Oxford Group also acknowledged that “post-truth ” was first used in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich. George Orwell in his novel, “Nineteen eighty four” portrayed a society where history is reconstructed in black or gray propaganda. Ralph Keyes (18) penned a book entitled the “Post Truth Era”. Eric Alterman (2) also talked of a "post-truth political environment" when he interrogated what he considered Bush Administration’s deceptive assertions after the bombing of the World Trade Center.
On the 16th of February, 2017 Mwaura in his Daily Nation (a Kenyan Newspaper) column carried a discussion of the expression, “post-truth” (29). He was reporting that the Oxford Dictionary Group has chosen it as the 2016 international word of the year. The Oxford University Press says that this was in the wake of the controversial “Brexit” vote and the U.S. presidential election (14). The next day, Zadock Syongo (37), a Kenyan government advisor on foreign relations, opined that a paradigmal force is “putting utopian dreams of globalised free trade and borderless movements of labour and capital in limbo.” It is hard to understand why he used the expression “utopian dreams”. Firstly, utopia is exemplified by dreaming and putting the two together engenders a tautology. Secondly, globalised free trade and borderless movements of labour are hardly utopian. They have marked the world neoliberal age for well over twenty years. Be they as they may, Brexit and Trump have a common denominator in having been influenced by nice sounding rhetoric that easily diffused into society through the new digital channels. Like Syongo puts it, their ideological impetus is also isolationist. In the absence of analytical history, the two scenario may seem like a dawn of a new era. However, the USA, for example, has been isolationist before. Britain at one time in its history resisted the continental Europe’s connection. They found it very difficult joining the European Community in the first instance. So there is nothing really novel about UK, Trump and isolationism. There is no “Trump Doctrine”. There is just the re-incarnation of the old isolationism. However, looked at from the pos-truth prism, a revolution is probably in the offing.
Is the substance of ‘post-truth” new? Is it new to Kenya? Machiavelli, in his famous work “The Prince” justifies celebrating the end, regardless of the means, in the world of power politics. Plato too envisaged the notion in his enunciation of the Athenian system as captured herein below.
The Athenian conception of justice as exemplified by Plato’s thinking is that it is the harmonious relationship between the warring parts of the person or state (43)…. Through the character Thrasymachus, he reasons that the interest of the strong, in other words, what the powerful or cunning ruler has forced on the people, is the premise of justice, at least in practice(44).
Politics the world over, and probably in all history, has always fed on incessant lies. Myriad examples can be gleaned from history. However, to say that “post-truth” as currently construed is merely a reconstruction of semiotics rather than substance may be simplistic. Further to the foregoing, that Mwaura and Syongo definitely bring the “post-truth” discourse into Kenya as a mirror of the country’s “metamendacity” construct is not in doubt, and that is the basis of this paper.
In the Wagassi cosmos, representing most African worldview, history is often expressed in the present through folklore, riddles, songs, poetry, dance and worship. So that the difference between the zero hour of human existence and today may get mentioned. However the timelessness of the themes presented often blurs substantive periods and passage of time. The same way the distance between heaven and earth is exemplified in song, dance and worship. Regardless of the time and place of the history, it is crystallized into a good-evil spat. However, modern historiography affect the language of epochs than the Wagassi timelessness. Epochs are marked by certain crucible moments. Enlightenment period. Romantic period. The concert of Europe. Modern age. The age of controversy. Post-modern age. Some authors are keen to spring up the “post-truth era” and explain its beginning from the Watergate. That makes sense to a westerner. I choose to go back to the Wagassi cosmos for interrogating the “post-truth”. My assumption is that it is an enduring phenomenon, its meaning better found by locating it as a historic symbol of good versus evil. The “post-truth” elements are akin to Kenya’s metamendacity construct since inception. However it is crucial that the word inception is qualified. In my Wagassi cosmos again, inception is far…very far in the past. The Luo stories begin by the expression “chon gi lala”, meaning way back in the unfathomable past . For the purposes of this paper, beginning from the origins of project Kenya as differentiated from chon gi lala, or the Adamic “zero hour” may make better sense. Project Kenya may be traced from the 1885 European partition of Africa. In that year, a treaty, “The General Act of the Berlin Conference”, the first in the long string of the colonial and neo-colonial PMM that would ensue, was signed by various European powers to effect a “smooth” colonization of Africa. Thereafter, Kenya and its people became possessions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (UK).
The history of the colonial Kenya was closely tied to the political and economic interests of the colonial government and white settler community. The post-independence history has been tied to the outlandish converged forces of international capital and local greed. These found expression in institutionalized ethno-centrism (or ethno-otherism), corruption, primitive acquisition of wealth, nepotism, ineptitude, human rights abuse and underdevelopment (22). The post-independence period, presenting a history of national fissures, is also couched in incessant PMM(24). Even “Truth Justice and Reconciliation” initiative, engendered after the 2008 post election violence (PEV), pursuant to the National Reconciliation and Accord signed between Preseident Kibaki as the Party of National Union leader and Premier Raila Odinga as the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader in 2008, to cure historical injustices, and which would have delved into the historical culture of official government lies, has since fallen into this PMM mound.
Colonialism was about exploitation of a people so as to advance the colonizers political and socio-economic interests. In Kenya, colonialism came with serious “system-wide pressures”. Such strains were exemplified by bane phenomena such as the establishment of the colonial state which brought all the Kenyan nations then under colonial tyranny and captivity. Under the “Maasai Agreements”, really Maasai frauds, two agreements were supposedly signed with the Maasai to disposes them of their land. The 1913 case of Ole Njogu (32) exemplify this lie when the court legitimized the fraudulent Maasai agreement while at the same time, and absurdly so, refereeing to it as an international treaty between the Maasai nation and the UK, not to mention that the court that decided so was also a UK Court. The British enacted and enforced mandatory labour laws. When a section of Kenyans refused to cooperate with colonialism the British declared a state of emergency between 1952 and 1956. The Mau Mau was thoroughly whipped, its leaders incarcerated and the entire Kikuyu Country absurdly abused and littered with corpses of dead people. Kohn, (19) captures the essence of colonialism as follows:-
Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is hard to distinguish it from imperialism. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms. Like colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory. The etymology of the two terms, however, provides some clues about how they differ. The term colony comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin. Imperialism, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term imperium, meaning to command. Thus, the term imperialism draws attention to the way that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control.
Kenyas subjugation built on the doctrine of imperialism, colonialism and neocolonialism. In 2005, Elkins captured the essence of Kenya’s subjugationism when she asserted that:-
In many ways, the story of pacification and effective occupation of Kenya was no different from what happened all over Britain’s empire at the close of the 19th century. Across Africa and Asia, entire populations were dispossessed of their land through suspect but useful alliances with illegitimate rules, deceitful treaties, and the barrels of the guns.(8)
In 1956 Richard Meinertzhagen put it in one of his reports that ‘the expansion of Europe during the last century has been the story of crime and violence against backward peoples under the clock of protective civilization.’(25) Again as Elkins aptly captures it, ‘the British military launched punitive expeditions that established an enduring pattern of virulent racism and white violence, and their social acceptability within the colony’ (8).
To accomplish all these, they applied various “untruth dynamics”. Various laws that legitimized the use of force, fraud, mis-education, malicious propaganda, cultural alienation, emphasis on the differences between the local ethnic communities, and psychological torture, were all justified under various PMM constructs. Social Darwinism is a good exmaple. The British were an “enlightened” people who believed that even a façade of legitimacy was better than none. Legal semiotics was useful, even when built from a position of pretense. Consequently, the laws and government as they imposed served well not only the goal of legitimacy among the international peers but also “shaping” a primitive African population who were pacified and reconciled to the British distorted “metamendacity construct”. As a part of the pacification process, they created a gripping raison d'être. Theirs was to civilise, primarily, through Christianisation, assimilation of western cultures and western education. The flipside is that those who could not attain acceptable levels of westernisation were tagged primitive, another aspect of the colonial metamendacity. During the later days of colonialism, the nationalist movement, the Mau Mau war, the 1952 Emergency and Her Majesty’s government commitment to give Kenya independence influenced the Kenyan dialogue, definitely encapsulating a lot of gray and occasionally black propaganda (15).
The 1963 Independence was a craftsmanship towards creating a patron-client relationship with the former colonizer. Neo-colonialism ensued. The independence constitution itself was the greatest exemplification of that. Frantz Fanon (10) described neo-colonialism as the continued exploitation of the continent from outside and within.
Every former colony has a particular way of achieving independence. Every new sovereign state finds itself practically under the obligation of maintaining definite and deferential relations with the former oppressor.
European powers in many cases sustained the over-lordship over economic affairs of the former colonies (40). The colonial forced cash-crop economy was unbroken even as the farmers’ vulnerabity to the volatile world markets reigned. When the price of cocoa collapsed in the 1960s political instability ensued. The same applied to Rwanda in the 1980s, when the price of coffee fell. Kenya 54 years after independence remain beholden to colonial coffee, tea, pyrethrum, as the mainstay of the economy, supported by the government but with negligible benefits to the people. Independence sustained rather than question the colonial metamendacity.
The cold war was another affront to Independence in Kenya, and Africa in generally. According to John Keen, an independence nationalist;
“The newly independent nation was nevertheless to fall into the trap of the so-called ideological war of the 1960s between the West and the East; capitalism and communism, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. The intrigues of the complex cold war struck the heart of the Kenyan government separating President Kenyatta and his close friend and vice-president Oginga Odinga.” (17)
Western powers viewed African independence through the lens of the Cold War. African leaders were either pro-West or East. At independence, Kenyatta attempted the ideological non alignment path. As quoted by Talton he had these to say.
The aim of my government which starts today is not to be pro-left or pro-right. We shall pursue the task of national building in friendship with the rest of the world. Nobody will ever be allowed to tell us, to tell me: you must be friendly to so-and-so. We shall remain free and whoever wants friendship with us must be a real friend (40).
Nevertheless, non-alignment was a naïve belief at a time when bipolar hegemonies typified great lethal forces. As Kenya declared that it was neither be pro-West nor East, Cold War politics deprived it of the liberty to truly shape its political path. Combined with the strong residue of the colonial political structure and process, the post independence Kenyan construct was sensitive to Western powers' watchfulness against socialist or communist influences as Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was later to realize during his entire political career (40). When in a public lecture in 1966 he posed the rhetoric that he hears communism means more food then what could possibly be wrong with such system. The next day the Nation newspaper headline carried the banner “Odinga says communism is food”. Were the westerners turned off by such lies, or they were the very architects of the lies? Whichever way one looks at it, Odinga’s political oblivion was written from that time. For three years he remained a fiery MP, defending the land rights of the Kenyan masses and hitting blow-after-blow true independence. In 1969 his party the Kenya Peoples Union (KPU) was proscribed while he was detained without trial, along with many of his compatriots, by the Kenyatta I government. It would take him up to 1992 to make a come as a leader of the reform movement and Member of Parliament, only to die two years later.
He lived between 3rd May, 1469 and 21 June, 1527.
Wagassi are a group of people in Homa-Bay, Migori, Siaya and Kisii Counties of Kenya and the North Mara Region of Tanzania. They are classified ethnically under the Abasuba of the Baganda’s Abaokunta heritage. They have become very close with the Joluo of Kenya and Tanzania, liberally exchanging cultural practices and genes in the process.