The politics of food

Continuing from where we left yesterday, it is interesting to note that the settlers sought protection from the colonial government against the African peasants. In Siaya, we read

[ ]The new market position these farmers achieved in the 20s and early 1930s was feared by the European settlers in Kenya, who sought the protection provided by stiff competition and marketing regulations to maintain their domination of these markets.

Free market anyone?

On the politics of food

Or maize.

Today we take a break from that strand of critique of capitalism and politicians to talk about something that is close to your stomachs or mine in this particular case.

I am presently reading Siaya: the historical anthropology of an African Landscape by Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo and in a chapter on hunger, they make some very interesting comments, to wit

The consumption of white maize meal has been associated in Siaya with the process referred to as ‘westernization’. Maize first entered the local economy through the intervention of the colonial government, an intervention that involved pressure.

But you all, by now, know that’s not all why I am writing this post.

They say

For the people of Siaya, maize is both a part of what is viewed as progress and a part of what they term disaster.

Why disaster?

[ ]The adoption of maize as a cash crop also involved a new cultivation practice: planting in rows, with a second weeding to remove the undergrowth. These practices caused soil erosion which by 1930s resulted in continuous famine that has plagued Uyoma and lower Asembo people for decades.

Had the introduction of maize been beneficial to the people of Siaya, there would be no concern. But our authors note

Within the households it has long been recognised that whatever the claims for maize, the actual yields per hectare relative to sorghum and millet on a cultivated plot are not in fact superior, particularly when nutritional value is taken into account.

They continue to note

Despite this evidence, for eight decades now, the official voice has not relented in its sponsorship of maize as the preferred food crop in Siaya.

One should note here that by introducing a crop as a cash crop, the goal was not food sufficiency for the locals but for export. In the end we have manufactured famine and food shortages since local foods, that are nutritious, are relegated to the back burner without funds for improving their varieties.

They write

For the authorities, maize has virtues as a national grain, as a potential export crop, and as an agent of of the commodification of agriculture and the expansion of a regulated cash economy into the countryside. But for recent and present Siaya, maize means hunger.

It is unfortunate this circumstance has not changed many years later.

Happy Saturday friends.

On moral bankruptcy

I recently wrote here regarding the person of the president appearing as caricature for the incompetent and stealing father before him.

And while still on the 18th Brumaire, Marx said of the bourgeoisie of France that

It was forced by its own class attitude, on the one hand, to destroy the conditions for all parliamentary power, its own included, and, on the other, to render irresistible the executive power that stood hostile to it.

Now, those more eloquent than I have said of our political class as a morally bankrupt sort. Nothing makes this evident than the recent reports that they were bribed in the lavatories with as little as Ksh 3000 to alter or approve a report on illicit sugar into the country.

Of relevance to the above statement by Marx refers to the failure of the August house to pass legislation to bring to life the 2/3rd gender rule as enshrined in the constitution. What this has done to the morally bankrupt house is to make it a puppet for the executive, filled as it is, by a protege of the nation’s first big scale thieving family. This house cannot even if it tried, check the executive.

The chief justice has by failing in his constitutional duty to advise the president on the illegality of parliament, has made the courts equally subservient to the executive so that where the constitution envisages three centres of power, working together but also as checks, we have the executive led by an incompetent and a thief lording it over all of us. If there is a royal screw, we are being screwed royally and without the benefit of lube.

There’s nothing so annoying as to know you are being led by your inferiors.

Sarcasms that the world has known

In 1915 while Europe was engaged in a tribal war, butchering each other, some of their citizens put to paper what I can only call sarcasms.

They wrote

[]It is the right of a people to rule themselves. And he who violates shall be the enemy of all.

Others had this declaration as a sacred principle

No province shall be transferred from one government to another without the consent by plebiscite of the population of such province.

Even though they were non state actors, I can only think that in referring to populations, they did not refer to Africans, Asians or any other group of people under colonial domination.

who is the person of culture?

Romain Rolland says

the true man of culture is not he who makes of himself and his ideal the centre of the universe, but who looking around him sees, as in the sky, the stream of the Milky Way, thousands of little flames which flow with his own; and who seeks neither to absorb them nor to impose upon them his own course, but to give himself the religious persuasion of their value and of the common source of the fire by which all alike are fed.


On war or insanity

In Above Battle, Romain Rolland writes a very insightful passage that, in my view still explains partly why men and women go to war.

You Christians will say that war exalts the virtue of sacrifice. And it is true that war has the privilege of bringing out the genius of the race in the most commonplace of hearts. It purges away, in its bath of blood, all dross and impurity; it tempers the metal of the soul of a niggardly peasant, of a timorous citizen; it can make a hero of Valmy.

First as tragedy then as farce

Is a book by Zizek that makes the case for the communist Idea both through his critique of capitalism and by extension liberal democracy and the religion of free market economy that by all reasonable standards have failed to deliver what they promised to the majority.

I think it was Churchill who is said to have uttered these words

Democracy is the worst form of government except all others

And since then any attempt to critique democracy is met with the dismissal that communism has been tried and failed and so we must resign ourselves to the worst system. This kind of criticism is, in my view, uncritical.

There is hardly any place where we have democracy, that is, a government of the people by the people. We have instead increased authoritarianism that purports to hold elections. In effect what we have is a parliamentary dictatorship where power resides not with the people but with the ruling elite.

A case can actually be made for a proletariat dictatorship which does not only change who is in power but changes to a non-statal existence destroying all that which came before it.

Zizek talks too about the current privatization of the commons through what is called intellectual property where the intellectual product is mediated by private capital ala Bill Gates or Apple.

Another thing I find very interesting is what Zizek proposes as a response to anyone who accuses us of undermining democracy. He writes

That one’s answer should be a paraphrase of what Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist manifesto: the ruling order is itself already doing all the undermining necessary.

He continues

In the same way that (market) freedom is unfreedom for those who sell their labour-power, in the same way that the family is undermined by the bourgeois family as legalised prostitution, democracy is undermined by the parliamentary form with its concomitant passivization of the large majority, as well as by the growing executive power employed by the increasingly influential logic of the emergency state.

Its a good read. Interesting. Well written and argued.

the case for a revolution in Kenya

All class struggles are political.

In the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx writes

Hegel says somewhere that that great historic facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add: “Once as tragedy, and again as farce.” Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the “Mountain” of 1848-51 for the “Mountain” of 1793-05, the Nephew for the Uncle. The identical caricature marks also the conditions under which the second edition of the eighteenth Brumaire is issued.

He could as well have been writing about Kenya. We have Johnstone Kamau and now we have the identical caricature in his son, Muigai wa Kamau.

In the first case, the one borrowed money from the British Government and the World Bank to pay off or rather to buy back land that had been stolen by the British settlers. This money ended up in either his pocket or those of his cronies. The son is borrowing billions of shillings in the name of building infrastructure, a big chunk ends up in his pockets or those of cronies.

The first one through constitutional means concentrated power in his person. The caricature through use of force and pretenses like fighting corruption has usurped the will of the majority.

In claiming to have a big four agenda, the son has found means to continue the family legacy of theft and corruption. In 1975, the New York Times had this to say

In recent years, however, Mr. Kenyatta has damaged his political image and alienated more and more Kenyans by abuses of power, by piling up a growing fortune and by moving to stifle the development of a freer society in this East African nation.

This has not changed. The caricature has ensured that we continue to lose money through graft and especially by people closest to him. Reading the article above, one would be forgiven for thinking time has stood still for Kenya. Elsewhere they write

Another situation involving the President that has disturbed Kenyans is that he has neither restrained nor disciplined his family and his closest associates in their amassing of wealth, much of it through evasions of law and the exploitation of such national resources as wildlife and forests.]

which is still true.

The Left in Kenya, if there was ever one, has become moribund. If it exists, it has failed to have a unified front, a coherent message nor has it been able to marshal the peasants and the workers together and speak in one voice. Unemployment is at an all time high. Cost of living is above the roof and the Left or whatever is left of it has either been co-opted in the capitalist and violent repressive state or they do not know what to do.

This crisis offers the best time for revolt.

In anticipating Brian, why revolution and not democratic means like the ballot? Because the caricature and his cronies have control of the electoral system. They will kill and maim to stay in power. Only a revolution can change this.

What are the goals of the revolution? For me it is simple

  1. To change the property relations that exist currently where a few people own the land leaving the majority destitute.
  2. In his defense before the judges, Fidel Castro said

The first revolutionary law would have returned power to the people and proclaimed the 1940 Constitution the Supreme Law of the State until such time as the people should decide to modify or change it. And in order to effect its implementation and punish those who violated it – there being no electoral organization to carry this out – the revolutionary movement, as the circumstantial incarnation of this sovereignty, the only source of legitimate power, would have assumed all the faculties inherent therein, except that of modifying the Constitution itself: in other words, it would have assumed the legislative, executive and judicial powers.

this would be the second goal of the revolution. To return to constitutional dispensation. The sovereign belongs to the people. For these words to have any meaning, the people must be in a position to determine how they are governed and what the government does on their behalf. This must include but not limited to infrastructure projects, military spending and so on. If the people cannot vote on these, what then is the vote for?

The Left in Kenya must take this opportunity presented to it by the present crisis to call for revolution. A critical mass is not necessary to begin the revolution. The people will join once the call has been made. It must be radical and it must offer a coherent alternative to the neo-liberal democracy that we find ourselves in.

Viva la revolution.

And here is a song for the revolution

Jean Messlier

For the regular visitors to this spot, Jean Messlier is not a strange name.

For those who have not met him, Onfray Michel argues he is the first atheist of our times.

And we must judge Voltaire harshly for the great disservice he did to our great priest.

If you can find a copy of the The Testament of Jean Messlier, buy it. You will not regret it.

While Karl Marx and Engels are usually recognised as articulating communism and calling the for the abolition of private property, Messlier was way ahead of them.

Below is a short clip I stumbled upon on Messlier. Hope you like it.