January 20th 2018

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

David Ndii, educating a generation, stirs hornets' nest in Kikuyuland

“While the political template remains exactly the same, many now realise that the harder they work, the poorer they become,” said the activist, who believes the president’s silence on the Afya House scandal catalysed a new understanding of Jubilee corruption in the region.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 05 Dec 2016 11:55 EAT

Dr David Ndii. (Photo: Dr Ndii's Twitter handle).

There’s scarcely any politically conscious Kenyan who doesn’t know Dr David Ndii. There’s also hardly any political analyst whose views are held in awe by fans and critics alike. Ndii is one of Kenya’s foremost intellectuals, and, unbeknown to many, one of only a handful who have remained consistent in their political beliefs and analysis for over twenty years when many have changed like chameleons between the transition from single party to Moi, Kibaki and now Uhuru Kenyatta administrations.

A free market champion, Ndii has advocated for progressive and redistributive economic policies since his first public writings, pointing the economic costs of insufficient public investment in health, housing, agriculture and manufacturing and of corruption. His ascent to present-day stardom has come only with hard work. In the early 90s, he was one of an emerging cadre of economists, not much known beyond the civil society.

As the founding director of Institute of Economic Affairs, he worked closely with Prof. Anyang Nyongo, who had then just been elected MP for Kisumu Rural, economist Robert Shaw and other partners to write the ‘Post-Election Programme of Action’ which identified key economic policy priorities of the time. Kanu of course rejected it. The 90s were Kenya's high ideological season, with debates on nationhood and the framework of reforms necessary for a multiparty system. Then as now, Ndii’s strength was his fact-laden analysis. That his ideas are seen as radical testifies to the victories the establishment has scored since the 90s.

In 2003, when NARC came to power, Anyang Nyongo, now minister for Planning, brought Ndii into government as an economic adviser, part of the team that produced the ground-breaking Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation. Following the 2005 referendum, Prof. Nyongo was sacked and out went Ndii, who spent the next eight years in relative obscurity, working for Committee of Experts among other things.

But he made a huge comeback after the 2013 election, launching what one analyst described as the “most important political education for the current generation of Kenyans”. Ndii is without doubt the most read columnist in Kenya today, and his articles are shared by large numbers on social media.

The Kenya Free Press last week sat down with a lawyer/lecturer and a civil society activist to discuss the depth and impact of the economist’s writings. The experts met on the view that Ndii has had a huge impact in articulating a historical framework of the Kenyan economy, right from the differences between founding President Jomo Kenyatta and Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

His columns do not present two sides with slightly diverging opinions in substance or style, but two completely diametrically opposed ideological views – with the Kenyatta one anchoring an immoral and corrupt system and the Jaramogi one an egalitarian and just path. Ndii’s critics point to his closeness to Raila, but the economist is up to something much more profound than the rhetoric by Raila. “He’s trying to resurrect idealism that led to our independence, the original question of how the nation’s wealth can guarantee a good life for the majority. Raila is the one who comes closes to his views, and he is happy to follow the leader,” said the activist.

The experts say that Ndii’s columns strike at the core of an important impediment to change in Kenya – the countervailing force of a Kikuyu mass that sold its soul to its oppressors. They said that what makes Ndii different from contemporary scholars is his belief in classical notions of a class struggle and his efforts to educate the masses about their interests, rather than merely attacking corruption of the system.

Ndii is never shy to discuss the historical dispossession of Kenyans, primarily Kikuyus, by the post-colonial elite which has successfully used the Kikuyu community as a shield to their own benefit. He has done the most work to expand political consciousness propelled by material forces rather than myths about Kenyatta and Jaramogi, Kikuyu hard work and lazy Coastals and Kalenjins that underpin mainstream political beliefs in the Kikuyu community. Ndii’s message to Kikuyus has been that they are looked upon as fools by the country for simply allowing themselves to be used when they have models demonstrating a saner way.

The lecturer told the Kenya Free Press that Ndii’s most lethal attackers are members of the Kikuyu middle class, some of whom he said owed its fortunes to the ruling class. “The idea that Kikuyus need to be in government is not based on hot air but a reality the community has lived,” he said, explaining that in the Kenyatta era kikuyus had an upper hand establishing businesses, professional practice or just hustling.

“Take the real estate industry for example. The first prime properties in African hands belonged to Kenyatta era functionaries. If you were in a land economics class comprised of roughly the same number of Kikuyus, Luos, Luyias, and Kambas who were the majority in the university those days, three years after graduation the Kikuyus would probably be running their real estate businesses serving the big guys and emergent developers while the rest are employed in the big companies or just hustling for rent.”

The lecturer said that such individual stories which existed in barely every industry, coupled with political messaging, led many Kikuyus to believe that Kenyatta era was a golden age. “The people were locked in, and young ones picked it up over time.” But given the rampant corruption and exclusivist policies, the pace of development in post-colonial Kenya could not keep up with population demands.

Consistent with Ndii’s writing, he explained that the elites always scapegoated the emerging economic failures on other factors instead of structural inequality. As the Kenyatta era wore on Jaramogi was the culprit. In the Moi years it was Kalenjin incompetence. But in the early Kibaki years, the belief in Kikuyu entrepreneurship was rekindled. As banking, telecommunication and construction expanded, every region of Kenya benefitted, with Kikuyus at the forefront. “This sort of created a political complacency. Our people believed they could achieve big dreams if only their worked hard, and the good governance demands by the opposition were seen as mere bumps on a paved road to success.”

However, the Jubilee era came with a new reality of unmatched corruption and economic stagnation. “While the political template remains exactly the same, many now realise that the harder they work, the poorer they become,” said the activist, who suggested that the president’s silence on the Sh5 billion Afya House scandal in which his relatives were implicated catalysed a new understanding of Jubilee corruption in the region.

The activist said that Ndii has done the spadework in laying the blocks for a new political movement. “Voters are beginning to see his point not merely because he has resonant facts, but they are disappointed that the government they believed in lacks a believable alternative explanation to the problems they are experiencing,” he said, while explaining that not much should be expected in the way Kikuyus will vote in 2017. “It takes a great leap of faith to change the patterns handed down for generations.”

These interviews were conducted before Ndii’s latest essay on Saturday December 3, in which he challenged the pro-Jubilee propaganda that CORD was not a good alternative to the regime.


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