By Dikembe Disembe
Today, last year, Karl Marx died.
Christopher Owiro, who went by the sobriquet ‘Karl Marx”, a towering university of Nairobi (de facto) student leader, died this date last year. He was 36, only three years shot of the “nickel” age of Tom Mboya when he was assassinated.
I tried in the last weeks to convince some University of Nairobi students, and their leaders, to give Owiro a fitting 1st anniversary but failed. I wasn’t surprised for I know what it means to raise the consciousness of my own peers to just social causes, especially those that deal with historical questions that must be part of mainstream discourse.
The significance of today may also be lost to even his own former colleagues, for I have visited their walls and haven’t seen much. It is, to say the least, tragic.
A year ago, writing for my blog “PoliticsUniversityEthnicity”, and as a Guest Blogger for “Kenya Today” news blog – a website dedicated to political and social debates in Kenya -I joined in the debate about the passing of Karl Marx. I remember among other people who eulogised Marx were Joshua Odhiambo Nyamori, Kingwa Kamencu, and Fwamba NC Fwamba, all who, unlike myself, lived in Marx times and knew Marx in person and in ideology.
I was then interested in Marx because I was a student leader who later tackled some of the problems Marx had opposed: Double intake (module II) and a dwindling HELB loan to students. Mid this year, I refused to mourn former Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo after initially mourning Marx. Mutula’s legal mind had ensured over 300 university of Nairobi students expelled because of opposing this the introduction of parallel programmes would remain outside the university for “55 years”.
However, when Moi was ejected out of power at the start of this century; the incoming President, Mwai Kibaki, lifted all of these suspensions. That’s when Marx and hundreds of others, including one Hassan Omar (current Mombasa Senator) got back to their respective universities.
Earlier, Marx had opposed the KANU-NDP merger which he believed added to their tribulations and even before the fallout after nomination of Uhuru by Moi, Marx is alleged to have developed a mathematical equation ostensibly to solve ‘why’ KANU/NDP merger was never going to work. He supported Kibaki in 2002 and 2007 because Kibaki had cut short Mutula and KANU’s 55 years of university expulsion.
When Marx died, he raised the debate about individual rights vis-a-vis public interest, or societal good. Here was a man, like David Munyakei, who chose to have his own rights suspended for the ‘good of many’. Marx fought, in his time, among other things, the introduction of parallel degree programmes. At that time, he argued that this would water down education and at the same time block thousands of needy children from accessing higher education. Structural Adjustment Programmes were just beginning to take toll on most sectors of the economy and higher education, among many sectors, was worst hit. Though his arguments were quixotic, they came to pass.
Part of the danger with current university system, and which scholars like Taban lo Liyong and others often raise, is the poor quality of education. Poor in the sense that it leaves students with nothing more but the classroom knowledge. People are still getting first class honours but engage them in any ‘general discourse’ about life’s expansive tidings and you lose it. You saw it spectacularly when retired president Mwai Kibaki gave a public lecture at the University of Nairobi the other day.
Marx death also raised the debate on whether university student politics really serves the greater good of preparing young idealistic and learned people to potential future roles in political leadership. I once read an article that the ‘workforce’ of the city of Washington DC is made up of 75 per cent of former American university student leaders who work in Congress, White House, aides to politicians, lobbyists, speech-writers, consultants, pollsters, congressmen, senators, etc. Is the calibre of debate and legislation in our current parliament suffering from lack of ‘passionate’ people who really believed in politics as a conversation to better the lives of people?
As we mark Marx’s first anniversary; may be it is time to document student politics and also deconstruct, giving the historicity, the gaps that currently so pervades the national political discourse. It will be interesting to get to know what became of most student leaders for the last 10 years, and particularly, to Marx’s group-the over 300 UoN students who had been expelled (many from “one community”) and whether after long periods which stretched into years they finally got their degrees and were ‘integrated’.
For Marx, even after graduating at the top of his class and a postgraduate degree in Acturial science, finding a job became elusive to his death. In imaginary kamkunjis he held in different spots in Nairobi, he blamed a senior Luo politician among others for the frustration.
There were choices. He made his, and suffered the consequences. I am sure there are his year-mates who ‘towed the line’ and are alive, some wealthy and at peace with the world. Was Marx’s cause unnecessary and useless? Was it fate?
He resorted to alcohol, and was found dead (and drunk) in Kisumu on this date last year. Though it is believed he died on “happy new year” – on 1st. But Marx had died severally. Okung’ Ndege would later reminisce of these other deaths: “Small ‘deaths’ that weaken your hope and emasculate your capacity to see things as they really are. ‘Deaths’ that kill your self esteem and force you to light an imaginary bonfire from the carcasses of unfulfilled dreams. ‘Deaths’ spearheaded by frustration and sponsored by addictions”.
Here are more articles (from our archives) about Karl Marx.
Karl Marx Death Triggers Debate on Individual Rights (Dikembe Disembe)
Death of Karl Marx Owiro Brought Me Back to Life (Ndege Serikal)
Tribute to Christopher Owiro (Fwamba NC Fwamba)
It’s time to Document Student Activism (Joshua Nyamori)
Former Student Activist, Sonu Luminary is Dead.
Click HERE to read any of these articles.