By Tee Ngugi
It was the philosopher Karl Popper who wrote that a scholar should faithfully reproduce an intellectual opponentâ€™s argument before proceeding to critique it.
This principle points to the diametrically opposed objectives of an academic discourse and a mere argument. Participants in an academic dispute interrogate logic, facts, assumptions, approaches, etc.
The exchange allows people to see different dimensions of an issue.
Participants in a mere argument misrepresent each otherâ€™s arguments to propagate a monolithic â€œknowledgeâ€â€” equated to propaganda.
Its purpose is less to enlighten than obscure, less to liberate minds than to imprison them, less to convey the complexity of socio-political and economic phenomena than to reduce them to simplistic jingoistic formulas.
Michael Chege, in an article in The EastAfrican commemorating the death of Ali Mazrui ( October 25-31, 2014), captures the distinguishing characteristic of academic discourse.
He writes that Mazrui was adept at â€œdrawing similarities and contradictions where one least expected them, in tantalising if not always convincing waysâ€.
In other words, even where one disagrees with Mazrui, engagement with his arguments leaves one with fresh insights, intellectually stimulated, and with an appreciation of the complexity of the subject.
SoÂ what are we to make of Prof Peter Kagwanjaâ€™s article, â€œTwo faces of Kenya â€” competing ideologies mining the road toÂ 2017â€ (Sunday Nation, January 11, 2015)?
It had the form of academic discourse, but it was a bewildering mishmash of misrepresentation of arguments he did not like, logical flaws, false analysis and dangerous simplifications.
Kagwanja purports to trace Kenyaâ€™s ideological history since independence.
In the 1960s, he says, the nationalist consensus collapsed into two opposed camps of leftist/socialists and rightists/capitalists.
The 1970s was the decade of absolutism, which was followed by neo-liberal ideas in the late 1980s.
Then Kagwanja says that, following the 2013 election, the country split into two ideological camps.
The ruling Jubilee agenda, he argues, is driven by a â€œproductionistâ€ paradigm which engendersÂ mega projects and which seeks to transform Kenya into a middle income society. Arrayed against this project is the oppositionâ€™s â€œdistributionistâ€ agenda that is informed by two ideological tendencies â€” anarchism and nihilism â€” the latter which seeks to â€œperiodically destroyâ€ everything.
He says Cordâ€™s agenda is informed by ethnocentrism that seeks to divide Kenya into â€œethnic haves and have-notsâ€.
On the face of it, Kagwanjaâ€™sÂ version would seem disinterested truth, but it is not. It glosses over nefarious activities going on underneath the rhetoric of development.
The collapse of the nationalist consensus into two ideologically opposed camps was not an act of fate.
It happened when the â€œrightistsâ€ who wielded power began to undermine the nationalist ideology of equity, freedom and justice.
Underneath the language of policy papers, market theories and pan-Africanist rhetoric, the process going on was really crude accumulation of personal wealth and what Mazrui calls the â€œsacrilisation and personalisation of powerâ€.
And so the 1970s was less an era of absolutism than neo-fascism, in which the state was captive to a small super wealthy clique.
In the 1980s, Nyayoism,Â an even more extreme expression of neo-fascism, reduced Kenya to what columnist Gitau Warigi calls a â€œprimitive kleptocracyâ€,Â an orgy of plunder of resources.
TheÂ 1990s is defined by the continuing struggle byÂ activists for bigger democratic space, efforts that culminated in the 2010 Constitution.
These are the efforts Kagwanja disparages.
And in last weekâ€™s article,Â he does not laud opposition to residual Kanuism, represented most egregiously by the grabbing of a school field.
He then dances around the central issue of police gassing children to protect powerful thieves.
Now letâ€™s turn our attention to Kagwanjaâ€™s analysis of the period after the 2013 election.
How, pray, does he arrive at the conclusion that Jubilee is â€œproductionistâ€ and Cord is destructive, nihilist and ethnocentric?
Opposition to policies that undermine the Constitution is not only legitimate but is in the tradition of democracy activism.
Kagwanja has every right to support any political movement or indeed push a particular version of Kenyaâ€™s history.
What is unsettling is to couch this in the language of objective academic discourse
Tee Ngugi is the author of â€˜Seasons of Love and Despairâ€™. This article first appeared on Saturday Nation.