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Mtumba is a Kiswahili word that was originally used to refer to second hand clothes. This is because the first second hand commodities that were sold at a large scale were clothes. Now that today second hand commodities have become the norm rather than the exception in East Africa, mtumba refers to all second hand items, clothes, shoes, utensils, vehicles and machines. In this essay, I also take the liberty to refer to as mtumba all foreign ideas or ideologies that are aimed at preventing progressive change and that serve to maintain the political, economic and cultural order of poverty, dependency and underdevelopment in Africa. In Kenya, like in many parts of Africa, the importation, buying, selling and consumption of all sorts of second hand items has become a culture. It is this culture and process of dependence on second hand foreign goods, values and ideas that I call mtumbaism.  Mtumbaism is a consequence of the implementation of neoliberalist economic policies in the African continent and contributes directly to the phenomena of immigration.

In this essay, I will analyse the impact of mtumbaism on the economy, culture and psychology of Kenya and Kenyans from the perspective of globalisation. This will be based on my own experiences, observations and reflections as a Kenyan who has been in Kenya and Europe. I will attempt to demonstrate that neoliberal globalisation is contributing to the underdevelopment of Kenya and compromising its national freedom and sovereignty. Increasingly, many Kenyans both professional and ordinary people, are immigrating to Southern Africa, Europe and the USA hoping to find opportunities of earning better living. The brain drain from Kenya to the more prosperous or promising countries is inherent in the process of immigration and neoliberalism while it also contributes to the vicious circle of underdevelopment. What is true of Kenya is also generally true of most of Africa, Asia and Latin America, subject to the specific conditions of each country. 

The reality of the phenomena of mtumbaism in Kenya

The trade in second hand clothes

Kenyan markets, whether in the rural or urban areas, are today full of all sorts of mitumba, second hand commodities, most of which are imported from Western Europe, USA, Canada and Japan. In the 1960s, there were hardly any mitumba in the Kenyan markets. Then second hand clothes were referred to as Marehemu George, meaning the clothes of dead people personified by the dead King of England, George VI. This was in order to discourage people from wearing them. It was only desperate people who had to wear clothes left behind by the dead. One, therefore, had to be extremely poor in order to wear mitumba. In those days, the material circumstances allowed Kenyans to hold on to their pride. Then the economies of African countries were performing well and causing positive development. This was more so in Kenya where the people were enjoying one of the highest standards of living in the continent. Emigration due to poverty or unemployment was hardly known. The vast majority of Kenyans who went to study abroad would rush back to Kenya as soon as they finished their studies. As for ordinary Kenyans, the idea of immigrating in search of a living did not exist. Not so nowadays!

Today the trade in mitumba has grown to be one of the largest informal sectors of the economy in the country. One of the biggest import commodities of the country is mitumba. The largest markets in Kenyan urban and rural areas deal with second hand clothes and other mitumba items. Thousands of people earn their living through buying and selling mitumba. The majority of Kenyans now wear second hand clothes. While in the beginning one considered it a shame to wear second hand clothes and if they had to they would not reveal the fact, nowadays second hand clothes have been accepted as part and parcel of life and are sold and used openly and without shame.

The harsh living conditions brought about by the deteriorating economy, that as in most Sub-Saharan Africa began in the mid-1970s, are eroding the pride of Kenyans. This includes using all means possible and enduring all types of risks and degrading conditions to immigrate to foreign countries and do the kind of jobs they would not accept to do in their country of birth.

Today the majority of Kenyans are so poor that they cannot afford to buy new clothes. As poverty escalates and the neoliberal economic policies cut more and more jobs through retrenchment brought through the 'rationalisation' of the civil service, privatisation of state enterprises and the closure of local industries unable to compete with foreign industries, the number of those who rely on mitumba is increasing rapidly. Second hand clothes are seen and even accepted as the solution in a situation where millions would practically go naked without them. The problem is that while mitumba may alleviate the immediate problem it is certainly not the long term and sustainable solution to poverty. It is in fact part and parcel of the problem that constrains the development of local industry, trade and agriculture. Its implication to the cultures and humanity of Kenyans and the future of the country is horrendous, to say the least.

Other mitumba commodities

Again, in the beginning mitumba was only about clothes. However, today the majority of Kenyans buy and use all sorts of mitumba commodities: shoes, socks, inner-wear, blankets, bed-sheets, curtains, utensils, etc. Many vehicles and most cars on Kenyan roads are mitumbas imported mostly from Japan and also from Europe, the majority of which enter the country via Dubai and are therefore also called dubais. The cars also use second hand tires and other second hand spare-parts imported from Europe and Japan. All sorts of food-stuff, milk, eggs, sugar, meat, fruits, a lot of which is considered as mitumba in their countries of origin, are sold in the Kenyan supermarkets and open markets. Food that today in the West is regarded as junk food[1] and therefore unhealthy has of late appeared in the Kenyan markets and is becoming more and more popular among the middle class, thanks to economic liberalisation. Here I refer to the food sold by multi-national corporations such as Macdonald's that are increasingly being criticised for their unhealthy foods. One of the impacts of globalisation and trade liberalisation is the coming of Nandos, a South African food company equivalent to Macdonald's. Fast-food restaurants have increased in the food markets in Kenyan towns where they sell frozen chicken, meats, and hamburgers, some imported from outside the country. This is having a negative effect on the eating habits of Kenyans as fresh and health foods are becoming more and more expensive. Tobacco multinational corporations that are prohibited from advertising in the Western countries advertise freely in Kenya and encourage the youth to the dreadful smoking habit. Unilever and Nestle, for example, the multi-nationals that have a giant share in the food and beverage industry in Kenya, have committed themselves to reject "genetically modified ingredients for their European products". It should be noted that the commitment of the corporations is to European markets and not African ones. So even in a situation where the question of the impact of transgenic organisms and food to health, safety and the environment has not been resolved, the corporations regard Kenyans as mitumba citizens of the world and can therefore afford to gamble with their lives with impunity. 

Kenyans are consuming mitumba ideas and culture

Mtumbaism is not about material goods alone. It is also about education, ideas and culture. In the era of great scientific and technological revolutions in the world, particularly information technology, Kenyans import mitumba knowledge from the West through the print media, radio, television, the internet and other electronic media. To make it worse, this is happening when knowledge is increasingly being privatised and commercialised in the name of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), and in the process underdeveloped countries like Kenya are marginalised in relation to scientific research and information (The Crucible II Group, 2000).

Yet today, in the era of globalisation, knowledge is deemed to be the most important factor of determining the development of a nation (ibid., 2000:4). Books that are no longer needed in schools in Europe, USA, Canada, Japan etc. are either sold or donated for use in schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions in Kenya that are too poor to afford up to date ones. Kenyan scientists and researchers in Kenyan institutions of research and higher learning use second hand equipment bought from the northern countries or donated to them. In the age where computers are invaluable in the search for knowledge, there are hardly any computers available to universities and institutes of research and higher education in the country, leave alone schools. But the scarce resources available disappear through corruption or are squandered through importing luxurious cars and other goods for the Kenyan elite. The professors and lecturers at the institutions of higher learning are either too busy dealing with too large classes of students or are engaged in money minting activities and cannot find time to renew and develop their knowledge through research.

In the process of privatisation of universities - including public ones - the university administrators are more concerned in making money for the universities (and for themselves of course) than production of good knowledge for the students and the country. As a consequence, education standards have gone down alarmingly. Thugs who find fertile ground in the corrupt institutions impose themselves upon other students (transformed into zombies) to be student leaders with the connivance of university administrators. Academic freedom that is seen as a threat to the stability of the institutions by the corrupt and reactionary professors that administer them is not tolerated in the universities that are governed through imposition of the culture of fear, threats, intimidation and silence. Ironically, there is more democracy in Kenyan society in general than inside the educational institutions that continue to expel students arbitrarily and prevent robust intellectual discourse. This process produces mitumba graduates who enter the cycle of mtumbaism going on in the country that is also reflected in the Kenyan leaders today. The exiting mtumba education teaches students and pupil’s values of individualism, greed, selfishness, corruption and worship of money rather than those of creativity, hard work, honesty, modesty, patriotism and commitment to the common good and humanity. They are not encouraged to search and struggle for truth, social justice and a better Kenya and world.

The Kenyan mass media depend on foreign news agencies such as Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, etc. for the global news they print and broadcast to Kenyans. The majority of the Kenyan journalists, whether from the print or electronic media, write and broadcast bourgeois platitudes on democracy, human rights, governance, gender, etc., that only strengthen capitalism and imperialism in the country. The mass media that is mostly owned by foreign and local capitalists, exists to make money and to defend the status quo of neoliberalism. Their content is riddled with lies and permeated with corruption and gives voice only to those in power, with money and defenders of bourgeoisie ethics and platitudes that are repeated daily and weekly. They have no space for those who challenge the status quo of the capitalist and imperialist system established in the country. Besides, American and British films, many of which are outdated, dominate Kenyan national television and the videos seen in private homes. And while this is happening local films made by local artists are rejected, ignored and hardly popularised. Second hand commercial advertisements are preferred to local made ones to the detriment of local advertising companies. Mtumbaism and neoliberalism fight against the growth of local art and artists.

Under mtumbaism and neoliberal globalisation the importation and consumption of pornography has increased. Gender and feminist activists led by the petit-bourgeois women and men, the majority of whom are in NGOs sponsored by Western countries do not find it necessary to struggle against pornography in the country. Pornography is extremely humiliating and dehumanising, especially to women, as much as it is allowed by bourgeois freedoms. At the same time, anti-social habits that are regarded as anathema by the cultures of Kenyans are today being imposed as agendas for discussion by donor nations through the media and some local NGOs. Instead of, for example, struggling to change the material conditions that force people, especially women, into prostitution, some people especially in NGOs, are now making money by making seminars to organise prostitutes whom they call 'sexual workers' to form trade unions and thus legalising sex as a commodity. Yet prostitution is one of the worst manifestations of the degradation and exploitation of the poor, especially women.

NGOs, that are supported by the imperialists aid in all ways and that are presented as an alternative to the state, are strongholds of bourgeois ideas and values in the country. Many are led by extremely greedy 'professional' beggars and con men and women who are experts of writing proposals for 'aid' money, rubbing shoulders with foreign diplomats or donors, organising seminars and workshops in urban areas and publishing books, mostly in English, that remain in their luxurious offices. Corruption, tribalism, nepotism, cronyism, lack of transparency and accountability, intrigues, etc., are characteristics of the majority of Kenyan NGOs. The foreign donor organisations that in many cases are led by people who are just as greedy and corrupt, know this, but as long as the local NGOs continue to embrace neoliberalism in theory and in practice, they will continue to receive funding from them.

Thus in the process of mtumbaism, like most of other African peoples under the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) imposed upon the nation by the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) through the government, Kenyans are made to depend on the Western definitions of democracy. They are taught that bourgeois democracy is not only the Alfa and Omega of democracy but also that it is above classes, states and nations. Today terms such as 'human rights', 'good governance', 'transparency', 'accountability', 'gender', 'peoples participation', 'grassroots', etc., have become platitudes that are only paid lip service by the governments and non-governmental organisations who parrot them. For as long as they remain devoid of history and class analysis, as long as they are not integrated in the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggle, they will remain as hollow and elusive as the bourgeois democracy itself.

Neoliberalism, assisted by the Kenyan state, pro-capitalist NGOs, electronic and print mass media and bourgeois intellectuals and politicians of all sorts, strives to make Kenyans believe that there is no alternative to the capitalist system and the neoliberalism imperialist world order. In this way, foreigners and their stooges in power in our country shape the everyday worldview of Kenyans. So it happens that Africans are made to view and measure their cultures from standards set by outsiders who advocate for the globalisation of bourgeoisie values - mtumbaism.

Mtumbaism is a manifestation of the effects of neoliberal globalisation to the cultures of developing countries

Mtumbaism is yet another testimony about how neoliberal globalisation has made a large section of human beings into second hand citizens of the world. It is about the inequality between the North and the South, the rich and the poor, in the era of globalisation based on capitalist ideology and praxis, and how this relationship impacts on the livelihoods, economies, cultures and psychology of the people of both countries. It is about the struggle for survival of the people whom Fanon (1967) has called the “wretched of the earth”, people who today have to depend on things and ideas produced and disposed of by other people. In the face of economic globalisation that worships the power of money and the 'wisdom' of market forces, the creative potential and humanity of billions of marginalised people is being squeezed out.

Within the rich countries, it is the poor or people from the working class and immigrants who are reduced to the depending on mitumba material goods. Mtumbaism has therefore a class character both at the national and international level, with the poor and marginalised people being reduced to consuming things used and not needed by other people. Consumerism is a characteristic of capitalism. In a system based on competition, exploitation of person by person and the worship of material things rather than human values, there is the culture of buying, accumulating and disposing of things even when they are still useful. For example, one would buy a shirt or a blazer and use it for one week and throw it away to buy a new one. There are second hand commercial and charity shops where people can dispose of their mitumba "to help the poor people of Africa and the Third World" and clear their conscience in the process. This is what starts the process of the accumulation and globalisation of mitumba as I witnessed it in Sweden. Mitumba cannot accumulate from the poor people of the South and the North who cannot afford to throw away things until they are sure they are no longer useful. That is why in Sweden, for example, the majority of the consumers of mitumba are immigrants, mainly from the Third World, who also form the vast majority of the poor and marginalised, or whose cultural roots, values and obligations cannot allow them to engage in bourgeoisie consumerism even when living in foreign countries.

Mtumbaism and 'Aid'

Mtumbaism has a parallel with the phenomena of foreign aid. Like foreign ‘aid’, mitumba flows from the North to the South, from rich to poor nations and not the other way round. But decades of foreign aid to Kenya have not brought about self-reliance and development. Instead, the country has become poorer and more dependent. That is why many people in Kenya would subscribe with the views expressed by the likes of Yeebo: “What passes off as 'aid' in the third world is nothing but a form of economic control aimed at keeping poor countries on a political leash. It is only when this form of containment does not hold out the advance of progressive forces, as it happened in Grenada under the New Jewel Movement, that direct and crude forms of intervention are used”.

When there are calamities such as drought, floods, famine, war, etc., it is normal for those not affected by the calamities to donate things, including second hand items, to the victims. Such charity is humane and is driven by the desire to reduce suffering, to save life and to help fellow human beings in need. Under these circumstances one should not be ashamed to give or accept such aid, even in the form of used things.

However, when one becomes perpetually dependent on things used or not needed by other people - mitumba - under all circumstances then certainly there is something wrong. A government that allows its country, economy and people to be dominated by foreign aid or imported mitumba cannot be relied upon to lead the country towards liberation and development. Therefore, those philanthropic individuals and charity organisation both in the North and in the South that participate in the business of flooding poor countries with imported second hand clothes and other items are, whether consciously or unconsciously , helping global imperialism to harm the economies, cultures and humanity of the poor, dominated and exploited people of the world. What they need to do instead - if they intend to contribute to eradication of poverty in Africa and the so called third world - is to provide moral and material support to progressive forces struggling against capitalism and neoliberalism and ultimately for socialism.

Aid is not inherently bad

It is important to point out at this stage that I am not arguing that aid is inherently bad. Aid plays a positive role when it is given to a country in order to help it start off on the path of development. Such aid based on internationalist solidarity is progressive, genuine, desired and is in fact, an embodiment of the coping strategies of African societies. 

For example, among the Wadawida, my ethnic community that live in Taita-Taveta County of Kenya, there existed a traditional system called kuturuyana. This system was a form of aid of helping less successful members of society to move towards success. A person without a cow would be given a cow by his relative, friend or neighbour to look after. The first calf of the cow would belong to the person given the cow. The second calf would go to the original owner of the cow, then the third calf would go to the person given the cow to look after. In the meantime the one looking after the cow would be using the milk and manure from the cow. This applied to all domestic animals and it ensured that every member of society would own cattle, goats, sheep, chicken, etc. at one time or the other.  If we think of the Chinese proverb, this was the type of aid of teaching others to fish rather than giving fish to them all the time.

There was also ngua and ngambi based the communalist traditional culture of the Wadawida. A person who needed to build a house or till a large piece of land would prepare food (and sometimes also homemade traditional beer) and request his relatives, friends and neighbours to come and help him or her. He would also expect to help others in the same way in return. Other times friends - especially the youth - would organise to work for each other in their parent’s farms in turns continuously for a certain period of time. This was called kiko. I consider this to be genuine aid, as it is reciprocal, is based on the principle of equality and solidarity and is devoid of paternalism and is also intended to ensure mutual progress. The popular harambee movement in Kenya that has been the basis of Kenya's rural development has its roots in the culture of ngua, ngambi and kiko which is also found in many Kenyan and African traditional societies. Unfortunately, the spirit of harambee has been abused by the successive corrupt regimes that have ruled Kenya since independence. Just as imperialism distributes 'aid' and 'loans' to the same nations it exploits and impoverishes, and just as the capitalists and feudalists everywhere use charity and sympathy to the poor to win their love, confidence and trust and to ensure the stability of their reactionary system, in the same way today the ruling classes of Kenya amass their wealth by exploiting the poor and then bribing them (their victims) with a few crumbs of the wealth taken from them by giving them harambee donations. This is akin to the trickledown economics of neoliberalism that give false promises to the exploited and oppressed while escalating inequality.

There was a time Kenya was free from mtumbaism

In order to comprehend the impact of mtumbaism and dependency to the Kenyan society today, it is necessary to make a more detailed historical analysis of culture and development in Kenya. After all, we can learn from history about what to do and what not to do, that is if we do not wish to repeat history. Again, it is impossible to fully comprehend the issues and problematics of development in Africa without appreciating the role of culture in the process of development and the impact imperialism has had and continues to have on African cultures.

Historical analysis of Kenya like that of the rest of Africa based on the writings on African history and socio-economic development show that the culture of mtumbaism - dependence on things produced and made by foreigners for our basic needs - was never the culture of our people. The reactionary culture of resigning to fate and losing faith in our own creativity and ability to solve our own problems; this chronic disease of dependency - believing that we can never develop without foreign aid; this was never the culture of our ancestors. It was a culture imposed upon the Kenyan people first by colonialism and then neo-colonialism, and perpetuated by the mtumba regime classes controlling economic and state power. Today, in the era of neoliberalism, a new form of capitalist globalisation, this negative culture has taken even stronger roots as evidenced by the phenomena of foreign 'aid' and mtumbaism.

Historians explain that thousands of years before Europe invaded our continent, we African people had a rich and dynamic material and intellectual culture. Before colonialism arrived in Kenya our ancestors were not living in caves, under trees or on top of trees. Neither were they sitting and waiting for foreign aid or God to come to provide them with shelter or to teach them how to build houses, toilets, etc. Our people had developed their own housing systems. They were living in well built houses which not only provided sufficient shelter to them commensurate with their environment and stage of development, but which were also designed and built with the aesthetics that considered and appreciated their concrete material needs, customs, morality and philosophy of life. I actually saw this housing system among my people, the Dawida, when I was growing up between 1960 and 1969, before the land consolidation destroyed the villages. I have described a typical Dawida house in my MA thesis in Literature (Mghanga:1997). The unpublished thesis is available at the Department of Literature of Stockholm University, The Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala, and University of Nairobi Library. Dawida's historical and cultural heritage, philosophy, property and land tenure, food and drink, agriculture and animal husbandry, natural resources use and management, medicine and health, social customs, political and legal systems, material culture, etc., is summarised by various researchers in Were and Soper (1986).

From wood, our people were making different kinds of furniture, utensils, tools, works of art, weapons, etc. They were skilled in pottery, using clay to make many sorts of pots and household objects, which are still used and commended by science.

Thousands of years before the coming of colonialism in Kenya, our people had an agricultural system that was developing. They had managed to tame all sorts of grain, root, stem, fruit and vegetable crops and they were increasing their quantity and quality to meet their food needs. In the same way, they were already breeding different varieties of animals and birds. Bee keeping was common while fishing was part and parcel of the culture of those communities that lived near the sea, lakes and rivers. All this means that our people had agricultural diversity that assured them of variety of foods that provided them with not only plenty to eat but also with a highly balanced diet which was composed of several delicacies.

It is this farming system that has been described by Rodney (1974:40) in the following words: “In the centuries before the contact with Europeans, the overwhelming dominant activity in Africa was agriculture. In all the settled agricultural communities, people observed the peculiarities of their own environment and tried to find techniques for dealing with it in a rational manner. Advanced methods were used in some areas, such as terracing, crop rotation, use of green manure, mixed farming and regulated swamp farming. The single most important technological change underlying African agricultural development was the introduction of iron tools, notably the ax and the hoe, replacing wooden and stone tools. It was on the basis of the iron tools that new skills were elaborated in agriculture as well as in other spheres of economic activity…Most African societies raised the cultivation of their own particular staple to fine art. Even the wide spread resort to shifting cultivation with burning and light hoeing was not as childish as the first European colonialists supposed. That simple form of agriculture was based on a correct evaluation of the soil potential, which was not as great as initially appears from the heavy vegetation; and when the colonialists started upsetting the thin topsoil the result was disastrous”.

Thus traditional agricultural systems of the African peoples was organised to meet the food and other needs of the family in particular and the society in general. The culture of farming for the market far from our land to meet the needs of foreigners at the expense of the local requirements, was not the culture of our ancestors. Neither was the culture of malnutrition, hunger and eating the same food day and night all the year round.  Even now as I write, I remember, with great nostalgia, the number of our traditional foods which I used to eat during my childhood and that are today disappearing, or have already disappeared, as the culture of cash crops for foreign markets is imposed upon the Wadawida like all other Kenyan nationalities.

Long before British colonialism invaded Kenya, our ancestors were progressing in the field of science and technology. Science and technology was developing to meet the increasing material and other requirements of the societies. Our people, for example, already were identifying and extracting iron, copper and other metals from their ores. At the same time, they had developed the technology of producing high temperatures that enabled them to smelt the metals and to make copper and iron tools and implements. To hunt and to protect themselves from their enemies, they were developing weapons and perfecting the art of war. In the field of astronomy they were able to study and to provide names to several heavenly bodies. Through this observation they could recognise the changes of the seasons and predict the weather to enable them to plant and harvest the right crops at the right time. My kinsmen and women the Dawida, for example, could predict the weather by observing the behaviour of Kirema (the Dawida name for Mount Kilimanjaro). Thus our people were advancing in physics and chemistry and were creatively using the sciences to add to the quantity and quality of their productive diversity. While our ancestors were using science to make the things they needed, today Kenya's mtumba education system produces graduates of physics and chemistry who cannot produce the things produced by our ancestors.

In the field of biology, our ancestors were able to classify many living things into plants and animals. In turn, they were also able, to a large degree, to classify the animals into mammals, birds, insects, fish, reptiles, etc. In the field of botany, they knew and gave names to many different species of plants. They also identified several plants according to their use values. They were also moving forward in the field of medicine and health. They could identify, classify and treat many types of diseases. They were increasing their abilities to combat many types of viruses that were affecting human beings, their animals and crops. Long before contact with foreigners, the Kenyan people had made their contribution to the global cultural and biological diversity analysed by The Crucible II Group (2000:9-10). By losing our linguistic and cultural diversity through the emphasis on education alienated from the local reality and from production, we are also losing the invaluable indigenous knowledge that ought to be the basis educational development.

In short, as time moved on, our people were increasing their knowledge of the laws of nature and were using them to improve their lives in their specific environments. This also indicates that they were developing their productive forces, they were increasing their material culture both quantitatively and qualitatively. Yes, contrary to what is happening today, we were not static, we were making history, we were moving forward, we were developing and we were doing so depending on mobilising our internal human and natural resources.

In the area of intellectual and social culture, long before colonialism, our people were living in organised societies that were geared to ensure that they lived in peace and harmony. They were governed by definite codes of conduct, morals, philosophies, and customs, values and beliefs. For example, the institution of the elders had the responsibility and the authority of leading the society and ensuring conflict resolutions, observation and conservation of the environment and cultural values, and unity and development of the families and societies. This is, in fact, the basis of the indigenous institutions whose role in development is discussed by Havnevik (2000:38-48).

In the arts, literature, music, dances, theatre, pottery, handicraft, curving, painting, etc., we had made a lot of achievements that survive to this day.   

We had our own education system which had the aim of teaching different skills needed by the family and society and to pass the cultural heritage of the society to the younger generation to ensure continuity. 

Nyerere (1968:45) describes this education:

"The fact that pre-colonial Africa did not have 'schools'-except for short periods of initiation in some tribes - did not mean that children were not educated. They learned by living and doing. In the homes and on the farms they were taught the skills of society, and the behavior expected of its members. They learned the kind of grasses that were suitable for which purpose, the work which had to be done on the crops, or the care which had to be given to animals, by joining with the elders in their work. They learned the tribal history, and the tribe's relationship with other tribes and with the spirits, by listening to the stories of the elders. Through these means, and by the custom of sharing to which young people were to conform, the values of society were transmitted. Education was thus 'informal'; every adult was a teacher to a greater or lesser degree. But this lack of formality does not mean that there was no education, nor did it affect its importance to society. Indeed, it may have made the education more directly relevant to the society in which the child was growing up”.

In the above quotation, Nyerere shows that traditional African education embodied the culture of the societies. It united theory and practice and was aimed at meeting the material and intellectual needs of the people. It was delivered through participatory and interactive methods in which all parents and adults played the role of teachers or facilitators. In this regard, not only was the education democratic by involving everyone in acquiring and sharing knowledge and experience, it was also able to preserve and sustain the cultural heritage of the society through bringing together the young and old generation in the process. In this way, the formal or school education introduced in Africa by European colonialism, is wasteful and inimical to the culture of the people since, as Ngugi wa Thiong'o (1979) argues, not only is it alienated from social production, but it also does not involve parents and the community outside the school system in the education process. School teachers become the sole experts and medium of the ‘formal education’ that implement curricula  that ignore or look down upon local or indigenous knowledge that has been developed for thousands of years (The Crucible II Group, 2000:9-10). Yet in the end it has always turned out that it is the ‘formal education’ that is irrelevant to the needs of the society for failing to integrate the new and the old, tradition and modernity, science and intuition, theory and practice, the community and the school system. This was also my own experience (Mghanga, 1997) when I conducted research on Dawida oral narratives.

I have attempted to point out that Kenyans had rich and dynamic cultures long before the invasion of colonialism. However, I have not said that the culture was complete and more developed than it is today. For development is a continuous process. My argument is, like all human beings in the world, Kenyans (and Africans for that matter) were creating and developing their material and intellectual cultures. We were determining and shaping our own destiny long before colonialism or contact with Europe. And this is a challenge to Kenyans and Africans today when we depend on foreign aid and mitumba for our livelihoods. It is the basis for self-criticism: there was a time in our history when we were independent and acted accordingly, we were relying on our creative work and labour and our own resources to solve our own problems, fulfil our needs, develop ourselves and societies. Back then we believed in our abilities and ourselves, we were free and increasing our freedom. How come today we have resigned to poverty, dependency, and mtumbaism and accepted to be a second hand nation and people? It is for this reason that the late Babu (1980:52) found it necessary to remind us: “This mentality of dependency, the mentality of asking for alms and charity, which is becoming universal in our countries, must be combated vigorously before it evolves into a habit”.

Unfortunately, the negative mentality pointed out by Babu has become a habit and a culture. Hundreds of thousands of people migrate from Africa to Europe, North America and other continents in search of good life that their governments have failed to provide to the citizens due to bad governance, corruption and imperialism. In the process of migrating, thousands perish in the high seas and deserts. They are forced to risk their lives to cross legal and physical barriers made by states to prevent the poor and oppressed from entering the so called developed countries. When they arrive in the countries they migrate to, they are confronted with problems of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, humiliations of all sorts, unemployment and poverty that is growing in the developed nations. Yet human beings have a right to move and settle wherever they wish to on our planet. However, escaping from your country of birth for political and economic reasons and settling in another country without making a contribution in the struggle of changing the situation for the better should not be embraced by conscious citizens and human beings. Conscious citizens and human beings should instead struggle against dictatorship, violations of human rights, corruption, capitalism and imperialism in their countries and also in the world that are the basic causes of the problems that trigger the crisis of immigration. Conscious citizens and human beings should join or form progressive organisations/social movements and socialist/communist political parties to struggle against reactionary ruling regimes, capitalism and imperialism, in their countries and regions and also in the world.

In so doing, it should always be emphasised that the economic problems in our countries are not only due to internal factors. There are global dynamics that continue to impact negatively upon our nation, destroying our sovereignty, underdeveloping our nations and reducing us into mitumba countries. What follows is a brief analysis of these internal and external processes of underdevelopment.

The internal and external factors that force Kenyans into mtumbaism

The impact of neoliberal economic policies

Today, manifestations of neoliberalism are found in Kenya as well as in every African country. Bourgeois economists - themselves beneficiaries of the system - take pride in the economic growth that in most countries of the continent are more than five percent. Modern infrastructure of planned housing, roads and supermarkets that provide all types of consumer goods, mostly imported, are available for the high and middle class citizens engaged in the consumerism that is now a culture. Roads and other transport infrastructure are being constructed mostly in urban areas and also to connect towns and the countryside to facilitate the market economy that is part and parcel of the modernisation of neoliberalism. Lorries ferrying imported goods from port cities to the interior cities and empty containers from the cities in the interior to the ports cause traffic jams in the roads and highways. For the dominant economies in the cities of most African countries are based on trade of imported goods with little local manufacturing. In the cities the traffic jams are caused by the thousands of large gas guzzling flamboyant cars driven by the high and middle classes. Everything is being privatised including common resources such as water and energy. Private health facilities, schools and luxuries of all sorts are available to those who can afford them - the high and middle classes. Plush hotels, pubs, restaurants and guesthouses where the high and middle classes spend their free time eating, drinking and making merry have mushroomed in the cities and excusive suburbs. The gap between the rich and the poor, the plush suburbs of the few and the slums where the majority of the urban people live, and the towns and the countryside’s has widened as the process of the implementation of neoliberal economic policies continues to unfold. The economic growth has hitherto failed to trickle down to the majority of the citizens contrary to the promises of the trickle-down economic promises of neoliberalism.

As a matter of fact, like in other African countries (Hamrel, S. and Nordberg. O., 1992:7), from the mid-1980s and particularly in the 1990s and hitherto, Kenya has registered a lot of growth in corruption, mass poverty, crime, slums, unemployment, all forms of violence, violations of human rights and class inequality. Most of Kenyans live in abject poverty, want, and suffering. Today, Nairobi like other Kenyan cities and towns, has become a symbol of the dilapidation, crime, ruin, corruption, exploitation, oppression and loss of all the achievements Kenya had made before it started implementing SAPs (Hamrel, S. and Nordberg. O., 1992:7). Thieves, robbers, con men and women, tribalists, traitors, suspected illicit drug dealers, people charged with crimes against humanity and idiots are now in charge of the highest affairs of the country[2]. The leaders practise corruption and nepotism openly, without shame or apology (the Star, Wednesday April 29, 2015).

A farmer who today is suffering from hunger can only have hope of defeating it tomorrow if he or she can see the seeds he or she has planted growing. As far as the Kenyan economy is concerned, nothing positive is being done hitherto that can provide hope that after three, four or five years the economy will be transformed into the path of delivering development to the majority of the Kenyan people. There are no indications yet that at one point or the other we shall begin to get more employment, better medical, health, housing, water and educational services for the Kenyan masses. Neither are there any signs showing that the present state of insecurity and corruption will end soon. All successive regimes that have governed Kenya including the present one have continued to implement similar political, social and economic policies based in capitalism and imperialism that plunge the majority of citiaens in the cycle of poverty. They have refused to learn from history since they are in power to maintain the status quo of exploitation of the majority of Kenyans and primitive accumulation.

History informs us that the right wing economic policies being implemented by the government today together with their populist platitudes have not improved the lives of the majority of Kenyans for the better. I remember that about 15 years ago the World Bank and International Monetary Fund appointed a team of civil servants, popularly known as the “Dream Team”, and that was initially led by Richard Leakey, and that was directly responsible to the twin Bretton Woods institutions and not to the Kenyan government or nation. Apart from Leakey (who two months before then was Head of the Civil service and Secretary to the Cabinet) the IMF-WB dream team that was supposed to heal the economy included Martin Oduor-Otieno (Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance), Mwaghazi Mwachofi (Financial Secretary Ministry of Finance), Shem Migot-Adhola (Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture). Otieno was hired by the IMF-WB from the Barclays Bank where he was an Executive Director; Mwaghaai was a senior employee of the IMF while Adhola was an employee of the WB. All of them were part of the conditionalities of the IMF-WB for resumption of loans to the country. They received exorbitant salaries and benefits that were many times more than that of other civil servants of their ranks who were paid directly by the Kenyan government. However, the IMF-WB as explained by Olukoshi (1998:34) attributed the failures of SAPs to lack of technocrats who had the knowledge, ability and will to implement the neoliberal economic programs. Thus it was argued that the dream team deserved all their financial support (including exorbitant salaries) in order to be committed to overseeing the implementation of the SAPs by the government of Kenya.

The dream team did nothing significant that provided the solution to the economic, political and social problems bedevilling the country. Instead, the 'dream team' tried to implement the neoliberal WB-IMFs SAPs that had failed to solve the problems of underdevelopment anywhere in Africa (Olukoshi, 2000; Olukoshi, 1996; Olukoshi, 1998; Havnevik, 2000; Moyo, 2000:11-16; Gibbon, Bangura and Ofstad, 1992; Giles, Brown, Milward, and Azck-Williams, 2000).  And the conditionalities were imposed upon Kenya by the then were harsh. They compromised even the little national sovereignty that was left to the country (Redfern, 2000; Kisero, 2000; Ochieng, 2000; Munaita, 2000). That aside, the point here is that the Jubilee government in power today several years later also believes that by appointing technocrats committed to neoliberalism it will steer the country towards the development path of solving the plethora of economic and social problems bedevilling the country. But history continues to show that this is as much a pipe dream as that of the said dream team.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss why SAPs continue to fail to deliver economic development, poverty eradication, and participatory democracy and generally improve the welfare of the majority of people. In any case, this subject has been researched and discussed extensively, including in the literature quoted in this essay. My point is that, the implementation of SAPs based on the global capitalist ideology, i.e., anti-statism, privatisation, trade liberalisation, rationalisation of the civil service (retrenchments), cost-sharing and cutting government expenditure on public social services, etc., continue to drive the majority of Kenyans deeper and deeper into poverty and therefore to dependency on mtumbaism for survival.

Take the cost sharing in medical services for example, in implementing these anti-social policies no measures are taken in favour of the already over-burdened poor of the poor. The consequences are disastrous. As I write, Kenyans are dying of hunger in the rural and urban areas. Unable to even afford medical consultation fees and the cost of medicine, many Kenyans have turned to quacks or are simply dying in their homes. Today even hospitals are prisons for those unable to pay medical fees after treatment, which is if they are lucky to be admitted in the first place. While public hospitals are collapsing, private hospitals are mushrooming in rural and urban areas driven by the desire to squeeze as much profit from sick Kenyans as possible. Even nurses are opening private hospitals. Medical ethics of saving or prolonging life are no longer valued, it is money that counts. Even medical prescriptions by doctors and drugs from private chemists cannot be trusted entirely to cure diseases as all is only about profit and nothing else counts.

The education front is no better. More and more pupils and students from poor families are dropping out of universities and other institutions of higher learning simply because they are unable to pay fees. Privatisation, lack of educational facilities, poor working conditions of teachers and lecturers, poverty among students and members of staff are contributing to the low standards of education in Kenya’s educational institutions. Coping strategies in the form of harambees[3] organised by families, relatives, friends and communities to pay for hospital bills or fees for education are part and parcel of everyday life. But the problems are such that the coping strategies are unable to cope, living things to fall apart. 

Impacts of SAPs to the economy - trade liberalisation

The neoliberal economic policies of ‘live everything to market forces’ being implemented by the Kenyan government today are destroying the country’s agriculture, industry and commerce.

On the sugar industry

Sugar cane farming has altered land use in western Kenya. Many of the peasant farmers who were using their land to produce food crops, mainly for subsistence but also for sale, used a lot of their prime land for planting sugar cane since the beginning of 1970. While in the 1970s this reduced agricultural diversity and food security, it at the same time raised the standard of living of the peasants of western Kenya that became a sugar zone through the payments they received for selling their cane and also employment in the factories. The sugar factories in Mumias, Nzoia, Miwani, Muhoroni, Sony, fed by cane from small-scale and large-scale farmers were operating well and employing thousands of workers both directly and indirectly.

But starting from mid 1980, and particularly in the 1990s, Kenya's sugar industry has been in trouble. This is blamed on many factors, including corruption, mismanagement and climate change. The greatest share of the blame, however, is attributed to neoliberal globalisation.  Before the country started implementing SAPs, the sugar industry was protected from foreign imports. With trade liberalisation Kenya's sugar industry faced unfair competition from cheap imported sub-standard or mitumba sugar entering the Kenyan market, often smuggled through the Mombasa Port by all types of crooks connected to the ruling class, including Al Shabab. Unable to sell their sugar and therefore to buy and pay the cane of farmers, the factories started laying off workers. Increasingly, the dilapidating and often unserviced machines for crushing the cane were unable to absorb the crop. Cane began to dry in the farms uncut. Burning of the cane in the large-scale farms by the workers and small-scale growers were common. Kenya is now importing sugar, often of low mtumba quality. While the rich elites benefit from importing the sugar, the collapse of the sugar industry has increased poverty, particularly in western Kenya, and therefore the number of those who have to rely on mitumba consumer goods.

 On the textile and shoe industry

I entered secondary school in Nairobi in 1974. Starehe Boys' Centre, my former school is located around Gikomba, one of the largest open markets in East Africa. I remember that until the time I completed school in 1979, most of the clothes sold in the market were new from the then Kenya's growing textile industry particularly at Thika, Eldoret, Kisumu but also Nairobi, Ruiru and Nanyuki. The Bata shoe factory at Limuru also employed thousands of Kenyans, apart from utilising the animal skins from the country. The factories were a source of employment for thousands of Kenyans, including many from my village, caused the towns to grow very fast. Cotton production in the country was growing to meet the demand of the factories.

However, the 1980s saw the dominance of imported mitumba clothes in Gikomba Market, all other Nairobi popular markets and of all the urban and rural areas in the country. It is at this period when Kenya's economy started falling rapidly, increasing the number of poor Kenyans. Now the import of mitumba is the dominant business in urban and rural areas. Unable to sell their textile and shoe products to the growing masses of poor people who cannot afford new clothes and shoes, many Kenyan textile industries have closed and the remaining are at the brink of closing. The Limuru Bata Shoe Company which now specializes in selling imported shoes is tottering at the brink of total collapse. The implication is the increase in the number of unemployed and therefore more poverty and mitumba customers. It also means the destruction of Kenya's cotton agriculture and the livelihoods involved. What is worse, it means that the country is losing the skills of making clothes and shoes. Tailoring, shoe making and repairing that formed an important informal economic sector is also disappearing as people wear ready-made mitumba clothes and shoes. Mtumbaism is therefore also destroying the creativity of Kenyans as they are made to depend on designs and choices of the clothes and shoes they wear - this has negative implications on their culture.

Impact on local businesses

Trade liberalisation has forced Kenya to remove or reduce trade restrictions to imports of all kinds and to stop the protection of local industries and businesses. This means that apart from global second hand clothes and shoes, the Kenyan markets are now flooded with cheap imported commodities of all sorts. Many of these commodities enter the country through corruption, i.e., without paying import duty or without being certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards. They are therefore sub-standard goods or mitumba-type. Foreigners are allowed to engage even in retail trade, including selling fish, chicken, eggs, fruits, ugali, chips, meat, beer and all types of hawking while Kenyans close businesses or go unemployed. With hardly any meaningful employment opportunities, the vast majority of the residences of our towns have been turned into hawkers and petty traders who merely eke a living.

Impact on import substitution industry

Kenya's import substitution industry that was seen as a strategy towards the industrialisation of the country is now threatened with extinction. A good example is AVA, a motor vehicle assembly industry that used to be one of the largest employers in Mombasa (Econews, 1999). The company grew due to the government's policies of the 1970s of nurturing local industry. Following neoliberal reforms including trade liberalisation, tariffs on imported vehicles were lowered. It became cheaper to import new cars directly from Japan or Europe than to buy the ones assembled locally at Nairobi, Mombasa and Thika. Again, mitumba vehicles mostly imported from Japan but also Europe via Dubai, dominate the Kenyan markets. As a consequence of this AVA was forced to close, adding to the economic problems of Mombasa that is already ravaged by the falling of the tourist and hotel industry.

Thus instead of developing towards industrialisation by realising our agricultural and manufacturing potential, we are being reduced into a nation of only selling all forms of imported goods, including garbage. The effect of this is seen in the increasing unemployment, underemployment, poverty, insecurity and escalation of the vicious cycle of mtumbaism.

Summary and Conclusion

No country in the world has achieved freedom and sustainable development through dependency on aid or loans from imperialist countries. Neither has any country developed by relying on exports of unprocessed agricultural and mineral goods while importing all manufactured goods from foreign countries. All industrialised countries of the world initiated their development by first protecting and nurturing their local industries, agriculture, trade and targeting them to harness the human and natural resources of their countries, to develop the home market and to integrate them in the production process. That is why countries like China, Cuba and North Korea that do not depend IMF-WB loans and strategies for development, countries that have rejected the neoliberal economic path of development being imposed upon Kenya, African and other Third World countries, these anti-imperialist countries have made unique progress towards human development despite the challenges they still face. They have preserved their national sovereignty, are respected for what they are and are not regarded as mitumba nations, as much as they are hated by the imperialist system.


The basis of Chinese enormous development was the revolutionary economic strategy of self-reliance, harnessing its own natural and human resources and building and organising its economy to meet the needs of its people (Sison, 2000:7-13; Babu, 1979:85). China jealously protected its industries from foreign domination, rejecting capitalism and imperialism and opted for socialism from 1949 up to the 1990s when it started implementing capitalist economic reforms based on the socialist system. Still with strong state control of the economy and politics of the country, with its national sovereignty still intact, China is participating in economic globalisation from the position of strength. It is in fact a superpower today.

 Countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have now joined Africa and other Third World countries in the path of underdevelopment, dependency, exploited and dominated nations by rejecting the socialist path and opting for capitalism. The process of capitalist restoration in the countries took 35 years, from 1953 up to 1989. After fully entering the arena of the market economy dominated by global imperialism, these countries that used to provide aid to the Third World before 1989, have today become beggar (mitumba) nations, are losing their sovereignty and are infested with all the social, political and economic contradictions of the third world countries (Martens 1953:3).

In short, my contention is that until we start focusing our political and economic policies towards self-reliance strategies, producing our basic needs and sustaining the primary economy (industries and agriculture) and secondary  economy (tourism and the services sector) we cannot start developing. Populist and parochial economic policies being implemented by the Kenyan government purportedly to create employment, so called youth funds and women enterprise funds, are only conduits for corruption and creation of false hopes. Rather than investing in social development and distribution of wealth, the government is instead investing in a salaried economy of rewarding the elites of all sorts with huge salaries at the expense of the poor masses and development.  The widening gap between the few rich and the majority poor is a ticking bomb that will explode sooner or later. Already the worsening insecurity in the country and the growing workers strikes is a manifestation of the social explosion that is coming.

Kenya will continue to sink deeper and deeper into mtumbaism as long as the country continues to allow its economic policies and affairs, and destiny, to be determined by imperialist nations, institutions and ideology, i.e., neoliberal globalisation. After years of misleading the country to follow the path of capitalism and neo-colonialism that has not brought about development to the majority of the people of Kenya (Kaniaru, 2000), the present regime that worships neoliberalism continues to force us along the same painful path of slavery and stagnation. Clearly, therefore, the leadership of Kenya has neither the will nor the ability to liberate us from imperialism and lead us towards economic and social progress. It must be removed from power and replaced with a patriotic and progressive state.

The former President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, used to remind Tanzanians and Africans, that while dependence on other people for material needs is bad, it is even worse to be dependent on other people's ideas. Mtumbaism is destroying our humanity; we are being made to think we are lesser human beings than others whom we are increasingly depending upon for our livelihoods. When Kenyan men and women wear mitumba inner-wears, for example, psychologically they cannot regard themselves as the equals of the original users of the items. Liberating ourselves from mitumba ideas or decolonising our minds as Ngugi wa  Thiong'o (1991) puts it, is a necessary step towards social and national liberation - the road towards poverty eradication, freedom and development. Decolonising our minds will lead us towards focusing the struggle primarily at empowering the people politically and economically to remove the corrupt and reactionary regime, in order to remove the neo-colonial capitalist system being imposed upon the country by the process of neoliberal globalisation. This is the path of liberating Kenya and Africa from mtumbaism and of moving towards freedom, social justice and progress.

That is why I find it necessary to end this section by quoting the late Babu (1979:7): “At UNCTAD V in Manila in May this year, Prebisch courageously admitted his error of the 1960s and told the developing countries, ‘We have lost the way and taken the wrong path. He said that after 30 years of development in Latin America, differences between the privileged consumer classes and others were increasing and 40 percent of the population was below the poverty level. This was because of the system of development based on imitation of capitalist production of consumer goods in marginal areas. He said that as long as development was based on the existing models with the support of the centre (that is advanced capitalist world), any attempt to link with the centre is a pipe dream that will ultimately lead to explosive social consequences. He emphasised that the mere play of market forces could no longer solve the problems of development. He advised developing countries not to wait for the centre to solve its problems and then tackle theirs, but to act on its own, by setting up autonomous development processes, mobilising their own national resources, human and material, and establishing new industries and technology.”

The explosive social consequences mentioned in the quotation above are not only happening in countries under imperialist domination - so called developing countries - but in imperialists countries - so called developed countries as well. The present crisis of immigration and terrorism escalated by neoliberal globalisation and the increasing cycles of financial and economic crises in the West tell the whole story. In other words, capitalism and imperialism has failed to solve the problems confronting the majority of the people of the world. They must be replaced by the socialist system, i.e., globalisation based on peace, equality, justice and human solidarity.


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Mwandawiro Mghanga



[2]Kenyan electronic and print media report about all this daily.

[3]Here harambee refers to fundraising activities, as they are popularly known in Kenya.


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