Knowing Dikembe Disembe

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Those familiar with Dikembe Disembe know him as a defender of what he believes in; a man who would never sacrifice his ideologies at the altar of expediency.

Dikembe Disembe, is a social media star, by whatever measure you use to define ‘social media stardom.’ He uses the platform to advance his worldview, or Kenyan-view. His sentiments, time and again, are filled with soliloquies and, therefore, it is not strange to see him, time and again, scream and rant about injustices and other ills bedeviling our society, with poetic language and metaphors abound.

In the political or ideological spectrum, Dikembe can be summed-up as a leftist, a liberal-at times holding opinions that even his supporters and followers did not anticipate.  In the end, those who disagree with his views, on the first hand, unwillingly agree that his content can be as electrifying as a hair dryer thrown into a hot tub. On the other hand, his backers opine that he is cooler than a bomb disposal expert.

I talked to Dikembe Disembe, and this is what he had to say:

“I was born Seth Odongo, but picked up the sobriquet Dikembe Disembe growing up.

I grew up in South Western Kenya in an average rural family. We emigrated to Migori town because my parents wanted the best education for us. Migori had better facilities and incentives than our rural Homa Bay home area. My father was a mechanic (in the traditional sense of the word) and my mother a teacher. Though my father is now engaged in small scale subsistence farming, my mother still teaches. Save for the same challenges which face every boy growing up in a humble rural family, there was nothing so over-burdening.

As a young kid, and just like many other kids back in the day, growing up in Luo-Nyanza, I would hear a lot about the struggles-the shots and misses. Naturally, in fact, sub-consciously, I became part of those struggles.

I attended Kanga High School. Back then it was a provincial level school but now it’s a national school and a centre of excellence. I later joined Moi University to study Communications (Bsc.). While at Moi University, I became involved in students politics. What I loved about the student politics is their issue-based approach. For example, during my time the issue of the day was the accelerated intake of new students, otherwise known as double intake, which I opposed vehemently as a student leader. This was a project of the then Higher Education Minister William Ruto, now our Deputy President. It wasn’t well thought out. It was like the module II disaster which student leaders of the 90’s opposed.

My opposition to accelerated intake was that universities had no bed capacity to absorb the thousands of additional students who were being admitted, many of them as parallel students. While the government directed universities to admit, some, like Moi at Main Campus, were so poorly equipped to handle the large numbers. In the end, students ended up living as far as two kilometers away from lecture halls with no transportation. At night, these students became easy target of muggers and, worse, rapists. The system was also not aligned to the country’s financial calendar so students who depended on higher education loans board (HELB) loans often missed out. Being a student leader also had its good tidings. I got to represent the university in national student fora including a national ‘prayer’ breakfast presided by former President Mwai Kibaki and then PM Raila Odinga. Moi university also sent me abroad – to the USA – for a student exchange programme.

I am ideology-based, and my philosophy, whether in politics or life, is found in the scripture. Somewhere in the book of Philippians 4:8, it says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things”. That’s philosophy. I always believe in the true, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable and the praiseworthy until reason and, or conscience, due to new knowledge, or information, proves otherwise.

It is regrettable though that we cannot exercise ideology-based politics in Kenya. We have a system that promises a heaven-on-earth without a road-map to get us there.  However, I believe Kenyan politics can be based on the rule of law, so that winners treat losers fairly, and these losers are not defined by their ethnicity and region but merely by their political party persuasion.

Kenya is at an interesting point at the moment. There is too much corruption. You see, corruption creates poverty, then poverty embeds itself on corruption. I mean, a corrupt person amasses, then uses identity politics to get ready supporters, many poor, whom he shares with part of the loot, after which they (the poor) own and accept both the corrupt man (or woman) and his/her sin. There is also the other corruption-tribal exclusion. Once you’ve got a favour purely because of your ethnicity, you begin to accept and defend ethnicity as necessary for the advancement of your in-group at the expense of the other. The final form of corruption, in my view, is corporate corruption. This is a form of corruption which masks itself as ‘entrepreneurship’. The correct term, ideally, should be ‘tenderpreneurship.’ Today, there are ‘colleges’ in Nairobi and ‘trainings’ where people go to learn how to ‘win’ government tenders. Basically, you collude with governmental officials to inflate tenders, then you get it, give whoever made you get it his ‘cut’ and you remain with yours. Often, you do nothing, you offer no service. That’s how the NYS scam and Youth Fund scam came about.

I do respect the current president; but that does not mean I agree with what he is stands for. Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta is a good man-bad president. You know, beyond the photo ops and PR, which he has revolutionized, what else is spectacular about his four years in power? You will say he has put Kenya on the global stage, well I don’t remember Kenya ever leaving the global stage. You will say President Obama and the Pope were here; well, Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko hosted ”rumble in the jungle”, where is Zaire now? In fact, his ‘achievements’ at the global stage has everything to do with the lingering legitimacy issues around his ascension to power. Jubilee has this fear of ‘being forgotten’ on the international stage so they constantly have to remind the world they are around. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka recently referred to it as ‘the crisis of insecure incumbents’. At the national stage, people’s efficacy to determine their own destinies have been extinguished. In Kenya today, hard work doesn’t count. They now say you only need to ‘work smart’; which is another way of saying you need to ‘know people’. Again that’s how NYS scam happened.

A while back, I was fortunate to attend an student-exchange program in America. This does not, in anyway, mean that America is the standard measure for everything under the sun that we aim and struggle for. However, you can learn from those who have demonstrated that ‘it can be done.’ My trip had a fulfilling experience of a ‘working system’. If systems can work here in Kenya, just 70% of it, this country can be ‘first world’ in our lifetime.

My argument is that systems in Kenya do not work because the education sytsem no longer pays much. Now it only gives rise to what Karl Marx refers to in Das Kapita as ‘reserve army’ of the unemployed. The unemployment and under-employment crisis in Kenya is a direct consequence of an education system that no longer translates into a good professional career. The sad thing is that those who need to straighten things up no longer care. After college, with a degree and a loan, you are told to apply for another loan and ‘start a business’. So if you did: economics or actuarial science or Kiswahili or Math or Mechanical Engineering, with the hope of joining some great profession, well, your goose has already been cooked.  It is the neo-liberal tragedy of ‘financialized’ economies.

In terms of social media and its influence on our politics, my take is that Kenyans make their political decisions during campaigns, and not by what people post on social media. This goes back to the question of ideology. Political consciousness in Kenya is ‘identity based’ to a large extent and the identity is often ethnic than anything else. If people would support parties and politicians based on their proven agenda rather than the trivia of ethnicity, may be social media would of great use. This is not to say social media doesn’t count. It does.

Talking of elections, I believe Jubilee has panicked, and as such I don’t see 2017 being free and fair. The elites surrounding Uhuru just as those who surrounded Kibaki, have more to lose if Uhuru is defeated than Uhuru himself. With Eurobond added to the mix, leaving power to them is a ticket to long imprisonment terms for economic crimes. Rarely do elites who plunder nations, especially in Africa, let power go to potential disruptive forces.

Finally, I posit that the greatest Kenyan politician of all time is Raila Odinga. ”