If there is one word that sums up the complex struggles and realities for the Kenyan citizen today in my view, it is ‘capture’.
At a personal, societal and even strictly economic level, most of us are victims of capture. Starting with the personal, many are struggling with the soaring costs of living, despite macro-level outlooks and reports that show the economy is growing and churning out jobs.
For others, it is the reality that they may well be one pay cheque away from sliding down into the abyss of chaos, even poverty.
At societal level, the election season and all the joys it brings has captured our imagination and attention. Even if you choose to opt out as a coping mechanism, the electioneering process is largely inescapable - from the news cycles to the blaring speakers, with aspirants’ promises in virtually every nook and cranny.
Yet again, the lead-up to the act of voting is subjecting us to capture that understandably has many of us disillusioned or excited; after all, there are those who thrive in the chaos it all brings.
Then there’s the ever-present economic capture: the struggle to survive, with the hopes of even thriving. The goal posts of prosperity which are ever shifting.
University graduates not getting jobs, policy makers and advisors suggesting that instead of being job seekers, they ought to become job creators or entrepreneurs.
Those who have ventured into entrepreneurship, meanwhile, are experiencing a whole different kind of capture: difficulty in securing capital and hostile operational environments where, to thrive as quickly as possible, you very likely have to come under the patronage of some political or business elite-types.
It’s a vicious circle, and one could argue that it is carefully designed by those with the power, capital and wealth to pull the strings. A captured people, at any level, can be easily subdued, limited to the crafted will of those wielding power.
A captured people will question very little; they will sustain inquiry and demands for transparency and accountability in various governing power structures for only so long.
Look no further than the ‘networked public spheres’ we have created online, by way of example. Initial momentum quickly dissipates when the powers that be meet it with silence.
The net effect over time is a people who at best are cautiously optimistic, who project ideas and alternatives but rather quickly retreat from entertaining their pursuit, as the resignation to capture quickly takes over.
Even activism and resistance themselves can be casualties of capture. This manifests in reactionary bursts pushing back against the headwinds that may generate some excitement, but often end up offering mere catharsis and release.
Why? Because strategic thought and planning to sustain the pushback is considered unnecessary at that point in time; the cause alone may be seen as sufficient, the rest will fall into place.
This is what sounded the death knell for the Occupy movements, the Arab Spring, and closer home, is clearly evident in the ‘Ballot Revolution’ and ‘Fagia Wote’ campaigns.
In one iteration of the Fagia Wote messaging on Twitter, there exists a tagline: “if everybody is a thief, then let’s try new thieves“, followed with the hashtags #FagiaWote #TeamNewThieves #BeyondThieves.
It's easy to see why this has gained traction in some quarters. Anything, at this point, is deemed better than the status quo, even a new crop of thieves. This rationale is closely related to another thread of those dreaming of benevolent dictators taking the reins and steering us to prosperity.
Once you fagia wote, then what? Whence are benevolent dictators minted? These questions hardly evoke answers because they are posited as solutions, but still enveloped in the capture mentality.
So, how do we resist capture? For one, it definitely begins with the self. Many individuals may consider introspection a waste of time when facing innumerable odds to survive, yet the first point of true resistance to capture lies in cultivating spaces to be curious, to think laterally about issues.
The trouble with capture is that one is almost always reacting, hardly proactive.
Secondly, it is in assessing our consumption, absorption and even creation of ideas and information. Never has it been easier to acquire knowledge, yet, aliteracy is increasingly in vogue.
In line with introspection, it is imperative that we question and audit our sources of information and the ideas with which we interact, if we are to secure sustainable ways to resist capture. To whom do you ascribe authority, that what they say or do influences your thoughts, opinions, even actions? Furthermore, who influences those who influence us?
I found myself wondering, for instance, how this plays out with our politicians. What do they read, listen to? Where, and with whom, do they engage beyond vote-seeking, in what kind of spaces? How does that impact their decision-making on our behalf?
This matters because political capture, as we are living through it, entails our decision to delegate the public interest, as we retreat to our captive spaces, in the hopes that elected or appointed officials have our hopes and dreams covered.
This also signals the supply of leadership prospects, and why, it would seem, those breaking the mould of political leadership candidates haven’t gotten too far. That’s how we end up thinking that even new thieves are better than the current crop.
It is why we tend to conflate aggressiveness, extroversion and charisma with strong leadership, leading to half-baked ideas of benevolent dictators as the long-awaited saviours from our political, economic and socio-cultural capture.
This, however, is a country laden with brilliant minds, capable of not only resisting but denouncing capture, releasing us to not only dreaming but actually building towards these visions we’ve had for so long.
To get to that, however, we need to assess the captures in our lives and start resisting them at a personal and societal level.
Bob Marley’s Redemption Song remains timeless and relevant, yet the powerful words have also become a consolation dirge in the cultivated comforts of capture: often sung or quoted, but hardly the rallying call to action they are supposed to be.
How, indeed, are you emancipating yourself from mental slavery, or capture?