October 2011. I accompany Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, then Minister for Energy and President Mwai Kibaki’s top political strategist, to an informal meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta on Mount Kenya politics. As the ‘Kibaki Succession’ looms, something tells me I am sitting with the future President of Kenya.
My worst nightmare is that with the entire region behind him, the fierce battle for his backing and attention will divide and destroy the region.
Fast forward. A decade later, On January 14, 2020, Mr Kenyatta introduces a slew of reforms to nip a sweltering rebellion in Mount Kenya. What sense do we make of this seismic shift in regional loyalty?
Obviously, the logic of the rebellion is the jostling for power in the 2022 ‘Kenyatta succession’. But what sparked off the rebellion is Mr Kenyatta’s decision in March 2018 to embrace the opposition and hew a legacy of broad-based unity to undergird a stable and sustainable development. The big question is: Why would an agenda for peace and unity by the highest office in the land draw such wrath and rebellion in the very region of the country most affected by cycles of ethnic violence since 1991?
I found answers to this and many other vexing questions in Lawrence Freedman’s nuanced book Strategy: A History (Oxford, 2013), especially his chapters on Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and ‘Satan’s Strategy’. At the heart of the rebellion rocking Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party and government is a replica of ‘Satan’s strategy’, completely sheared of the pragmatism of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli’s The Prince.
Freedman anchors his profound analysis of the strategies of rebellion on the writings of John Milton, especially his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’, among history’s most influential and impassioned defences of freedom published in 1667.
Milton, writing during the restoration of the British Monarchy and the repression after the civil war, depicts Satan as the embodiment of Machiavellianism, or the use of deception, fraudulent rhetoric and coercion to manipulate the fallen angels.
The setting of ‘Paradise Lost’ is Satan’s rebellion against God, leading to his defeat and exile to earth where he became a troublemaker, and where he reorganised and gained his first victory as the serpent, persuading Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.
In ‘Paradise Lost’, Milton maps out the respective strategic calculations in the heavenly conflict between God and Satan at the beginning of time. This conflict unfolds in two episodes: one is the great battle in heaven that God, his Son and the heavenly ghosts won; the other is the strategic response by Satan and the fallen angels to their defeat in the heavenly battle.
In a deeper sense, Milton’s rendition of first heavenly battle echoes in the Jubilee rebellion. According to Milton, in the beginning Satan — then known as Lucifer — ranks only second to God. But when God proclaimed his Son as his equal, Satan was outraged. Because God had not warned him of this development, Satan felt undermined in the hierarchy of power. He managed to rally a third of the angels behind an armed rebellion. Heaven was attacked.
On the third day of battle, God intervened, commanding his Son to lead the heavenly forces and drive the rebel angels down to hell. Satan lost.
In the second episode, ‘Paradise Lost’ depicts a belligerent Satan, an unbowed opponent of “the tyranny of heaven” and “despot God”. The fallen angels regrouped, and Satan convened and chaired a crucial strategic meeting of the leaders of the fallen angels — Moloch, Belial, Mammon and Beelzebub — to consider their next steps in their new home (hell). Moloch called out for revenge, an “open war” of attrition against heaven. Belial, more defeatist but realistic, rejected revenge, pointed to the futility of both ‘force and guile’, and called for patience, waiting God out until he relented and forgave them.
Mammon, with little taste for war and distrustful of God’s forgiveness, called on the angels to develop the infinite possibilities of hell as a rival ‘empire’ to heaven.
But like a clever chairman, Satan had crafted his preferred outcome long before the fallen angels gathered in the place called Pandemonium (literally the house of devils). His second-in-command, Beelzebub, reminded Mammon that God would never allow hell to become an equal to heaven. Instead, Beelzebub proposed an initiative that pursued Moloch’s revenge while avoiding a direct strategy of attrition.
Satan stepped in, introducing a new race called “Man”, supposedly equal to angels and perhaps created to fill the gap left by the exiled rebels, as the pivot of the new strategy to defeat heaven. The method was guile — to trick men to join the rebellion as a way of getting at God without the risks of a direct assault. After all, it was lack of numbers that led to the defeat of the fallen angels.
With Beelzebub’s plan adopted, Satan tricked his way into the Garden of Eden disguised as serpent (a Trojan Horse), hoping to conquer and colonise it with the fallen angels. He made quick wins, convincing Eve, and then Adam, to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. But Satan failed to tilt the balance of power in his favour.
LIMITS OF DECEIT
Fallen Adam and Eve repented and aligned themselves to God. Satan’s strategy crumbled, revealing the limits of deceit, fraudulent rhetoric and coercion as a pathway to power.
President Kenyatta’s slew of agricultural and market reforms to “put money in people’s pockets” and the reorganisation of Cabinet to reflect the spirit of the Building Bridges Initiative may drain the swamps of grievances Jubilee rebels used to win popularity in the Mount Kenya region. But we learn from ‘Lost Paradise’ that when an enemy is able to recover from initial blows, it is difficult to inflict decisive defeat.
Professor Peter Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently the Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute.