Interview. Ezra Otieno, leadership of the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL) of Kenya

As he prepared to return to Nairobi after 3 weeks of intense activity in Argentina, we interviewed Ezra for him to tell us about the political situation in Kenya, his organization and his impressions of the visit organized by the ISL to deepen our mutual knowledge and exchange between the parties that comprise it.

1. What is the political situation in Kenya? What processes of struggle are there and how does the Revolutionary Socialist League intervene?

The political situation in Kenya is as bad as ever. We have a new government that came to power in August. The new president, William Ruto, was vice president of the previous president, Kenyatta (who is the son of the first president), but went over to the opposition. He beat Raila Odinga, who was supported by Kenyatta though he was his historic opponent. Ruto mainly means a continuity of the capitalist and neocolonial system, and is perhaps more neoliberal and more religious. He has transformed the government palace into a kind of church, celebrating public masses there every Sunday.

Of course the IMF measures are being implemented as usual, and they have introduced new measures, such as legalizing GMOs and canceling student transport subsidies. The cost of living is very high and many Kenyans struggle to ensure one meal a day. On top of this, the north of the country is suffering from the most severe drought since independence and two million people are at risk of starvation.

The oppression of workers is very high and unemployment is a central problem, which makes struggles very difficult because anyone who protests or wants to organize is easily replaced. In the countryside there is a certain level of subsistence farming and pastoralism, but in the cities the majority live in irregular settlements and live “hand to mouth” with the work they manage to do each day.

The few that are unionized have completely sold out leaderships and do nothing for workers’ rights or wages. The teachers’ union used to fight and do some strikes, but in 2019 it was intervened by the government that imposed an obedient leadership. The student movement was also more active, with student centers and demonstrations. But that same year a law eliminated student union elections, imposing a delegate system that allows the authorities to hand-pick the leadership, so the student movement has been demobilized.

From the RSL we promote a campaign called the Njaa Revolution, or Hunger Revolution, with which we pressure the government to lower the prices of food and other basic necessities. The campaign has been organizing monthly marches that were interrupted by the elections, but now we are preparing a stronger relaunch, because the peoples´ needs are only growing.

2. How was the RSL founded? How are you organized and what activities do you carry out?

The Revolutionary Socialist League was founded in 2018 by a group of former university students who had just left the Communist Party of Kenya. We had ideological differences, mainly about them defending China as an alternative to US and European imperialism. We see that China comes to countries like Kenya to do the same as the IMF, and constitutes a new imperialism. And we also disagreed with their electoral politics and alliances of the PCK with the capitalist parties. Now they have joined the new government, for example.

We organize in cells, and we have about a thousand card carrying members. Our main work is linked to the Social Justice Centers in Nairobi’s irregular settlements, which organize local activists. Our members in the cells within the Social Justice Centers provide political education, participate in the Centers’ activities and build the party from there. We also have some cells organizing students in the main universities in Nairobi and other cells organizing workers mainly in Voi and Kericho.

We have a Women’s League that organizes support centers for victims of gender violence in the Social Justice Centers, and does political education work with the women it organizes there. We also carry out environmental work. In one of Nairobi’s largest settlements, Korogocho, the dumpsite next to it is a central problem, polluting the water and air. There are many respiratory diseases, children with lung cancer; a recent study concluded that life expectancy there could be as low as 40 years. There, we organize the planting of bamboo, which helps filter toxins from the water, and we also organize people to demand that the government relocate the dump. We are committed to the strategy of the socialist revolution, we fight for a system in which the workers control the means of production, with health, education and housing for all, with gender equality, without patriarchy.

3. What relations do you have with other revolutionary organizations in the rest of Africa?

We are a pan-Africanist organization. In the spirit of being part of a pan-African socialist movement and in the spirit of internationalism, we want to build a socialist front for Africa. So we have established ties with some organizations in Africa that we see as progressive, for example, the Socialist Forum of Tanzania, the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party of South Africa, the Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard of Nigeria, the Landless Movement of Namibia, the Pan-African Congress of Sudan, the Sunkara Youth from Burkina Faso, and individual comrades in Senegal, Zimbabwe and Mauritius who want to build movements there. We have the goal of extending the ISL to more countries, with the comrades and groups that we can move forward and incorporate, and also to build a broader socialist pan-Africanist movement in the continent.

4. What is Pan-Africanism? What tendencies does it have and what is the perspective of the RSL?

There are three currents in pan-Africanism. There is a capitalist current that seeks an African federation, like the United States or the European Union, but in Africa. Then there is the Black First movement, which is based on the teachings of Marcus Garvey. They stand on an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist position, but they propose unity on the basis of race, not on the basis of class. And then we have a socialist pan-Africanist tendency, which seeks the unity of the workers in Africa. We are part of this tendency. We fight for a united socialist Africa, with one state without borders, with one language and one army.

5. How did you meet and converge with the International Socialist League? How do  you value internationalism?

Being an internationalist organization, we decided to seek out and build ties with organizations that share our internationalist ideas. So we wrote to the ISL by email, and the response was very positive. When we came together to learn about our ideologies, we found that we had a lot in common. First, the strategy of uniting the working class, abolishing capitalism and building socialism throughout the world. Of course, the main thing is that we agree on the need to organize a world revolutionary socialist movement of the workers. The work we have been doing and the relationship we have been building with the ISL thus far are very good. My trip to Argentina strengthened our mutual knowledge, and we hope to contribute to the construction of the international in Africa to advance the permanent revolution.

6. What is your assessment of your visit to Argentina?

I was very impressed by my visit to Argentina. I learned many things. It is impressive to see the level of struggle of the Argentine workers, where they come from and the freedoms they have today that they won with their struggles. The MST embodies a true workers’ movement.

I found a militancy of very dedicated cadres in all sectors, militants who dedicate their lives to building a socialist world. I was particularly impressed by the financing of the party, the financial campaigns you carry out, and the dedication of all the members to contributing to the party religiously. I liked the way the MST party organizes and I took several ideas to discuss how to strengthen our organization.

When I arrived, I had the expectation of learning new things about how to organize in the unions, in the student movement, and it was largely fulfilled. I was able participate in some union mobilizations, of nurses and medical interns, the struggle of cultural workers. I met student militants from various places, from Quilmes, from the University of General Sarmiento, from the University of Lanús, from the universities of La Plata, Córdoba, Rosario and Santa Fé.

I was impressed by the work and level of organization of the unemployed movement Teresa Vive. The unemployed movement in Argentina is very organized, they mobilize with many people, blocking streets, and it shows that it is useful, because they obtain subsidies and food from the government for people who cannot have a job. I visited several of their communal kitchens, which we don’t have there, but I see that we can aspire to fight to have some of that. I participated in several of their meetings and I was impressed by the work I saw in Manzanares, where the bourgeoisie have diverted a river and filled in the wetlands to build a private neighborhood. So the comrades there have the social struggle and the ecological struggle that they carry out at the same time, which is very similar in some aspects to the situation we have in Kenya and the political work we do there.

I also participated in the rallies that the party held in Buenos Aires, Córdoba and Rosario. The launch of Cele’s candidacy was especially impressive, as a new way of doing things with a bigger impact. I liked the militancy of the comrades in publicizing the events, in Córdoba we distributed flyers to the workers, the comrades put up posters all over the city, and the turnout at the rallies was very big. The message was very clear about what is being proposed by the party and what it proposes for the elections. I saw that some new comrades were recruited from this activity, so I think they turned out very well.

Above all, I was able to participate in many party meetings and see how it functions at all levels. I can say that my expectations on the trip were met and exceeded.