African socialism, an article of faith on much of the continent, has taken many forms in the two decades since colonialism began to crumble.
Somalia has scientific, socialism, although not much has been heard about it since Mogadishu switched from the Soviet to the American camp. Zambia calls its socialism "humanism." Many simply call it a failure. Zimbabwe has an avowedly Marxist prime minister, Robert Mugabe, but so far the use of the term "comrade" is the main element of Marxism.
None of the forms of socialism, however, is as strange as that of Kenya, which is unabashedly oriented toward a free-market economy and where the largest tribe, the Kikuyus, proudly flaunt their capitalist ideology.
Yet the country officially adheres to African socialism on the basis of a parliamentary paper that was presented in 1965 and that often has been the subject of discussion since then.
Charles Njonjo, the powerful minister of constitutional affairs, was recently embroiled in a parliamentary debate on the subject that revealed just how serious African socialism is in Kenya.
Njonjo became annoyed after being referred to by a member of Parliament as "the honorable comrade."
The urbane, sophisticated Njonjo is probably the least likely comrade in Africa. A graduate of the prestigious London School of Economics and Gray's Inn law school, Njonjo wears expensive British clothes and is probably Africa's leading Anglophile. To some he is tantamount to a black colonialist, but certainly he is a capitalist par excellence.
Responding to the "comrade" reference, Njonjo said: "I am very upset because one thing which I know I will never do is to be a Communist [applause was recorded]. I will never be a copmrade . . . I am a capitalist. Id believe in African socialism."
A member then asked: "Does the honorable minister mean to tell this house that African socialism is, in fact, capitalism?"
Njojo responded, "If I have five acres of land, it is mine, not ours.
"If you tell us what you have is ours, then I will accept. But what I have is not ours."
Finally, exasperated at the continued questioning, Njojo gave a humorous explanation.
"Mr. Temporary Deputy Speaker, sir," he said, "I do not know what the honorable members are worried about. They just have to look at me. I do not even have to expalin what I am . . . I have got a three-piece suit. Does it not explain what I am?"
It should be noted that the person addressed as "Mr. Temporary Deputy Speaker, sir" was a woman, Mrs. Grace Onyango. Some British traditions die hard.