The Chris Kabwato Column | The price of freedom: Of Kanye West, China, and our visionless Vene Venyika

Kanye and Ty Dolla $ign represent a rebellion from old narratives (Photo: Scott Dudelson / Getty Images)

On the 15 of March 2024, Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign sat down with nationally syndicated American radio host Big Boy (government name – Kurt Alexander). It was in the aftermath of Ye and Ty Dolla’s release of their joint album, Vultures 1.

The interview was quintessential Ye – insightful, comic, boastful, vulnerable, and yet fearless. Ye did not take any prisoners. You could tell he was back with a game plan and with an intent to execute it on his own terms. He certainly wanted the ‘cancellation machine’ to get the message.

The great interviewer that Big Boy is (you can check his Big Boy’s Neighbourhood morning show), he was able to get Ty Dolla to reveal that there had been pressure on him not to collaborate with Ye. Brands and some venues had long decided to shut out Ye with calls to “turn that boy down.’ His one fault was to speak out when it could have been safer to play along, be meek and enjoy – not ownership – but a percentage of what he made for you-know-who.

More sinister, and tragic for me, was the artist-entrepreneur’s claim that he receives threats every day from various forces – politicians and social media keyboard warriors:

“I wake up every day just surprised to be alive given the threats I receive…”

But Ye was in a defiant mood: “I ain’t praying my way out of threats. I had to get up and do it myself.”

The crowning of his act of defiance, Dambudzo Marechera-style, was Vultures 1 taking the number 1 spot on the streaming platforms and all the 16 songs on the debuted at the top spot on the Billboard 100. A massive achievement that Ye described colourfully as the “f— you” moment to those who cancelled him in 2023.

Ye the businessperson advised sagely: “Don’t overthink stuff.” He certainly is not overthinking when you check out his website where all merchandise retails for $20 each. Tapping into his loyal fan base, he is cutting out the middle thief that seeks to make him conform.

I could go with a list of the key insights from the interview but the point I wish highlight is about the price one must be willing to pay to speak their mind if they are black in spaces controlled by people not our colour.

The emergence of a multipolar world

The situation of Ye is about broader politics at play as Western liberals grapple with a changing world where they can no longer control the narrative. The loss of power by any individual, let alone a nation or a so-called civilisation is traumatic. The wetting of pants in the capitals of the “Free World” is at one level comic but also dangerous. A deranged patriarch who feels emasculated is capable of extreme acts. Part of those acts is to silence voices of those that are weak, vulnerable, confused, powerless, mystical and, to put it mildly, intellectually deficient.

Lessons from China

As hapless and clueless Africans froth at the mouth debating which of the old and new powers is right or wrong on issues such as the forced sale of a social media platform, the news headlines in The Economist regularly are about the scramble for Africa – whether by the Middle East countries, China, India or Russia. Conveniently, nothing is mentioned about the countries that the magazine is aligned to. It is a tired narrative that reminds one of the China narratives in the same type of media just under three decades ago.

Once upon a time the depiction of the Chinese in Hollywood movies was racist. The stereotypes were grotesque: broken, harsh English, a propensity to fight using kung-fu. Of course there was only one hero.

However, the descendants of the Xia Dynasty had a plan, starting with the foundations laid by Mao Zedong in 1949 to the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping from 1978 to 1989. About 20 years ago, a South African scenario planner and futurologist visited Beijing and was taken to a university of a special kind: there were no students. Instead, there were teams of intellectuals divided along disciplines and their task was to do nothing but to think about China’s future over a 50-year horizon.

Whatever your feelings about China, you cannot say they do not have a game plan. No single movie done by the major Western studios in recent times dares to malign the Chinese. There are economic consequences. Demographics matter. So does GDP.

Vene: the Forty Thieves minus Ali Baba

Contrast this with the abracadabra of “Vene” – the cabal that was easily conned into believing diesel flowed from a random rock. A bunch of visionless thugs, who have mugged the nation into surrender so that they can gorge on national coffers and the mineral resources of the teapot country. Even with bellies sagging to the ground like cows fattened for the market, these past masters in mediocrity remain unsatisfied.

A Kanye West cannot thrive in an environment where the infrastructure of water, health, roads, and telecommunication is under siege from vultures. Meanwhile, an artist-cum-beggar-cum-party parrot pleads for a car from a shady beneficiary of the Vene largesse.

Ngugi wa Thiongo and Defending the Base

In March 2017, the famous Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o gave an insightful public lecture at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. The gist of Ngugi’s argument was that Africans needed to defend Africa as the global base for Black identity. His assertion was on the mark. Over the past few years, prominent African Americans have sought temporary refuge on the continent as they craved to be in places where they could be human and not just another black man who could be stopped and shot by cops simply for driving an expensive car. Dave Chapelle travelled to South Africa in 2005, walking away from the shooting of Season 3 of Chappelle’s Show. Steve Harvey was in Botswana in 2023 as he looked to expand the Family Feud franchise outside the USA and said he had never felt that safe in his life. Kanye also came to the continent to gather himself. The right-of-return by Ghana is creating a steady stream of Marcus Garvey-type of “repatriations”, albeit not without its tensions.

Whilst privileged billionaires of a certain hue can own social media platforms and spew hatred against us, we have nothing but this continent to take into a different direction and build the economic, political, and social capital that will enable us to point the middle finger at THEM. We need a different type of leadership.

Otherwise, we shall remain like our dear pastor tweeting opportunistically to justify the Green Card.