Ngunyi has been under some heavy attacks on his prediction of a Jubilee win in the upcoming Kenya elections, 2013, but his prediction should not come as a surprise! Kenya politics are still very heavily “tribalized” as every Kenyan knows. Given the numerical breakdown of the Kenya demographics, that tends to give the larger tribes an edge in the resulting game of assuming a dominant position and making deals with other larger tribes. But beyond this simple political algorithm, there is an insidious process of “modernizing” tribalism that has been operative since Kenya attained its independence, and it all started with Mzee Kenyatta.
Younger Kenyans may know this but Mzee Kenyatta was a trained cultural anthropologist who studied under the world renowned anthropologist, Professor Bronisław Malinowski at the London School of Economics. It was this background that furnished Mzee with the wherewithal to write his “magna opus” Facing Mount Kenya.
When Kenya got her independence with Kenyatta as the first president, very soon the politics of the country became polarized between the “left” represented by Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and the “right” represented by Mzee Kenyatta. While Oginga advocated policies that were consonant with a socialist path to development, Kenyatta wanted to implement policies that paved way for the institution of private property–private land ownership, private investment, etc. The critical question then was how to marshal the political power needed to implement policies that emanated from the two diametrically opposed ideological predilections?
Kenyatta mounted an aggressive attack on Raila using not only Raila’s own prominent Luos in his cabinet, notably Tom Mboya, but set on a path of “tribalizing” Kenyan politics using his own understanding of the “tribal” mind of Kenyans. Henceforth we were treated to politics of “kihii” referring to the Luos and “house of Mumbi”, referring to the mythical progenitor of Agikuyu clans. Many ordinary Agikuyus started flocking to Gatundu to pledge allegiance to the oath that had it that the “flag of Kenya will never leave the house of mumbi”! Later, an all-encompassing hegemonic myth of GEMA was concocted as part of a “ruling myth”. This has survived to the present.
Kikuyu domination was not simply left to chance. Rather, it was buttressed by the control of key financial institutions, public service appointments, the army, the police, the CID, and the intelligence. In many instances, such control was effected through “clientele” politics of recruiting sycophants from other tribes who were expected to sing the same tune. This was supposed to be the role of Moi, until he got other ideas of his own!
What flowed from all this was tremendous prosperity for the Agikuyu in the private as well as the public sectors. Agikuyu elites who multiplied in numbers, formed a business and political class that were heavily invested in the creation and recreation of their own “superiority” as a “dominant tribe”. Thus achievements in education and business simply reinforced myths of tribal superiority. This is a far cry from the plight of the vast numbers of Agikuyus who have either very low incomes or are poor! By way of analogy, the plight of these Agikuyus can be compared with the plight of the “poor white trash” in the United States. While many of these may entertain the illusions of “white superiority”, they have very little to show for their racist beliefs!
By contrast to the tribalism of other groups in Kenya, Kikuyu tribalism is not only nurtured by the “modernized” versions of primordial beliefs, but is also reinforced by the selective interweaving of socioeconomic success stories into a grand narrative of “tribal superiority”. It is for this reason that we find a much greater degree of tribal unity and loyalty among the Agikuyu, compared with what obtains for other tribal groupings in Kenya.
In the arena of politics, the Agikuyu have created a very effective political machine that will require radical political strategies to dismantle. While Agikuyu are only 17 percent of the Kenya population (2009 demographic data), the fact that they have more resources and tend to act in accordance with the dictates of a monolithic tribal formation (regardless of party labels), all they have to do is to make a deal with elites of one large tribe in order to create a formidable voting block. We can therefore understand the plausibility of what Mutahi Ngunyi is saying regarding the prospects of a Jubilee alliance win.
I see also our learned colleague Mutahi Ngunyi has the same dismissive attitude towards the on-going presidential debates as I have had. However, after viewing our first presidential debates, I have changed my mind. What matters for now is the creation and institutionalization of a political process that will survive long after our “tribalized” politics have receded with the dawn of new day of “de-tribalized” politics in Kenya.
Mutahi Ngunyi also made another point that many may have missed. Candidates are running all over the country making flamboyant speeches and literally dancing around with no idea of how many of those who are attending political rallies actually registered to vote? I submit that many of the candidates are going to be in for very rude awakening when the final vote counts are announced!
Posted in: Kenya Development Forum & Kenya Coast Development Forum
Despite my initial skepticism, the Kenya Presidential Debate held today, February 11, 2013, was a resounding success on the whole. All the candidates, except for the glaring pronouncements of Musalia Mudavadi, should make all of us feel proud as Kenyans.
I would like to single out Mwalimu Dida, in particular, who provided both, the aspirants and the audience with lighter moments that added color to the occasion. At this juncture I would like to turn to the matter of Musalia Mudavadi, who should be a cause for concern for all Kenyans, but particularly for the people in his neck of the woods!
Musalia Mudavadi as an Apostle of Privatization and Neoliberalism
In one or two questions, Mudavadi took an ideological position that he would:
1. privatize the Port of Mombasa
2. privatize the Kenya Airways
3. apply the market principle predicated on the “ability to pay” in the provision of health care; naturally he had nothing to say when Julie Gichuru asked him about the health cartel that was stifling the health reforms that would expand medical services to the poor and low-income Kenyans! Simply incredible!
The forces that are supporting privatization of our ports and airways are the elites and tycoons who care very little for the average wananchi, except lining their pockets by ever looking for avenues for profitable investments. A good many of these elites and tycoons acquired their wealth through plundering of government coffers, land grabbing, corruption and other under-handed political and economic practices. What many of these characters are trying to do now is to protect and continue to expand their wealth as usual: by CAPTURING STATE POWER! Will this work this time around? That will depend on the wananchi.
But just about every Kenyans does not want the likes of Mudavadi and his ilk. If Mudavadi were to get his wish of implementing his “neoliberal” policies and the gospel according to the precepts of unbridled free market system, Kenyans would be reduced to abject poverty like we have never seen before. Mudavadi’s “safe hands” would turn out to be the clutches of the devil himself! All you have to do to gauge the efficacy of these policies is by looking at the USA and the global economy.
The American society has declined on many fronts on account of economic liberalization policies of the Republicans. Greece, Spain and other European countries are engulfed in deep economic crises that threaten the very viability of these countries as “sovereign state systems”. Time and again, they keep on borrowing money to salvage their economies, only to fall flat on their faces! Is this what we want for Kenya? Certainly not. So Mudavadi, just crawl back into the den of “neoliberal” iniquity that you reared your ugly head from!
A stereotype is a generalized label that is used to characterize members of a given group. Since it is used from a vantage of a person’s membership in another group, it is not only used to establish the social distance between “we” and “they”, but is often laden with negative affect or emotions that predispose a person to discriminatory actions.
Stereotypes as prejudgments of others on the basis of their group membership, are rarely positive. This is why I find the reference to “positive stereotypes” by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to be quite curious to say the least. Thus in her recent interview with KTN, the Vice Chairperson of the Commission, Milly Lwanga Odongo, asserted that a stereotype of a particular ethnic as being “hard-working” is an example of a positive stereotype. Now, here is the problem, if you claim that this group is “hard-working”, you are making an implicit assumption that another group is not “hard-working”!
That simply adds fuel to a burning problem, particularly in the context of ethnic relations in Kenya. For many Kenyans this is a familiar theme that goes back to the days of Kenyatta with his characterization of the Coast people as being lazy, in contradistinction to the “hard-working” people of the Central Province.
I am telling you the more things change, the more they remain the same! But more poignantly is how in the world can such a body as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission identify the political culprits who use ethnic “stereotypes” as “code words” for instigating violence? This is silly to say the least!
What is even more preposterous is to lay a bold claim in the recently released report posted in their website that they collected “scientific” data that came up with volatile “code words”. This study is based on focus groups of thirty persons from some 38 counties. How the members of each of these groups were selected should not be dignified with the term “scientific”. At any rate, all this is making much ado about nothing regarding what may precipitate yet another cycle of violence in Kenya.
It is common knowledge that the political landscape of Kenya has been polarized between two major groups: the Luo and the Kikuyu. Party “formations” have tended to reproduce the same polarized politics since 1963. In the fall of 2012, long before the different political groupings began their latest round of political realignment, I stated in my blog–Kenya Development Forum, that the leading viable candidates in the March 4, 2013 presidential election will be Raila and Uhuru. The emergence of CORD and the Jubilee Alliance have confirmed what many of us had anticipated. If any hell breaks out in the upcoming elections, it will be out of the dynamic interplay in the political contestations of these giant formations, not stereotypes. It is silly to attribute political upheavals to the process of mutual stereotyping. The 2007/2008 political upheavals arose out of the widespread belief that Kibaki had stolen the election!
Notwithstanding the above talk of political polarization, there have been some significant shifts in the political realignment that may yet introduce some fundamental changes in our politics and government. That is all the more important if we do not shy away from such critical issues such as land reform, socioeconomic inequality, corruption, regional disparities in development, affordable housing, infrastructure improvements, urban poverty, and the like. These are issues that if avoided will render our politics devoid of any substance and thus magnify symbolic posturing that is prone to stereotyping processes.
There is an emerging chorus of public figures who have come out warning politicians against raising the issue of land and “historical injustices”, etc. What is at issue is supposedly so “divisive” and volatile that it can throw Kenya into yet another cycle of violence at this critical juncture of seeking reconciliation and conducting peaceful elections.
Wananchi should not only be wary of such “slick” prophets of doom, but should denounce them in no uncertain terms. The reason is simple: if you put land grabbers and thieves in charge of running the country once again, they will not only take measures to protect their interests once they are in power, but will resist any policies that are aimed at initiating the process of fundamental land reforms. This is what is at stake in this election.
The public should tell the Inspector General of police David Kimaiyo to steer away from uttering “edicts” that warn politicians from raising the land issue in their campaigns. Kenya is moving away from the days of autocratic presidents and the police henchmen who have been the enforcers of their repressive measures. In fact the Inspector General should realize that he is under the same regime of the “rule of law” that governs all Kenyans under our new constitution. And as such, his performance in office will also be subjected to a judicial review to ensure that his actions do not “over-reach” his authority.
There is another “Mr. Slick” Mzalendo Kibunjia, who has come out also to warn politicians against raising the land issue. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is a useless organization that serves the interests of its officers and has achieved very little of consequence. Their favorite past time is to run around the country conducting “hearings” with a view to reconciling differences among the members of the different communities. They also try to deepen their legitimacy by “glob trotting” in search of a wider exposure in the international community and Kenyans in Diaspora.
This organization has blown a good opportunity of reconciling Kenyans by putting as its center piece the volatile land question and land grabbing throughout Kenya. Their philosophy should be driven by the material conditions under which we as Kenyans live, not simply focusing on our ethnic stereotypes and other cognitive images that are lodged in the heads of members of the different tribes!
Glaring regional disparities in education and resource distribution should be the starting point in seeking reconciliation, not running around asking members of the different communities what they think about each other!
The moral here is simple: groups such as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission that are trying to supply a glue that can hold a nation together should ground their approaches on a sound political economy of development and underdevelopment. The land question, anti-poverty strategy, uneven development, plundering of the government coffers, corruption, and affirmative action in the distribution of key positions in the government and other institutions should the major parameters that define the missions of such organizations. For now, let us raise questions regarding what our politicians are all about. We do not need the intervention of those who are usurping the role of being intermediaries—be they the police or self-righteous civic organizations. These days I am extremely suspicious of civic organizations that claim to be involve in political civic education. The only thing that the public does not know about those who are seeking to govern us is their secret bank accounts, wealth, land ownership and the many shady deals that they have been involved in over the years.
This is a question that both Uhuro and Ruto would be better advised to avoid. Why? Because it was the “tribal” governments headed by Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki who have been largely responsible for many of the ills that afflict Kenya. Until recently, Kenya has been ruled by autocratic leaders, notably Kenyatta and Moi. This type of leadership was complimented by deeply entrenched “tribalization” of politics and the economy that was effected through the control of such strategic institutions as the internal security forces (police, GSU, CID, provincial administration); the central bank; the judiciary and attorney general. The process of “retribalization of key institutions” is an undercurrent that has been running through the entire course of Kenya’s political history. Uhuru Kenyatta, whose family continues to reap the benefits of this insidious political/economic process, should be the last one to ask any leader what they have done for Kenya over the years. Uhuru Kenyatta is ranked 29th among the wealthiest persons in Africa.
Just consider this, both Kibaki and Uhuru have served as finance ministers. Before them there were such notable Kikuyu political operatives like Gichuru and others! In the just ended parliament, yet another member of the GEMA community was busy doing all sorts of “funny” things with the budget. It is precisely from this type of strategic position that the Kikuyu leadership has helped itself and secured political support by dishing out favors.
All said, it is high time that Kenyans must make sure that they give another type of leadership a chance to lead through the engagement of the wider Kenyan public from Mombasa to Kisumu. Wananchi must also make sure that there will not be another “stolen” election through the appointment of an “enforcer” such as the CID designee Muhoro!
Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate (sidekick) William Ruto are running around Kenya telling wananchi that it is now time for the youth (meaning the duo) to take charge of running the country. In a thinly disguised message it is intimated that the “old-timers” who have been running the country to date, have contributed to many of the multifaceted problems that afflict Kenya.
This posturing in public forums is incredible in view of the fact that the two have descended from the lineage of political leaders–from Mzee Kenyatta, to Moi, to Kibaki–whose legacy we have all inherited for good or for worse. Autocratic rule, corruption, plundering of the government coffers, criminalization of society, politically motivated murders and mayhem, glaring inequalities, devastation of the public infrastructure, etc, is the totality of the legacy of our political leaders since we attained independence.
It is no accident that it is none other than Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto who are being indicted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating the political violence perpetrated by two camps of “private armed gangs of youth”! What concerns me here, however, is what new ideas does the ticket of Uhuru and Ruto going to implement to bring about fundamental changes in wananchi’s lives? A reductionist political ideology of pitting the “youth” against “old timers” is as misleading as it is dumb! It is a profession of ideological bankruptcy—a disease that has afflicted the Kenyan leadership since independence!
I will expose this bankruptcy with reference to two major issues confronting the youth of Kenya today. In Nyeri and Kirinyaga, the locals have been terrorized by the resurgence of the Mungiki sect, the very same group that Kenyatta is alleged to have instigated to commit acts of violence in the 2007/2008 elections. People thought Mungiki sect is “finished” by agents of law enforcement—banning the sect and convicting its leadership. But as I said in a piece that I wrote way back, you cannot “finish” such groups simply by outlawing the groups and jailing the leadership. There are socioeconomic conditions, family dynamics and a deep sense of alienation, that tend to breed such groups, regardless of the form that the groups assume. There are many such groups throughout Kenya, more prominently at the Coast—the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).
A recent proposal by the Uhuru-Ruto group is that we need to expand opportunities for youth by expanding business opportunities through low-interest loans etc. I will re-examine the merits of such solutions later.
The other problem of youth that I want to bring to the foreground is the growing problem of affordable quality education throughout Kenya. We were recently treated to a very sad spectacle of children in Nairobi who came back to school only to find their desks gone!
The problems of alienated youth who turn to forms of social banditry—Mungiki and Mombasa Republican Council, as well as the problem affordable education are part of the landscape of inequalities that are deepening throughout Kenya. In the face to such deepening inequalities, our leadership throughout our history have pursued many misguided policies of privatization and liberalization. Many of these leaders have pursued these policies in order to enrich themselves. Where they have lacked capital, they have resorted to plundering the public coffers; where they have needed to expedite certain transactions, they have resorted to corruption; where someone else stood in their way, they have commissioned murders; and the list goes on! This is why I have labeled our leaders as a pack of “nyang’aus”!
As an educator, I am particularly saddened by the policies that have been applied to education. When you articulate a policy of national schools, you are accentuating problems that are already endemic in the very process of education. This is further compounded by the building into this process the principle of “ability to pay”. You therefore end up marginalizing certain regions, people with low income, etc.
A progressive leadership should be articulating policies of broadening access to quality education by increasing resources in all schools and lowering costs of education. Instead Kenya has not been doing much besides the cosmetic changes of increasing primary school enrollment. In the final analysis education has become simply another avenue for profitable investment for our leadership, a good many of whom own schools. In any case, they can afford to send their children to any school not only in Kenya, but abroad as well. These leaders do not care much for the rest of the Kenyan school children. They would rather increase their own salaries and fringe benefits instead of increasing the pay of teachers.
For millions of children who cannot be accommodated in the school system, street life and the underground economy become their way of life. They also band together in alternative scheme of living besides the families, schools, churches etc. Welcome to the landscape of Mungiki and the Mombasa Republican Council. That is not all. For there are unscrupulous leaders who from time to time have political uses for such organized bands of youth.
In conclusion, I will state that both Uhuru and Ruto represent the rot in our politics. Besides mouthing some simple-minded clichés regarding the “vajana vs. wazee”, they have no new ideas that can move the country forward. They cannot articulate how they propose to address the problems of such alienated youths as the Mungiki sect, the Mombasa Republic Council, etc. Instead they propose retrograde policies that are simply going to reproduce many of the fundamental problems of inequality that afflict all Kenyans, regardless of their age!
There is currently an excitement in Kenya regarding what is being billed as “presidential debates” among the aspiring candidates for the 2013 Kenya General Elections. This may well turn out to be a big joke, unless some critical issues are put forward before hand. It is pointless to solicit information about the policies of these aspiring candidates and what they plan to do when they are elected. I would rather that some serious investigative reporters/researchers do the following on behalf of the wananchi:
1. Compile a resume of each candidate highlighting their family background, education, business activities etc;
2. Compile a report card of accomplishments since they were elected to public offices;
3. Collect information about their wealth and net worth and how they acquired their wealth;
4. If they cannot supply that information contact the western governments and their agencies, eg the British Government (remember Anglo-Leasing?), the US State Department, FBI, Interpol, foreign banks or any other alternative source of information, with a view to getting a better fix about these leaders (nyang’aus). That can be a good approximation of what they are likely to do when they are elected. Grandiose rhetoric in a public forum is next to useless as a vetting tool. Just take a look at Nick Romney and Paul Ryan in the current US presidential campaigns: we have two decrepit congenital liars who have credibility only because of a profound ignorance and racism of a huge section of American public seeped in right wing politics!
5. There are some 8 major United Nations Millennium Development Goals that have been used to gauge a country’s efforts in poverty reduction. These can be translated into terms that can be used to ask sharp questions regarding the poverty reduction strategies of these aspiring leaders. With reference to poverty reduction, a much broader section of the wananchi can be served by investing in infrastructure: road, rail, water, public health, sanitation, education, etc. There are many wananchi who vote along ethnic lines. But the fact of the matter is that by virtue of where they are placed in income distribution and social structure, they are not likely to benefit much in their immediate life circumstances. “Tribal” trickle down can only go so far downward, from the tribal elites at the top and middle classes in between. As for those at the bottom, even people carting goods using “mkokoteni”, can benefit from better roads!
6. One way in which elected leaders reproduce ethnic loyalties is by using their privileged positions to distribute patronage jobs, business opportunities, etc. They do this by constructing tribal hegemonies that purport to benefit the entire tribe. In reality, the lowly tribal wananchi benefit very little by supporting a president from this or that group. But when hell breaks out like in the year 2008, it is precisely this segment of society that catches the brunt of the fallout!
7. The sad truth is that tribalism has been the bedrock of Kenyan politics, particularly at the presidential level. It is no accident that the two most viable presidential candidates today are Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. For well known historical reasons the two have had the capacity to mobilize the support of their respective tribal voting blocks: the Luo and the Kikuyu! These two tribal voting blocks have defined the two main reference axes of Kenyan politics since the country attained independence. An apparent deviation came with the Nyayo era. But even then, the two main axes played a critical role in the realignment of political forces. The Orange Democratic Movement under Raila Odinga and The National Alliance under Uhuru Kenyatta are political formations that need to be deconstructed using “tribal analysis”! What these two leaders are going to do is to continue to engage in the fine are of making deals with the leaders of other tribes such as Ruto, Musyoka, Mudavadi, Wamalwa, etc. Kenyan politics has not advance too far from this level of political mobilization and interest aggregation.
8. One factor which accounts for this political backwardness in many African countries is the lack of a coherent ideology beyond some simple-minded slogans that preach unity and patriotism in the abstract and the promise of “development”! There is a serious problem of ideological bankruptcy in Kenya and that cannot simply be mitigated by preaching unity and harmony among the different ethnic groups. In fact it is often the very people who preach this form of unity and the right of every Kenyan to live wherever they wish, who turn out to be agents of land grabbing in other areas! It is no accident that the two flash points of Kenyan politics since independence have been the Coast and Rift Valley. The contemplated Kenyan presidential debates format cannot address this profound issue of “tribalized” politics adequately. But it is exactly this dark cloud of tribalism that is still hovering over all of us as Kenyans.
One word of clarification here is in order. The on-going crackdown of the Mombasa Republican Council is simply a “dog and pony” show that belies some deep seated historical injustices at the Coast. The sentiments of regional marginalization and demonization have been widespread at the Coast since the days of the late Ronald Ngala. The preoccupation with the vitriolic language of the MRC, to wit, “Pwani si Kenya” simply confuses the issues by conflating legitimate grievances with the absurd demands of secession.
Enough for now.