Monday, September 24, 2012

Let not Ethnicity derail March to true Democracy

By LANCE KIPNG’ETICH In the current heated political campaigns, tribalism has assumed a worrying proportion. Some politicians have no qualms about stoking negative ethnicity if doing so will get them votes. Apparently in the hunt for power, which is a ticket to quick wealth in Kenya, the rules of the jungle apply. Take for instance this line of argument that the next president must not be a Kikuyu or Kalenjin. The reason given is that the first president was a Kikuyu, the second a Kalenjin and the third yet another Kikuyu. Those pushing this argument say the presidency is not the birthright of these communities. This sounds convincing only if you turn a blind eye to glaring facts. This theory is based on a distortion of the history of politics in this country. The proponents of this view want us to see the presidency of Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of the nation, through the blinkers of negative ethnicity. Kenyatta assumed office after a long arduous struggle against imperialism. President Kenyatta was never seen by any community as a Kikuyu but a national hero who had played a pivotal role in rooting out colonialism. To, therefore, refer his tenure a as a Kikuyu presidency is to insult the legacy of this icon who is in the league of Kwame Nkrumah. Ahmed Sékou Touré, Julius Nyerere, Gamal Abd El Nasser and W.E.B Du Bois. It is also laughable to term Moi’s tenure at State House as a Kalenjin stint. When Kenyatta died, Moi became the head of state because he was the Vice President. The old Constitution stipulated that the VP would take over in acting capacity for 90 days when the President died or was unable to perform his duties for whatever reason. When the 90 days elapsed, Moi was confirmed as Head of State without going through the rigours of an election. There was uncertainty in every corner of the fledgling nation following Kenyatta’s death and hence the overriding need to swiftly bring the fluid situation to normalcy by confirming Moi as the substantive president. In the 1979 General Election, Moi was selected, not elected, because he was seen as a moderate who would reconcile competing forces in the country. Besides, the nation was still young and hence a steady hand was needed to consolidate the powers of the State by nurturing the then nascent institutions. The Constitution and political expediency, therefore conspired to install Moi at the pinnacle of power. Kalenjin had no role in putting him in State House. Further, during the single party rule, Kenyans were not in a position to decide who became president. Moi was always elected “unopposed with an overwhelming majority”. Yes, we went to the polls every five years. When Mwai Kibaki took over in 2002, tribalists were at it again with their retrogressive calculations. Now the Kikuyu have had it twice, they said. Never mind that Kibaki was the seniormost politician with vast leadership experience among the galaxy of aspirants for the top job. Should Kenyans have elected someone else with less credentials just to balance the ethnic arithmetic? Raila Odinga did not say “Kibaki tosha” for no apparent reason. He did so because Kibaki was the best candidate. To say Kibaki was elected because he is a Kikuyu is to insult his impressive leadership CV. And during Kenyatta’s 15-year rule, there were no candidates who opposed him, largely because it was felt the country was still fragile and it was not appropriate to engage in competitive politicsfor the top job. The sentiment that Kenyans are ‘fatigued’ about Kikuyu presidency also flies in the face of democracy. Those who love this country have been campaigning so hard against the toxic politics of tribalism. We have always longed to see Kenyans vote for leaders without taking into consideration their ethnicity. To tell Uhuru Kenyatta, Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth to abandon their presidential ambitions is not only to unfairly defer their constitutional dream but, more significantly, to water down the same democracy we have been agitating for. In essence, we want to eliminate these aspirants from the race just because of their tribe. This is a travesty of fair play. It defeats the purpose of the new Constitution if tribe remains a central factor in choosing leaders. Others say Uhuru should not run for State House because his father was the president. Are we saying Uhuru should not enjoy his constitutional right just because he happens to be the son of Jomo? The US, which is by far a more developed democracy than ours, voted for George Bush Jnr only eight years after his father exited the presidency. It is now a good 34 years since Jomo died! Let us focus on the records of the aspirants and what they plan to do for us and shut the door firmly on parochial tribal sideshows. This is the only way we will give meaning to the sacrifices we made to realise reform. If a Kikuyu has the best credentials among the State House hopefuls, the ideals of democracy state that that is the right person to lead us. Perhaps what is slipping our mind is that we are in a new dispensation where the President has been stripped of the powers to freely dole out national resources to allies, relatives and friends. Those that still think they will ‘eat’ when someone from their community becomes president are, as US President Barack Obama would say, on the wrong side of history.