Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Kenya post March 4th 2013: The face of a re-ethnicized nation

After the March 4th elections we now know the type of people some of us really are. Our voting patterns hinted at being people with a tribal inclination. It is no wonder then that politicians would talk of consolidating the Luhya, Kalenjin or Kikuyu vote. Coalitions banked on an ethnic support base and this tendency is what has given Kenyan politics its ethnic character. Now for a country that has over 42 plus tribes with some as large as millions and others in their thousands one is left wondering if these smaller tribes will ever rise to the helm of leadership in the country. This again can be argued that, we may always have a group that will always be in leadership. Mutahi Ngunyi read our tribal tendencies and came up with the (infamous) tyranny of tribal numbers. This he plainly put it that the most determining factor for Uhuru Kenyatta’s win would be based on the Kikuyu and Kalenjin vote. True enough, the votes tallying showed this projection clearly. Politics is a game of numbers and if these numbers were drawn from fellow tribes-kin then so be it, as some politicians consoled and cheated their followers.
 However, there are those who said that tribe would not be integral in these elections claiming that Kenyans are peace loving, informed and “untribal” and instead these coalitions were united by a common agenda to assert Kenya’s sovereignty and independence from neo-colonial justice and Western interference. Some writers even argued that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto presented in the election a referendum on the ongoing ICC process. While this is debatable, the announcement of Uhuru’s victory saw remarks that “another Kikuyu” had taken over power. In fact some said that one Kikuyu passed on power like a baton to the next.
Consequently, social media was ablaze with tribal connotations, hate speech, vitriol, suspicion, and even threats of retaliatory attacks. While the National Cohesion and Integration Commission named and shamed Kenyans who were tribal, more tribal snide were exchanged nonetheless online. Indeed, tribalism was on the World Wide Web. Ironically, the Kenyan people were lauded for conducting the elections peacefully dismaying international media houses that had camped around awaiting violence; this is because people were fighting on new battle fields-SMS and Social Media.
The 2013 election and to some extent the ICC issue re-ethicized the nation at a time when the 2010 referendum and the promulgation had a de-ethicizing effect on Kenyan politics. The result is that the country has now been re-divided into two large ethnic coalitions. Those in support of Raila Odinga echoed his efforts in pushing for multi-party democracy in 1992 and the promulgation of a new constitutional order in 2010. They were however quick to point out that while these victories have redefined Kenya fundamentally but have come at a cost to Raila Odinga’s bid for the Presidency. He has become a victim of his own successes as the country has moved on. On the other hand those for Uhuru say that he brings with him fresh leadership skills and a “youthful and digital” touch in the country.
It therefore begs the question whether the choices made following the elections were simply about tribal arithmetic or an argument for asserting nationalism versus democratic reform. While I see elements of nationalism and new hope for Kenya I think pre and post March 4th 2013, we have become a re-ethicized nation. It is important to note that there are two kinds of ethnic groups when it comes to politics. The first are ethnicities that are so highly politicized that they tend to polarise politics ethnically. We can call these fighting ethnicities centrally organised for political action. On the other side, you have ethnicities without extreme ethnic politicisation, without a centralised political organisation or direction. They do not vote one way, but many ways.
The effect of polarizing politics ethnically will mean that any action taken by the President and his deputy is analyzed through the ethnic lenses. Such as is the case with the recent Cabinet nominations belittled by ethnic bigots. Recently, Daily Nation on its Facebook reported a raid in a house in Thika where not only was the family robbed of its valuables; the daughters in that house were raped by the armed thieves. I was shocked and appalled by the ugly turn of event, however, my shock tripled when someone commented that they deserved it, as they were Kikuyus. How low have we come to wish such a vile action such as rape on anyone? It goes to show how weak our shred of tenderness and respect for other communities is slowly shedding off. This is one of the many examples of comments and words, hurtful words we read and hear from those around us. I ask…what went wrong where? What price will we pay for being re-ethicized?
I believe we must change this tribal narrative and learn look and hope for the best in fellow Kenyans regardless of their ethnic background. There is no doubt for instance that the people Uhuru and Ruto nominated to Cabinet are brilliant minds. Unfortunately, with the re-ethicized state of affairs we will continue to hear cries of how many representatives of a certain community are in Cabinet, and of how many other ‘tribes’ that have been ‘left out’. One thing that we ought to remember is that Kenya is one out of many. We all make and give Kenya its identity and not our specific tribes. In any case no one tribe has the numbers to entirely win the presidency for one of their own without the vote from other ethnic groups. Neither can to be self-sufficient from the rest. We need to stop the rhetoric and act. We need to discuss issues of tribalism and if we feel a tribe is being marginalized and others benefiting there are structures in place to address this. The first is the courts, the National and Integration Commission, writing to parliament and being proactive citizens who accommodate all communities.

Let HER Lead!

“Whether Women are better than men, I cannot say, but I can say that they are certainly not worse”-Golda Mier, Israeli Prime Minister.
In a matriarchal government, women’s nurturing instincts rule as they determine the operations of the government. With a special focus on her “children” ensuring that they do not live in poverty and ignorance. Despite efforts by various stakeholders to empower women, fewer women are running for office. This is in spite of the gender parity laws as stipulated on Article 81(b) of the Kenya’s constitution that stipulates “Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies should be of the same gender”. However, this does not mean that we should elect women for the sake of it but because they are equally good leaders who can lead us. Given equal opportunities, women too can lead. It should be noted that in the event that the gender requirement is not achieved then the Kenyan government will be rendered obsolete.
The media sadly is not giving equal coverage to aspiring women leaders as well as constant education on the gender constitutional requirement of why it is vital to give women a chance to lead. Considering that women are almost half of the Kenyan population as per the 2009 census records, women need proper representation in positions of authority. That said rarely will women support fellow women. Perhaps it is true that women are their worst enemies! I have been to discussions and I would hear people say they wouldn’t vote in a woman because they are too emotional, questioning whether she is married and to whom? These arguments hint on fallacies targeting at a person instead of the issues they are advocating. It may be late now to learn from Burundi but in a past election, they had an interesting slogan to champion women to vote: Women Vote and Get yourself Voted! It is not surprising that their neighbor Rwanda has about 56.2% of women in the national government. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia show that women can hold elective posts. Same is said for Indonesia, India as well as Pakistan. What then is holding Kenyan women back? What is locking them out of leadership positions? Don’t women make great leaders, right from families, why are we relaxed in giving them a chance in decision making position? Could it be because national politics are dictated by handouts and freebies such that we don’t care who wants our vote: whether a man or women provided they can oil our palms. Let it not be assumed that elections are supposed to be about gender, on the contrary they are to be on merit. If a woman proves her salt that she deserves leadership position…by all means, let HER lead!
Now I am certain that there are those who hold stereotypes that Kenya may not be ready yet for women leaders. Let it be known that not even an army can stop an idea whose time has come. In the 2013 elections, it is evident that a portion of women have realized that the time has come for women are not afraid to come out and contest like anybody else. We know that our politics is marred with violence, bribery, corruption and tribalism but this should not make aspiring women candidates relent to push forward their agenda in positions of authority. Unless we speak and realize our rightful positions in the modern day Kenya and World, our fate as women (even worse young women) we will continue being subjected to practices and a fate that will dictate the direction of our growth vis a vis that of men. The world is watching to see whether Kenya will embrace matriarchal leadership, one third at the very least.
To the aspiring Kenyan women who contested the March 4th 2013 election, consider yourself a winner and a much needed fresh breath of leadership for believing that you can improve Kenya through your skills. The passion, resilience and courage you exude as well as your readiness to serve and lead Kenyans is worth emulating. As the world marks the International Day of Women, let us remember women in Kenya and Africa who took a bold step and entered a “male-dominated” field. Some did it; perhaps this should be a challenge to me as well as other “undecided’ women who are not sure if they can make it in governance and in elective posts. I am thinking about it, the buck stops with me, so you too should consider it becoming a reality. Let HER Lead!

The March 4th Elections: Perspectives from an inadvertently unregistered voter

The March 4th Elections: Perspectives from an inadvertently unregistered voter[1]
March 4th will be an historical day for Kenya. We will be voting in the fourth president under a new constitutional dispensation. In addition to the president’s post, Kenyans will be voting for five other seats that denote the county system of government.  Thus by March 5th, the following positions will be filled: President, Governor, Senator, Women Representatives from each county, Members of Parliament for the National Assembly and the County Ward representatives.
The campaigns have been a show of financial might for most of the contesters. With 8 presidential candidates, Kenyans may be said to be spoilt for choice. Some have dubbed this the two horse race while others talking about the tyranny of numbers but what they seem to be assuming is that most if not all of those in these political campaigns will be voting! Personally, I will not be voting in this election: I have never voted in any election. In 2007, I did not have a National ID, and at 2013, it was unfortunate that I lost my ID during the registration and the time to register elapsed before replacing it. I know there are many like us, young people who will not be voting. I know that there are those who will lose their IDs a week or so to the elections and may thus not vote as well. I am also certain that in the huge crowds during campaigns, it may not be surprising that say a quarter of those present will not be voting either!
What am I driving with this? So much emphasis has been put on campaigns, on opinion polls and we are forgetting the fundamental unit: the voter. We also ‘pretend’ to forget that the voting is a process and it requires one to know what needs to be done. I am certain that there are Kenyans who do not know what to expect during the voting day, right from the ballot papers to the six elective posts. I know, you may be wondering, I am concerned while I will not be voting anyway, so why bother? True, but I know I have a part to play pre, during and post the Election Day. I have realized, whether I will vote or not, I am an equal Kenyan and I have rights and responsibilities and my not voting does not make me less Kenyan.
My first role is a reminder, to my fellow Kenyans: we are voting through the secret ballot. This is to say that your choice for a candidate is your own and you are not to be coerced into choosing someone because the majority in that voting area is voting for that person. Elizabeth Noelle-Noumann in her famous “Spiral of Silence theory” acknowledges that for fear of isolation, people have a sixth sense to analyze the opinions of those around them and shape their decisions accordingly lest they are isolated. This then translates to people voting alongside tribal lines over issues. I would like to challenge you to look at whoever it is you are planning to vote for. Ask yourself, why do I want to have this person as my leader? Why do they want to get into power? Are they sincerely for Kenyans or for personal reasons? Let us not be clouded by what other people tell us about them but what do we personally feel about their leadership. I encourage us as young women be firm in our decisions and not to be afraid of isolation from our friends, our families because of who we are voting for; it is a secret ballot anyway.
My second role is to remind us young women take note when voting to ensure that we mark the candidates we are voting for within the specified requirements. There will be six (different coloured) ballot papers for the six elective positions. The Presidential Ballot paper will be White, the Governor's blue, Senator-Yellow, Member of Parliament-Green, Women Representative-Purple and the County Representatives–Beige. Each of the ballot papers have to be cast in their respective ballot boxes i.e. match each ballot paper with the corresponding box. One can only mark once on a ballot paper by the use of or X or even ones thumbprint. The worst thing would be to have wasted votes particularly where the competition is stiff as evident. Also, there will be Police Officers who will be observing any election misconduct particularly in relation to rigging, miscommunication to the yet to vote, those found campaigning during the election day as well as those who will be found inciting or even branded in the colours of particular parties.
In conclusion, Kenya was, has, and will be there after the March 4th Elections. Let us look at the big picture and encourage, persuade and inform our relatives and friends on this. Kenya is larger than our tribes, our once-in-every-five-years politics, selfish interests and campaigns. Kenya needs peace, now more than ever. Let us choose our words in discussing issues of the elections, our actions and let us exude confidence in IEBC. They are mandated to ensure that elections are free and fair. These are my views as unregistered Kenyan voter who despite not casting my vote, I will nonetheless ensure that the votes of the registered are cast in an informed, calm and peaceful environment and eventually accept the winner and defeat with honour. Again, Kenya is bigger than any of us, these fellow Kenyans, are my views as an unregistered voter!

[1] Nominated for the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Award 2013