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.

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