I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch. However, I can’t help but notice proof of life in the nest. Let me give it to you straight. The end of ethnic kingpins in Kenya is nigh. It’s not today, but definitely tomorrow. Kenya has long been a patrimonial state in spite of the 2010 Constitution. Power usually flows directly from the head of state who has a symbiotic relationship with all major ethnic kingpins who then distribute state loot to their elites. That’s how Kenya has been governed since Independence. That’s about to change – not by design, but accident. The current ethnic matrix will be the last of ethnic kingpins in Kenya. Politics will dramatically change.
No one – and nothing – defies time. We know this. We are born. We live. And then we die. We can die a political death, but the biological one is certain. That’s the “T” factor – time. The death of Kenya’s ethnic kingpins – whether political or biological – will catapult us to the next democratic milestone. It will free Kenyans from their primordial moorings in which they act like herds of cattle and deliver them to the world of individual atomism. The individual egoist doesn’t have to be a soulless pagan. No. Individualism isn’t sacred, nor is it a summit of human genius. But it can be a good thing if tempered by community and grounded in Ubuntu. Let’s dig deeper.
The modern state of Kenya is a scatter shot hodge-podge of disparate nations slapped together by British imperialists. They created it for their own benefit. After they left in 1964, global hegemonic powers that run the “international order” took over. Kenya is a charge of this scandalous international order. The people we call Kenyans don’t actually own Kenya, the country. Kenyans are only tenants in Kenya. Kenya’s leaders and their ethnic kingpins are the rent-seekers in Kenya. Even they don’t own Kenya. But the only way they can collect rent is to assure their international puppet masters that they can keep “order”, not “law”. This “order” is kept through ethnic alliances and cartels through kingpins and their lackeys.
“Natives”, for that is what Kenyans are in the view of the international order, must be kept “pacified”. The job of “pacification” has been given to ethnic kingpins. This is where Kenya hasn’t cohered into a single nation. Nations become so when they develop into an idea, not just an accidental geographic cartography on the planet. I don’t know any “Kenyan” who can describe Kenya as an idea. Ask the person next to you to define Kenya. They’ll start stammering immediately, or describe Kenya innocuously as a “country in East Africa”. Kenya is a state and a country with a government, but it’s not a nation. That will start to change in 2022 when Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta retires.
House of Mumbi
Why 2022? That’s because 2022 will signal the collapse of the House of Mumbi in Kenyan politics. For the first time in Kenya’s history, the Kikuyu – and the Meru, Embu, Tharaka, and Mbeere with whom they co-exist in concubinage – will have no kingpin. The miserable and sad attempt to crown National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi as Mt Kenya kingpin is actual proof of the end of Kikuyu domination of Kenya. Mr Muturi is a scallywag who can’t even whip a stray cow back into the kraal. He can’t fill a seat erased by the gravitational pull of history. The revolt against Mr Kenyatta in his backyard signals Kikuyu political exhaustion and infertility to produce another ethnic kingpin. It’s over.
In Luo Nyanza, where ODM’s Raila Odinga and his father Oginga Odinga have ruled for eons, change is coming. Mr Odinga – unless he becomes the next President – will retire from active politics and become an elder Africa-wide statesman. He has no successor among the Luo. None. That’s why there won’t be another Luo kingpin. In Ukambani, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka is on his last legs. His time on the ethnic stage will expire in 2022 if he can’t deliver the presidency to the long-suffering Akamba. There’s no one who can even remotely claim to be the next Kamba ethnic kingpin. There are strong leaders in the region but the Akamba will be through with being herded after Mr Musyoka.
This leaves the Abaluhya and the Kalenjin. The Abaluhya aren’t really a single nation and haven’t truly had an ethnic kingpin, in spite of the claims of the Mudavadi clan. Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi is the closest thing to a kingpin, but he’s proven that he can’t carry the mantle. This leaves only DP William Ruto among the Kalenjin. He will be the only ethnic baron among the Kalenjin, Kanu’s Gideon Moi notwithstanding. However, a single ethnic kingpin is like a castrated bull. Mr Ruto’s hold on the title will be for naught because there won’t be other ethnic kingpins to trade with. The game of ethnic kingpins can’t be played solo.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua