Muthoni Ngunjiri’s article, “East-West split would be a costly affair for Mt Kenya” (DN, June 17), has the hallmarks of ethnic jingoism. It extols tribal chauvinism, in effect denigrating the Constitution’s one-Kenya philosophy, reiterating the fact that the “vote-rich region has produced three of Kenya’s four presidents...and has consistently dictated the course of Kenyan politics”.
Encyclopaedia Britannica describes ‘jingoism’ as “an attitude of belligerent nationalism, or a blind adherence to the rightness or virtue of one’s own nation, society or group, simply because it is one’s own”. It’s the approximate equivalent of chauvinism (from the French chauvinisme) “denoting excessive or irrational patriotism”.
The encyclopaedia traces ‘jingoism’ to England, during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78), when the British Mediterranean squadron was sent to Gallipoli, Turkey, to restrain Russians and war fever was aroused.
Supporters of Britain’s policy towards Russia came to be called jingoes as a result of the phrase “by jingo”, which appeared in the refrain of a popular song whose chorus was: “We don’t want to fight, yet by jingo, if we do, /We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, /And got the money, too!”
Jingoism runs counter to the Constitution, whose preamble affirms the oneness of Kenya, which all citizens should aspire to. The supreme law opens with “We, the people of Kenya” and extols “those who heroically struggled to bring freedom and justice to our land”. While expressing pride in “our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity”, the preamble affirms our determination “to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation”.
The article could stoke the flames of ethnic jingoism with the potential of sparking tribal clashes that would dwarf 1994 Rwanda. By suggesting that the supremacy battle pitting Mt Kenya East against West may deny central Kenya the presidency next year, it panders to ethnic chauvinism that treats national leadership as a birthright of one community.
And why the belief that Mt Kenya is only safe with one of its own in State House? Sample this: “...there is a likelihood of the region being subjected to politics of oppression after years of unity that have ensured it has a voice on the negotiating table when it comes to development and leadership.”
Our Constitution never envisaged rotational leadership. It would take decades for every community to have its turn at the ‘feeding trough’. Nonetheless, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s sentiments acknowledge the injustice that’s ‘tyranny of numbers’.
I use ‘feeding trough’ advisedly because leadership should never be about ‘eating’ but service, that woefully wanting quality in Kenya’s leaders. The Presidency — and political leadership in Kenya generally — is a high-stakes game not because the aspirants want to serve; rather, it’s “our turn to eat”.
Swathes of poverty across Kenya testify to the flaws of jingoistic leadership that blinds us to servant leadership, which is what ‘Wanjiku’ is crying for, regardless of politicians’ ethnic math.