Hear me out first before you crucify me. We are already running our political parties along tribal lines, why not just be honest enough and make tribalism official?
Kenya has had deadly politics where community played a huge part in fanning violence. It might be time we looked at the notion of tribalism positively and see whether it may just work for our divided country. Democracy as we know it is based on shared values.
Many of our ethnic communities share very little — apart from skin colour and geographical location. There may be linguistic overlaps and inter-marriages along the way but even these do not dilute the strong tribal bonds.
The political parties that have won previous presidential contests were ushered in by sheer numbers from their ethnic groups and a few smaller communities. Kanu shared two presidents between them, from two communities. Narc, which was a coalition, ended up being split at the last minute to favour one community before being forced into a grand coalition government of dual ethnicities in 2007 to avert further civil strife.
All of Kenya’s presidents have come from two of the three biggest communities and the next president may as well be from one of them. That is why I struggle to believe the wrangle between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto. I am not a fortune-teller but it looks like another revolving-door presidency is cooking.
Ignore the tantrums. With former Prime Minister Raila Odinga entering his winter years, I won’t be surprised if another ‘handshake’ came about between President Kenyatta and Dr Ruto.
The battle for the Mount Kenya vote is by design and Ruto’s meteoric rise in the region is not a fluke. His ascension to power is being choreographed in a way that would make way for another presidency from the region after him — should he become one next year . The call for a running mate from Mt Kenya for him on a UDA ticket says it all.
Ruto has not had to fight to worm his way into the hearts of the Mt Kenya communities but has easily been adopted as one of their own through a show of hands among local politicians interested in keeping the region at the centre of Kenya’s politics for posterity. His right-hand men and women are pretty much all from Mt Kenya region.
Why should President Kenyatta be upset about such an endorsement that is bound to benefit his community? Something is just not adding up here.
Veneer of national unity
As the next presidency appears to head the same way as the previous ones and to be shared among the bigger communities, won’t it be best to conduct our politics openly along tribal lines rather than hide behind a veneer of national unity? We may just be able to redeem the country and unite it by default.
Let the people’s representation in politics be from the 50-plus communities, including the diaspora, and not political parties. The interests represented in Kenya today are for the communities that have the numbers and the bigger voice.
If we gave every representative in Parliament the opportunity to speak for their communities rather than multi-ethnic constituencies, we may just be able to reach the grassroots more effectively and save ourselves the huge budgets used to ram bicameral parliaments with hundreds of politicians only in it for themselves or their communities.
We are running the apex of the country on tribal lines anyway which has traditionally benefited the communities of the incumbent and we might as well officially adopt a similar scheme across the board.
The politics of nationhood has not been about the nation of Kenya but the nationhood built around ethnic communities. The same politicians who sing about the unity of the country would preach about nationhood built around their communities as they look to the presidency. Why do we have to fool ourselves that we are not tribal when we are by conduct?
President Kenyatta calling a Sagana meeting is not assuaging the fears of the nation but those of his community. The head of ODM has milked the ‘Handshake’ for the benefit of his community. The other tribal ‘nations’ are waiting in the wings for their turn to ‘eat’.
We just need to be honest and accept that tribalism is our way of life and need to look at how we can use it positively to give every community, rather than select ones, a chance to prosper. Political parties have been riding on the back of all the other communities to benefit one community, with crumbs for the smaller communities. Such politics will never unite a country. It is a hypocritical, manipulative and divisive way to rule.
Instead of living a lie, let us adopt tribalism and come up with customised democracy to positively reflect our diversity.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo