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Is Central Our Last Frontier In The Battle Against Ethnicity?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
Uhuru made Kikuyu elder
Deputy Prime minister Uhuru Kenyatta  yesterday being installed  as a Kikuyu elder in a colorful ceremony that was attended by more than 30 members of parliament and three cabinet ministers at Ihura Stadium In Murang'a.Photo/ Jesse Mwangi.

After my article last week I have received all manner of messages from fellow Kikuyus indicating utmost displeasure at what is perceived to be an attack on ‘andu a nyumba’. The argument is that what Central Kenya MPs are doing in asking Kikuyus to unite behind Uhuru is exactly what other political elites are doing elsewhere, and so either I out against all of them, or none.

However charity must begin from home to be credible and political tribalism must be fought from inside out to be real. Even the bible says we must first remove the log from our eyes before pointing out the specks in the eyes of others, and that’s just me removing the logs.
Part of this requires me to articulate my views on President Kibaki: Prime Minister Odinga & Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru, the three public personalities who will determine the effect of Central Kenya in the next election.

First let me state for the record that in my opinion H.E. Emilio Mwai Kibaki has been a pretty good President in the circumstances under which he has ruled this country. As a man who was elected on a wheelchair, he somehow managed to make impressive economic progress, though the lack of a firm hand on the political front was quite evident. He ended his first term with a full revolt from his allies and forced into bed with his enemies. The beginning of his second term was bloodshed, though again somehow he managed to bring in a first-of-a-kind coalition government, and share some of his power (real or perceived) in a partnership with his erstwhile rival. Somehow (& one tends to use this word a lot while referring to Kibaki) he then went on and oversaw a peaceful referendum that introduced a revolutionary constitution.

That is why I am excited about his message not to anoint a successor. A key observation about President Kibaki is how he works within the changes happening in Kenya rather than use his power to make things work as he would prefer. He is a pragmatist and his message, shared so far to a mainly Central Kenya audience, is him being consistent and encouraging our region towards politics that is part of the whole, rather than a distinct unit as we have done over the years. He intends to retire gracefully and in the dignity of a national leader, and this is a sure way of doing so.

As regards Uhuru Kenyatta, I must admit to having a lot of respect for who he is, especially when one imagines what others could have done, or become had they been born in his circumstances: he has done pretty well. Uhuru is also a one of a kind in my book. He has the distinction of being the prominent son of Kenya’s Founding President; represents the cream of the largest, most politically and economically powerful community in Kenya; occupies a position among the top 5 senior-most political leaders in the country, and is most likely one of Kenya’s wealthiest citizens. This is a terrific combination in a leader.

What I cannot understand is why he would then allow himself to be contained nationally, as a Kikuyu politician. Observing him one gets the impression he has decided that political tribalism is the way to go, and become a key champion pushing for scenarios where political elites arrange tribes into ethnic bastions, ‘create’ ethnic chieftains to rule each bastion, then hijack the right of those from the communities they now ‘own’ to determine who becomes the overall ‘king’ of them all, usually while seating around a boardroom. The fact that his advisors can even argue that it is okay for him to do this because others are doing it means they do not understand the strength of his brand: and how selling him as a Kikuyu Chieftain as a means to making him a national figure is to completely miss the mark.

It is my opinion that Uhuru is a national figure by birth, and so anyone trying to make him a local chief is actually destroying the very essence of who he is. I am also sure that the people behind this strategy do not realize that practicing political tribalism means they are involved in all three main challenges in Kenya today: corruption, impunity and negative ethnicity. That is why we will keep asking that he reconsider staying as the national figure he is, and moving Central Kenya up to where he is, rather than accepting to be taken back into ethnic cocoons. He is one person who could make a difference.

Whenever I think of the Rt. Honorable Raila Amolo Odinga and Central Province I remember a story shared with me by an Irish friend. He told me that how during the Irish/British ‘troubles’ young Irish boys were taught that the definition of a true Irishman was someone who hated the British. This sometimes feels like the message around being a true Kikuyu, and Raila.

In Central Kenya when one talks about Raila the first thing that comes up is the ‘41 versus 1’ political strategy that is somehow always connected with him since the 2005 referendum. Those pushing this story say argue that he deliberately presented Kibaki’s government as a Kikuyu government and messaged his campaign as being about teaching Kikuyus. (I had actually believed this until I was reminded that Uhuru was on the same side with him then, and so it was not possible to have such a strategy). Then there is the perception that those behind the 2007/8 post election violence in Rift Valley might have been acting on his behalf. The Prime Minister’s aggressiveness to be Kenya’s next president also goes against how a typical Kikuyu interacts with public office positions: we believes that leaders should be ‘volunteered’ by other people (even if the leader has to pay those volunteering him before hand, to do so!)

However the fact is that Raila Odinga is currently Kenya’s leading 2012 presidential candidate in literally every poll conducted so far. Then there is the little matter that the population index indicates Kikuyus are not enough to stop anyone from being President by themselves. Finally one must consider that we must not be like another group of Kikuyus who assumed that the Presidency was a Kikuyu preserve, and then got caught completely unprepared by Moi’s 24-year rule.

It is therefore imperative for Central Kenya to engage Raila Odinga beyond our stereotypes of him, and distinguish facts from perceptions. It is also quite obvious that the post-2008 Raila is very different from the pre-2007 man: one gets the impression of a politician who has learnt from past political mistakes, and watching him one sees a man in a transition of sorts. For example it is quite clear that no one will be accusing him of practicing political tribalism. It is also arguable that Raila’s relationship with Central Kenya is Kenya’s last frontier in tackling negative ethnicity. If he can successfully engage the region Kenya on its stereotypes and perceptions of him to the extent they can start considering his presidential candidates on its merits, we could very well be on the road to a situation where popular local folklore today never again becomes lethal political ammunition later:-maybe to the detriment of national peace.

So as KikuyusforChange we have invited the Prime Minister to discussion forums in the 5 counties of Central province, where he can meet local opinion leaders and candidly discuss the perceptions, fears and expectations they might have of him. We hope that as we do this our colleagues in community-based groups from other parts of the country, like Northern Forum for Democracy, Teso Progressive Forum, Western Leaders Alliance, Nyanza Youth Coalition etc: will also invite those leaders that their regions do not understand, and hold similar discussions.

I believe that if a broad section of members of various communities can interact with the individual politician beyond the stereotype, then we will introduce the Kenyans for Kenya spirit into our politics, and if do it rapidly enough, we will create an environment where 2012’s elections are about policy rather than ethnicity: which for my friends Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua, Paul Muite, Mutava Musyimi & Uhuru Kenyatta, is the only way Kenyans would vote any one of them President after Kibaki.

The writer is a convenor, Change Associates