Last week a group of MPsfrom the Mt Kenya region met in a hotel in the leafy suburbs of the Karen area in Nairobi, and after ‘intensive’ deliberations, came up with the decision that Uhuru Kenyatta is their preferred presidential candidate for 2012, again. Of course they also stated that he is their political boss as Central Kenya politicians. All this is within their rights as citizens of Kenya. They then went on to say that their decision to follow Uhuru Kenyatta was binding to the entire population of the Mt Kenya region!
I can think of several reasons why their final statement is wrong, but I will give just one. When those of us from that region voted for them to be our MPs in 2007 we did not give them the mandate to go and choose for us who will be our presidential candidate in 2012. We also certainly did not tell them to go and get us a regional kingpin: especially not after we thereafter passed a constitution doing away with regions, and replacing them with counties!
But we really cannot blame them. They do not understand that the Kenya we live in today is very different, from the Kenya that voted them into office. For example they did not even realize that as they were seated in Karen dividing the country into ethnic fiefdoms, individual Kenyan citizens were uniting as Kenyans to raise money for our brothers and sisters in north and upper eastern Kenya, who were facing starvation.
As this team of less than 30 politicians strategized on how to split up parts of Kenya into Gikuyu, Embu and Meru zones, and how to isolate this region’s politics from the rest of the country before enthroning Uhuru as the ‘king’ of the combined zones: over 250,000 individual Kenyans from all walks of life, and from all the regions of the country were ‘ganging’ up to contribute over Sh130 million to help buy food for their brother Kenyans.
As this small group of elites from one part of the country sat in a private room to discuss how to carve out part of the national pie into pieces for themselves and how they were going to exclude ‘outsiders’, hundreds of small and medium enterprise business owners as well as leading corporates were walking into Serena Hotel to help bake a national ‘cake’ that could be given to Kenyans they did not even know—over Sh240 Million shillings worth of a cake! Someone should tell these Waheshimiwas that Kenya has changed. As they plan how to divide and rule, others are uniting to lead!
But for me as a Kikuyu, one of the communities on whose behalf they purport to be making these statements, the most annoying thing is how they keep misrepresenting what we want. In July 2010 I was part of a team that spent an entire month in Central province discussing what was then the proposed constitution, and comparing it to what is now the previous constitution. Our discussions were very specific: which of the two constitutions will benefit the region more. In each forum we were careful not to take sides: we were pushing neither a Yes nor a NO position: we just wanted to have a candid discussion, on all the key issues. After participating in 16 forums and having closely interacted with over 5,400 local opinion leaders during the period, I know very clearly, exactly what Kikuyus as a community want for themselves, and for Kenya ... and it is not to be politically isolated from the rest of the country!
After 2007 all we want is to be assured that never again will anyone have the capacity to politically mobilize other communities against us. We saw it happen in 1992, 1997, 2005: and again in 2007. Our biggest fear is that someone will try and do it again in 2012.
In our deliberations we realized that political tribalism had actually done great harm to the average Kikuyu. Mobilizing politically by arranging ethnic communities in a row meant that one could gang up communities against others, for personal benefit (and usually against the community’s interests and safety). We also realized that an 8-region structure allowed politicians to create regional kingpins and/or warlords whose politics was entirely all about ‘protecting’ their tribe from ‘outsiders.’
On that basis every discussion forum concluded that each opinion leader present would lobby everyone around them to support the proposed constitution, because it provided a solution for this situation, in two ways. By insisting that a President had to get 50% plus 1 of all votes cast, and over 25% in majority of the counties, any person aspiring President would have to seek to unite Kenyans across tribes, rather than divide them ethnically. In addition, the 47 county governments meant that never again would a certain region, zone or district belong to any particular community. The new constitution was our guarantee as a community that never again would anyone isolate us as a community, especially politically. What we never foresaw was a situation where those trying to isolate us would be from within!
I am sure that other communities have related concerns similar to the Agikuyu community: and that is why I must end with a question to all presidential candidates for 2012: As you seek the presidency is your intention to divide Kenya to rule, or unite us and lead?
The writer is the conveyor of the Change Associates Kenya forum.