Why can’t this beautiful Rendile woman, that humble Maasai man, this proud and grounded Turkana woman, that erudite Luo man, this original Luhya woman, that fearless Pokomo man, this elegant Somali woman, or that creative Digo man also be allowed (I’ve used this deliberately) President of the Republic of Kenya?
Are there invisible inadequacies in their stride, gaze, poise, articulation or character? Are these magnificent human specimens unable to ascend to the pinnacle of political power purely or predominantly due to geographic, biological and cultural accidents they neither had the ability to determine nor change?
Is there any reasonable – and therefore justifiable – basis for more than 40 million Kenyans to be permanently governed (more accurately ruled and lorded over) by a clique of super-rich elites comprising of not more than 100 people?
Why does it appear more and more - and why do some people sound, reason and act - as if the Presidency of the Republic is exclusively reserved for able-bodied and privileged Kikuyu and Kalenjin men?
Why do we consider it normal and acceptable that after 50 years of flag independence (we aren’t politically or economically independent from colonial rule), we have had only three Kikuyu and one Kalenjin at the helm of power, with the latter only stumbling onto the throne through luck and a boomeranged conspiracy by the Kikuyu political-business cartel?
Why wasn’t it possible – and acceptable – for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Pio Pinto Ghama, Makhan Singh, Ronald Ngala, Joseph Murumbi, Koitalel arap Samoei, Masinde Muliro, Argwings K’Odhek, Tom Mboya, Dedan Kimathi or Wangari Maathai to also become president?
Has the dubious combination of authoritarianism and majoritarianism adequately served the interests of Kenyans?
Without sounding like a well-known punctured Kenyan politician, is our system of government a sham, a political fix, and a sugar-coated putsch?
If so, aren’t there fairer, more representative, more equitable and more democratic systems of government around the world that we can model ours on in order to transcend the tragic hotchpodge tableau the overwhelming majority of our citizens have been made captive of in the past 50 years?
If there is none, what can Kenyans of goodwill do to transform our current system, which is dominated and managed by and for the rapacious elites, truly democratic?
These thoughts cascaded through my mind as we arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport aboard a KLM flight from Amsterdam a few days ago.
I had met many Kenyans from many ethnic, cultural, religious and class backgrounds on that flight that gave me a lot of hope. Without exception – and without regard to their differences - they expressed their frustrations with the state of affairs in the country: the deteriorating insecurity, the escalating poverty, the worsening corruption, and the ethnic chasm, especially on social media.
All of them felt that successive Kenyan governments have betrayed the Kenyan dream we had 50 years ago. Instead of tackling ignorance, poverty, disease and corruption, each successive administration has manipulated these problems and used Kenyans against one another for their survival.
Some of us wondered why after 50 long years of ‘independence’ we are still over-relying on foreigners, increasingly Chinese – and spending a fortune - to construct our highways, roads, railway lines, ports, dams, aqueducts, hospitals, schools - even homes.
Upon disembarking, we were greeted by Kenya Airways’ professional customer service staff and airport officers who politely directed us to a waiting bus, which, unsurprisingly, was also Chinese manufactured.
Although the ride was extremely pleasant with the driver completely demystifying the myth that there are no good drivers in Kenya, the bus seemed like a used and remodelled mini-bus – too light and too small, with passengers anxiously clutching onto poorly clumped-together handrails. It was a far cry from what international travellers are used to at airports in Europe and North America.
(I hope that the buses were donated by the Chinese as the Kenya Airport Authority could have obtained very high quality custom-made buses from Leyland or Daimler Mercedes at highly competitive prices. Not only would the Leyland or Daimler buses have more capacity; they are also more reliable and ultimately more economical than the ramshackle we rode in.)
I have to admit, however, that the new runways looked and felt exceptionally well-made. The landing was smooth like butter. Even our ramshackle bus rode on them uneventfully.
And at the temporary arrivals section, the KAA staff and security personnel were courteous and professional. Even though the carousels – like the bus, were rickety and tiny – those handling luggage and passengers performed their tasks in the most edifying manner. Again, it made me have lots of hope for our country – with one exception.
The customs officer that attended to me took my fingerprints. Polite but firm she explained that it was “the policy.” This had happened to me when I departed a few months previously. It seemed as if I was always a victim of this extraordinary policy that is never uniformly applied to all travellers.
As I waited for my turn to be attended to, I observed that invariably, all foreigners were admitted to the country without their fingerprints taken. As usual, Caucasians walked briskly without much fanfare.
Of all countries I have travelled to (and they are many), only Kenya seems hostile to its citizens – departing or returning – unless, of course, one is a big shot.
I consider this intrusive practice of selectively taking fingerprints of Kenyan citizens who have not been charged with or convicted of any criminal offence grossly improper and unconstitutional.
Compelling innocent Kenyan citizens to provide their fingerprints on departure from or arrival at our ports of entry is akin to forcefully withdrawing a person’s blood and extracting his or her DNA from it merely on account that he or she is travelling to or arriving from a foreign country. It amounts to an illegal search and seizure and a serious violation of our privacy rights.
If the fingerprinting was intended to prevent terrorism, perhaps the target ought to be those foreigners and undocumented travellers that are presently being given VIP treatment at our airports.
More egregiously, I also discovered that Safaricom had terminated or suspended my mobile telephone line and M-Pesa account and confiscated – without notice - more than Sh5,000 that was in it. Upon making inquiries from the Safaricom customer care at Village Market in Nairobi, I was informed that my line was “terminated because Safaricom has implemented a policy of cancelling lines whose owners have two similar names – like Miguna Miguna.” I was astounded.
To make matters worse, it took more than seven hours before my mobile line could be restored. At one time, I even received a telephone call asking that I return to the customer care where I had already spent more than one hour and produce a copy of my ID.
(Never mind the fact that I have done that more than twice in the 15 years I have had my line.) Apparently, my name has been criminalised by Safaricom, most likely on behalf of the Big Brother.
My suspicion is that those monitoring my calls wanted to ensure that I made them aware of my presence in the country so that they can continue with the 24-hour surveillance I have been subjected to for many years.
Sometimes I cannot help but wonder why our taxes are being misused to employ some of those obnoxious Peeping Toms who enjoy listening to our private conversations. Why should this kind of invasion of privacy be a priority for any government? And how is it legally justified?
Rather than train or retrain all the intelligence personnel in useful activities including infiltrating terrorist and criminal cells and organisations and detecting and pre-empting violent criminal attacks within our borders, the state has been wasting public money on some louts listening on our private telephone conversations and trailing some of us 24/7.
There would be no significant problem if we also had enough skilled engineers, doctors, scientists and entrepreneurs that we could export to China.
Trade and intellectual exchanges are far better than the dependency we have gotten used to. So bad is our current situation that the Chinese have even brought with them unskilled construction labourers.
That’s the lowest deal one can get!
Technology transfer is often considered desirable for a developing (or is an underdeveloped?) country like ours. Through such transfers, our people may learn new skills, productively utilise what they have mastered and help transform our country for the benefit of all.
But dependency, which is what is mostly prevailing, sucks out all our resources and transfers them to foreign lands for their own people’s wellbeing. It also numbs us into believing, wrongly, that we are economically developing when in fact, we are becoming captive to a new set of colonial arrangements. We are becoming over-dependent on foreign loans, engineers, contractors and even labourers.
Tragically, we are becoming used to and dependent upon unfair trade and contractual conditions imposed by foreigners. It is as if we don’t have competent lawyers to draft and negotiate good deals for us, except that the system is deliberately rigged from inception for the Chinese and their middle-men and paymasters.
We are becoming culturally subservient to foreigners whose only design in our country is the astronomically high interests on their loans.
Eventually, we will lose our national pride, drive and creativity. We will become mentally, psychologically, economically and technologically imprisoned to foreign values, cultures and practices.
This brings me back to my penultimate questions: Firstly, what could have become of our country had Jaramogi, Pinto, Makhan, Murumbi, Koitalel, Ngala, Masinde, K’Odhek, Mboya, Kimathi or Wangari had managed to ascend to power?
Would they have made any significant difference? Many Kenyan scholars I am familiar with are of the opinion that our political, social and economic condition might have been positively different had this occurred.
Because most of these Kenyan patriots had attained their exalted leadership positions based solely on their abilities, character and integrity, and because they hailed from different communities, their ascendancy would have signalled the birth of a new, vibrant, and united country. It would also have demonstrated cultural and linguistic inclusiveness. Ultimately, it would have cemented our national cohesion and enabled most communities to embrace Kenya without equivocation.
Secondly, given the sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in, what system of government would empower our citizens to elect only leaders that would protect and work for their best interests?
In plurilingual societies such as Switzerland where diversity in the political system is accepted, rotational presidency was introduced to accommodate cultural differences, diverse interests and demands.
Over the years, it has ensured that the French, Germanic, and Italian speakers – and diverse and different cantons – equally share power both locally and federally, especially at the very top. It has also organically enabled ideological divergencies to be experienced at all levels of leadership. In the end, this system has brought stability, cohesion, equity and pluralism as positive attributes of the Swiss way of life.
Nigeria’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, adopted the presidential rotation in a truncated manner. It has an unwritten constitutional and political understanding of power sharing between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian/African traditional religions south. Whereas most proponents of this system hail it as one of the best ways to accommodate and cement ethnic and religious cleavages, critics see it as limiting, ill-advised and encouraging mediocrity.
My considered view is that the unique Swiss way of accommodating demographic, linguistic and cultural diversities would have far-reaching effects in addressing ethnic rivalries, competition and hostility in Kenya. It may also bring order in the way scarce resources are managed and utilised for the benefit of all.
There will be little feeling of ‘winner-take all’ since in the end all will be winners. The Nigerian experiment wouldn’t work successfully because it is artificially restricted to one political party and to two regions where the majority ethnic groups’ elites share power while, in large measure, the minorities (with the exception of Goodluck Jonathan) have become very unhappy spectators to the sham democracy.
The superficial suppression of ethnic identity has not worked. It has only made matters worse by creating and promoting a culture of deception and dishonesty.
Suppression forces diversity underground where it ferments chaos and intermittently erupts as ethnic cleansings and sectarian political mobilisations. In such an arrangement, power is the only valuable prize. Consequently, my view is that, majoritarian pluralism without a well-structured federal parliamentary system is a recipe for never-ending ethnic rivalries, inequality and chaos.
We deserve a system that addresses people’s fears, frustrations, emotions and fundamental needs – and that is rotational presidency.
Miguna Miguna is a lawyer and author of Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya and Kidneys for the King: Deforming the Status Quo in Kenya. [email protected]