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February 20, 2019

What tribe-free politics look like

President Uhuru Kenyatta  and Deputy President William Ruto launch the Jubilee Party at Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi County
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto launch the Jubilee Party at Kasarani Stadium, Nairobi County

Last week, Dick Oneko — son of the late freedom fighter, Mau Mau detainee and pioneer Cabinet minister Achieng’ Oneko — wrote a very interesting piece that was carried by both The Standard and the Star newspapers. It was an explanation of why he had decided to support President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Jubilee Party. He wrote that they shared a common history that connected their fathers and the establishment of the Kenyan nation, and a common desire to do whatever they could to ensure the vision of one united nation, that their fathers worked for, was achieved.

The immediate criticism of Oneko’s piece was that he seemed to ignore the fact that President Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, detained the senior Oneko after Independence, despite their having been locked up together. In fact, when Oneko posted the link to his column on his Facebook page, most of his friends felt that by endorsing Uhuru, he was being unfaithful to his father’s memory. However, in a story carried by the Daily Nation in August 2013, Emeka Mayaka quoted Ong’ong’a Oneko — the eldest son of Oneko — saying, “Despite political differences between Kenyatta and Oneko, the bond that was forged by the two patriarchs in the 1940s, culminating in their detention in Kapenguria in 1952, was never really broken.”
Ong’ong’a was also at the JP launch.

He explained that despite Oneko’s long-term friendship with former President Mwai Kibaki, the older Oneko had told Kibaki that because of his past relationship with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, he would support Uhuru in the 2002 general election.
However, in the midst of the discussion about the decision by the young Oneko to support Uhuru, a crucial point is being missed.  He has said the main reason why he is supporting the President is because Uhuru wants to take the country “to the point where our political parties are not defined by our tribal identities”.

According to him, Uhuru wants to get Kenya to a point where political parties are a representation of the Kenyan ethnic diversity such that every community is represented, not just in each party’s leadership, but also in its membership.
There is no gainsaying this. If this were to succeed, it would fundamentally change the nature of Kenyan politics. But is it really practical in a country that has played tribal politics for close to six decades?

One uncomfortable truth about Kenya’s politics is that the Kikuyu, the Luhya, the Luo, the Kalenjin, the Kamba, the Meru, the Kisii, the Maasai and the Somali communities represent close to 85 per cent of the Kenyan (voting) population. Our national politics have, therefore, always been about how to strategically combine these communities around a common political cause.
Unfortunately, since the return of multi-party politics, the strategy has been to seek political combinations that bring in most of these communities into one team while excluding one or two. The excluded ones then become the ‘enemy’ that must be stopped from getting into power. This, essentially, is what tribal politics look like.

To defeat tribal politics, all we need to do is to find a way of ensuring we have at least two big parties that will have all these nine communities equitably represented. We should change our politics from being about voting against some communities, to being about voting for the party with the best strategy on how to meet the interests and expectations of all the major political communities. This will be on matters land, historical grievances, basic service delivery, employment and socio-economic development. This is what detribalised politics look like.

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