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January 22, 2019

Ethnicity, democracy and justice

NASA invitation card for Raila Odinga swearing in which was posted on the party's Telegram Channel on Friday, December 1, 2017.
NASA invitation card for Raila Odinga swearing in which was posted on the party's Telegram Channel on Friday, December 1, 2017.

In an article published in the Star (December 22 ) and the Sunday Standard ( on December 24 ), I advocated the conferment of the title of the Baba wa Taifa on Raila Odinga by his admirers and followers, rather than his seeking to be sworn in as President, which he and millions of Kenyans think he is entitled to after the August 8 election.

I gave several reasons for this, including the ability to influence the fortunes of a society from outside of the State, following the examples of Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King. This would, I argued, minimise the risks of ethnic conflict and massacre, driven by the State. The other major reason was the need to move away from the highly corrupt government and to a fair allocation of resources and social justice, and a truly democratic state.

Of the readers who wrote to me, only Charles Kipkulei, who I do not know, expressed severe criticism (in the Star on December 29 ). I am writing in the spirit of an academic: Not to score a point but to search for the truth. This article is intended to assure him and readers, who he might have convinced, that my fidelity to the Constitution remains unshaken. However, I have to admit that political parties and electoral candidates have shown that they do not have any respect for the Constitution — a point I made repeatedly during the electoral process, which seems to have upset Kipkulei. Kipkulei accuses me of “three false notions that should be a concern and should be disabused”.


Perhaps, of his many misunderstandings of my article, the most serious is his accusation that I scorn the “very existence of Kenya”. The truth is far from it. The basis of his accusation is my statement that Kenya is not so far a “nation” in the sense that word is used in the Constitution, as a united people, not torn by ethnicity. Even President Uhuru Kenyatta accepts that Kenya is not a nation in his recent statement that he is determined to create Kenya as a nation, presumably by the equal treatment of all communities. One has only to review the nature of the electoral process and campaigns, including massive killing of Kenyans, to realise that we are a group of ethnic groups, not a nation — violating daily our determination “to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation”, as required by the constitutional preamble.


Another accusation is my “pathological” hatred of and “personal vendetta” against Kenyatta, so much so that I am unwilling to reconcile myself with the democratic reality of an Uhuru presidency. I have no such personal grievance; during the CKRC and Bomas we got on very well together, meeting at each other’s houses, and then agreeing on many points. Kipkulei accuses me of “three false notions that should be a concern and should be disabused”.

Going back further in history, Jomo Kenyatta (in Gatundu) and my father (in Ruiru) were close friends. At a personal level, I have nothing against Uhuru — I find him quite charming. But I do not approve of his acts as President and his attitudes towards the Constitution, as people who read my articles will know.

Kipkulei accuses me of disparaging President Uhuru when I say “[Raila’s] stature and achievements are infinitely superior to those of Uhuru”. I am stating a truth that is obvious to most Kenyans (unless they are biased by ethnicity). A fundamental right in a democracy, especially at times of election, is to discuss frankly and publically the qualities of candidates — and indeed to access the results of elections by similar criteria.

Does Kipkulei wish Kenyans to stop criticism of Kenyatta once he becomes President? Is he or I more committed to the rights and freedoms given in the Constitution? And I often wonder whether Kenyatta is truly in charge of the presidency. See Gado’s cartoons to understand who really rules Kenya.


Next, he accuses me of support for “the dangerous secessionist agenda” in order to split the country. If I had such tendency, I would have not fought for a united, democratic Kenya that the new Constitution establishes.

Nor would I be persuading Raila to give up his demands (lawful though they may be) to be sworn in as President, a great deal more likely to split the country than the role of an elder statesperson—and to give this government the excuse for renewed killings of innocent citizens.

 It is clear that Kiplukei’s and my notions of a nation and government differ fundamentally, and though he may not realise it, his views betray dangerous tendencies towards authoritarianism.

Third, it must be his lack of respect for democracy that makes him see my proposal of the recognition of Raila as the Father of the Nation as the destroyer of Kenya. Let me assure him that the Father of the Nation is not a post under the State, and does not threaten Kenyatta’s position.

It is not unusual for real champions of democracy, human rights, and social justice to be representative of society, not leaders of the State. It is well known that under successive authoritarian and greedy State leaders, Kenyans have suffered a great deal. The leaders of particular ethnic groups have monopolised the State and used its resources for the benefit of its elites.

The living standards between ethnic groups, and between the rich and poor generally, are now grossly unfair. The coercive power of the State is used a great deal more than dialogue and persuasion — in defiance of the Constitution.

In such circumstances people turn to leaders outside of government and corrupt leadership. The outcome of the last elections shows that we have reached that stage — and that is why we must mobilise the people to safeguard their own rights, given by the Constitution.


Unlike Kipkulei, I think at this stage of our history, Raila is more likely than Kenyatta to provide the leadership Kenyans need. Because I believe in democratic values (it would seem a great deal more than Kipkulei does) that I would rather that Raila should provide leadership to millions of Kenyans who suffer on a daily basis under governments headed by Kenyatta than the country be cast into an armed conflict.

I have never for a moment, during the recent crisis, thought that Raila should try to assume the powers of the State. In fact, I have little faith in the government at the moment — even a well-meaning President will be defeated by his corrupt and aggressive colleagues.

The impetus for fundamental social and economic change has to come from the people themselves. At the moment the person most acceptable to the people is undoubtedly Raila, as shown by the support of the voters. His understanding of the aspirations of the people is what is needed now—as well as his ability to turn people’s anger in the right direction, that of peace and unity but also of democracy and equity.

He has shown that he has the greatest ability of any Kenyan currently to bring people of different ethnicities and religions together.

So much for “the dangerous Ghai thinking” that so worries Kipkulei.





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