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January 22, 2019

Why 'homecoming' events are questionable: CS Monica Juma's case

The Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma played a critical role some years ago as our Ambassador to the African Union in getting African support for our President, who was facing ICC charges of crimes against humanity — an objective to which the Kenya government (unsurprisingly) was deeply committed. She is thus eminently qualified for her present post that Uhuru Kenyatta has given her. You might expect that she would be welcomed home in grand style as “one of us”. Superficially, homecomings seem to be of profound significance, strengthening tribal identity — and individual pride. It seemed surprising when a leading newspaper reported instead her rejection — “no longer one of us”. She was boycotted by all important leaders.


What went wrong? A local MP complained that Juma was being used to divide the Kamba community, just at a time when Kalonzo Musyoka was bringing the Kamba (or those he has the capacity to bring) together in support of the handshake agenda (whatever that may be). These alleged processes seem mysterious, but one thing they do indicate is how politicians assume that it is the role of “leaders” to herd their tribespeople like sheep into political corrals. It is possible that these shrewd politicians were unable to understand constitutional politics of national unity. 


The newspaper also speculated that the lack of an enthusiastic reception was less to do with her than with President Kenyatta.  They wanted to convey to him and secondarily to her that she did not represent the interests of the Kamba in the Cabinet!  In that respect, she had no doubt broken the time-honoured rule of what today we call ethnicity, or as we used to call it, tribalism.

The extent of betrayal that the male politicians felt is obvious from Kitui East MP Nimrod Mbai’s statement that “the President had garnered many votes in the Ukambani during the repeat presidential poll and therefore the community needed a substantive position in the Cabinet. As it is, the Kamba community is not represented there [Juma being not Kamba] and we are requesting the [ungrateful] President to consider appointing somebody [man of course] from our community for regional balance” (insertions ours).

Another politician said that the absence of a Kamba in the Cabinet was “deeply hurting”.  These “leaders” seem to be assuming that Juma is in Cabinet to ensure that Kamba interests are represented. Yet how can that be right? Appointed officers, like Cabinet secretaries, must not “hold office in a political party” according to Article 77. They are not supposed to be strongly connected to politics (which in Kenya tends to means community).

Then why does the Constitution say that: “The composition of the national executive shall reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya”?

The Constitution makers were aware that many communities in Kenya felt excluded from power. They wanted to end marginalisation, discrimination, and exclusion. The work of the government will be enhanced if it is drawn from wide backgrounds. But that did not mean they bought into the notion that all offices are there to be used for the benefit of the communities from which the officers come. Of course a public officer from a particular community (or from any other background) should, when relevant, bring to bear that knowledge and experience. There would be nothing wrong with Juma saying in a Cabinet meeting that some policy was or was not helpful to Ukumbani. But of course Cabinet meetings must consider the needs of the entire country – not just those represented there. Incidentally, one wonders quite how they think the CS Foreign Affairs can benefit the Kamba in her work. And how they think they know what she says in Cabinet meetings.

These politicians consider that the role of CSs is to divert resources to their home areas, not to discharge their portfolios in the best interests of the country. It is this perception that has dominated many politicians and prevented the growth of nationalism and unity.  It is no surprise that all the criticism has come from men politicians, obsessed by notion of their own superiority.  

 In fact, she would no doubt have broken the Constitution if she had lobbied for favours to her ethnic friends or community.


There is, said one well-known politician, a time-honoured rule that women belonged where they were married, and she had married Dr Peter Kagwanja who ― they assume ― has no interest whatsoever in the welfare of the Kamba. So women have no minds of their own, their minds are wiped clean of their childhood knowledge and any commitment to their place of origin. Such a bundle of nonsense about women, marriage and politics, rejecting, among other things the sexual and ethnic equality proclaimed in the Constitution.   

Who are these politicians to decide what is a person’s “home”? Surely it is for the individual to decide. It is not uncommon for people to spend a considerable amount of time outside their home area always intending to return to it on retirement. We are no longer living in the colonial era, when the authorities decided where you live, on an ethnic basis to weaken Africans in their struggle against imperialists.

It is hard for women to get elected to public office, especially if they marry “outside”. Election is at least supposed to mark acceptance by a community. Monica Juma went into public life via the public service. It now seems that even there you are supposed to be working not for the good of the country but for the good of your people.


But is not the whole idea of “homecoming” highly questionable, especially for non-political appointees like Cabinet secretaries, and judges?

Jeremiah Kiplang'at, a perceptive journalist, noted in the Nation that there are two non-overlapping groups of elected politicians: Those who are active in their elected posts, and those who have homecomings. He notes that these events tend to become occasions for politicians to berate their rivals, incite Kenyans against one another and thump their own chests. Though they may be billed as thanksgivings the shindigs are rarely used to thank anyone. “The only way to thank voters is through finding solutions to challenges such as unemployment, insecurity, corruption and the cost of living”.

While homecomings for elected politicians are constitutionally unobjectionable, because they represent their community, is the same true for other public office holders? All holders of state and major public offices come into office by swearing to serve the people of Kenya. Presidents, here as in other countries, ritually promise in acceptance speeches to be “President of all [Kenyans]”. Juma is CS for Foreign Affairs, not CS for Ukambani. We might add that Justice David Maraga is the CJ of Kenya not Kisii, and the Speaker of the Senate is not the speaker for Bungoma.

While it is no doubt right to try to make it clear that just because one has been appointed to important national office does not mean one has forgotten one’s roots, there should be other ways of doing this than making an early trip “home” to mark ascending to that office in such a public, and sometimes extravagant, fashion. You will remember former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s homecoming to Korogocho. He said at the time “for me, Korogocho is my home because every tribe and religion is here.”


Yash Ghai and Jill Cottrell Ghai: Directors of Katiba Intitute



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