MERCURIAL

Why presidential hopefuls will find it hard to deal with Central Kenya

The community tends to respect diverse shades of opinions, thanks to an interactive custom known as ciira

In Summary

• It is on record that Jomo faced perhaps the stiffest challenge from Murang’a– Kikuyu led by Bildad Kaggia wa Mwaganu, the fearless freedom fighter.

• Moi tried the monarchy thing and failed dismally. Mwai Kibaki was made wiser by the failings of previous regimes.

Kikuyu Council of Elders during their annual prayers in Nyahururu Stadium on December 31, 2019
CULTURE: Kikuyu Council of Elders during their annual prayers in Nyahururu Stadium on December 31, 2019
Image: NDICHU WAINAINA

The story is told of how a powerful politician in the Moi’s government held a daylong meeting with a cross section of Kikuyu leaders at a popular hotel in Thika.

There was plenty to eat and drink and when it was time for him to leave, he generously gave each of assembled guests a bulging white envelope.

He was convinced he had finally won the stubborn Kikuyu community for President Daniel Moi. But it was only when he was out of view that the real meeting began in earnest.

 

“The fool is gone” the assembly laughed their hearts out. “Let us now enjoy our windfall without stress!”

Mercurial is how anyone who has interacted with this community at a mass level describes their collective temperament. Not given to the violent and public display of emotions, the Kikuyu tend to respect diverse shades of opinions, thanks to an interactive custom known as ciira (open debate).

Anthropologists and writers of the Kikuyu in the early 20th Century are unanimous that this is a community inclined to logical tendencies and the democratic ideal.

These experts are also agreed that the different Kikuyu communities spread out around the vast Mt Kenya and Aberdare ranges believed in democratic ideals of free speech and free expression at least within their cultural milieu.

They were also unanimous that the Kikuyu never contemplated that one leader could arrogate to himself the power to lord over them!

Neither did they believe muthamaki, the respected title reserved for their leaders was an inheritable office or a one-man-show sort of thing. Muthamaki was by and large a shared leadership responsibility and no single individual could lay any claim to it!

ENTER THE COLONIALISTS

Enter the British colonist and their contraption of chieftaincy ruptured a traditional democracy in the heart of Africa.

Henceforth, the overtly dictatorial tendencies of the British chieftaincy emboldened the Kikuyu into wildfire resistance movements against the British.

The myth of Jomo Kenyatta unruffled kingship over the Kikuyu should be dismantled here.

Although Jomo was a respected Kikuyu leader, he never controlled them as in a monarchy, simply because their allegiance was never to a person, but to their community!

 

It is on record that Jomo faced perhaps the stiffest challenge from Murang’a– Kikuyu led by Bildad Kaggia wa Mwaganu, the fearless freedom fighter.

The quiet but steely Charles Rubia, also from Murang’a was in this category of conscientious dissenters.

Put another way, to better understand the Kikuyu, one needs to know they have never been a monarchical community and [because of this], have actively detested servitude of any form, to any monarch or monarchy.

Moi tried the monarchy thing and failed dismally. Mwai Kibaki was made wiser by the failings of previous regimes.

The worst thing the scion of Jomo could do to himself and his legacy is to repeat the blunders of his predecessors — playing the monarchy card on a proud, independent and democratic people!

CATEGORISATION 

The Kikuyus broadly comprise Kikuyu-Nyeri; Kikuyu Murang’a; Kikuyu Kiambu and the Kikuyu Diaspora.

Their cousins ―the Ameeru, the Aembu, the Ambeere and their distant cousin the Akambaa encompass a unique enclave.

Thanks to the educational influence of the Presbyterian Church, Nyeri today boasts of some of the most prestigious learning institutions in the country.

And because of this influence, the Nyeri-Kikuyu have developed an ‘intellectual arrogance’ that is unique to them.

As for the Murang’a-Kikuyu, they were disadvantaged from the very beginning owing to the inaccessible nature of most of their locations. But their proximity to Nairobi easily made hawking business attractable to them.

Their watershed moment came when Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano was made Minister for Commerce and Industry. He embarked on Africanisation policy that sought inter alia, to promote African businesses.

Murang’a-Kikuyu were strategically placed to reap the benefit of becoming the business pulse of Kenya. And not even Moi’s repression of their leading lights could kill their ‘mad’ resilience and unbounded imagination.

The Kiambu-Kikuyu, due to nearness to Nairobi tended to quickly adapt to the British way of life a tad more than their kin from Murang’a and Nyeri.

Colonial reports repeatedly decried rising trends of alcoholism and other social ills among them. They learned from the British how to perfect the shrewdness of Marcus Junius Brutus, the Roman General who betrayed Emperor Julius Ceaser.

It is this cunning that ensured their political leaders inherited massive political and material resources from the departing British colonialists.

The Diaspora-Kikuyu who inhabited parts of the Rift Valley were originally from Nyeri, Murang’a and Kiambu and would have naturally exported their respective psychological dispositions into their new lands.

Therefore, to deal with the Kikuyu political equation, presidential candidates must be ready to deal with intellectual arrogance, a mad resilience, and a Brutus-like shrewdness all wrapped in one. What Winton Churchill would describe as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma!

The writer is a fellow with Deepsea Think Tank

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