Until about five years ago, Kakamega town did not have street children, a common sight in other urban centres. Even now, the population is comparatively low: Less than 20, which by Kenyan standards is negligible. The reason the urban explosion has not translated into teeming populations of street families is the sense of community that characterises the Mulembe (Peace) nation. That is why at the height of 2007-08 post-election violence the Luhya protected children from other communities.
Children still belong to the community in the network of human inter-relations that still defies individualism, deceit and lust. It is the persistence of ubuntu – that human spirit that includes the essential human virtues, compassion and humanity. The spirit of ‘I am because we are.’
However, political expediency threatens this spirit that holds the Mulembe nation together. South African President Nelson Mandela once observed that a person is only a person because of and through other people. The spirit does not manifest unless “there is interaction between people in a community. It manifests through the actions of people ... One’s humanity can, therefore, only be defined through interaction with others.”
Compare the emergence of rent-seekers with what former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere said of leadership and democracy: “I am the first to admit that a country does not have to be rich in order to be democratic. But a minimum amount of resources is needed in order to meet some minimum requirements of good governance ... Even the high echelons of the civil service receive salaries inadequate to keep a family for a month and the minimum wage is derisory... Nor have the people in general been the beneficiaries at any time of a well-organised education system directed at enlarging public understanding of, and active participation in, modern democratic institutions and processes. Poverty is an enemy of good governance, for persistent poverty is a destabiliser, especially if such poverty is shared in a grossly unequal manner ... Good wages or salaries will not stop bad people from being corrupt; but miserable wages and salaries are not conducive to rectitude.”
In 2002 and 2013, voters defied ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi’s attempt to ride on Luhyas’ numerical strength to power – shared or otherwise – and stuck with the opposition. He was the natural choice to lead the opposition against Kanu, but reportedly retreated following threats by his political mentor then President Daniel Moi.
In March 1963, in the countdown to the inaugural elections that ushered in Independence, speaking at a rally in Kitale, then Kanu secretary general Tom Mboya described the Luhya as the ladder Kanu would climb to power. The Luhya were the dominant bloc in Kadu. Kadu VP Masinde Muliro took offence and reminded the party boss of the duplicity in Kanu that the Luhya had rejected. When Mboya repeated the remarks two weeks later in Kamukunji, Nairobi, Martin Shikuku, in his element, lambasted him as an unreflective political chauvinist.
We are not in the era of an imperial presidency when ‘development’ was the prerogative of the president. Governors – including Kenneth Lusaka, whose government bought wheelbarrows at Sh109,000 each – are constitutionally expected to make devolution the engine of development. Instead, they are busy looking for alms.
In the colonial era, Luhya men took pride in fulfilling their responsibility of paying poll tax so their families would have freedom of movement. You were derided as omusatsa-satsa (improvident man) if you hid in the bush as the village headman, sub-chief or chief terrorised your wife and children. Such men ended up with illegitimate children in their families.