AMBITION

Ledama fomenting ethnic intolerance

All because he wants to be Narok governor.

In Summary
  • Ledama’s strategy is, therefore, to create an image of a man larger than he actually is. He seeks to be the Maasai spokesman.
  • That way he can transcend the problem of coming from a small clan to be seen as the face of the larger community.
Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina.
Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina.
Image: FILE

Ledama ole Kina wants to be Narok governor. The problem is that in a community where clan ties are strong, the senator comes from a clan that lacks the numbers to propel him into the office to be vacated by Samuel Tunai in 2022.

Families like the Ntutus and Konchelas come from larger clans and complicate the equation for the senator. In fact, if elections were held today, it is said Interior CAS Patrick ole Ntutu would win.

Ledama’s strategy is, therefore, to create an image of a man larger than he actually is. He seeks to be the Maasai spokesman. That way he can transcend the problem of coming from a small clan to be seen as the face of the larger community.

The position was previously effectively filled by William ole Ntimama. At his burial, the former Cabinet minister was eulogised as a leader who always fought for the rights of the Maasai. He had spent a lifetime championing Maasai land rights, at times laying claim to close to half of Kenya as Maasai ancestral land.

Ntimama’s style earned him the adoration of community nationalists, but this often came with trampling of the rights of other communities. The clashes that rocked Enoosupukia in Narok in 1992, where non-Maasais were attacked, were blamed squarely on his incitement.

He was arrested and later released, but will always be remembered for telling members of other tribes in Narok to “lie low like an envelope”. His role in ethnic clashes was firmly established by the Akiwumi Commission set up to investigate the tribal violence.

Exit Ntimama, who died peacefully of old age, and a vacuum arises. The ambitious Ledama realises that there is political capital in whipping up ethnic nationalism. How else will he become governor of the once-richest county that collects hundreds of millions of shillings from the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and which largely ends up in private pockets?

Hot in the news is the destruction of the Mau Forest water tower, which causes rivers to dry from Kipsigisland, through Maasailand all the way to Luoland around Lake Victoria. It suits the politician to convert a conservation issue into an ethnic and political problem, because that is how he can advocate eviction and burning of houses of the encroachers.

Many members of the Kipsigis community are opposed to the wanton destruction of the forest, and encroachment by their tribesmen. But they are forced to start taking sides when they see pictures of homes and schools in flames, supervised by Narok county askaris and the police.

Exit Ntimama, who died peacefully of old age, and a vacuum arises. The ambitious Ledama realises that there is political capital in whipping up ethnic nationalism. How else will he become governor of the once-richest county that collects hundreds of millions of shillings from the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and which largely ends up in private pockets?

To further augment his self-branding as defender of Maasai rights, Ledama announces that he will single-handedly oversee the fencing of Mau Forest. He posts on social media pictures of himself in South Africa purchasing equipment for digging holes and binding wire as evidence that he walks the talk. Good luck to him in his quest to win his community’s support and, by extension, the political seat he so desires.

But the Senator was in the news last week for the wrong reason. The Building Bridges Initiative rally was headed to Narok, and Ledama went to TV to announce that Narok was for the Maasai, and non-Maasai who live, invest and work in the county were not welcome to the BBI rally. Subsequently, Kipsigis leaders were ejected from the planning committee, and ended up boycotting the actual event.

The building bridges drive has left the Maasai and Kipsigis more divided than they were last month.

The Kipsigis are said to number 1.97 million and are the most populous of the Kalenjin tribes. The second largest, the Nandi, are at a distant 900,000. The Kipsigis live in Kericho and Bomet counties almost exclusively, and have a large presence in neighbouring Narok and Nakuru counties. They have the Narok deputy governor’s position and Emurua Dikirr constituency.

The community’s presence in Narok has often rubbed the Maasai the wrong way, and there have been skirmishes. Former President Moi is said to have warned the Kipsigis not to vie for elective positions in Narok, even if they had he numbers to win. He famously used the saying that when invited to eat a cow, leave the tongue to the host. Johanna Ngeno of Kanu defied this to win the Emurua Dikir seat. And because of the large population of Kipsigis in the constituency, the community is likely to retain this seat for the foreseeable future.

Narok Governor Samuel Tunai comes from a small clan too. To increase his numbers, he accommodated the Kipsigis and never directly attacked them like Ledama has been openly doing. He would never gloat over the razing of houses in the forest like the senator. This tolerance allowed Tunai to be reelected, and the two communities to largely live harmoniously.

A Ledama governorship would usher in an era of ethnic hostilities, which would suit the politician just fine. If the Narok BBI rally is anything to go by, we will soon hear of certain tribes being told to lie low in Narok like an envelope, or leave, or be prepared to face the consequences.

Bomet Woman Representative