DOG WHISTLING

DPP Haji, tribes don’t steal, people do

Absolute numbers rarely tell the story behind the story

In Summary

• In his attempt to exonerate his office from accusations that he was targeting the Kalenjin nation in the fight against graft, DPP Noordin Haji gave us a breakdown of the representation by tribe of persons of interests on his list.

• Why does tribe become supreme only in the sphere of corruption? Now that there are 141 Kikuyus on this list of persons of interest, how are we as a nation supposed to interpret this data? 

DPP Noordin Haji has ordered a probe on the missing documents in the Kenya Power corruption case. /COURTESY
DPP Noordin Haji has ordered a probe on the missing documents in the Kenya Power corruption case. /COURTESY

Non satiata. This means never enough in Latin.

The Bible records that there are four things that are never satisfied; that never get enough. These are the grave, the barren womb, parched land and fire. If the writer of the book of Proverbs was alive today, Kenyans would have added him a fifth one. And this is the disaggregation by tribe of the number of Kenyans suspected of corruption.

The Director of Public Prosecution, Noordin Haji, this week opened the proverbial pandora’s box. According to Greek mythology, the story begins with the god Prometheus, who defied Zeus, the supreme ruler of gods by giving humanity the gift of fire.

This fire enabled humans to become creators by refining metals and transforming the face of the earth. To punish Prometheus and to restore humans to their mortal place, Zeus instructed his son Hephaestus, the god of fire to make a woman. He named her Pandora. To ensure Pandora possessed all possible beauties and charms, Hephaestus called upon all the gods to assist him in her creation. The gods gave Pandora a box and instructed her not to open it under any circumstance. Needless to say, curiosity got the better of Pandora and she opened it. From the box leapt out all manner of evils that have tormented and frustrated humanity to date.

In his attempt to exonerate his office from accusations that he was targeting the Kalenjin nation in the fight against graft, Haji gave us a breakdown of the representation by tribe of persons of interests on his list. Surprisingly, and contrary to popular belief given the recent incessant public wolf cries, the Kalenjin nation came in third position, with the Kikuyus being three times as many, in first position.

And just like that, with such a seemingly transparent and innocent action, he opened the pandora’s box. This is because just like the biblical account, this disaggregated information apparently is not and will not be enough. Kenyans are already demanding to know the offices and titles each of these persons of interest holds. And as sure as the foot of a mule, once this second demand is met, additional demands will arise. We will surely want to know how much each tribe stole, to determine which tribe stole more. We will also want to know which rank in each tribe stole more than the other. And while we are at it, we will want to know the gender of the tribe that stole more than the gender in the other tribe. And on and on till the demands will be ad infinitum.

On April 2, 2015, 147 Kenyans were killed in the Garissa University College terrorist attack; 16 Kenyans in the dusitD2 terror attack; and 32 in the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash. We mourned collectively as a nation. We did not interrogate which tribe they were, which office they held or which title accompanied their name. Kenyans were dead, and that grieved us all.

Begs the question, why does tribe become supreme only in the sphere of corruption? Now that there are 141 Kikuyus on this list of persons of interest, how are we as a nation supposed to interpret this data? While I do not hold brief for them, is it meant to reinforce the stereotype that all Kikuyus are thieves? And is it decent to extrapolate this assumption to the unmentioned 9 million Kikuyus?

In economic-speak, absolute numbers rarely tell the story behind the story if diffused versus concentrated interests are not factored. To illustrate this, it is feasible to have a high representation from one tribe that ‘stole’ fewer amounts each, while having a lower representation from another tribe that ‘stole’ huge amounts each. The aggregates from the former could be way lower than of the latter, thus making the absolute number redundant at face value.

Or is Haji dog-whistling? Dog whistling is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different and more specific resonance with an intended targeted sub-group. The analogy is drawn from ultrasonic whistling sounds that are heard only by dogs but are inaudible to human beings. The key feature in dog whistle politics is plausible deniability. The dog whistler can always later say, “I didn’t mean that, I meant this instead”. Those that are not the intended audience of a dog whistle take the statements or phrases at face value and do not perceive the layered or multiple meanings.

I submit, that Haji’s disclosure is a very slippery slope because there are no winners in a blame game. When we blame others, it takes the onus off us by removing the responsibility from our consciousness. It allows us to feel that the ‘wrong’ has been recognised and can somehow be dismissed. We begin feeling justified in our behaviours because we are now excused and can ignore our contribution to the problem.

The blame culture is self-perpetuating. It evokes unnecessary defensiveness which blinds us and causes us to shift focus and energy from the reality, towards self-preservation. It obfuscates honest acknowledgement of error or crime thereby perpetuating the same. 

Finally, my unsolicited advice to Haji is this; according to ancient Jewish tradition, two goats were sacrificed during the Jewish Day of Atonement. One was killed, while the other received all the sins of the people on its back and then set free. The second animal got a special name. It became the scapegoat. Therefore, just as putting lipstick on a pig does not disguise its true nature, so is telling us which tribes have stolen. Tribes don’t steal. People do. Let us stop scapegoating in the guise of our tribe. Because scapegoating is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.

“You do not blame your shadow for the shape of your body: likewise, don’t blame others for the shape of your experience.” — Gillian Duce