NAROK RALLY

Olekina: The resurgence of tribal identity

Undermines the spirit of unity that is at the heart of BBI

In Summary

• The BBI initiative is, therefore, nothing more than an ethnic relations exercise in the spirit of self-governance within the ambit of a rather predictable political economy.

• So Olekina's ambitions can be justified to the extent that through his war cries he is trying to achieve what the big tribes have done, for if war created the state, so the tribe.

Narok Senator Ledama Olekina.
Narok Senator Ledama Olekina.
Image: COURTESY

The Narok BBI meeting was an anticlimax owing to the comments of Narok Senator Ledama Olekina.

He said in effect that "outsiders" need to leave Maasailand. This directly opposes the spirit of the BBI initiative as envisioned in the nine-point agenda by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

Olekina hasn’t hidden his ambition to succeed William ole Ntimama as the de facto leader of the Maasai. While Ntimama’s origin is in Meru, Olekina's mother is Kikuyu, so there must be something more to it than personal circumstances.

 

Olekina was in America for a long time and ran an online campaign to become the President of Kenya. It took five years for him to be elected Narok senator in 2017, a move that seems to have narrowed his ambition to first becoming the 'president' of the Maasai and the Maa-speaking communities.

What is the import of this regarding the BBI initiative and rally where Olekina launched his well-calculated attacks.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics has released the nominal figures of the 2019 Census, indicating five ethnicities constitute 65 per cent of the total population.

They are 8.14 million Kikuyus, 6.8 million Luhyas, 6.4 million Kalenjins, 5.1 million Luos and 4.7 million Kambas.

They are the only ones that have dominated the top leadership since Independence, producing presidents, vice-deputy presidents, prime ministers and deputy prime ministers.

In fact, no other tribe, except the Maasai, have ever occupied these top positions. The Maasai constitute 1.1 million Kenyans and it appeared the internal security docket was a preserve of the community probably due to the moranic nature of the tribal warriors.

The BBI initiative is, therefore, nothing more than an ethnic relations exercise in the spirit of self-governance within the ambit of a rather predictable political economy.

It is an attempt at reviewing the structure of government, especially in terms of defining the pecking order and creating a more harmonious co-existence within the nation-state.

So Olekina's ambitions can be justified to the extent that through his war cries, he is trying to achieve what the big tribes have done, for if war created the state, so the tribe.

These are ethnic micro-nationalities that act as building blocks for the nation-state, while also competing for patriotism and allegiance.

This is not just the case for Kenya but for Uganda as well. The country is divided into the Buganda and Busoga kingdoms and the Northern tribes.

This polity existed at Independence and continues to play a significant role in the country’s current political architecture.

However, the ideas of the tribe as a single bloc of homogenous people speaking one language and sharing one culture is also far-fetched. It is simply a case of using biology to attain political identity.

When you look at the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, they shed light on the making of a political identity that fuses other groups to form a bigger identity — if only to maximise access to political power and privilege of the very small elite at the top, but with the masses buying in.

 

For example, the Kikuyu today, only became a tribe around 1800, having merged people from various extractions who found themselves in the same terrain. Empirical evidence suggests some of these people came from present-day Ethiopia, Congo, Tanzania and the Coast, while others were extracted from the indigenous Thagicu who ettled in central Kenya around 1200AD.

The Kalenjin are a fairly new concept coined by former Education minister Taita Towett and buttressed by the Moi presidency.

The pre-dominant Nandi language has been used to unite the other tribes of the Kalenjin to become subtribes since it was the language the AIC missionaries used to evangelise.

Interestingly, distinct tribes that constituted part of the 42 initial tribes have been morphed into one ethnic bloc that accounts for the huge share of the Big Five, consequently, the previously undocumented tribes brings the total number of tribes to 70.

They have taken up the slots previously occupied by Kenyans who identify themselves as either Luhya (17 tribes) or Kalenjin. The GEMA conglomerate was initially built around the use of the Kikuyu Bible and hymnal by the missionaries.

This bloc alone accounts for 23 per cent of the total population, meaning that one in four Kenyans comes from that ethnic group. The Luo came from different Luo tribes in Uganda and only came to see themselves as one in the late 1800s after the merger of clans constituting the japadhola, Amoria, Lang’i, Suba, etc.

The BBI initiative should, therefore, seek to not only protect the majority but also the many ethnic minorities that will continue to find it hard to have one of their own at the helm. Otherwise, we will continue to have many Olekinas trying to create their space at the high table.