• Over the years, three misfortunes have, however, befallen these people — colonial past, slavery and post-colonial leadership.
• The colonial past has manifested itself in the anti-people laws that have continued to deny them land ownership.
The 2019 census shows the Mijikenda have increased in population.
According to the figures released this week, the Mijikenda are 2,488,691, slightly under 2.5 million. They rank among the top 10 most populous communities in Kenya.
Given Kenya’s politics of ethnicity and the ‘Tyranny of Numbers’ as factors in electoral politics, there is every reason for them to feel good about it.
The Mijikenda community have had a checkered history. They were the first ethnic group in Kenya to be exposed to early civilisation. They have interacted and traded with people from all walks of life and far away civilisations, among them the Persians, the Arabs, the Chinese, the Indians, the Portuguese and other Europeans.
These interactions led to intermarriages, especially with the Arabs, that gave birth to the Swahili subethnic group and Kiswahili, as a language. This also explains why lexically, Kiswahili is closely linked to all the Mijikenda dialects.
Over the years, three misfortunes have, however, befallen these people — colonial past, slavery and post-colonial leadership.
The colonial past has manifested itself in the anti-people laws that have continued to deny them land ownership. These laws were perfected by the Arab Sultanate, which drove the Mijikenda away from their ancestral lands (including beach lands) to the interior. It came to be known as the Nyika, the derogatory term that referred to the Mijikenda as Wanyika, or bush people.
Slavery and the slave trade served to de-humanise this community. For generation after generation, the story of slavery has been retold among the Mijikenda. It is a case of what the Germans call zeitgeist, a trend of thought and feeling in a period of history. Evidence of the effects of slavery, especially among the Mijikenda, can be seen at the Shimoni caves in Kwale county, the South Coast and its remnants in places such as Takaungu in the North Coast.
Like the effects of the colonial past, the slave-master mentality still looms large in the minds of the Mijikenda, especially among the least educated. The inferiority complex is a problem and colour is a factor in daily lives.
In futile attempts to restore the dignity of the people, Mijikenda politicians such as Ronald Ngala, Karisa Maitha, Robert Matano, Jembe Mwakalu and Juma Boy Juma, among others, worked hard during the early 1960s through the 1990s to ensure the concerns of the people were addressed. The calls for majimbo, or regionalism in the early 1960s were in part rooted in these concerns.
The Mijikenda have also produced freedom fighters, notably, Mekatitili wa Menza, who led the Giryama resistance against colonial rule in 1913.
Over the years, bad leadership has also contributed to the stagnation of the Mijikenda. Even though leaders like Ngala worked hard to unearth historical injustices afflicting the Mijikenda, they cannot be absolved from blame. For example, in the years leading to Independence, Tom Mboya, Julius Gikonyo Kiano and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga organised overseas study trips for young men and women from their communities.
These youths were to assume leadership positions upon their return to the country at Independence. The Mijikenda leaders, on their part, never participated in these airlifts, thus denying the youth higher education opportunities. The education gap occasioned by this omission is felt to this day. Jealousy, greed, egoism and personal vendettas have remained the hallmarks of the Mijikenda leadership. Root and branch, it has contributed to their marginalisation.
Bad leadership has also driven the Mijikenda people to make uninformed decisions in electoral politics. Opposition politics remains the opiate of the people. Between 1963 and 1964, the Mijikenda were in the opposition under Kadu and for good reason: They wanted majimbo.
From 2007, after a break away from Kanu, the Mijikenda have continued to be in the opposition under ODM, for the wrong reason, and they have never befitted from the party.
Johnny Carson, the American diplomat who served in Kenya in the 1990s, rightly remarked that choices have consequences. One of the consequences of our choices is that for the first time in post-Independence Kenya, there is not a Cabinet minister from the Mijikenda. In effect, we are not represented in national decision-making.
The BBI process provides a unique opportunity for the Mijikenda people to have their political pulse felt. Also, as 2022 approaches, we have two options in our hands — we embrace change or forever remain in the dustbin of political history.