MYOPIC

The dilemma facing Kamba presidential candidates

If there is a mass deception in Kenya’s political landscape, it’s the perception that the Akamba are fickle and multicoloured. In a word, watermelon.

In Summary

• With an average of 3,545,772 people, the Akamba population is growing exponentially and steadily becoming a political force.

• However, their presidential aspirants tend to suffer from what ocular specialists call  nearsightedness or myopia ― the ability to see clearly up close but blurry in the distance.

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Ukambani Governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) during the launch of Huduma Namba in Machakos county on March 2, 2019.
UKAMBANI POLITICS: President Uhuru Kenyatta with Ukambani Governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) during the launch of Huduma Namba in Machakos county on March 2, 2019.
Image: COURTESY

There is a telling maxim in law that states "Qui vult decipi pecipiatur (Let him be deceived who wishes to be deceived.")

And if there is a mass deception in Kenya’s political landscape, it’s the perception that the Akamba are fickle and multicoloured. In a word, watermelon.

Political revisionists who have tended to portray the Akamba community in such an unsavoury manner would do better to listen to Charles Dundas, the renowned British administrator who served the Ukambani region around 1910.

In his official report, Dundas described the Akamba thus: "It is a great mistake to reckon on outwitting him [the Mkamba], for he is not easily duped although he may appear so. Nor can he easily be frightened, for he will obstinately sit down and await what may come...nothing makes one more helpless...than his discovery that your threat was an empty one..."

It’s fair to say that mean judgments against the Akamba have been made based more on ignorance than hard facts. It’s possible also that since most of the Akamba populations live in arid and semi-arid areas where life is a Hobbesian hellfire ― short, nasty and brutish ― the perception has developed over the years that they are a needy and pliable population.

It’s possible and even probable that this impression could have gained traction during the Kenyatta and Moi eras, with Moi in particular making political capital out of this perception. And there’s truth that prominent Akamba leaders serving the Kenyatta and Moi regimes may have helped to escalate this perception rather than scotch it.


It’s likely that a generally harsh environment has over time made the Akamba develop some very sharp and pointed insights into human nature, which have further emboldened them to face reality ― any reality!

A never-say-die spirit made the Akamba of the mid-18th century move eastward from the Tsavo and Kibwezi areas to the Coast. This migration was necessitated by extensive drought and lack of pasture for their cattle.

Consequently, various groups settled in the coastal areas of Mariakani, Kinango, Kwale, Changamwe, Chaani and Kisauni. Other groups ventured into parts of Tanzania.

It’s for good reason that Argentine historian José Ignazio Telesca has opined that because of their hardiness of character and bravery in battle, the Akamba were the only tribe from Africa to have successfully settled in South America, specifically in Paraguay, as a tribal and cultural entity.

Just like their Kikuyu distant cousins, the Akamba were traditionally a non-monarchical society that was led by atumia ma ithembo ― their most senior elders who were also  the community’s religious leaders.

And there’s credibility in the argument the Akamba traditional inclination to be religious may have made it easy for Christian missionaries, of all forms and shapes, to conquer the Akamba in matters churches.

Unfortunately, it’s also because of their religious sense that wily politicians have continued to exploit them by posing as religious icons.

Although the Akamba were seemingly a gerontocracy ― a leadership by the old ― their eldership ruled mainly by consultation and never by fiat.

BRITISH RESISTANCE

It was for this reason the Akamba community adamantly resisted British dictatorship in their own creative way of unarmed mass sit-ins. This approach contrasted with their cousins the Kikuyu who resorted to eye-for-eye-tooth-for-tooth retaliatory stratagem. The Akamba inventiveness left the British with zero options.

There’s sense in arguing that silent obstinacy, which is a mark of Akamba resistance profile during the freedom struggle, has largely been ignored by writers of Kenya’s history.

It has an average of 3,545,772 people according to the 2019 census, at least from its three principal counties of Machakos, Makueni and Kitui — excluding the numbers from the coastal diaspora and other major and minor towns.

It's clear the Akamba population is growing exponentially and steadily becoming a political force.

Their stubborn refusal to have one leader lord it over them is a testament to their true political character. They have produced notable  national leaders such as Governor Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka (Mwingi/Kitui), Governor Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni), Governor Charity Ngilu (Kitui/Makueni_ and Governor Mike Mbuvi (Nairobi/Mombasa).

It can be said without prejudice that Ngilu’s chequered career as a top female politician is a testament to the Akamba spirit of freedom and inclusivity that’s unseen in many a Kenyan community.

However, their presidential aspirants tend to suffer from what ocular specialists call nearsightedness or myopia ― the ability to see clearly up close but blurry in the distance.

Governor Mutua has succeeded in circumventing the gerontocracy rationale by imaginatively carving out a leadership by youth. He’s also succeeded in redeeming the Akamba pride by making Machakos an enviable town.

However, he seems to harbour the misguided belief that he can singlehandedly outwit his fellow Akamba leaders to the ultimate prize.

Kibwana is a completely different proposition: simple, conscientious, uncorrupt and stubbornly reformist. The record is out there of how he has made Makueni county the pride of devolution.

However, his intellectual mien combined with the perception of a diminished or diminishing purse, a come-for-me-or-else political strategy, and the image of am-the-only-good-guy-remaining, could clobber his political ambitions.

What of Kalonzo, the veteran Akamba leader? His diplomatic achievements that match his multi-layered personality have never been in doubt. Nor has his ability to play second fiddle to powerful political figures been in contention.

It’s the perception that he can override other Akamba leaders for the big prize that could herald his political Waterloo in the short and long run.

Interestingly, this ego trip seems to be the only quality he shares with Mutua, a rising existential threat to his impossible quest of becoming the Akamba hegemon!

[email protected] / @deepseaQ