INTERROGATE THE FALLACY

Kikuyu privilege: Notions of tribal heritage in post-colonial Kenya

The real problem is the gap between the haves and the have nots across racial and tribal lines

In Summary

• A number factors come into play, key among them the occupation of State House by three presidents from the community.

• The other contributor to Kikuyu supremacy is the so-called tyranny of numbers.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been following the American elections and how the Democrats managed to raise a coalition of majority minorities led by women and people of colour against White supremacy.

Clearly, the US is a deeply racially divided society considering the number of people who voted for Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.

This divide is supposed to be less pronounced in America as the land of ‘opportunity’. However, racial tensions are rife just as they are in other countries, such as Malaysia with its Chinese, Indian, Malay and indigenous people’s population.

Closer to home, there has been talk of Kikuyu supremacy within our politics. A number factors come into play, key among them the occupation of State House by three presidents from the community. These are Founding Father Jomo Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki  and Jomo's son Uhuru Kenyatta.

That all Kikuyus are rich is a notion that continues to permeate our society. In fact, a common joke goes that if you want a Kikuyu to rise from the dead, just jingle some coins next to them.

Kikuyu privilege is also epitomised by the love and attachment to land. Adverts of ‘buloti maguta maguta’ loosely translated to ‘prime plots for sale’ fill in the airwaves of many Kikuyu broadcasting stations.

The other contributor to Kikuyu supremacy is the so-called tyranny of numbers. This is demonstrated by the fact that no matter which corner of the country you find yourself in, you will always find a Kikuyu working or doing business there.

Further, the fact that these numbers serve to shore up the presidential bid of a de facto candidate from the Gema community strengthens this notion of invincibility.

In addition, proximity to Nairobi as the seat of power with nearly half of the population being from this community gives access to political capital and business opportunities.

The city is the hub of East African business and controls 21 per cent of Kenya’s GDP. This is slightly higher if combined with other counties that form the greater Nairobi area.

If one is asked to mention the billionaires they know on the basis of ethnicity, it’s most likely the first few names will be from Central Kenya. This enculturation is so permeated in that the poorest Kikuyu may be perceived as being better off than say the richest Dorobo or Elmolo.

The culture of property acquisition means that young men are seen to be more successful  if they build their own homes rather than buying ready-made condominiums.

Kenyans generally view Kikuyus as very enterprising and business-savvy. It is said that when Jomo visited Lamu, he found huge fertile tracts of land, and residents asked him to give them tractors to cultivate it.

In response, he relocated a sizeable number of people from Kiambu, Murang’a and Kirinyaga to the area, especially around Mpeketoni.

Today, this constituency is arguably more developed compared to Lamu East. The same can be said of Eldoret town and Nakuru city, especially after displacements of the 2007 post-election violence.

However, it’s good to interrogate these notions to see the veracity of the matter. Is it actually true for example that the poorest Kikuyu is better off than the richest Dorobo?

You see, the fact that this idea plays tricks in the mind of many readers clearly demonstrates the extent to which it has permeated  our psyche. The truth of the matter is that this isn’t true.

Due to the high population and competition for scarce resources, there exist very high levels of inequalities amongst the Kikuyu. According the 2019 KNBS data on GDP per capita in the 47 counties, Kisumu is at Sh3,883 as compared to Kirinyaga or Lamu at Sh2,013 and Sh647, respectively.

In addition, due to high population, land is becoming a very scarce commodity. With inheritance to girls as well, morsels of arable land are being subdivided into smithereens, unviable for meaningful economic activity.

Further, the fertility rate in Central Kenya is on the decline and soon the Luhya are likely to be the biggest tribe in the next 10 or so years.

This means the notion of tyranny of numbers cannot hold water for long. In the same manner as Trump has been defeated by a coalition of majority minorities, this shall most likely apply to the presidential bids from 2022 going forward.

It is, therefore, a fallacy to perpetuate this narrative as it serves to introduce an "Us versus Them" mindset that isn’t sustainable in the long run.

Trump’s clarion call of ‘Make America Great Again’ isn’t so much about the country being an international policeman, but rather solving internal grievances of the White Anglo-Saxons getting privileged jobs and better opportunities.

This is the same rhetoric used for or against perceived Kikuyu supremacy and dominance. A closer look, though, tells  a different story altogether. The real problem is the gap between the haves and the have nots across racial and tribal lines.

Alluta Continua