ROTATIONAL PRESIDENCY DEBATE

Tribes and presidency: Uhuru, will cancel culture be your fifth legacy?

Once you open and publicly support the pandora’s box of the cancel culture, you no longer have control over it. It controls you.

In Summary

• President Uhuru Kenyatta posed a rhetorical question on whether it was time for other tribes — other than the two that have done so — to rule the country.

• Resultantly, he has been criticised and praised in equal measure.

President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks at the funeral service of Mama Hannah Mudavadi at Mululu village in Vihiga County on January 9, 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks at the funeral service of Mama Hannah Mudavadi at Mululu village in Vihiga County on January 9, 2021
Image: PSCU

No shirt, No shoes, No Service.

This is a ‘Right to Refuse Service’ sign that was hung in many American shops. Its origin was Atlantic City. Shops along the beachfront hung this sign because many vacationers emerged from the ocean and walked straight into the shops, their swim suits dripping water on the floors, and their feet dragging and spreading sand everywhere.

This had some undesirable effects. One it left shop floors wet and dirty; two, it was a constant slip-and-fall hazard; and three, the near nude vacationers made other fully dressed shoppers uncomfortable.

The shop owners feared that these undesirable patrons and their behaviour would drive their business down, as the fully dressed shoppers opted for other places to shop.

That is how the N3 signs came into existence. A variation that is often seen in the Kenyan context is ‘Management reserves the right of admission.’ It has since become a common regulation in the free market space.

In more recent times, the N3 mores have morphed into what is now known as the cancel culture. This has become the practice of withdrawing support for, or canceling public figures and companies, after they have done or said something that is criminal or considered objectionable, offensive, or going against what is considered acceptable by the ‘woke’ society.

The cancellation takes on the form of a boycott of their products or services. The intention is to rob them of the power and influence they have over a huge segment of the population. When done to a specific group, it also involves group shaming.

This week, the nation was jolted to an unprecedented publicly proclaimed opinion that propagated the cancel culture. President Uhuru Kenyatta posed a rhetorical question on whether it was time for other tribes — other than the two that have done so — to rule the country. Resultantly, he has been criticised and praised in equal measure.

Although he did not call the tribes by name, the inference was clear. This was a cancel culture against the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins, given they are the only two tribes that have occupied the State House. Extending his opinion to its logical conclusion, he was opining that no one from the Kikuyu or the Kalenjin communities should have the ambitions of running for the highest office in the land.

Those criticising his opinion claim that tribes don’t rule, people do. Those in support of his opinion reiterate that a rotational presidency is the key to healing the country. All along, it has been touted that the BBI was the panacea. See how fast that narrative has waned? And more importantly, how often we keep chasing the illusive nirvana fallacy? The nirvana fallacy is the tendency to assume that there is a perfect solution to a particular problem.

Begs the question, can the principles of the N3 be applicable and propagated in public sector space, even when the Constitution is clear that we are all equal before the law, and that this equality includes full and equal enjoyment of all rights and fundamental freedoms, including equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres?

The narrative advanced is that when ‘our man’ is at the top, then his community inherently benefits from appointment to the plum positions, from all lucrative national tenders, from immunity to arrests and prosecution; and all other benefits that come with their ‘son’ occupying the presidency.

The impression created is that the said community always has a leg-up on the other communities. Anyone that believes this hyperbole of guaranteed communal benefits, belongs to the same WhatsApp group as those who believe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I submit that the cancel culture narrative is a very slippery slope. Without warning, it soon bleeds into larger spaces where it spreads its toxicity. This culture creates an echo-chamber, which is an environment where only beliefs and opinions that coincide with those in support of the cancel culture are entertained.

In echo-chambers, alternative ideas are not considered, and those propagating this culture are insulated from rebuttal. The more powerful the propagator is, the tougher the insulation. And the tougher the insulation, the bigger the tyrant it creates. And freedom of choice is the first right that tyrants destroy, because they understand that it has the power to destroy their unbridled control.

The cancel culture ideas are amplified and buttressed by continued communication and repetition. Echo chambers ultimately diminish our collective ability to relate with people whose origin differs from our own. They limit our ability to effectively solve our problems and respond to the exact issues they endeavor to address. And the polarisation that echo-chambers create result in inadequate social capital that is necessary for successful economic and social cooperation.

And sadly, there are no hard and fast boundaries, only blurry lines and binary views. The cancel culture soon bleeds into the workplace and our choice of employees; in the housing sector and our choice of tenants; in social relationships and our choice of partners; in religious circles and our choice of worshippers; and even makes rubbish of the willing buyer willing seller principles.

Once you open and publicly support the pandora’s box of the cancel culture, you no longer have control over it. It controls you. It curtails your choices and limits your freedoms. It increases inequality and vulnerabilities, and halts progress. And to put that genie back in its bottle can take years with irreparable damage. Are we truly prepared to chase this rhetoric down its rabbit hole?

While I also submit that it may appear unfair that only individuals who hail from two tribes have ruled this nation, we cannot ignore that this is the result of the democratic system of governance we have settled on. It’s the monkey that we have chosen to feed. But rather than confront the process, we lay blame on its products. So, if we are unhappy with its products, should we change the process? You be the judge.

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to Mutahi Ngunyi. Lose lips sink ships. Likewise, lose tweets stoke pogroms. And in war, there are no winners. Only widows and fatherless children.

The dog born without teeth requires we liquify all food - Rick Julian