Time we got out of pretense and faced the tribal elephant in the Kenyan room, once and for all

Friday, January 15th, 2021 11:32 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta.

By Jacob Oketch

We must remember that domination of smaller tribes by the bigger ones -was such a big issue- in the run up to Kenya’s independence-so much so that- it almost derailed the attainment of independence.Infact-at some point, the Lancaster constitutional conference reached a stalemate and it took serious consultations between the colonial government and the African leaders for the constitutional talks to proceed to a satisfying conclusion for all.

The late retired President Daniel Arap Moi was one of the leading politicians who were championing for measures to check the dominance of bigger tribes. Though KANU was totally opposed to a devolved form of government at the time, it is this agitation for equality that led to the creation of the majimbo system of government-which was later abandoned after the merger of KADU and KANU.

And so when President Uhuru Kenyatta brought up the issue during the burial of ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi’s mother in Mululu, he was actually taking Kenyans back to the history of our political evolution. From the foregoing, it is apparent that Kenyans cannot evade this debate about the role of ethnicity in our politics. It is not farfetched to opine that the issue of tribal dominance in leadership is something that most Kenyans are concerned about, even if they find it hard to openly voice those concerns.

President Kenyatta may have just opened a national debate on a matter that weighs heavily on our politics. It is indeed the cause of animosity in our politics. Those who are attacking the President ought to take cognizance of the fact that we will be irresponsible to sweep such a matter under the carpet yet we know that it is the main course of our instability. In fact, to broach this issue as we are approach a referendum on the constitution is a pointer to the fact that all cards must be put on the table, including the ones that some people may not be comfortable with for one reason or another.

Hegemony is a major cause of instability in many African countries. In Rwanda, this domination festered into a very bad wound that led to the death of almost a million people in a space of three months. Even if we are in a democracy, negotiated leadership has been very instrumental in forging peaceful nations.

Kenya has over 42 tribes and it cannot be proper that only two tribes continue to occupy the presidency. At a time when Kenyans are gearing to amend the constitution, it could be appropriate for us to consider factoring in the tribal factor in the search of an inclusive leadership, for the benefit of all. It is unfortunate that since independence Kenyans have not seen the need to constructively debate the role of tribes in national leadership. It is a conversation that we may postpone, but will not avoid forever.

Granted, the debate about tribal dominance in national leadership may not be politically convenient for some leaders. But we cannot sacrifice the stability of our nation at the expense of individual ambitions. We must recognize the reality that the silent disquiet of many Kenyans is a potentially dangerous situation for our country. The President is merely egging on Kenyans to engage on a serious matter even as he prepares to exit office.

It would be hypocritical of us to gloss over the issue of tribal dominance yet we know that it is the number one cause of political violence that characterizes our political contests. It is a matter that has historical and political significance. When Daniel Arap Moi teamed up with Ronald Ngala to champion for the rights of smaller tribes, little did he know that he would assume presidency after the merger of the ruling party and the opposition years later. But their efforts laid the foundation for the formation of a devolved government which, though was abandoned, was later revived via the 2010 constitution.

And so this debate ought not to be construed as a divisive matter. It is by engaging with it that we are likely to find a solution that agreeable to all Kenyans. And that is why Kenyans must be amenable to the idea that we must engage in dialogue over this issue. In fact, the resolution of the challenge of political domination supersedes all else. Because if we do not agree on this matter we cannot have a nation and that implies that we cannot be in a position to tackle any other challenge that besets us as a nation.

Leaders should not hide behind their ambitions to dismiss the narrative around our tribal relations with regard to national leadership. It is a matter that deeply but silently resonates with a majority of Kenyans. And, make no mistake, the President is aware that it is a matter that needs to be put on the table. Now that he has let the cat out of the bag, Kenyans cannot chicken out. Instead of calling him names and casting aspersions on his move, Kenyans should boldly come out, as he did, and engage on this matter in an honest way.

The writer is the author of Aphorisms and Poems of Light

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