Monday, 1 August 2011

tribalism: challenges to a united kenya

Many Kenyans, will tell you that one of the main problems that has affected Kenyans’ struggle to get a new constitution, good leaders, prosperity, peace and fight against corruption and impunity is tribalism. Tribalism is, according to Wikipedia, the possession of a stron“it is our turn to eat,”g cultural/ethnic identity that SEPARATES one member of a group from the members of another group. In the Kenyan context, this strong identity has been exploited “as a resource for interest groups for achieving secondary goals, such as increase in wealth, power or status, “by politicians.
Tribalism’s origins can be traced back to the colonial period where the British colonial state played the tribes against each other in a system of divide, rule and conquer, indeed in the book "it's our turn to eat" Michelle Wong says that some of the ethnic stereotypes such as the loyal kambas, the humble kalenjins and the slippery kikuyu can be traced back to this age.
Tribalism led to greater government expenditures for social expenditure in kikuyu areas, corruption benefits to insiders, privileged access to government and parastatal jobs for the kikuyu elite in Kenyatta’s government. Blatant discrimination against others, including intimidation and assassinations of popular leaders such as tom mboya, jm kariuki, pio Gama pinto etc who went against the grain or threatened the rulng elite’s interests occurred. The unresolved murders of these and many more injustices carried out by the two dictators who were the first and second presidents of Kenya, as well as kibaki to a lesser extent, have promoted ethnic tensions and a desperate urge by many Kenyans to bring about change, if not of this unjust system, at least of the tribe at the helm in government. When this failed at the general elections, the consequences were tragic, sobering and scary.
The multiparty system of democracy that Kenya adopted in 1992 ushered in a new era where a presidential candidate vied on the back of strong tribal support, and as a result more than 5 opposition candidates would vie against the then president Moi, helping him win the 1992 and 1997 elections without garnering 50% of the votes. This changed in 2002, and the opposition united to bring in change and evict the ruling party kanu from power for the first time since independence. But the honeymoon would not last. Scarcely a year had passed when the ruling party narc fragmented into pieces, with the faction led by Raila Odinga claiming that some MOU they had signed had not been honored when sharing the spoils of victory. This led to formation of a government of national unity, then the loss of the referendum by the government in 2005, and an increasingly tense and divided country leading to the 2007 general elections. With opinion polls pointing to a narrow Raila Odinga victory, increasingly violent, hate filled and propagandist campaigns and the unilateral appointment of some electoral commissioners by president Kibaki failed to raise the warning flags that the December 2007 elections would be a turning point on Kenya’s history.
What happened after the peaceful voting would shake the very foundations of the country to the core. The 2007-2008 crisis that followed these elections would lead to over 1000 dead, 600000 displaced, property worth millions destroyed and the economy of Kenya brought to its knees. After weeks of negotiations between the ODM and PNU factions, the National Accord and Reconciliation Act was signed by Raila and Kibaki on 28th February, a coalition government was formed with the mandate of bringing peace to the country, resettlement of the IDPs, political and legal reform, and the historical injustices as well as uneven distribution of wealth among different groups, the land issue as well as unemployment among the youth.
Fast forward to three and a half years later, are we close to solving these issues, and can we say that the political violence of 2008 will never again occur in Kenya? Some of the reforms that have been carried out include:
Passage of a new constitution. The new constitution creates a devolved system of government, that has the head of state and government as the president. It separates the three arms of government and strengthens the judiciary and national assembly at the expense of the executive. It also has a chapter on land, leadership and integrity and extensive bill of rights. How will this reduce tribalism?
It is hoped that by the devolution of power and resources to the county level, development and allocation of resources will be done equitably and not rely on the friendliness of a certain region to the powers that be. Hence tribes will not have to fight for the presidency and support their candidates and tribal chiefs despite the limitations and poor standards of leadership they may have. Major appointments by the president will have to be approved by parliament, such as cabinet secretaries, inspector general of the police and ambassadors will have to be approved by parliament. This system of checks and balances will help to ensure that the president will not be able to skew the appointments to favor any region, and by reducing the powers of the presidency, make it less attractive and imperial.
Any presidential hopeful must acquire 50% plus one of the votes, more than 25% of support in over half the counties, as well as declaring a running mate who will be the deputy president, before the elections are held. These provisions are to ensure that the president will be acceptable to a great majority of Kenyans, and promote nationalist politics that can appeal to all Kenyans despite their tribe, race or religion.
Other provisions that will hopefully reduce the tribalism and institutionalize issue based politics are the law on political parties that seeks to ensure that any coalition agreement between political parties must be transparent and reported to the independent electoral and boundaries commission, nationalize political parties (article 91 A), and reduce the party hopping and defections that occur when certain candidates lose nominations.
However, the presidency still retains its allure and power. The national assembly has to consist of legislators of impeccable character otherwise all the vetting and oversight of the executive and state officers will just take on an ethnic bend. Votes can and will be bought in the national assembly to pass the appointments of state officers. Tribalism cannot be legislated out of the hearts and minds of Kenyans, they must be educated, and they must talk to each other and practice non-discrimination when they vote for their leaders in 2012 and beyond.
The constitution must be implemented to the full. Bills and acts of parliament that add muscle to its provisions must be written according to its letter and spirit.
The ghosts of 2008 post election violence must be exorcised. How many culprits of the violence have been brought to book or charged? Very few, if any. low and high level perpetrators have been prosecuted. This kind of impunity is what will encourage these perpetrators to strike again in 2012. The Hague issue is one that will provide a hurdle that must be safely navigated. Reports that the witnesses the Waki commission used to get information were paid by both the PNU and ODM parties do not bode well for the Ocampo prosecution. How true are these allegations? What distresses me the most is that the perpetrators of the violence were much more than six people. The police have shown that they are not interested in investigating these people and bringing justice to the Kenyans who were uprooted, killed and raped after the 2007 general elections. Little wonder then, that a BBC 2009 report showed that kikuyu and kalenjin tribes are arming themselves with g3 and AK 47 rifles in readiness for the 2012 elections. If the police cannot protect them, and charge the culprits of the 2008 violence, they will protect themselves, is what they seem to be saying.
The tjrc hearings that are taking place in parts of the country have exposed deep lying anguish, injustice and disillusionment with the central government on past injustices that were committed and remain unsolved despite compelling evidence and witness testimonies. The assassinations of Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko and Jm Kariuki are some of them. The massacre of Kenyans in Kisumu at Tom Mboya's funeral in 1969, the Wagalla massacre of 1977, the 1992 and 1997 ethnic clashes in parts of rift valley, the 2008 post election violence and the 2008 human rights violations carried out by the military in mount elgon must all be investigated, among other injustices. This is the only way to ensure feelings of hatred, anger and revenge towards any communities perceived wrongly or rightly to be behind such atrocities are reduced.
Politicians such as Eugene Wamalwa have been heard recommending that appointments to the county government posts must favor the people who originate from his county, if such sentiments are shared by other politicians and Kenyans, then the county governments will have tribalism and discrimination based on ethnicity when it comes to employment of people, which is not only unconstitutional but will promote balkanization and tribalism at the county level. The rights of all Kenyans to live and work anywhere they want in the country must not be violated, despite the political wishes of such leaders. This is the only way to promote peace and harmonious existence among Kenyans.
The system of government still is a presidential form, and whether this is the best system of government for Kenya, the jury is still out. The committee of experts had initially drafted a constitution in which the executive power was separated between the president and prime minister but the prevailing attitude among majority of Kenyans was that given the wrangling within the coalition government, this experiment was not tenable as a permanent system. Kenyans of different ethnic groups will still vote for one president in the next general elections. So what will stop the tribal cocoons, alliances and historical ethnic voting patters from recurring??
Kenyans would be advised to vote for presidential candidates that pass the leadership and integrity test, and some of the criteria they should look at I have posted here. Realistically speaking, many Kenyans will continue voting for the leaders from their tribes. The new constitution has laid the groundwork to avoid a repeat of any violence due to this in the next elections. However, the minds and hearts of people who want to see their tribesmen only as the president will take much persuasion to convince otherwise. The new Kenyan leadership will take some time to take root, and the future does look brighter than the past in this respect.


  1. quite educative and thought provoking...

  2. thank you Dalle.its a shame our leaders are so slow to learn the consequences of negative ethnicity, however fighting over them must never happen again in kenya.