The struggle for Kenya’s future has been hijacked by tribalists

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai
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It is said that history does not repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes with the present. We are at a moment that rhymes dramatically with our history from the 1960s. 

The big question now — which is exactly the same question we faced at independence — is whether Kenya can unshackle itself from its culture of status quo minority rule that uses brutal, corrupt, predatory and divide-and-rule tactics to maintain a semblance of stability and calm.

We will get a sense of the answer to this depending on how January 30 goes, and what follows thereafter.

Unfortunately, the main protagonists in this contestation, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, bear the same last names as the main protagonists — Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta — in the 1960s. 

Unfortunate, because this lends itself to a simplistic analytical fallacy that what is going on today is the continuation of a family feud, when it is a matter that is way bigger than the two. 

STRUGGLE

It is coincidental that the sons of the two men who tussled over what kind of Kenya we would have after independence are the ones at the frontline of a similar struggle now.

In the 1960s, the big debate would be whether Kenya would be true to the demands of the freedom struggles — democracy, freedom, land, prosperity and equality — while incorporating a nation out of the diversity of its people that had been divided to allow for minority rule by settlers and the colonial power. 

It was also about how Kenya would fulfil the promise for its young population and create an environment that allowed people to work, earn and get opportunities to live humanely.

Jomo Kenyatta favoured a status quo approach where the new African regime would simply substitute the colonial rulers in every way. 

He opted for a “willing buyer, willing seller” approach to land distribution, which inevitably favoured those Africans who had been in colonial service (home-guards, farmers’ clerks etc.) and those employed in the civil service. Those allowed to grow cash crops were also advantaged. 

LAND DISTRIBUTION

Mr. Kenyatta’s approach was ratified in the infamous Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965, which advocated a focus on the regions and economic activities already ensconced in the laissez fairemarketplace that would then “trickle down” to the rest of the country. That failed miserably and inequalities — and minority rule — continued unabated.

Mr Odinga’s approach was more radical and aimed at equitable distribution of resources with economic growth. He found the “willing buyer” approach both wrong in principle as the settlers had stolen the land they occupied, but also unfair because it benefited only an elite few with the resources to buy out settlers. 

He was clear that there was also a need for the state to consciously facilitate the creation of a nation state out of the diverse communities brought together as Kenya by colonial powers in Berlin in 1885.

The 2010 Constitution could be said to be our Second Independence and was meant to remedy the mistakes from the past and project us to the new future that we wanted. It is not perfect, given the compromises made, but some of its provisions are transforming Kenya — and none more so than devolution, despite its kinks.

MASSIVE PROJECTS

But the promises of fairness, equality, and creating an inclusive nation-state have not been met. Mr Uhuru Kenyatta’s approach is a continuation of the status quo, avoiding tackling the issues of justice, corruption, fairness and equality while focusing on massive projects within the ambit of his Big Four Agenda, an iteration of trickle-down economics.

Mr Raila Odinga, on the other hand, has set his swearing in as the beginning of the journey toward electoral justice, as a first step to a fairer, inclusive, just, corruption-free and more equitable Kenya. 

IDEOLOGICAL STRUGGLE

His manifesto, focusing on small farmers and traders, as envisioned by David Ndii, as well as the conscious creating of a nation state, would be the roadmap to economic prosperity for all avoiding the trickle-down approach. 

Sadly, ethnic considerations mean that what should be an ideological struggle for the future of Kenya is contorted and reduced making many people siding with one side or the other purely for political and ethnic reasons.

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