Democracy should not be important only when it advances our interests: an open letter to the Kikuyu community.
BY NJONJU MUE
My dear brothers and sisters, fellow members of the Kikuyu community,
I have agonized over writing this letter for some days now knowing just what politically charged times we live in and fearing that what I have to say may not go down well with everybody who reads it. But after weighing carefully the pros and cons, I came to the conclusion that what has to be said must be said even if it proves unpopular in some quarters because ultimately it is the truth that shall set us free. And even if we may not agree on what the truth is, we owe it to ourselves to have an honest conversation with the hope to moving forward together towards the truth.
My fellow Kenyans of Kikuyu origin, it is time to come and let us reason together. Indeed the time for some serious soul-searching and deep reflection has been upon us for quite a while now. It is time to reflect and talk honestly about our community and the place it has occupied in Kenya’s history and continues to occupy in Kenya’s body politic.
Our community is the largest ethnic group in Kenya, and we have produced three of the four presidents that Kenya has had since independence. Whether we want to admit it or not, in a country of more than 40 communities, in a country which is so ethnically polarized as ours, in a country where resources tend to follow power, for one community to produce three out of four presidents in over half a century of independence is a big deal.
Our community also controls a significant part of the national economy and we are by far the most successful group from an economic point of view. By using the word “we” I am of course over-generalizing. I am aware that there are many poor in our midst – hawkers and casual workers in the cities, peasants and farmhands in the countryside, and the unemployed youth all over. I am also aware that often, our people have borne the brunt of the fallout from bad politics. From Molo to Burned Forest, from Kuresoi to Likoni, our men have been killed, our women have been raped, our children have been displaced. When the elephants have fought, we are the grass that has suffered and we continue to bear the scars of our suffering. But to the extent that when we have been called upon by our politicians to use our vote to ‘protect our own’ we have readily heeded the call and often acted as a block, then this generalization is justified.
Most of us who are economically successful view our success as being the result of an enterprising spirit that characterizes our community. Yet we have allowed ourselves to become hostage to a siege mentality and to regard ourselves as the targets of “envious hatred from less successful communities.” We point to the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008 and the Moi-era ethnic violence as the evidence that supports this view. Those of us who hold this view have come to regard the retention of political power as a prerequisite to our continued survival as a people, in a country where others have become hostile to a point where they can even be moved to contemplate genocidal violence against us.
Our politicians, professionals, priests and pastors were at the forefront of the struggle for democratic rights which President Moi trampled upon when he ruled this country for 24 years. At that time, democracy was an important value to us. For example, when Moi conducted farcical elections in 1988, which were targeted at muting our voice and that of the Luo in national politics, we carried our grievances loudly and for a long time. The ills of the 1988 elections are what motivated the political rebellion which led to multi-party politics in 1992.
When the 2007 elections went horribly wrong, which many people think was the only reason Mwai Kibaki retained himself in power, our sentiment was that democracy was no longer so important, so long as there was peace. A similar view has characterized our view of the 2013 elections, whose accountability mechanisms collapsed spectacularly. Instead of addressing legitimate concerns raised at the time and since, we have continued to arrogantly tell the rest of the country to “accept and move on!”
In the eyes of the rest of the country, democracy is only important to us when it favours our interests, and ceases to be so when we have political power. The names we are calling Raila Odinga on social media and elsewhere, at home and in the diaspora, are the very names that Moi called our leaders in the struggles for democracy in the 1980s.
In between this general narrative, there are minor narratives, like that of Raila Odinga declaring “Kibaki tosha” and thereby significantly boosting Kibaki’s chances of succeeding Moi at State House, and that of Kalonzo Musyoka supporting Kibaki after the catastrophic 2007 elections, the only way Kibaki maintained himself in power in that turbulent period. According to this narrative, when his term ended, it was reasonably expected that the least that Kibaki could have done was to return the favour, if not to Raila, then to Musyoka. Instead, Uhuru Kenyatta, who had come full circle from being Kibaki’s principal opponent in the 2002 elections and leader of opposition thereafter, became president.
According to many observers of our country’s history, Kibaki’s apparent ingratitude is not just a personal attribute but a reflection of our community. The “punda amechoka” remarks attributed to Raila Odinga refers, however inelegantly, not only to this but also the longer history going back to the relationship between Raila’s father, Jaramogi, and Jomo Kenyatta, which was also characterized by unrequited loyalty of the former to the latter.
The manner in which the our current president and his deputy went about constituting their government after the 2013 elections, reserving most of the important positions for our people, continues to feed this growing sense of grievance against us.
In the face of the many unanswered questions about the 2013 elections, our president has gone on to protect the IEBC thereby presenting the country with the inevitability of another election in 2017 under this body which his competitors have vowed will not happen since, according to them, to allow it would be to volunteer to be led once again to an electoral slaughterhouse with their eyes wide open.
Today, many view us as having a relationship of horse and rider with the rest of the country including increasingly even the Kalenjin, our bedfellows in Jubilee. The URP’s recent brickbats against Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, greatly disproportionate to her alleged misdeeds, were based on this view.
President Kenyatta’s recent speech, in which blamed the violence in Mpeketoni on the opposition, is significant because in saying what he said, he sadly descended from the high position of president of the republic, to the low position of our tribal leader. Instead of uniting the nation, he chose to divide it.
The domination by our people of government positions did not prevent, or save us from, the tragic events of early 2008. What our country desperately needs at this point is political justice. Many see us as using our dominant political and economic position to prevent the realization of this ideal. The vote is important and is the only thing that will protect all of us from the mass violence we have experienced in the past. Our current government has swept under the carpet the questions and doubts arising from the conduct and outcome of the 2013 elections which, together with those of 2007, have come to represent the view that no matter the efforts of others, our community alone decides who becomes the president of Kenya, and does so using whatever rules we choose.
But the question that we don’t seem to want to address is this, what is the better guarantor of our survival, retaining political power for ourselves by all means or creating strong democratic institutions which will guarantee the rights of all Kenyans no matter who happens to occupy the House on the Hill?
If Kenya is to have a future that includes all of us, the pervasive fear that causes us to pour such scorn and vitriol on Raila Odinga every time he seeks to have a conversation about that future must be contained or it will consume us all. The insults must stop, the arrogance must cease, the myth that we are more equal citizens of this republic whose vision of its future is the only one that counts must be debunked once and for all.
We must find ways to reach out to others and deal with them as equal stakeholders in the fortunes of the land of our birth as we address the common problems threatening to tear our country apart. And if on some point you feel differently; if you feel that I have been unfair to you because I have lumped you together with those pursuing a vision of Kikuyu hegemony over the affairs of our land, then it behooves you to join me in calling out those who do so in our name. For at such a time as this, when our country faces such existential challenges, remaining silent is not an option.