Monday, December 10, 2012

1992 to 2012: Change is slow in coming.

Abraham Korir Sing'oei, appearing tonight on Agenda Kenya, argues that the TNA/URP pact is meant to forestall the violence that has wracked, especially, the Rift Valley in every election year bar 2002 since 1992. He may be correct. He sees nothing wrong in alliances being formed by ethnic communities that have traditionally warred "fought" each other. His main argument, which is surprising for an "international human rights lawyer", is that the pact is good for the economy because a lot of money is lost every time there is ethnically- inspired political violence in Kenya.

While the concern for the economy is warranted, it should not be placed over and above the loss of life that the violence has traditionally engendered. Some of us were mere striplings living in the warm cocoon of Nairobi when the Rift Valley first experienced ethnic classes in 1992. Suddenly, Nairobi was full of up-country emigres fleeing the pogroms from little-known towns like Molo, Burnt Forest and Elburgon. For the temerity of entertaining Kenneth Matiba's overtures, the members of the Kikuyu community who had settled in these agriculturally-rich areas were burnt out of their houses and on the fear of beheadings and public burning, fled their homes, some never to return. In 1997, it was the turn of Luos living in the Likoni area of Mombasa who faced the brunt of ethnic violence at the hands of the ethnic communities at the Coast. In 2007/08, it was not enough that hundreds of thousands of Kikuyus were targetted in the expansive Rift Valley, there was retaliation against Kalenjins and their erstwhile allies the Luos, Luhyas and Kisiis living in parts of the M Kenya region and Kikuyu-dominated towns such as Nakuru. For the first time Nairobi was not spared; hitherto peaceably coexisting ethinc communities in Nairobi's expansive informal settlements set upon each other with machetes and tore into each other with so much anger and violence the nation is yet to heal even five years later.

Mr Sing'oei's analysis of the pacts between political parties, but especially the TNA/URP one, may be informed by the narrative that it is communities that went after each other and not that their political leaders cheated them into doing it. When the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu are brought together in a political coalition, it is presumed that Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto speak for their ethnic communities, that they have been specifically empowered to enter into these deals as tribal chieftains. No proof is provided to demonstrate that they speak for entire ethnic communities, and no proof is provided that these political deals are for their peoples' interests.

It is moot that many Kenyans believe that politicians simply ride on the backs of their ethnic communities to political power and influence. Their communities very rarely enjoy the benefits of their favourite sons' and daughters' political power. What has remained unchanged since the first hovel was set ablaze in 1992 is that the poor have remained poor while their political leaders have become fabulously wealthy. Some statistics have remained unchanged for almost twenty years. Youth unemployment, the source of much of the cannon fodder expended during ethnic clashes, has remained stubbornly high, in the double-digits for the past fifteen years. While more and more Kenyans are spending more and more to send their children to school, sometimes all the way to university, the harsh reality is that very few of their scions get gainful employment; millions are consigned to the informal sector, shunned by credit institutions and treated with suspicion by the very same politicians who promised them the moon in the depths of hardcore political campaigning.

Perhaps in an ethnically diverse and complex society like Kenya there is no hope for political peace without the ethno-mathematics that has come to define "coalition-building" of late. Perhaps the likes of Mzalendo Kibunjia's NCIC have gotten it wrong all along; there is no such thing as negative ethnicity, just warmongering politicking. Perhaps it is time to admit that we will not become a nation until our vestigial need to organise along ethnic lines has been Darwinised. The natural selection of Darwinism, perhaps, is the route we should follow; the strong will survive; the weak will be cast aside. Perhaps only then will affirmative action for the weak, vulnerable and marginalised begin to reverse the pernicious effects of twenty years of ethnic priming. Maybe one day will make ethnic kingpins irrelevant. That day, sadly, is not today.

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