By PETER WANYONYI
You know it is election time in Kenya when ethnicity â or, as we call it here, tribe â suddenly leaps to prominence. Everything revolves around the tribe as electoral contests draw near. It is never about which tribe lived where 100 years ago, or ate what foods, or had what customs.
No, such mealy-mouthing is best left to the idlers in ivory towers that we call our university anthropologists.
When we slap tribe down on the table, it is a bargaining chip, an alleged ability to command the votes of a given bunch of citizens who just happen to speak the same language as we do â or even just close enough to exchange greetings without resorting to Kiswahili. That this ability is largely imaginary is conveniently forgotten. Who wants to spoil a good bargain by resorting to silly facts?
And so politicians are coalescing in ethnic cocoons â the so-called tribal alliances that apparently all think the same way, do things the same way, and will, therefore, all vote the same way.
Government ministers who have grown fat off corrupt pickings from public coffers shamelessly host ethnic "conferences" to pander to the whims of a select few. Not everyone is invited to these shindigs, not even if they are from the right tribe, especially if they share the alternative view. That would be too risky.
Imagine the horror, the betrayal of a genuinely in-need citizen, from that tribe, showing up and raising issues about how expensive maize flour is â thanks, for instance, to a ministry whose top managers are mainly from his or her tribe.
So the invitees are a select group, a few well-heeled grandees with the right financial credentials. You see, the tribe these public thieves are talking about is not really the lingo-cultural one. Membership in these cartels is not about what language one speaks, nor about what surname one has.
Itâs about what finances one can throw in the direction of the politicians, and what stakes one thus purchases in the running of the country.
It is, in short, about money.
And despite what your local politician wants you to believe, when it comes to money and Kenya, there are just the two tribes: the politicians â with their publicly-funded pot-bellies, their public funded fuel-guzzling cars, their relative-employing parastatals and their spouse-and-side dish-guarding police security.