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Why ‘Luhya consciousness’ is an illusion

By Alexander Chagema | July 28th 2016

There is undeserved blame going the way of the Jubilee Alliance Party. The Luhya vote is deuced to be scattered into the four main compass points and Jubilee is taking the flak for it.

Deputy President William Ruto did not help matters when he recently tried to claim responsibility for the tumult in Luhyaland, even though it boomeranged when Ababu Namwamba chastised him over the claims that he (Namwamba) was headed to Jubilee.

The Luhya rank and file are a wonderfully sociable people. Their flaw, in my view, is putting too much trust in individuals afflicted by ‘political myopia’ to determine their destiny. If so far only two of the 42 tribes that make up Kenya have ruled since independence, it is because that victory is handed to them by the Luhya ‘swing vote’.

Whenever political change has come beckoning, the Luhyas have betrayed those spearheading the change just when victory was in sight by splitting their vote.

The numerical strength the Luhya have over other tribes except the Kikuyu counts for nothing. It is an advantage no Luhya leader has ever been able to exploit for the simple reason that the sub-tribes have never trusted each other over time. Beliefs, cultural differences and dialects that make innocent Maragoli dialect words like ‘emondo’ (gizzard) and ‘mutwe’ (head) assume an obscene meaning in the Batsotso or Banyore dialects only compound matters.

A humorous story is told of the Wanga sub-tribe having at some point duped the Bukusu into buying trapped wolves by pretending they were ferocious guard dogs, only for the animals to escape when the cages were opened. There is this improbable tale of the Maragoli having fought the Idakho sub-tribe ages back and cheekily inflicted cuts on the latter’s buttocks (madako; singular ridako), hence the name.

The Maragoli and Bukusu are the most populous of the Luhya sub-tribes yet don’t see eye to eye. The Bukusu refer to the Maragoli as ‘Vilokosi’, something that riles the Maragoli people in whose language some words beginning with ‘vi’ or ‘vy’ assume a derogatory nature.

Of course, the perceptions and many other demeaning tales could have been mischievously made up, but they help illustrate the deep-seated mistrust and derision among the Luyha sub-tribes.

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Except in 2002, Bukusus and Maragolis have always voted on opposing sides. But in spite of their obvious differences, these two must lead the Luhya unification process for it to bear fruit. A controversial prophesy is said to have been made by Elijah Masinde, a Bukusu seer on the conditional ascendancy of the Luhya to the throne.

I cannot, however, vouch for the prophesy which stated that the Luhya’s stake to the presidency would have to come through Luo Nyanza yet, not surprisingly, it takes little to see the probability. Even as they deride and refuse to talk to each other, those among Luhya leaders suffering delusions of grandeur don’t hesitate to perennially chorus the Luhya unity ballade.

If the region’s political heavyweights rejoice in scoring off each other, don’t talk amongst themselves and cannot appear in public together even for show, what Luhya consciousness is there to talk about?

This, even as Jubilee has a fair free run of Bungoma through Ken Lusaka, Musikari Kombo and Eugene Wamalwa, both of whom have diminished Wetangula’s perceived might in Bungoma.

And, so weakened, how can Wetang’ula, who demands to fly the Cord flag in 2017 maintain a stranglehold in CORD strongholds when his Bungoma backyard is breached?

The Luhya rank and file, like the Catholic faithful who patiently wait for the white smoke to know, welcome and cherish their new Pope, are waiting. But since the process appears stalled, we need a compromise leader, and Elijah Masinde had the answer.

The logic in supporting Odinga, arguably the only Opposition leader with enough clout to make Jubilee pause, listen and take note, is obvious. They may not admit it, but the fact that every Luhya leader is calling on Odinga to endorse his presidency bid is an unconscious admission they are aware that they punch below his weight.

At his age, Odinga is likely to be a one-term President should the opposition rally to hand him a win in 2017. When he leaves, a Luhya deputy has a more realistic chance of taking over in 2022.

The last formidable challenge anywhere is Uhuru Kenyatta. His pedigree and wealth have kept his ambitious tribesmen in line; it’s not that they don’t have their differences.

With Kenyatta out of the way, Jubilee will most likely implode; everybody trying to cut a niche for himself. With at least three home-grown parties, and being cosmopolitan, Rift Valley has its own migraine. Gentlemen, don’t miss the bus again. 

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