The storm kicked off by David Ndii in his call to secession has revealed the best and worst of us. When Dr Ndii first raised this matter – comparing Kenya to an abusive marriage, ripe for divorce – I took it as a mere intellectual interrogation of our ethnic hatred. But, reading through the views and commentaries on the subject this time round, my heart has been troubled – very troubled. And so, I took a moment to prayerfully reflect.
While our national focus was trained on the stalemate at the Bomas of Kenya over the presidential election results, the media picked up a seemingly insignificant election event in Embu. Eric Muchangi Njiru had just clinched the Runyenjes Parliamentary seat, and there were celebrations. What was newsworthy, though, was not Mr Muchangi’s electoral victory, but rather his being an Akorino. Well known for their white headgear and long flowing dresses, the Akorino were ecstatic as they celebrated the election of the first ever member of their church to Parliament. In the victory of Muchangi, was the vicarious triumph for the Akorino church. Hence, their merriment was not confined to Runyenjes, but reverberated across the nation wherever the Akorino are found.
Worthy of note is that such fetes are not unusual nor confined to minority groups. When Justice David Maraga was appointed the Chief Justice, the whole of the Kisii community rejoiced. In similar joy in 2008, President Kibaki declared a national holiday in Kenya to celebrate the electoral victory of Barack Obama – a son of a Kenyan – as US President. At the core of these responses is the “our own” syndrome – the joy of having one of us stand in limelight and glory. It is what is generally known as social affinity – the natural attraction towards people of like nature. Social affinity has been found to play a significant role in politics, especially in multi-ethnic societies where equity is a critical factor. In politics, such affinity operates mainly at two levels – distribution and representation. The former has to do with how resources are distributed while the latter focuses on how power is shared.
On distribution, studies indicate that social affinity is a critical determinant of preferences for redistribution. When ethnic minorities comprise a significant proportion of the poor, members of the majority group are often less likely to support redistributive policies. This may explain why, even though devolution has tried to level out inequalities of the past, there still lingers a perception that those in power have an unfair advantage over others. What must be addressed therefore is not just the leveling of inequality, but rather the structuring of equality.
On representation, social affinity requires that members see their own around the leadership table. This is a challenge in multi-party democracy because, though the winning party has the legitimate right to form a Government from its members, the absence of others sends the message of their exclusion. Such perceptions immediately undermine the distributive factor. Thus, no matter how well our local hospital is equipped and staffed, we will not rejoice until “our own” is at the high table. No wonder the Akorino had greater joy over a Muchangi’s win than they would for a tarmacked Runyenjes road – though they would certainly prefer both.
Whereas a strong devolution structure will eventually address the distributive factors of our social affinity, visible inclusion at all levels of government requires deliberate action. Thus, one of the greatest tasks in forming the next Government is to collate a wide array of representation from across the country. Such inclusion must not be mere tokenism, but rather a careful selection that sends the strong message that Kenya belongs to all of us. It is perhaps the surest way to drown out the secessionist chorus.
- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM).