Bridge growing rift in the valley of Kenyan politics

Anyone seeing the Great Rift Valley for the first time would describe it as stunning. Whether glimpsed from the escarpment at Kijabe, or from the majestic heights of Kabarnet town, the spectacular views never fail to make one’s breath catch. Within the confines of this valley, cosmopolitan towns thrive; with people of every ethnic extraction engaged in various pursuits. But on the peripheries of these towns, enclaves of predominantly homogeneous Kalenjin communities exist, making the bulk of the inhabitants of the Rift Valley.

The Kalenjin community has been in the news lately. Not for its athletic prowess, for which it is renowned, or for the warm hearts and sunny smiles of its members, their teeth whitened by years of copious milk consumption. The community has made headlines because of perceived selective crackdown on its prominent personalities in public offices. This has been, ostensibly, on allegations of graft. To understand why the random acts of individuals would cause consternation in an entire community, it is necessary to delve into the social construct of the Kalenjin.

Tom Mboya, a minister in independent Kenya’s first government, spoke of economic, social and political institutions that made sense only when they found expression in the African communal set-up. His definition of African Socialism entailed mutual social responsibility. Of the African concept of life, he said, “a person is not just an individual, but is part of a system or community, with responsibilities and duties in that community. But in turn, the community has responsibilities and duties to the individual.”

Gainful employment

Kalenjins embody Mboya’s African Socialism. Their sense of community precludes a majority from owning homes in urban areas; preferring to rent for the five working days of the week, then drive to the outskirts where communal life thrives. Even the lowliest cadres of the those in gainful employment prefer to leave their families up-country whilst they live in affordable single rooms in the city.

For that reason, unlike other communities, there are no slums that harbour Kalenjins in urban areas.Kalenjins also invest heavily in their communities. A single prominent kinsman in Nairobi could have up to fifty dependents. Some of these work on farms and enterprises owned by community leaders.

Others are part of a network of extended family members whose educational needs are taken care of by well-off benefactors. Wealth and positions are perceived to be held in trust for the community, even if, only experienced vicariously by those not directly related to the benefactors. This is what Dr Joyce Nyairo, in her seminal treatise on trends, identities and the politics of belonging, ‘Kenya At 50,’ refers to as “economies of affection that fuel African associational life.”

Kalenjin community

The Uhuruto portmanteau that brought President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to power appears to have lost its sheen. The high-flying that characterised their first term is lost to the public so that it seems the chemistry that brought them together is gone. It is against this background that any arrests for corruption, of persons from the deputy president’s backyard, are deemed an affront to the Kalenjin community.

In a country where there has been a proclivity to sacrifice conviction for political opportunity, many leaders from the Rift Valley perceive the current corruption fight as targeted at the Kalenjin community. This, they say, is to paint the entire community in bad light and to lock it out of the presidency in the next election.

If this fight against corruption is intended to show our finer selves as Kenyans, it has yet to succeed. Instead, it has been construed by many to be the stage for settling personal scores, where public officers are forced to step aside while their adversaries take charge. Clearly, there is motivation by self-gain and not deep policy conviction. It has not helped that the media has also taken sides and proclaimed “scandals” and “billions lost” condemning select public officers guilty even before due process has taken place. In the minds of many Kenyans, accused persons are already judged and awaiting execution.

The DP, in what could pass for a veiled rebuttal of those who have assailed community interests, has asked judges to “rule on cases in accordance with the law and avoid executing their mandate in a manner likely to be perceived to be serving some political interest.” The uptake of these expressions of disaffection is likely to increase in the coming days, unless the president moves to ameliorate what could be the greatest political rift in the valley of Kenyan politics.

Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council.

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Kalenjin communityRift valley politicsDP William Ruto