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Kituyi must avoid trodden path of ethnic mobilisation

By Barrack Muluka | February 20th 2021

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi [David Njaaga, Standard]

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi’s entry into next year’s presidential race is a good development. Whatever it achieves, or even fails to achieve, it should raise the bar of political conversation. So far, the discourse has remained pathetically low. It is dominated by irrational self-focus among top contenders. They give the country little to look forward to, in the post-election season.  

Kituyi returned to Kenya from Geneva, Switzerland, last week. He has had an illustrious eight-year tour of duty as the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He confirmed speculations that he was eyeing the most powerful office in the country. 

As could be only expected in a society whose values an insect has eaten, he has already run into political headwinds. In his native Luhya Western Kenya, he has been called a traitor and a spoiler. There are those who believe apart from ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, anybody else who raises his head above the political waters is “a foreign project.” The thinking is that Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula will eventually stem the tide of his own ambitions. He will step down in favour of Mudavadi.  Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has also declared his interest in the big job. He is seen, however, as only spoiling for relevance at the local and national political horse-trading markets. Anybody else from the region attempting to join the fray must, therefore, be seen as a spoiler. Kituyi’s apparent hobnobbing with ODM leader Raila Odinga is particularly not being taken well. He is already taking a beating in social media groups. There is more.

He had better prepare well for a political thunderstorm on his Western Kenya home front. It should not be like that, however. Our people say where one person stands, another can also stand there, beside him. Where Mudavadi stands, Kituyi can also stand there, beside him. Both gentlemen are qualified to lead Kenya, as are many other people outside the tribe. What should count is the appeal and believability of the agenda. 

Such agenda is lacking in the national political discourse. Only President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, have attempted to frame next year’s race around considerations that begin having an ideological thrust. Regrettably, their pitches have generated hostile spins. They will need to explain themselves more clearly. 

The DP went first, with his hustler nation focus. This agenda has the architecture of class struggle conversations. It is not the first time, however, that class struggle is being framed as a basis for political considerations in Africa. One of Africa’s outstanding intellectual political legacies is Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s 1973 book titled, Class Struggle in Africa.  Nkrumah’s narrative is a rich discourse centred on the notion of neocolonialism and new social, economic and political classes in Africa. He sees the dominant classes as serving selfish local agendas. These agendas ride on the raft of wider sinister foreign goals. My Form Four high school class encountered Kwame’s text in 1976, courtesy of our Literature guru, the inimitable Prof Kukubo Barasa. He organised debates across schools in Western Kenya, where we honed and tested future skills.   

Elsewhere, Prof Ali Mazrui spent acres of paper and gallons of ink on the subject of class struggle and ethnic competitions in Africa. He discussed this most explicitly in his two BBC Africa Lectures titled “Tools of Exploitation: A Triple Heritage of Technology,” and “In Search of Stability.” Both were later published as Chapters 8 and 9 of the volume, The Africans: A Triple Heritage.  

In short, class struggles can be soberly discussed, outside undue alarmist calls and suspicions of demonic intents. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was another iconic African scholar who preoccupied himself endlessly with this subject. His country did not go to war against itself because of this.  

President Kenyatta reframed the conversation at the burial of Mama Hannah Mudavadi in Vihiga, last month. Should the discourse move away from Ruto’s attempt to frame politics as “competition between certain types of families” to “competition among tribes”? Ruto’s definition of the dynasty remains in a grey area. At first, it sounded as if a dynasty was a dominant political family. The argument seemed to be that such families should give political space to other families to also have their day in the sunshine.  

Regressively, however, the conversation seems to have been shifted to include all aristocratic classes and middle classes, as opposed to the great unwashed masses. The agency of the regression is not clear. But, the hustlers have their work cut out for them. This is especially now, that Odinga has made a deliberate, if somewhat misleading attempt, at historical revisionism that equates class struggles to Italian fascism under Benito Mussolini. 

Regardless, even this historical revisionism can be soberly discussed alongside the hustler narrative. So, too, can be President Kenyatta’s motion on ethnic hegemonies. I expect that Kituyi, a respected global scholar, can help in these conversations. Yet, the risk of his being sucked into the usual arena of abusive word-mongering and phrase-mongering is real. Will he plough his own furrow and enrich the discourse, or will he become one more phrasemonger who confounds his global associates? Time will tell.  


-The writer is a strategic public communications advisor.

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