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‘Yes’ or ‘No’, we are baited by tribe

By | June 2nd 2010

Andrew Kipkemboi

What started as a dull and dreary contest on whether the Proposed Constitution is good for this country has been transformed into one of the most dramatic events steeped in despicable tribal prejudice and unbending intolerance.

Forget for a moment about the Christian/Muslim/secular divide. Just by observing the underlying strategy being employed in these campaigns, you can’t fail to notice a familiar pattern. We are still captive to pervasive ethnic identity.

For a fact, Kenyans filter themselves into tribe, clan and even village. So the genie is out of the bottle and it might be late to squeeze it back.

Paul Collier in Wars, Guns & Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places argues that almost in every political campaign in Africa, ethnic politics seems likely to contaminate the content of the election campaign.

First, our politics lacks in principle and our leaders are devoid of any ideology.

Secondly, we lack an assertive citizenry and a "properly curious" media that names and shames the tribal chiefs. It is obvious that the politicians are acutely aware that playing on our ethnic fears, prejudices and hatred works for them. It is, therefore, not surprising that we are beginning to witness politicians actively mobilising their own ethnic bases to vote one way in the coming referendum instead of reaching out to the entire nation. And their strategy is bearing fruit if the Info-Track opinion polls results released last week are anything to go by.

It is ironical that in a sacred duty like making a constitution, our instinctive reaction is to retreat to our ethnic enclaves. We look for reasons to reject or accept the Proposed Constitution firstly as Luos, Kalenjins, Kikuyus or Kambas.

That is why I disagree with those who argue that the single most potent threat to this process is disinformation.

On the contrary, it is the radicalised ethnic legions spewing fire and brimstone at every gathering of ‘their’ people that will put paid to any effort at fostering a national discourse on the Proposed Constitution.

Tiger in the belly

Actually, the ruling class while not caring much about the country, will most certainly cause ripples and throw a spanner in the works because it is not in their interest to have a new constitution. And we know why.

The attempted insertion of ‘national security’ phenomenon and Kadhis’ Courts ruling has placed a tiger in the belly of the Proposed Constitution.

Take, for example, the No campaign being waged by William Ruto. Save for the little forays he has made into Ukambani and Meru, he reserves his best salvos and energy to the many rallies he is holding in Kalenjin Rift Valley. It is no secret that even the visits he has made to Ukambani are informed by his perception that some Kambas or Merus who subscribe to the KKK outfit might be sympathetic to his message.

Uhuru Kenyatta too is much at home doing the Yes Katiba jig in his Central Kenya backyard. It matters not that he has been a reluctant suitor to the campaign having started off with dismaying indifference.

As if to emphasise the importance of ethnic linkages, Kalonzo Musyoka who accompanied Uhuru last week was at pains to emphasise he will traverse the Central and Eastern region in the company of the Finance Minister. The jury is still out on how Raila will fashion his campaign but he has lately adopted a statesmanship approach together with the President.

On a brighter side, Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua have broken new ground by taking the campaign to foreign territory. Peter Kenneth was in Nandi the other day and this past weekend he was in Luo Nyanza. Karua has been to Rift Valley and Western.

As we hit the homestretch, I would like to see Ruto and Uhuru doing their thing in Changamwe and Ukunda, Garissa, Wajir, Kendu Bay, Bondo, Mbale, Bungoma, Narok, Kapenguria, Thika and even Nyeri.

Kenya needs far greater blessings than the ethnic loyalties of Kalenjins and Kikuyus. I would like to see Kalonzo and Raila take their messages across the country without lapsing into their usual pesky nothings. This way, we shall be doing real justice to the Proposed Constitution.

We cannot pretend that by baiting our ethnic bases, we are building our nation. We are only succeeding in setting tribe against tribe. Today, you have a restive and impatient Kalenjin Rift Valley waiting to vote ‘No’ largely on ethnic identity on grounds they have an axe to grind with Raila.

Death wish

A few more ethnically focused forays could turn the passive Central Kenya and the nonchalant Coast or the rather bewildered Nyanza into the tragic theatres of tribal bigotry. And who knows, maybe the gods will finally decide to grant us our own death wish to pay the ultimate price.

It will take more than the persuasions of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to watch our mouths to rattle a tribal chief with a gargantuan ego and draw the well of ethnic chauvinism after the referendum.

The writer is Foreign News Editor at The Standard.

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