Top cultural organ in Central Kenya, the Kikuyu Council of Elders, says the next three years will be crucial in how the community builds future relations with other Kenyans and whether it maintains an influential position in national affairs.
Wachira wa Kiago, the Chairman of the Kikuyu Council of Elders Association (KCEA) says various factors including the destruction of the youth through alcohol, intensive family planning practices, a confused political direction and the subdivision of land into non-productive portions are among key threats facing Central Kenya.
“Although politically we seem strong, it is an area we can easily lose a grip of if we are not focused and united. Also, our previously rich agricultural lands have now become useless after subdivision into small pieces, particularly for commercial purposes,” he said in an interview with Mt. Kenya Star.
The elder, who is the supreme leader of the cultural activities in the region, executed through an organization known as Kiama Kia Ma (whose literal translation is the true society), said the current confusion relating to the political direction of the community is only worsening the situation.
While the political support of the community was expected to automatically shift to Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta has created uncertainty over honouring his pact with the Rift Valley leader, splitting the Central electorate.
The elder said the latest census numbers should be used by the community to reassess its reproductive trends, proposing the need for polygamy.
“Men in several other communities usually marry more than one wife and beget several children. Kikuyus seem to have been restricted to marrying one wife, and having one or two children,” he said.
“Without numbers, we are doomed. Therefore, I encourage the return of polygamy within the Agikuyu. Let the men who are able to marry more than one wife please do so. Our women are getting lost in prostitution and being married by men from other communities.”
The Agikuyu have been at the helm of Kenya’s social, economic and political lives for decades. However, their dominance, what others say is hegemony, has been losing its edge in recent times.
In fact, there is a real risk that if this trend continues, Kikuyus might be playing second or third fiddle in the country’s national affairs in another decade or two.
Mt Kenya Star columnist and correspondent Stephen Ndegwa held an interview with the Chairman of the Kikuyu Council of Elders Association (KCEA), Wachira wa Kiago, on the various issues facing the community.
Question: What is the origin of the Kikuyu Council of Elders Association?Answer: KCEA was started in 2005, and registered in 2009, after dramatic incidences of oppression and frustrations by a system that had been fine-tuned for years to undermine the community. Sadly, some of the agents of oppression were personalities indigenous to the community.
At this time, the Kikuyu community had been redefined negatively by other communities and was referred to in very unsavoury terms. The ethnic stereotyping was increasing to dangerous levels.
Secondly, we felt the community was losing its culture at a fast rate, leading to a lack of self-respect, and loss of direction, among the youth.
As a delegate during the constitutional review exercise in the mid-2000s, I saw a need to secure the interests of the community, lest they are destroyed by the proposed changes in the law.
Q: What are the current challenges facing the Agikuyu community?A: Our main challenges include social, cultural, political, economic, and the environment. As a community, we have lost the unity that we had. As noted above, we are also adopting foreign cultures and way of doing things at the expense of our authenticity.
Socially, our community is disintegrating from erosion of values, and vices like drug abuse, crime, and prostitution.
Although politically we seem strong, it is an area we can easily lose a grip of if we are not focused and united. Also, our previously rich agricultural lands have now become useless after subdivision of land into small pieces, particularly for commercial purposes. Central Kenya also faces land degradation and environmental destruction due to wanton cutting down of trees and other greenery for the aforesaid purposes.
Our community is still oppressed. Our businesses have been marginalised, while our key agricultural sectors like tea, coffee and milk have collapsed. Many Kikuyus are still disenfranchised from their property in areas that have suffered past politically instigated land clashes. Many community members have little or no knowledge of their age-old culture, traditions, and spirituality.
There is also a lot of intra-fighting in the community, with our leaders washing their dirty linen in public. This has made us a laughing stock of other communities in the country. Basically, majority of the Agikuyu have lost the thread that linked them to the community’s past. Due to various negative forces, there is a glaring disconnect between how the community used to run its affairs, and how it does today.
Q: How has KCEA tried to manage these challenges, and what is the level of success?A: Our main solution is seeking to invest in the positive aspects of our culture, and the relevant aspects of religion, and harvest the wisdom and experience of the community’s senior citizens.
One of our primary objectives is to redeem the family unit, where every member embraces their roles and responsibilities for the welfare of society as a whole.
We also seek to ensure that a sense of discipline and respect exists in all age groups, and reestablish a code of behaviour, and sanctions for transgressions.
Further, KCEA is trying to use the relevant and necessary cultural practices to preserve and develop the community’s wealth and heritage.
But we are not doing all these in isolation. We are also striving to build bridges between our community and other communities in the country, by engaging their elders and leaders.
Q: What is your stand on female circumcision?A: While female circumcision had its place in the traditional Agikuyu community, things have now changed somewhat. We do not do some things that we used to, even for the male members of the community.
Female circumcision has now been overtaken by aspects of modernity like education. But we shall continue to enculture our women in other areas, and stressing the importance of their role in the family, and community as a whole. Indeed, we have also dropped some practices involving male initiation as they are no longer tenable. For instance, some modes of traditional dressing have lost their meaning.
Q: Tell us your take about rampant corruption in the country.A: First, thieves in the Kikuyu community were banished from the community. Stealing robs both the individual and his or her dependants, thus increasing the levels of poverty. In fact, thieves used to be killed.
Corruption has ruined almost all sectors of the economy. At KCEA we have already made it clear that corrupt individuals cannot be part of our bona fide members. I even recommend that those found guilty of grand corruption should be sentenced to hang.
Q: Do you think the recently released population census results are a true reflection of the community’s demographics?A: I believe the 2019 national census figures that show a stagnation of the growth of our numbers are valid for a couple of reasons. One, the largest number of women on various family planning contraceptives are from our community.
Secondly, while men in several other communities usually marry more than one wife and beget several children, Kikuyus seem to have been restricted to marrying one wife and having one or two children.
Without numbers, we are doomed. Therefore, I encourage the return of polygamy within the Agikuyu. Let the men who are able to marry more than one wife please do so. Our women are getting lost in prostitution and being married by men from other communities.
Q. As an association, what is your political stand, particularly on the 2022 General Election?A: First, let me say that it is in the interest of the Agikuyu community to promote a peaceful country. Without peace, we are the biggest losers, since we are found in every corner of the country.
As such, the KCEA National Executive Council met and supported the Handshake and Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). In our proposals to the BBI, we had two main issues.
First, we asked for equitable distribution of resources everywhere in the country. Secondly, we recommended that the country adopts an all-inclusive Government. Kikuyus must now let go; including the Kalenjins.
Consequently, KCEA is not supporting any particular party or presidential candidate in 2022. We believe that by that time Kenyans will have put their act together, where everyone will feel represented in subsequent governments.