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Defiance is part of Mount Kenya’s DNA

By Macharia Munene | February 8th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta when he arrived at Sgana State Lodge in Nyeri to meet with political leaders in Mt Kenya Region. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

The people of Mount Kenya confound ‘experts’ and pundits by appearing defiant in robust discussions. In reality, the discussions are ways of reaching consensus and searching for ‘kihoto’, or reason.

Underlying kihoto is the idiom, ‘muhurwo na njuguma niacokaga, no muhurwo na kihoto ndacokaga’, meaning that one beaten into compliance through force always returns to fight, but one defeated using reason does not. They shun dogmatism that tends to blind people to common sense.

The search for kihoto goes back to the 15th Century. Members of the Iregi generation, the third or fourth generation from Gikuyu and Mumbi, demanded that governance make sense and overthrew a dictator ruling as a king. They instituted governance through council and started the Iregi tradition and philosophy of questioning and even rejecting anything that did not make sense. 

A revolutionary aspect of the Iregi belief was the adoption of an interconnected two-pronged strategy, perpetual defiance to lack of logic and constant search for kihoto.

The Iregi generation instituted rotation in governance that would, through ‘Ituika’, alternate between Mwangi and Maina/Irungu governing groups. This seemingly worked for four centuries before British colonialism set in and tried to destroy African institutions.

Mugo wa Kibiro predicted the coming of the white invaders, and when they did, Waiyaki wa Hinga symbolised defiance to the new foreign order. He became inspirational.

Resisting British

Imperial officials such as Francis Hall noticed the prevailing sense of defiance to the new authority and predicted future bloody confrontation between the colonialists and people of the Mountain, and so did Richard Meinertzaghen.

Cultural political confrontations took place, with Africans resisting British’ effort to destroy institutions. Does one, Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) leader Joseph Kang’ethe reportedly asked, stop being an African because he is a Christian or stop being a Christian because he is an African? He received no answer.

It was also in that period that colonial officials went out of their way to prohibit the Ituika of the late 1920s, possibly to stop KCA ‘radicals’ from taking over ‘governance.’ Although the British cut the Ituika short, the Iregi tradition remained deep in the people, resulting in the Mau Mau War of the 1950s. The confrontation that Hall and Meinertzaghen had predicted came true.

The Iregi tradition was also pronounced within the Mau Mau. There were regular feuds and debates, which explain Mau Mau mysteries surrounding the roles and responsibilities of leaders like Dedan Kimathi, Stanley Mathenge, Jomo Kenyatta, and Mbiyu Koinange.

Votes cast

Post Mau Mau period, people are trying to make sense of the new governing reality. Bildad Kaggia and JM Kariuki questioned the new order that left many in poverty, 10 millionaires amidst 10 million beggars.

The same spirit inspired Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia to go against the grain and launch the multiparty movement. Seeking to explain what had gone wrong in the country, they, too, had to contend with internal disagreements.

The 1992 multiparty election showed the Iregi spirit in the Mountain, as four men offered their services to the country; Mukaru Nga’nga, Koigi Wamwere, Mwai Kibaki, and Kenneth Matiba. They lost to Daniel arap Moi, for they differed on the objectives.

Matiba came close in terms of the official votes cast and aroused euphoria, called ‘githingithia’, as symbol of defiance, which defied even his sickness. In the Iregi spirit, he grumbled about his loss and introduced the concept of “technical appearance” in Parliament.

The Iregi spirit continued after Moi left office and accounts for current debates. Kibaki battled foreign effort to dictate Kenya’s domestic and foreign policies, decriminalised the Mau Mau, and angered Euro-powers by insisting on equal treatment.

They responded by applying the ‘shock doctrine’ that sent six Kenyans to The Hague. The Iregi spirit defied The Hague, produced the UhuRuto presidency, and still insists on the right to question in search for kihoto.

The seeming disagreements in the Mountain, therefore, are inherent in the people’s Iregi tradition.

Prof Macharia is a senior associate, Horn International Institute for strategic studies 

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