Mr DP, all Kenyans equally own shares in this government

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua at Kiriko village in Rongai, Nakuru county where he visited families evicted in the area over a land dispute on February 18,2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is right to say that Kenyans own shares in the idea of Project Kenya. What he is wrong about, is how individuals come to own shares.

According to recent public comments, he seems to think that “ownership” of the government comes from voting for the eventual winners.

He is wrong. Kenyans’ “ownership” of the government is an inalienable right of all citizens of the Jamhuri, regardless of partisan affiliation.

It is important to not dismiss Gachagua’s musings as mere gaffes. Instead, we should view them as a candid tour of the mind of Kenyan politicians of a certain kind.

Before he talked about ownership in terms of people who voted for Kenya Kwanza, Gachagua championed the idea that his sole purpose in government was to protect narrow interests of one ethnic group.

He was even willing to humiliate Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja, to this end. Forget that he and Sakaja belong in the same coalition.

Similarly, during a recent outing in Nakuru, Gachagua proudly paraded the Lands Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary as “local sons” whose duty in government was to solve Nakuru issues.

Apparently, it was lost on Gachagua that these positions are held in trust for all Kenyans, regardless of origin or partisan affiliation.

You would have been forgiven for thinking we were back in 1975 and it was Kenyatta dishing out patronage to heads of Kanu district branches.

Gachagua’s antics are not just out of place or embarrassing in polite society. They are also bad politics.

Times have changed. Kenyans, including co-ethnics of would-be national politicians, abhor the specter of crass tribal politics and such divisive talk.

We may still like to see “our own” in power and get preferential access to public goods and services on the basis of ethnicity, but we have certainly come to hate the idea of publicly talking about it in those terms.

Politicians who refuse to learn this lesson are undermining their own careers.

The eagerness with which Azimio strongholds have embraced President William Ruto’s outreach efforts is a reminder that Kenyans are typically only instrumentally tribalist – that is, they only vote along ethnic lines as a means to an end.

Too bad that some of our leaders appear to be primordial tribalists.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University