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Curse of the Mau on Kenyan leadership

By Leonard Khafafa | July 25th 2018
Hundreds of members of the Maasai community holding demonstrations in support of the government's move to evict thousands of illegal settlers from the Maasai Mau forest. [Robert Kiplagat/Standard]

The phrase “whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad,” is attributed to 17th century European scholars. It is thought that either French scholar Jacques Duport or English writer Joshua Barnes first authored the phrase.

It is now commonly accepted that the “madness” referred to is not lunacy worthy of an asylum. Rather, it is in the sense of being insensate to the consequences of what one is doing. Christian writer Philip Trower encapsulates this saying, “powerful men are responsible for their own downfall in so far as they become ‘mad’ in the sense of blind to the obvious.”

The pantheon of gods associated with the word Mau, have from pre-independence, exacted their toll on those they wished to destroy. Starting with the Mau Mau movement, many of the generals who fought in the trenches never got to sample the fruits of independent Kenya. General Stanley Mathenge disappeared without trace in 1955.

Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi was captured and executed in 1956. Field Marshal Baimungi Marete was killed by post-independence government agents in 1965. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga lost a substantial chunk of the Rift Valley vote when he attempted to evict squatters from the Mau Forest. This eventually cost him a presidential election that was his to lose in 2013. Lately, it seems the gods have loosed their vengeance on Senator Kipchumba Murkormen.

Lesser known

Mr Onesmus Kipchumba Murkomen is a Kenyan lawyer and a politician. He is serving a second term as senator of Elgeyo Marakwet County. He also serves as majority leader of the Senate. At 39 years, Mr Murkomen has come a long way. He is a Marakwet, one of the lesser known sub-tribes of the Kalenjin nation. Nestled between the Keiyo and the Pokot, Marakwets were known for their traditional enmity with the Pokot.

Cattle rustling was, and still is, an existential threat to both communities with violent skirmishes flaring up periodically. Marakwets are also known for their prowess in charcoal-burning. It is said that they could decimate entire forests in weeks, living entirely off the land as they did so.

Mr Murkomen hob nobs with the high and mighty in Kenya. He has all the trappings of power. He is no stranger to the quintessential expression of success in Kenya, that is, flying around in helicopters.

He is an alter ego of Deputy President William Ruto. Although he may be far removed from the plight of the Sengwer in his home county or even their eviction from Embobut Forest, it seems he cannot escape his forest heritage.

He has now arrogated himself the role of defender of the inhabitants of the Mau. In a bizarre move that has confounded friend and foe, he recently issued edicts that countermanded government policy when he sought to stop the eviction of illegal squatters in the Mau Forest.

Only recourse

It is important to understand why the stakes over the Mau are high. For starters, it is said that Mr Murkomen fancies himself as the heir apparent of the deputy president. At one time, during the International Criminal Court trials at The Hague, it is alleged that he countenanced taking over the reigns of the Kalenjin nation had William Ruto been detained.

This may be one of the reasons that has informed his recent utterances. Second, there is the problem of the ethnicity of the squatters. They are predominantly Kipsigis who sold their original parcels to settle in the Mau.

Should they be displaced, their only recourse would be to go back to their original homes. Because culturally, Kalenjins do not have internally displaced people, those at the original homes would have to accommodate the returnees at great strain.

Two reasons are advanced making a case for the eviction of the squatters. The most obvious is that it is an important water tower that affects rainfall distribution in a significant portion of the arable parts of Kenya.

Second, because the Mau sits on a portion of Narok County, the Maasai community feel there has been an insidious penetration by squatters into their county. This presents the threat of a Kipsigis hegemony. At the next election, Narok East leadership may be taken by a Kipsigis.

Mr Murkomen’s utterances have been considered by some to be beyond the pale. To defy one’s party leader on a national issue is puerile and reprobate. It would be thoughtless for the party leader not to sanction such indifference. Kenyans are waiting to see what action is taken and whether the gods of the Mau, having doled out yet another touch of “madness,” will have the last laugh.

Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council.

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