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Speaker Justin Muturi owes us a tale on his forest escapade

By Barrack Muluka | May 29th 2021
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi coronated by Kikuyu Council of Elders at Mukurwe Wa Nyagatha at Gakuyu Village in Kiharu, Murang'a County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Prof Daniel Branch of Warwick University recalls the anxiety that informed party politics in Kenya on the eve of independence.

He states, in ‘Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963 – 2011’ that the Ronald Ngala-led Kadu party was a defensive entity. Echoing David Anderson, Branch remembers the ethnic doubts that ruled the country on the road to freedom.   

The Kanu kingpins Jomo Kenyatta, Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya wanted a unitarian state. Kadu leaders feared for their ethnic communities. They were wary of domination by the big tribes. Hence, said Anderson, Kadu was formed in 1960 as a party “defensive in character, born out of fear.”   

Sixty-one years later, Kadu is dead and buried. But the fear lives on. The hullabaloo about a spokesman for Mt Kenya manifests the fear. Scholarly narratives on Bantu migrations into the mountain region talk of five related communities that came from the Congo forests in the second millennium, up to about 1500 CE. They are documented as the Kikuyu, Meru, Embu, Chuka and Mbere.    

The Chuka are today rarely foregrounded as a distinct community. They are, instead, subsumed into the Meru. Early classifications by linguists like Joseph Greenberg and Malcom Guthrie, see dialectal distinctions (and even mutual intelligibility issues) among other “Meruic” peoples like the Mwimbi, Imenti, Tigania and Igembe.

The Tharaka have their own story. As indigenes, they all know better. And perhaps it does not matter. For they seem to have found coherence. The same coherence has been assumed to envelope the entire mountain region.

In Emanyulia in Kakamega, we don’t know how to tell apart the Meru and Embu from the Kikuyu. Kenya’s ethnic political behaviour has, moreover, clustered the Mountain communities in typecast choices and conduct.    

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi’s touchy attempt to become the mountain’s spokesperson, however, shows just how fragile the coherence is. The west of the mountain is rattled, all the way into its diaspora elsewhere in Kenya.

It is difficult to tell whether the emerging political rift will heal or not. It is about negative ethnicity and nuanced identities, however. The farther away you move from related clusters of people, the greater the ethnic suspicions and fears.       

The converse of the suspicions and fears is the desire to dominate. Even before independence, Kenyans looked at each other in utilitarian terms. We have seen each other as horses to ride on.

Hence, when speaker Muturi attempts to become the horse rider for a change, he runs into trouble. For, how does the beast of burden ask for changed roles? That is what the hullabaloo in the mountain is about.      

There is another dimension to the problem, though. How does the Speaker of the National Assembly become the spokesperson of a cluster of tribes? Where does he leave the rest of Kenya? What did he commit himself to in the jungle, where he underwent cultural processes? How will the cultural rituals and vows influence his performance as Speaker?     

At a personal level, I grew up with the boy who became the Speaker. I am happy for him. As the poet William Wordsworth said, “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.”

Few of us can boast of the boy, or girl, you used to take coffee with having gone on to become the Panther of the trees. As the poet said, “The Child is father of the Man.” I can vouchsafe for the Speaker as a man of character.       

Muturi is eminently qualified to lead Kenya from State House. I don’t know about the wisdom behind his incursions into the forest, however. He must know the merits.

That said, it would be honourable for Mt Kenya West to give him the chance to explain to other Kenyans what he was doing in the forest and why they should trust him, both in his present role and in his big future dreams. Give the horse his day in the sunshine. Let’s hear from his mouth.    

-The writer is a Doctor of Philosophy in Politics and International relations.


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