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It’s a lie that the Luhya community is not united

By Francis Atwoli | November 10th 2021

Francis Atwoli Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) speaking when COTU released a Covid-19 response and resilience strategy 2021-2025 on October 8, 2021.[Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

When it comes to Kenyan politics, nothing dominates the public political discourse more than the political behaviour of the two big communities; the politics of Mt Kenya and the talk of an ‘elusive’ Luhya unity.

Understandably, the unity, or lack of it, of these two regions is so significant that it has a bearing on who becomes president.

Unlike the Kikuyu, the Luhya community has been under sharp focus and criticism, especially on how they conduct their politics. Much more worrying is the political analysts’ understanding of the concept of unity. Today, I feel compelled to respond considering that the Luhya community has been condemned unheard.  

First, with all the politics in the region, Mt Kenya has always been considered the most politically united community in Kenya, notwithstanding the fact that they produce more than one presidential candidate in nearly all general elections.

In 1992, it produced Mwai Kibaki and Kenneth Matiba. In 1997 there was Kibaki, Koigi wa Wamwere and Wangari Maathai. In 2002, Kibaki, who emerged the winner, faced stiff competition from Uhuru Kenyatta. In 2013, the region had four candidates, namely, Uhuru, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and Paul Muite. And in 2017, the region had three presidential candidates.  

Why is it that the Luhyas are always branded as ‘disunited’ when two individuals from the community show interest in the presidency? Doesn’t it defy logic that the same reason used for entrenching the narrative that the Luhyas are not united, especially through the media, isn’t used in reference to Mt Kenya?

Secondly, it is said that another reason for the ‘disunity’ is the language difference among the Luhyas. It is a known linguistic fact that there is hardly any community with unvarying languages and cultures. In fact, even the English speakers vary in England. The French spoken in France is not the same as you approach Italy, Germany or Spain. Back home, there are different dialects of the Kikuyu language. For instance, a Kikuyu in Kirinyaga would hardly understand what a Kikuyu in Nakuru is saying. The same is the case in the Kalenjin and Maasai communities.

However, when it comes to Luhyas, preposterous and utterly ridiculous claims are made. For instance, the claim that the Luhya ethnic group is an amalgamation of 17 tribes and thus can’t possibly unite.

The truth is that the Luhya are one united tribe with several clans and thus languages and a minor variation of cultures. The Luhyas have always been united and, therefore, the narrative of an ‘elusive’ Luhya unity is just but a creation of media through some analysts and divisive narratives. For example, in 2002, the Luhyas overwhelmingly voted for Kibaki for a purpose. Such was the case in 2007 when they stood with Raila Odinga.

But there are a few instances when there has been confusion in the region as happens with all communities. This usually happens when the community lacks a leader or a coordinator for the leaders. When the Luhyas had Masinde Muliro, for instance, they were politically united behind his leadership.

In 2022, I foresee a scenario like 2002 and 2007 where the Luhyas unite for a purpose.

  • The writer is the Cotu secretary-general
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