Why the days of Kenyan ethnic political kingpins are numbered

Young leaders in the National Assembly must reject this temptation to declare themselves kingpins. [iStockphoto]

Any polity whose politics goes through generational change, gets a real chance at self-renewal. The transition is always a moment to discard old ways and embrace new ones.

Looking at how politicians are running around helter-skelter in a bid to position themselves as regional/ethnic tin gods in the name of kingpins, the millennials and the Gen Zees are asking themselves, “What whiff of newness are these kingpins going to offer?’’

For the record, I find the whole debate about kingpins, I don’t know if there are queen pins, pun intended, very ephemeral. It is certainly very preposterous for a leader who has a position of responsibility to spend his waking and sleeping hours plotting about how to be an ethnic political demigod rather than plan how to better the lot of the electorate.

I am in no way opposed to the expression of ambitions. If anything, I believe our politicians, like every one of us must demonstrate ambitions. But I believe that if those ambitions do not find meaning and expression in the lives and opportunities that are available to ordinary citizens, then it’s all a zero-sum game.

The young leaders in the National Assembly must reject this temptation to declare themselves kingpins for this is the generation that must end ethnic chieftaincy in politics.

Imagine if someday, it emerges that Generation X did a better job at attempting to build a national community compared to millennials?

The problems of this century will require greater solidarity, not less. We are no longer going to place entire ethnic groups in a silo and then brainwash them against any other ethnic group as a means of political mobilisation.

When Africa wanted to unite in 1963, the Monrovia group carried the day because of the suspicions of the time. Because of how colonial boundaries bound together people who sometimes did not share culture and/or language, it became easy to prey on their anxieties. Many African countries’ take-off was hampered because of how ethnic tensions were fanned into ethnic hostilities that sometimes graduated into full-blown conflicts.

For example, the Katanga Secession of 1960 precipitated the Congo crisis to very destructive end. The Biafra war, which started as an ethnic contest between the Igbo in the South and their neighbours to the North, saw Nigeria captured in a long winding experience until the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 when peaceful transfer of power found a new home.

I would have gone ahead to point out that the unfortunate Rwandan crisis of 1994 was an avoidable catastrophe, but I will hold my peace so that I don’t have to repeat the obvious that both Tutsi and Hutus belonged to the Banyarwanda tribe.

In this day and age when we are signatories to the African Continental Free Trade Area and are talking about common currency, any politician whose ambition for higher office is premised on ethnic solidarity and ethnic exceptionalism is certainly on the wrong side of history.

When William Ruto first declared that he wanted to run for president, his detractors wondered loudly how he would get Rift Valley from the grip of President Moi. The then-young MP retorted, “I want to be the President of Kenya, not of Rift Valley”.

It is therefore no brainer that when he ultimately decided to run, he did not try to actively exploit ethnic cleavages. Instead, he questioned the economic model that had seen the enclosure of resources by the elites while ordinary poor were starving in the midst of plenty.

Lest we digress, the future of this country is not in politics of ethnic kingpin. If we fail to couch our political ambitions through the prism of a national community, then in 2050 we will still be asking “who is the Pokomo kingpin’’ for we shall have incentivised fragmentation rather than ecumenism rooted in common aspirations and solid national brotherhood. 

-Mr Kidi is the Convenor of Inter-parties’ Youth forum. [email protected]