Tribalism is our portion because it serves vested political interests well

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka flanked by Wiper Party officials and Gikuyu elders during the endorsement of Limuru 3 resolution at Wiper House in Nairobi on May 29, 2024. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The epilogue to President William Ruto’s Madaraka Day speech in Bungoma last week was unconvincing. To paraphrase, Dr Ruto averred that his government will not condone politics of tribalism and personality attacks. 

His warning might have been induced by heightened tension within the government, specifically within his United Democratic Alliance party. It doesn’t help that even as the wrangling, name-calling and bad blood deepen, Ruto is yet to call his lieutenants to order. Theirs is a free-for-all epithet contest between the ‘sons of Mau Mau’, ‘elevated MCAs’, former ‘touts’ and ‘fake degree’ holders.

When the principle of shareholding in government was declared months back, Ruto redeemed himself by rebuking its proponents. Yet, notwithstanding the rebuke, subsequent findings by reputable institutions have shown that two tribes hog jobs in the civil service. Tribalism, no matter the denials, is up hale and hearty. 

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua recently warned leaders from the Rift Valley to steer clear of the politics of the mountain. That, if anything, points to ideological rifts, politics of personality attacks while also exposing vestiges of negative ethnicity.

Our leaders pretend to run away from this vice during the day yet enthusiastically embrace it in their enclaves under the cover of darkness. 

Gachagua’s call for one man, one vote, one-shilling formula in national resource allocation, which has drawn ire in some quarters, inadvertently revealed his leanings, portraying him as a regional leader, not a deputy president who should articulate issues at the national level.

This proclivity for regional politics has pitted him against young Turks in Central who are determined to upstage him. Their orchestrated attacks diminish his political value, raising questions about his ability to unite Kenyans should he step into the big shoes. 

Spats within Kenya Kwanza serve to prove that post elections, political parties assume secondary importance. From our experience, presidents outgrow their parties, ignore their campaign manifestos and rely on select aides to push their agendas.

The more aggressive an aide becomes in defending the boss, the closer they get to the gravy train and are assured of a place in the innermost sanctum. Emboldened by money and proximity to the powers that be, aides and leaders close to the President often feel they can say whatever they want to say without repercussions. Disrespect among leaders has the undesired effect of manifesting in the hoi polloi and perpetrates politics of hatred and unnecessary divisions that have cost this country developmentally. 

Speaking of development, Bungoma, hitherto a dusty town bustling with activity, has undergone phenomenal transformation in the last few months. This is attributed to preparations in readiness for the 61st Madaraka Day celebrations.

Bungoma has acquired a stadium with a capacity to seat 20,000 people, an airstrip, a state lodge, carpeted roads, street lights across town, and improved security. That is what focus, unity of purpose and political goodwill - alien concepts to most of our leaders - can do for our country. 

In the midst of political brinkmanship, however, all this is lost, leaving us susceptible to the wiles of economic elites and assorted interest groups.  That being so, no matter what anybody in government says, the faceless, nameless people who financed Ruto’s recent trip to the US are up to something. We should not be deluded that anyone would spend millions of shillings out of magnanimity. It doesn’t wash. 

The elites and interest groups did not get where they are by being charitable. They are barracudas, merchants who exact their pound of flesh in every transaction. It is only after they have satiated their avarice that the common man can get morsels once in a while to keep their barren hopes alive.