David O. Monda
Love him or hate him, Moses Kuria speaks his mind. He enjoys courting controversy and media attention with reckless abandon. On peripheral observation, Mr. Kuria can be dismissed as an ethnic bigot. However on closer perspective, I conclude he promotes a lot of negative ethnic stereotypes most Kenyans believe but are not willing to say openly.
Mr. Kuria is advancing ethnic chauvinism of the highest order. How this works is to brand one’s tribe as somehow more equal than others and therefore more deserving of access and control of power. The “we” (my tribe) versus “them” (their tribe) game. This allows the politician in question to garner more votes in the next election and consolidate his position in the regional political game. The lowest common denominator between the elite and the masses in this context becomes ethnicity.
While Kuria’s statements gain him political mileage within his political constituency, it tends to stigmatize and ostracize those not of his ethnic dispensation nationally. In reaction to his statements, ethnic leaders from other parts of Kenya retort with equally or more vitriolic ethnic expletives. The hypocrisy with those criticizing Kuria is that they harbour similar ethnic chauvinism but are too chicken out to speak openly about it. Fortunately, Kuria is brave enough to speak his mind even though the content of his pronouncements is inflammatory.
In retrospect, Kuria’s statements go hand in hand with what is suggested by other ethnic mandarins (tribal leaders) from other parts of Kenya. Negative ethnicity is a major challenge in Kenya especially as the country gears up for the 2017 elections. It is bound to go up a notch higher in the months ahead.
The issue with negative ethnicity in Kenya is that when poor Kenyans of all ethnicities begin cutting each other with pangas, Mr. Kuria and his fellow politicians will be enjoying beer and nyama choma at high end hotels in upscale Nairobi still drawing their $10,000 pay checks and allowances. Because of no hope or expectations, these desperate poor recoil into negative ethnicity with the hope of one of their tribal chiefs gaining access to power so they might somehow benefit.
Kenya is not unique in its struggle with negative ethnicity. In the United States for example, the negative ethnicity is race. A bigger challenge is developing leadership to provide visionary solutions to the problems of all Kenya’s regardless of tribe. While rallying the ethnic proclivities of the masses might work in the short term, in the longer term it is likely to sink the ship called Kenya. More has to be done to provide opportunity for the jobless poor holding pangas. This will involve developing a vision of growing the Kenyan pie so that every tribe can benefit rather than shrinking it so that tribal leaders can dish out scraps to a growing mass of desperate poor arming themselves with pangas. This is the challenge of leadership in Kenya.