Mutahi Ngunyi, the Tyranny of Numbers and the Central Province Stranglehold on Power in Kenya   Leave a comment

Ngunyi has been under some heavy attacks on his prediction of a Jubilee win in the upcoming Kenya elections, 2013, but his prediction should not come as a surprise! Kenya politics are still very heavily “tribalized” as every Kenyan knows. Given the numerical breakdown of the Kenya demographics, that tends to give the larger tribes an edge in the resulting game of assuming a dominant position and making deals with other larger tribes. But beyond this simple political algorithm, there is an insidious process of “modernizing” tribalism that has been operative since Kenya attained its independence, and it all started with Mzee Kenyatta.

Younger Kenyans may know this but Mzee Kenyatta was a trained cultural anthropologist who studied under the world renowned anthropologist, Professor Bronisław Malinowski at the London School of Economics. It was this background that furnished Mzee with the wherewithal to write his “magna opus” Facing Mount Kenya.

When Kenya got her independence with Kenyatta as the first president, very soon the politics of the country became polarized between the “left” represented by Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and the “right” represented by Mzee Kenyatta. While Oginga advocated policies that were consonant with a socialist path to development, Kenyatta wanted to implement policies that paved way for the institution of private property–private land ownership, private investment, etc. The critical question then was how to marshal the political power needed to implement policies that emanated from the two diametrically opposed ideological predilections?

Kenyatta mounted an aggressive attack on Raila using not only Raila’s own prominent Luos in his cabinet, notably Tom Mboya, but set on a path of “tribalizing” Kenyan politics using his own understanding of the “tribal” mind of Kenyans. Henceforth we were treated to politics of “kihii” referring to the Luos and “house of Mumbi”, referring to the mythical progenitor of Agikuyu clans. Many ordinary Agikuyus started flocking to Gatundu to pledge allegiance to the oath that had it that the “flag of Kenya will never leave the house of mumbi”! Later, an all-encompassing hegemonic myth of GEMA was concocted as part of a “ruling myth”. This has survived to the present.

Kikuyu domination was not simply left to chance. Rather, it was buttressed by the control of key financial institutions, public service appointments, the army, the police, the CID, and the intelligence. In many instances, such control was effected through “clientele” politics of recruiting sycophants from other tribes who were expected to sing the same tune. This was supposed to be the role of Moi, until he got other ideas of his own!

What flowed from all this was tremendous prosperity for the Agikuyu in the private as well as the public sectors. Agikuyu elites who multiplied in numbers, formed a business and political class that were heavily invested in the creation and recreation of their own “superiority” as a “dominant tribe”. Thus achievements in education and business simply reinforced myths of tribal superiority. This is a far cry from the plight of the vast numbers of Agikuyus who have either very low incomes or are poor! By way of analogy, the plight of these Agikuyus can be compared with the plight of the “poor white trash” in the United States. While many of these may entertain the illusions of “white superiority”, they have very little to show for their racist beliefs!

By contrast to the tribalism of other groups in Kenya, Kikuyu tribalism is not only nurtured by the “modernized” versions of primordial beliefs, but is also reinforced by the selective interweaving of socioeconomic success stories into a grand narrative of “tribal superiority”. It is for this reason that we find a much greater degree of tribal unity and loyalty among the Agikuyu, compared with what obtains for other tribal groupings in Kenya.

In the arena of politics, the Agikuyu have created a very effective political machine that will require radical political strategies to dismantle. While Agikuyu are only 17 percent of the Kenya population (2009 demographic data), the fact that they have more resources and tend to act in accordance with the dictates of a monolithic tribal formation (regardless of party labels), all they have to do is to make a deal with elites of one large tribe in order to create a formidable voting block. We can therefore understand the plausibility of what Mutahi Ngunyi is saying regarding the prospects of a Jubilee alliance win.

I see also our learned colleague Mutahi Ngunyi has the same dismissive attitude towards the on-going presidential debates as I have had. However, after viewing our first presidential debates, I have changed my mind. What matters for now is the creation and institutionalization of a political process that will survive long after our “tribalized” politics have receded with the dawn of new day of “de-tribalized” politics in Kenya.

Mutahi Ngunyi also made another point that many may have missed. Candidates are running all over the country making flamboyant speeches and literally dancing around with no idea of how many of those who are attending political rallies actually registered to vote? I submit that many of the candidates are going to be in for very rude awakening when the final vote counts are announced!

Posted in: Kenya Development Forum & Kenya Coast Development Forum

Mwalimu Edari


Posted February 20, 2013 by edari1 in Political Issues

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