A Critique of The National Cohesion and Integration Commission: Stereotypes and Political Violence   Leave a comment

A stereotype is a generalized label that is used to characterize members of a given group. Since it is used from a vantage of a person’s membership in another group, it is not only used to establish the social distance between “we” and “they”, but is often laden with negative affect or emotions that predispose a person to discriminatory actions.

Stereotypes as prejudgments of others on the basis of their group membership, are rarely positive. This is why I find the reference to “positive stereotypes” by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to be quite curious to say the least. Thus in her recent interview with KTN, the Vice Chairperson of the Commission, Milly Lwanga Odongo, asserted that a stereotype of a particular ethnic as being “hard-working” is an example of a positive stereotype. Now, here is the problem, if you claim that this group is “hard-working”, you are making an implicit assumption that another group is not “hard-working”!

That simply adds fuel to a burning problem, particularly in the context of ethnic relations in Kenya. For many Kenyans this is a familiar theme that goes back to the days of Kenyatta with his characterization of the Coast people as being lazy, in contradistinction to the “hard-working” people of the Central Province.

I am telling you the more things change, the more they remain the same! But more poignantly is how in the world can such a body as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission identify the political culprits who use ethnic “stereotypes” as “code words” for instigating violence? This is silly to say the least!

What is even more preposterous is to lay a bold claim in the recently released report posted in their website that they collected “scientific” data that came up with volatile “code words”. This study is based on focus groups of thirty persons from some 38 counties. How the members of each of these groups were selected should not be dignified with the term “scientific”. At any rate, all this is making much ado about nothing regarding what may precipitate yet another cycle of violence in Kenya.

It is common knowledge that the political landscape of Kenya has been polarized between two major groups: the Luo and the Kikuyu. Party “formations” have tended to reproduce the same polarized politics since 1963. In the fall of 2012, long before the different political groupings began their latest round of political realignment, I stated in my blog–Kenya Development Forum, that the leading viable candidates in the March 4, 2013 presidential election will be Raila and Uhuru. The emergence of CORD and the Jubilee Alliance have confirmed what many of us had anticipated. If any hell breaks out in the upcoming elections, it will be out of the dynamic interplay in the political contestations of these giant formations, not stereotypes. It is silly to attribute political upheavals to the process of mutual stereotyping. The 2007/2008 political upheavals arose out of the widespread belief that Kibaki had stolen the election!

Notwithstanding the above talk of political polarization, there have been some significant shifts in the political realignment that may yet introduce some fundamental changes in our politics and government. That is all the more important if we do not shy away from such critical issues such as land reform, socioeconomic inequality, corruption, regional disparities in development, affordable housing, infrastructure improvements, urban poverty, and the like. These are issues that if avoided will render our politics devoid of any substance and thus magnify symbolic posturing that is prone to stereotyping processes.

Mwalimu Edari


Posted February 8, 2013 by edari1 in Land Tenure Issues

Kenya Elections 2013: The Issue of Land and the Political Economy Under Girding Public Issues   Leave a comment

There is an emerging chorus of public figures who have come out warning politicians against raising the issue of land and “historical injustices”, etc. What is at issue is supposedly so “divisive” and volatile that it can throw Kenya into yet another cycle of violence at this critical juncture of seeking reconciliation and conducting peaceful elections.

Wananchi should not only be wary of such “slick” prophets of doom, but should denounce them in no uncertain terms. The reason is simple: if you put land grabbers and thieves in charge of running the country once again, they will not only take measures to protect their interests once they are in power, but will resist any policies that are aimed at initiating the process of fundamental land reforms. This is what is at stake in this election.

The public should tell the Inspector General of police David Kimaiyo to steer away from uttering “edicts” that warn politicians from raising the land issue in their campaigns. Kenya is moving away from the days of autocratic presidents and the police henchmen who have been the enforcers of their repressive measures. In fact the Inspector General should realize that he is under the same regime of the “rule of law” that governs all Kenyans under our new constitution. And as such, his performance in office will also be subjected to a judicial review to ensure that his actions do not “over-reach” his authority.

There is another “Mr. Slick” Mzalendo Kibunjia, who has come out also to warn politicians against raising the land issue. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is a useless organization that serves the interests of its officers and has achieved very little of consequence. Their favorite past time is to run around the country conducting “hearings” with a view to reconciling differences among the members of the different communities. They also try to deepen their legitimacy by “glob trotting” in search of a wider exposure in the international community and Kenyans in Diaspora.

This organization has blown a good opportunity of reconciling Kenyans by putting as its center piece the volatile land question and land grabbing throughout Kenya. Their philosophy should be driven by the material conditions under which we as Kenyans live, not simply focusing on our ethnic stereotypes and other cognitive images that are lodged in the heads of members of the different tribes!

Glaring regional disparities in education and resource distribution should be the starting point in seeking reconciliation, not running around asking members of the different communities what they think about each other!

The moral here is simple: groups such as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission that are trying to supply a glue that can hold a nation together should ground their approaches on a sound political economy of development and underdevelopment. The land question, anti-poverty strategy, uneven development, plundering of the government coffers, corruption, and affirmative action in the distribution of key positions in the government and other institutions should the major parameters that define the missions of such organizations. For now, let us raise questions regarding what our politicians are all about. We do not need the intervention of those who are usurping the role of being intermediaries—be they the police or self-righteous civic organizations. These days I am extremely suspicious of civic organizations that claim to be involve in political civic education. The only thing that the public does not know about those who are seeking to govern us is their secret bank accounts, wealth, land ownership and the many shady deals that they have been involved in over the years.

Mwalimu Edari

Posted February 6, 2013 by edari1 in Land Tenure Issues

Uhuru and Ruto want wananchi to ask: What did Raila and Musyoka do for all those years that they were in parliament/government?   Leave a comment

This is a question that both Uhuro and Ruto would be better advised to avoid. Why? Because it was the “tribal” governments headed by Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki who have been largely responsible for many of the ills that afflict Kenya. Until recently, Kenya has been ruled by autocratic leaders, notably Kenyatta and Moi. This type of leadership was complimented by deeply entrenched “tribalization” of politics and the economy that was effected through the control of such strategic institutions as the internal security forces (police, GSU, CID, provincial administration); the central bank; the judiciary and attorney general. The process of “retribalization of key institutions” is an undercurrent that has been running through the entire course of Kenya’s political history. Uhuru Kenyatta, whose family continues to reap the benefits of this insidious political/economic process, should be the last one to ask any leader what they have done for Kenya over the years. Uhuru Kenyatta is ranked 29th among the wealthiest persons in Africa.

Just consider this, both Kibaki and Uhuru have served as finance ministers. Before them there were such notable Kikuyu political operatives like Gichuru and others! In the just ended parliament, yet another member of the GEMA community was busy doing all sorts of “funny” things with the budget. It is precisely from this type of strategic position that the Kikuyu leadership has helped itself and secured political support by dishing out favors.

All said, it is high time that Kenyans must make sure that they give another type of leadership a chance to lead through the engagement of the wider Kenyan public from Mombasa to Kisumu. Wananchi must also make sure that there will not be another “stolen” election through the appointment of an “enforcer” such as the CID designee Muhoro!

Mwalimu Edari

Posted January 29, 2013 by edari1 in Political Issues

UhuRuto: A Recipe for Political Retrogression   Leave a comment

Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate (sidekick) William Ruto are running around Kenya telling wananchi that it is now time for the youth (meaning the duo) to take charge of running the country. In a thinly disguised message it is intimated that the “old-timers” who have been running the country to date, have contributed to many of the multifaceted problems that afflict Kenya.

This posturing in public forums is incredible in view of the fact that the two have descended from the lineage of political leaders–from Mzee Kenyatta, to Moi, to Kibaki–whose legacy we have all inherited for good or for worse. Autocratic rule, corruption, plundering of the government coffers, criminalization of society, politically motivated murders and mayhem, glaring inequalities, devastation of the public infrastructure, etc, is the totality of the legacy of our political leaders since we attained independence.

It is no accident that it is none other than Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto who are being indicted by the International Criminal Court for allegedly orchestrating the political violence perpetrated by two camps of “private armed gangs of youth”! What concerns me here, however, is what new ideas does the ticket of Uhuru and Ruto going to implement to bring about fundamental changes in wananchi’s lives? A reductionist political ideology of pitting the “youth” against “old timers” is as misleading as it is dumb! It is a profession of ideological bankruptcy—a disease that has afflicted the Kenyan leadership since independence!

I will expose this bankruptcy with reference to two major issues confronting the youth of Kenya today. In Nyeri and Kirinyaga, the locals have been terrorized by the resurgence of the Mungiki sect, the very same group that Kenyatta is alleged to have instigated to commit acts of violence in the 2007/2008 elections. People thought Mungiki sect is “finished” by agents of law enforcement—banning the sect and convicting its leadership. But as I said in a piece that I wrote way back, you cannot “finish” such groups simply by outlawing the groups and jailing the leadership. There are socioeconomic conditions, family dynamics and a deep sense of alienation, that tend to breed such groups, regardless of the form that the groups assume. There are many such groups throughout Kenya, more prominently at the Coast—the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).

A recent proposal by the Uhuru-Ruto group is that we need to expand opportunities for youth by expanding business opportunities through low-interest loans etc. I will re-examine the merits of such solutions later.

The other problem of youth that I want to bring to the foreground is the growing problem of affordable quality education throughout Kenya. We were recently treated to a very sad spectacle of children in Nairobi who came back to school only to find their desks gone!

The problems of alienated youth who turn to forms of social banditry—Mungiki and Mombasa Republican Council, as well as the problem affordable education are part of the landscape of inequalities that are deepening throughout Kenya. In the face to such deepening inequalities, our leadership throughout our history have pursued many misguided policies of privatization and liberalization. Many of these leaders have pursued these policies in order to enrich themselves. Where they have lacked capital, they have resorted to plundering the public coffers; where they have needed to expedite certain transactions, they have resorted to corruption; where someone else stood in their way, they have commissioned murders; and the list goes on! This is why I have labeled our leaders as a pack of “nyang’aus”!

As an educator, I am particularly saddened by the policies that have been applied to education. When you articulate a policy of national schools, you are accentuating problems that are already endemic in the very process of education. This is further compounded by the building into this process the principle of “ability to pay”. You therefore end up marginalizing certain regions, people with low income, etc.

A progressive leadership should be articulating policies of broadening access to quality education by increasing resources in all schools and lowering costs of education. Instead Kenya has not been doing much besides the cosmetic changes of increasing primary school enrollment. In the final analysis education has become simply another avenue for profitable investment for our leadership, a good many of whom own schools. In any case, they can afford to send their children to any school not only in Kenya, but abroad as well. These leaders do not care much for the rest of the Kenyan school children. They would rather increase their own salaries and fringe benefits instead of increasing the pay of teachers.

For millions of children who cannot be accommodated in the school system, street life and the underground economy become their way of life. They also band together in alternative scheme of living besides the families, schools, churches etc. Welcome to the landscape of Mungiki and the Mombasa Republican Council. That is not all. For there are unscrupulous leaders who from time to time have political uses for such organized bands of youth.

In conclusion, I will state that both Uhuru and Ruto represent the rot in our politics. Besides mouthing some simple-minded clichés regarding the “vajana vs. wazee”, they have no new ideas that can move the country forward. They cannot articulate how they propose to address the problems of such alienated youths as the Mungiki sect, the Mombasa Republic Council, etc. Instead they propose retrograde policies that are simply going to reproduce many of the fundamental problems of inequality that afflict all Kenyans, regardless of their age!

Mwalimu Edari

Posted January 8, 2013 by edari1 in Land Tenure Issues

The Coalescing Tribal Coalitions and the Unfolding Drama of Hegemonic Rhetoric   Leave a comment

As I stated a few months ago in the blog titled “Presidential Elections Debates in Kenya?” (October 14, 2012), the two viable presidential candidates in the upcoming elections 2013 have been Raila and Uhuru. Events that have transpired since have confirmed my prognostication!

Now here comes the “movie trailer” of the rhetoric of the respective candidates who are characterizing themselves as those who espouse the aspirations of the youth of Kenya (Uhuru-Ruto axis) vs. those who represent forces of progressive change and a new day for wananchi (Raila-Musyoka axis).

While Kenyan politics remain largely “tribal” in terms of voting patterns, one has to admire the respective protagonists who invariably tend to come up with ruling myths, slogans, etc, which tend to confuse wananchi in every election cycle.

Now, when human beings are faced with confusion or ambiguous situations, what do they do? They simply inscribe into a “blank” slate what they harbor in their souls! If that is true for a “Rorschach” test, it is also true of Kenyan politics. Hence the tendency to vote according to tribal affiliation.

What the political rhetoric does is to offer to the voter some exalted rationale for their “tribal” voting tendency. This is what “hegemony” is all about! Hegemony defines a landscape in which the ideas of a ruling elite are transformed through complex mediations into ideas of everyday people and the precepts that inform their daily lives and aspirations.

All said, there is a dialectical process that is involved in hegemonic rendering of any reality, political or otherwise. Factoring this into the Kenyan political equation, the question is what does the Uhuru-Ruto axis has for the Kenyan people. So far what they have promised is to support business startups for the younger generation, digital contraptions etc, ie all those symbolic objects that appeal to the young. This is incredible!

For while people are mouthing this “tripe”, tribal elements are dying in the Tana Delta. What has this to do with “youth” ? This question should be leveled at Mungatana, who has assumed the posture of “his master’s voice” in the Uhuru-Ruto axis.

On the other hand we have the Raila-Kalonzo axis that stands for progressive change that would deal a death knell to the scourge of corruption, among other things. This sounds like a work in progress. But I for one would like to ask Kalonzo Musyoka what he did for Akamaba in all those years that he was a national leader and a member of parliament. Akamba are still dying at “Ngai Ndethye” and are still ravaged by famine! The current crop of politicians whether young or old are guilty as charged in terms of plundering the public coffers, abetting corruption, and misleading their own constituencies!

What wananchi should worry about in the current election cycle is that many politicians are seeking powerful positions to either consolidate what they have stolen from wananchi (the Kenyatta, Moi, and other prominent political and business families), or to continue with the same pattern of plundering and pillaging. There are many politicians who would be hard put to land a legitimate job and earn an honest income. Many of the members of parliament fall into this category. Their prospects have become even more dire in the light of the new political circumstances created by our new constitution. It is not evident where the chips may fall. But they cannot take any chances, hence the desperation of making political deals that are camouflaged by the respective rhetoric of youth vs. progressive change!

Stay tuned!

Mwalimu Edari

Posted December 25, 2012 by edari1 in Land Tenure Issues

What is in the Offing for the Presidential Candidates in the Year 2013: Politics of Sycophancy   Leave a comment

In a number of articles, I will raise some ponderous issues under the above banner, as a way of engaging a number of you in serious discussions regarding the upcoming elections. To begin with, I will take as a point of departure the recent spectacle of one, Danson Mungatana, who was seen in a public forum urging wananchi to rally around Uhuru Kenyatta as a presidential candidate. What is curious in Mungatana’s aggressive posturing in a public forum is the fact that he has been, until now, a silent “lamb” and only began to surface, albeit timidly, in the recent ethnic clashes in the Tana Delta.

Mungatana as Uhuru Kenyatta’s Sycophant (Kiberenge)
If one wonders about what is wrong with the people of the Coast, Mungatana’s rhetorical posturing in support of Uhuru Kenyatta is one of the multiple choice answers! Just consider the following:
• Kenyatta is faced with the dark cloud of the criminal charges being investigated by the ICC;
• the Kenyatta family has been by far the worst land grabbers at the Coast;
• Kikuyunization of Kenya assumed its most stupendous proportions under Kenyatta’s rule;
• in the Kenyatta era, there were politically motivated murders that forever transformed Kenya’s politics: Pio Gama Pinto, Tom Mboya, J. M. Kariuki, etc;
• in the Kenyattat era, there was a deeper entrenchment of the structure of the control of the people by maintaining and “modernizing” the colonial structure of administration;

It may well be the case that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s son has reinvented himself, particularly in the light of the accusations that he is facing, following the “stolen” elections of 2007/2008, but the jury is still out!

In the light of “all of the above”, it does not bode well for Mungatana to be seen in a public forum, singing cheerfully like a canary, in praise of Uhuru Kenyatta.

Mungatana has not been at the forefront of those who are lamenting the future prospects of the the Tana Delta. This area is faced with monumental challenges whose environmental and human costs have yet to reckoned with.

In the recent ethnic clashes in the Tana Delta, Mungatana was involved in rather bizarre mutual recriminations with his local MP counterpart. The latter was subsequently eased out of office and charged in a court of law. Needless to say here that what has transpired to date will not resolve in any fundamental way the peaceful co-existence of the two principal ethnic protagonists.

The moral here is simple: politicians who play the game of political sycophancy cannot do much for their constituencies. But you would never know that by their pronouncements. But we can deduce from their rotten past behavior that these politicians need to be replaced and that is a monumental task facing us as Kenyans!

Posted November 14, 2012 by edari1 in Land Tenure Issues

Presidential Election Debates in Kenya?   Leave a comment

There is currently an excitement in Kenya regarding what is being billed as “presidential debates” among the aspiring candidates for the 2013 Kenya General Elections. This may well turn out to be a big joke, unless some critical issues are put forward before hand. It is pointless to solicit information about the policies of these aspiring candidates and what they plan to do when they are elected. I would rather that some serious investigative reporters/researchers do the following on behalf of the wananchi:

1. Compile a resume of each candidate highlighting their family background, education, business activities etc;

2. Compile a report card of accomplishments since they were elected to public offices;

3. Collect information about their wealth and net worth and how they acquired their wealth;

4. If they cannot supply that information contact the western governments and their agencies, eg the British Government (remember Anglo-Leasing?), the US State Department, FBI, Interpol, foreign banks or any other alternative source of information, with a view to getting a better fix about these leaders (nyang’aus). That can be a good approximation of what they are likely to do when they are elected. Grandiose rhetoric in a public forum is next to useless as a vetting tool. Just take a look at Nick Romney and Paul Ryan in the current US presidential campaigns: we have two decrepit congenital liars who have credibility only because of a profound ignorance and racism of a huge section of American public seeped in right wing politics!

5. There are some 8 major United Nations Millennium Development Goals that have been used to gauge a country’s efforts in poverty reduction. These can be translated into terms that can be used to ask sharp questions regarding the poverty reduction strategies of these aspiring leaders. With reference to poverty reduction, a much broader section of the wananchi can be served by investing in infrastructure: road, rail, water, public health, sanitation, education, etc. There are many wananchi who vote along ethnic lines. But the fact of the matter is that by virtue of where they are placed in income distribution and social structure, they are not likely to benefit much in their immediate life circumstances. “Tribal” trickle down can only go so far downward, from the tribal elites at the top and middle classes in between. As for those at the bottom, even people carting goods using “mkokoteni”, can benefit from better roads!

6. One way in which elected leaders reproduce ethnic loyalties is by using their privileged positions to distribute patronage jobs, business opportunities, etc. They do this by constructing tribal hegemonies that purport to benefit the entire tribe. In reality, the lowly tribal wananchi benefit very little by supporting a president from this or that group. But when hell breaks out like in the year 2008, it is precisely this segment of society that catches the brunt of the fallout!

7. The sad truth is that tribalism has been the bedrock of Kenyan politics, particularly at the presidential level. It is no accident that the two most viable presidential candidates today are Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. For well known historical reasons the two have had the capacity to mobilize the support of their respective tribal voting blocks: the Luo and the Kikuyu! These two tribal voting blocks have defined the two main reference axes of Kenyan politics since the country attained independence. An apparent deviation came with the Nyayo era. But even then, the two main axes played a critical role in the realignment of political forces. The Orange Democratic Movement under Raila Odinga and The National Alliance under Uhuru Kenyatta are political formations that need to be deconstructed using “tribal analysis”! What these two leaders are going to do is to continue to engage in the fine are of making deals with the leaders of other tribes such as Ruto, Musyoka, Mudavadi, Wamalwa, etc. Kenyan politics has not advance too far from this level of political mobilization and interest aggregation.

8. One factor which accounts for this political backwardness in many African countries is the lack of a coherent ideology beyond some simple-minded slogans that preach unity and patriotism in the abstract and the promise of “development”! There is a serious problem of ideological bankruptcy in Kenya and that cannot simply be mitigated by preaching unity and harmony among the different ethnic groups. In fact it is often the very people who preach this form of unity and the right of every Kenyan to live wherever they wish, who turn out to be agents of land grabbing in other areas! It is no accident that the two flash points of Kenyan politics since independence have been the Coast and Rift Valley. The contemplated Kenyan presidential debates format cannot address this profound issue of “tribalized” politics adequately. But it is exactly this dark cloud of tribalism that is still hovering over all of us as Kenyans.

One word of clarification here is in order. The on-going crackdown of the Mombasa Republican Council is simply a “dog and pony” show that belies some deep seated historical injustices at the Coast. The sentiments of regional marginalization and demonization have been widespread at the Coast since the days of the late Ronald Ngala. The preoccupation with the vitriolic language of the MRC, to wit, “Pwani si Kenya” simply confuses the issues by conflating legitimate grievances with the absurd demands of secession.

Enough for now.

Posted October 14, 2012 by edari1 in Land Tenure Issues