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Time to end ethnic entitlement

By Makau Mutua

Professor Makau Mutua

I disagree – vigorously – with Jubilee’s David Murathe on most issues. However, that wasn’t always the case. At the University of Nairobi, we ganged up as student leaders against the repressive Moi-Kanu kleptocracy to fight corruption and dictatorship.

Mr Murathe was a fearless frontline fighter. There are many pictures in the Daily Nation archives of him and me with other student leaders in May 1981 directing hordes of protesting students in the heart of Nairobi.

That Murathe is largely gone today, but every so often, I am pleased to see fleeting flashes of his former self. One such occasion has been his unbending position that Kikuyu and Kalenjin men must sit out the 2022 contest for State House.

I say “men” because I believe Mr Murathe thinks a camel has a better chance of going through the eye of a needle than a woman being elected president of Kenya. The prohibition applies only to men. I differ with him about a woman having no chance.

My view is that women from Central Kenya and the Rift Valley regions suffer the same barriers of rising to the presidency that citizens of 43 other communities – men and women – chafe under.

Thus, I wouldn’t exclude women from these two regions running for State House in 2022, but I would definitely, like Mr Murathe, dissuade men from these communities. I am not saying they have no right to run. They do, but shouldn’t.

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It’s just six decades since the British imperialists left Kenya. That is a short window in a country’s life. However, it’s long enough to create deep-seated hatreds and asymmetries of power among nationalities. In that period, Kenya has had four heads of state – Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Emilio Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta.

Domination and hegemony

Three of those have been Kikuyu. Two of them are father and son. One was Kalenjin, but he ruled for almost half the life of the republic.

That’s total and complete domination and hegemony of two communities over all others. That’s not you how you build a post-colonial nation of 40-plus disparate nationalities. This is unarguable to anyone who’s studied the African post-colonial state.

It is hegemonic husbandry of the state by one group that’s been the bane of the African state. Many collapsed simply because the state wasn’t perceived as inclusive. I know all the counter-arguments against my position.

Many of them can’t buy you a cheap cup of tea. Everyone has a constitutional right to run. We are all individuals, not organic members of our nationalities. It’s not the nationality that’s elected to State House, but the individual.

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The group doesn’t benefit simply because one of their own is elected president. These arguments might be true, but they are flapdoodle – utter jibba jabba! Power and public consciousness, or zeitgeist, don’t work that way. Perceptions are real, and confer legitimacy, or illegitimacy.

To make matters even worse, the four rulers from the two communities have impoverished and misgoverned the country. Each one of them compounded the grave mistakes, crimes, and errors of their predecessor. They all further tribalised the state. They all normalised corruption.

They all committed grave human rights violations. They all retarded our country. Where Kenya and South Korea were at the same level of development in 1960s, today the latter’s economy is in the top 12 globally while Kenya languishes in the basement at an abominable 61st.

Kenya’s per capita is $2,000 while South Korea’s is $31,000. The difference between the two countries is the quality of leadership. Our political elite is myopic and lacks vision.

Ethnic exceptionalism

The textbook definition of stupidity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I am not saying not electing a man from either of the two communities will catapult us into the First World.

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No, but it might change our dynamics so long as we don’t go into that same petri-dish of an elite that’s bereft of ideas, except how to loot and steal from the public purse. If you doubt me, look at Ethiopia next door, or Sudan.

They are on the move politically and economically, even if the old systems and norms are fighting back. We must de-tribalise the state and kill the notion of ethnic exceptionalism, or entitlement to rule.

We must shake things up. I know most people think Mr Murathe is trying to block Deputy President William Ruto. That may be so, but it doesn’t mean two things can’t be true at the same time. Mr Ruto was probably not yet in his political diapers when Mr Murathe and I were slugging it out with Kanu.

Today, both are at the centre of our politics on opposite ends. But Mr Murathe’s call for Kalenjin and Kikuyu men to sit out the 2022 contest for State House is patriotic. If his wishes come to pass, Kenya will be the better off for it.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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