Tuesday, February 19, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

Like it or not, we Kenyans love to bury our heads in the sand when the ugly face of our actions come to the fore. It is a pity that self confessed tribal chauvinists have seized our current crisis to either exploit it for selfish ethnic interests or blame it on others and everything else except themselves.

Kisumu city is in ruins. Burnt Forest has been burnt again. Sprawling farms in Eldoret and other parts of Rift Valley are rendered desolate by raging arsonists. The slums of Kibera, Korogocho, Kariobangi, Mathare and Komorock are no go zones. Tea farms of Kericho, Limuru and Kiambu are going to waste. The number of internally displaced Kenyans is swelling by the day.

If Kikuyus are leaving Rift Valley and Nyanza, Luos are leaving Central Province and parts of Rift Valley where Kikuyus are dominant. If Kikuyus and Kisiis are leaving Kisumu City, the Luos are leaving Nairobi slums as Kisiis are fleeing from Rift Valley. If Kikuyus are leaving the Coast region in fear of their lives, so are other tribes feeling threatened and unsafe even if nobody has told them to leave!

Let us face it; Kisumu City was burnt to ashes not because Luos hated Kikuyus. There were no Kikuyus on Oginga Odinga Street. Kikuyus never owned all the businesses that were destroyed. They never owned kiosks razed to the ground at Kondele, Nyalenda and Mayatta. They never owned Ukwala Supermarket, Tin Tin and Safaricom Service centers. The mob that went amok were enraged that their only hope of getting out of perpetual poverty and hopelessness had been cheated by an insensitive system; a system that had thrown through the window the principle of fair play.

Like it or not, Raila Odinga and the Pentagon had given them if nothing else, a sense of belonging, hope and worth. They did not want to be told that all that they hoped and prayed for was a mere mirage that they would never touch and feel! When it dawned on them that they had been daydreaming all along, they snapped, looted and destroyed anything on sight! It was spontaneous, fast and furious! It was as sudden and unseen as the tsunami.

That is why Kisumu went down with all its buildings, businesses, jobs and lives lost. Of the 90 plus casualties shot dead by the government forces, not even 1% can positively be identified as Kikuyu to justify the claim that it was ethnic cleansing. The majority of them were Luos who have paid with their dear lives.

The Kisumu incident was a clear case of class conflict; the- them- and -us scenario; the rich and the poor confrontation in the theatre of war. Businesses and property destroyed symbolized wealth and privilege in the eyes of the poor. It was reminiscent of the French Revolution of the 19th. Century when the rabble rose against the rich and powerful. Not even an elite army could contain their anger and frustration.

The mayhem in the Rift Valley that we would now conveniently want to classify as ethnic cleansing for political expediency had nothing t do with ethnicity. It had everything to do with unfair land allocation in former White Highlands soon after independence.

A little history will help here. Soon after Moi became Kenyatta’s Vice President and Kikuyus started moving to Rift Valley in droves, there was a Kalenjin uprising that culminated in the Nandi Declaration chaired by the Late Jean Marie Seroney. That first uprising in the 1960s was specific; to stop Kikuyus from replacing white settlers in the Kalenjin ancestral lands. Had it not been for Moi’s mediation efforts, what we saw last week could have been settled through bloodshed forty years ago.

It would be simplistic to brand the Eldoret skirmishes as ethnic cleansing even though it may be attractive in some quarters to think so. However, we would be burying our heads in the sand if we failed to analyze the tragedy in terms of the 1992, 1997 and 2002 elections when we have witnessed tribal clashes in Narok, Molo, Muhoroni, Songhor, Nandi Hills, Kericho, Olongorueni, Kilifi, Kuresoi and now Mt. Elgon. Ethnic clashes in Mai Mahiu and other areas as far as Laikipia had had to do with the fight over resources by different communities. These resources more often than not have had land problems at the centre; either land for grazing or farming. If we fix the land problems in Rift Valley and Kilifi, there would be no “ethnic cleansing” but if we ignore to fix the wound, we will continue to limp with pain.

Right now, what Kenya needs is a leader that can stand up and confront social injustices in our society; a leader who can feel humble enough to say, yes, we are an unequal society and that inequality must be addressed and bridged. Any leader who thinks he can rule this country with all its simmering problems must be ready for a rude shock. The rabble will rise up again and again as they have repeatedly done since 1966 to the present.