Friday, October 10, 2008



The Standard
Nairobi, Kenya
October 10, 2008

Kipkoech Tanui

When the Immigration Department threw out Dr Jerome Corsi, the author of a book discrediting Barack Obama, a wag came to me with the message it was a "Luo affair". I took it as a joke, knowing, as he would say shortly, he was referring to the fact that the department falls under Mr Otieno Kajwang’s ministry.

The implied message was that the minister, whom I later learned was in Geneva, intervened, and the ministry at work was Orange Democratic Movement’s.

That is how fallacious people become in the acrimonious battle, after February’s signing of the national accord and power-sharing agreement, for ministerial portfolios between ODM and the Party of National Unity alliance.

The assumption in our tribal and political mindset is that each party ‘owns’ the ministries and can do what it wishes with it. This would, in this skewed thinking, include using it to the advantage of ‘our community’. Therefore, because we joke that Obama is a Luo man in the Diaspora, we expect Kajwang’ would haul Corsi into the cesspit.

As I mulled over how strong the yoke of tribalism is, however, three things happened: One, Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula, who in this line of reasoning runs a portfolio in the PNU basket, joined in, arguing Kenya was under no obligation to explain the deportation. The man, said to have come in as a tourist, illegally engaged in an economic activity, promoting his books for financial gain. Wetangula thus took the sting from Kajwang’.


Two, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka switched gears from defending the indefensible Mr Samuel Kivuitu at the Electoral Commission, to telling us quota-based admissions of students to secondary schools would end, as part of an effort to create one nation. Again I wondered whether I was seeing this from the typical Kenya’s tribal prism, for Kivuitu and Kalonzo hail from the same community.

Kivuitu had after all told us in January he released the half-baked results following pressure from PNU and Kalonzo’s ODM-Kenya, among others. But I quickly remembered he was prescribing a cure for the cancer of tribalism that is gnawing at the heart of the nation.

Three, lawyer PLO Lumumba, while taking up Kalonzo’s argument, lamented Kenyans were looking at ministries run by members of their community as ‘theirs’. Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Kibaki, too, have been singing the tune.

As I toyed with the weighty issue of tribalism and leadership, it came back to me we do pay lip service to this fight. We all know it is killing us, but we consume it willingly, only condemn ing it in so far as it is not on our side.

Kalonzo, for example, save for the title of Vice-President, which he clinched under controversial circumstances, is a small tribal king. His party is a tribal bandwagon and his political activity is anchored onto Ukambani, where he has had two homecoming parties. The point is that our leaders perpetuate this monster and still want to make us feel that it is someone else doing it.

Whenever I look at the faces of those in officialdom frothing at the mouth as they lecture us on tribalism, I am reminded that in the Office of the President, virtually all the key security and administrative functions, as is the financial docket, are held by a people from one region.

If I were in the village, seeing the line-up on TV, I would think our leaders jokers, because the picture at the top reinforces the perception of exclusion and alienation at the bottom.

On the surface, we have been liberated from the ghosts of tribalism, but the heart is brimming with its scum. As a columnist, I have confessed before, when I write on a matter not so friendly to President Kibaki or Raila, I can tell the line taken in the responses from the names in my in-box. Last year, a man from Central Kenya shot back: "You write like a 12-year-old…" But a man from Nyanza would predictably be shouting: "Kudos"!

We can do everything, including legislating against tribalism, but it will always be with us so long as the citizenry perceives the top to be a ‘tribal’ cabal.

We can legislate teachers and public servants should not work where they were born or even that a child will never go to a local high school. But so long as during the campaigns our leaders ‘own’ us by calling us ‘our people’ and we respond ‘yes’, we shall remain with the yoke.

Perceptions like the ones I started with are products of some measure of truth. The message to our leaders lies in a Kalenjin proverb: A hyena cannot smell its own stench. That is why Kanu was felled, the ethnic configuration changed. Inequalities and injustices were retained, yet we are being told we got change.