Sunday, August 2, 2009



AUGUST 2 2009
By Dr Edward Kisiang’ani

Following the acrimonious presidential election of December 2007, the relationship between the Kikuyu and Luo deteriorated to an all-time low.

A popular position held by the Luo and many other Kenyans is that the last General Election was rigged in favour of President Kibaki. Consequently, the Luo have never missed an opportunity to remind everybody Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, was robbed of victory.

Last week, however, things seemed to take a turn for the better when Kibaki made a highly publicised tour of Luo Nyanza, where he shared meals with the region’s top leadership. Days before the trip, Raila had exhorted his people to treat the President well. By doing everything possible to make the President comfortable, the Luo did not disappoint Raila.

Addressing various gatherings in the region, Kibaki showered praises on the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and implored the Luo to nurture national reconciliation by forgetting the past. Observing that every time the Luo and Kikuyu worked together, Kenya did well, the President declared that whenever the two communities disagreed the nation suffered.

Although Kibaki and Raila were perfectly right in preaching peace and forgiveness, they were wrong in assuming national healing and reconciliation would be achieved through political pronouncements and official lunches. It has to be appreciated that veritable reconciliation can only be achieved if systematic efforts are undertaken to address issues that have historically divided the two communities.

Newfound friendship?

Before we can celebrate the newfound friendship between the two, we should pose a number of questions. Have the Kikuyu-Luo relations truly normalised? Have the Luo finally accepted Raila lost the election to Kibaki? Will the historical issues that have undermined the Luo-Kikuyu relations fade into oblivion just because Kibaki and Raila are now friends?

One of the issues, which remains unresolved between the two communities concerns Jomo Kenyatta’s barbaric treatment of Jaramogi Oginga. In the early 1960s, Oginga declined to discuss Kenya’s independence until Kenyatta was released from detention. But the two politicians parted ways shortly after independence when Kenyatta refused to undertake major reforms that would have led to equitable distribution of national resources, including land. Under his presidency, Oginga and his supporters suffered political humiliation, characterised by incidents of house arrest and detention without trial.

In July 1969, flamboyant Minister for Finance and Planning Tom Mboya was felled by an assassin’s bullet. To the Luo, top Kikuyu operatives within the Kenyatta regime plotted Mboya’s murder.

A few months after this tragic incident, Kenyatta received a hostile reception in Kisumu when enraged Luo demonstrators led by Oginga demanded to know why Mboya had been killed. In response, Kenyatta’s security forces opened fire on the protestors, killing several people and injuring more.

The 2002 elections provided the communities and the entire country a golden opportunity to reconcile and forge ahead with national development. At that time, Raila asked the Luo to vote for Kibaki.

Feeling betrayed

There was also a Memorandum of Understanding, which outlined the power sharing details among the different factions of the National Rainbow Coalition. But once in power, Kibaki declined to honour all the pre-election pledges with Raila, including the power-sharing agreement. Feeling betrayed, the Luo went back to the opposition and did everything possible to sabotage the Government-supported constitutional draft document in 2005.

During the last General Election, the hostility between the two communities hit a new peak. After a riveting political campaign marked by obvious electoral malpractices, Kibaki was declared the winner. This ushered in a period of senseless violence that caused the death, injury and displacement of many Kenyans.

To his supporters Raila was robbed of victory. Has this position changed? Up to a few months ago, Raila was heard denouncing Kibaki for reneging on the power-sharing arrangement brokered by Kofi Annan. So, what has changed bwana Raila?

True reconciliation must embrace every Kenyan community. Every community has some complaint about the other. While many people are enthusiastic the President’s visit will alter the chemistry of Luo-Kikuyu relations, I have doubts anything tangible will come out of it. The trip was more about personal interests of the two politicians than a deliberate effort to bring genuine peace and national reconciliation.

—The writer ( teaches History and Political Studies at Kenyatta University.