Sunday, June 7, 2009

The unyielding paralysis in Kenya’s body politic

The morbid acts of terror and murder that followed the December 2007 elections are etched indelibly on our collective psyche.

Clergy, communities and politicians, have organized and mobilized to renew our sense of common purpose. We have deployed song, drama, sport, sermon and supplication to summon our better angels.

But we cannot just sing, dance, pray, preach or legislate our way to national accord. Thomas Friedman, author and New York Times columnists, writes about a Goldberg, a pious Jew whose daily supplication to win a lottery drew God to speak out “Goldberg, give me a chance! Buy a ticket”. To the millions of patriotic, peace loving and pious Kenyans who congregate in churches, mosques and temples, to the countless pupils who recite poetry and dramatize one nation, to the politicians who urge peace and unity, and to the clergy who pontificate love and forgiveness, the heavens have parted and I can almost hear God softly whisper “Kenya, give me a chance! Buy a ticket”.

We are all united in angst about what is genuinely a worrying social and political situation in the country today. Ethnic suspicion is at an all time high. The political class is gravely incompetent. Civil society is comatose. The leadership of the coalition lacks gravitas, is perfunctory and without vision.

Like the pious Jew, the coalition government wants to win the lottery without buying the ticket. This government wants a peaceful and united country, yet it is unwilling to stand up and do something different. We as a people must stop saying one thing in private and something else in public. Who are we fooling?

Forty-six years after independence we are still governed by a constitution makes the presidency and government a theatre for ethnic intrigue and partisan absurdity. Parliament is an innocuous and sterile ambler that disdains its legislative obligation.

As public intellectuals we will keep on telling the truth until it stops working. I want to speak directly to three communities, the Luo, the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu. Membership in any of these ethnicities is not socio-cultural but political and economic. A large proportion of our discord is contrived by how these communities perceive one another. And these perceptions have perpetrated some of the most mindless, baseless, hateful myths and stereotypes about ethnic superiority.


A vast majority of Kikuyu families are worried sleepless about murderous gangs and a rapacious political, business and land owning class hoping for a Jomo State redo. But they dare not tell. For millions of ordinary Luo people, the illusion of indomitable technocrat and the State House mirage have stymied agency and amplified socio-economic decay. And not the railway line or a rock outcrop. But do they say? For the Kalenjin, it is the waning fortunes of grain-based agriculture and post Nyayo era blues that have inched the community towards the edge, not new neighbours. But will they admit?

There are a lot of level headed people within these communities who recognize that their current path, as communities, is unsustainable. They realize that they need to make some tough choices internally on their socio-economic plight-that is in their long-term interest-but not enough people are willing to recognize that publicly, least of all the so called political leaders.

The Kenyan people recognize that the constant incitement and negative rhetoric and ethnic stereotypes that the three communities have been spinning with respect to one another has not provided any solutions on how we deal with unemployment, poverty, hunger, urban and rural decay, insecurity, degraded soils and drying rivers.

The demeanour of these communities even after the post election madness reminds me of a story about a sloth and two biologists. To test the auditory senses of a sloth, two biologists blasted two high calibre guns simultaneously, a couple of inches from the sloth’s left and right ears. After the twin blasts, the sloth lifted its head indolently and then continued to hang upside-down.

The hundreds dead, Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Luo, did not die in vain. In death they have something to say to every politician who has fed us on the stale bread of ethnic vitriol and the rotten meat of tribalism. They have something to say to every Kenyan who embraces ethnic entitlement and the fantasy of tribal supremacy and rejects the aristocracy of merit, equity and a common purpose.

To the leadership of the coalition, we must say to you that you are on the wrong side of the platform and you don’t have a ticket. This train, Kenya will depart momentarily, to greatness.

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