Today Kenya marks the 52nd Jamhuri, a divided nation. The very thought of a “divided nation” is of course a philosophical absurdity. How could you be at once a nation and divided? It is a contradiction between two valid realities, a philosophical antinomy. We live together as the Kenyan “nation.” But it is also true that we are acrimoniously divided along group identity lines.
We have lived together as “one sovereign people.” We have our country and our instruments of State and nationhood. We have our Constitution, our national court of arms, our flag and our national anthem. We even have two official languages and operate under one sovereign national leader. However, that is just about as far as it goes. For, our biggest setback is that to be a national leader you must be, concurrently, a big tribal chieftain. Indeed, you must first be a tribal leader. If you are from the so-called “small tribes” you should not even dream of becoming the ultimate national leader.
When you are from a “small tribe” you are less than equal. You wait for tokens from the “big tribes.” This is what Jamhuri, the mother of independence, has brought you. You wait at the doorstep of prayer and hope, trusting that some influence peddler from a big tribe will remember you. But they will only remember you if they need you. As things stand, they don’t need you. For, they have a tyranny of numbers to secure their political and economic interests under a convoluted democratic dispensation. You are small and irrelevant.
Should women forget about leadership? The only room available for them is token space. Even where the law is clear and the mechanisms exist for their inclusion, they are excluded with impunity. The National Assembly is today going through the process of vetting Cabinet Secretaries for a constitutionally non-responsive council. The proposed Cabinet does not meet the constitutional gender threshold. You would expect that the Speaker would return the list of nominees to the President. He would advise the President that the list is flawed and therefore not admissible for consideration. For the law bars the Speaker from allowing unlawful things to be part of the business of Parliament. Yet, just like our President, our Speaker has turned a blind eye to the law. The President and the Speaker having ignored the law, you would expect that the vetting committee would save the day. They would reject the list and ask for a properly constituted one. However, they will not. They are only part of a tyranny of numbers.
The flawed list will eventually end up before the whole House. Once again, an abusive use of majoritarian numbers will carry the day. A wicked application of huge numbers has made our independence a meaningless formation of words for many Kenyans. You cannot deny that we have a democratically elected government. You cannot deny, too, that the elected leaders talk of noble things, like national unity. They probably even try to promote national unity. Their notion of the nation is however duopolistic and gender insensitive. It remains a unity of able-bodied dominant men from two tribes. Women, the disabled, the youth and the rest of the tribes can wait for their own day and independence.
President Kenyatta will today reel off a catalogue of sweeteners. He will tell the world of both real and imaginary things that his government has achieved “in this short time.” He will promise us even greater things. If there is no sense of inclusion, however, the “good things” that the Head of State talks about only generate resentment in the excluded populations. Jamhuri is a good opportunity for all of us to reflect on the Kenya we want and how we could each contribute towards its realization. The government – and specifically the President – must set the pace. The most urgent assignment today is building national trust and unity among the populations of Kenya.
When I listen to my President today, my interest will be fundamentally in this one thing – national cohesiveness and integration. How is this government helping us to feel that we are one people? How is it making us feel that we are part of its agenda? How does it imbue us with Kenyaphilia – love for Kenya? Does it fill us up with a genuine sense of national pride? For building the nation is about bringing the people together and overwhelming them with a pleasant sense of belonging and fellow feeling.
If the first three regimes failed the test of nationhood, the present dispensation has done extremely badly. Even at its lowest moment, President Moi’s Kanu Government tried to have Kenyan outlook. Even where it did things we would find objectionable, it did not get anywhere near what we have today. President Kenyatta needs to ask himself a few honest questions about the meaning of Jamhuri to marginalized populations. What future does he think marginalizing whole swathes of identity groups promises the country?
Already, we have a worrying “gangster trend” within the political class. Jubilee and Cord leaders prowl about the place in groups that remind you of organized gangs. They materialize menacingly on your TV screen, crowding the picture at hurriedly convened “gang” press conferences. Elite members of the gang take turns to read the press statement. The rest of the gang stands behind, restlessly. They look on clueless, praying that the camera does not miss them. From here, they go out to vomit gang abracadabra before captive crowds in their ethnic backyards. If you have the misfortune of being the President in a country so divided along ethnic lines like ours, you place national reconciliation, trust and unity at the heart of all your plans. This means doing more than addressing two tribes and a third client community.