By Ngunjiri Wambugu
I recently finished reading the book ‘Race of a Lifetime’, a book written by two distinguished American political reporters on the intricacies of the contest between Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and several other candidates, on who would be the 44th President of America in 2008. The book offers interesting insight into how America dealt with the issue of race during the 2008 general election.
The Obama team ensured they avoided anything that suggested Obama was running for President as a black American minority. Obama made it clear that he was first and foremost an American, everything else after. At some point just before the Democratic nominations Hillary Clinton’s team had to do damage control when they were accused of trying to use the race card against Obama. A month to the general elections it was the Republican Nominee John McCain who had to back-pedal furiously after comments attributed to him and Sarah Palin seemed to suggest that Mr. Obama could be a terrorist, because he was called Hussein. In fact all through the campaigns none of the candidates were willing to divide the country on racial lines, despite the advantages they would have gotten, to beat Obama.
What worries me is that unlike America’s politics, Kenyans and their political leaders have no limits to what they will do to win an election. Over the last 4 years we have witnessed a growing narrative of ‘we’, versus ‘them’. ‘We’ is defined as those who speak the same language and ‘them’ is those from other communities. Business leaders, religious leaders & elders have all been sucked into it and they are also calling for members of their ethnic communities to unite and support ‘one of our own’. There is also a clear political strategy of ‘ring-fencing’ certain communities away from presidential aspirants of other tribes. Finally we now hear of communities being declared the ‘sole political property’ of certain politicians.
The Kenyan public is a participant in this despite clear and present evidence of how dangerous it is for all of us, wherever we are. Luhyas have accepted that when Musalia Mudavadi is ‘touched’, they must react first; Kikuyus, when Uhuru Kenyatta is challenged; Luos, when Raila Odinga is mentioned; Kalenjins, when someone undermines William Ruto. Same applies for Kalonzo with the Kambas, etc. We have also accepted that we belong to URP, TNA, UDF, WIPER, ODM etc because that is where ‘my tribe is’, rather than because we agree with the party’s ideology.
In this scenario the political party that worries me the most is Kenya’s youngest. TNA and it’s leader the Deputy Prime Minister of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta for example have no hesitation in celebrating the defection of Hon Rachel Shebesh from ODM, over that of Hon Kilimo from Kenda, because Hon Shebesh seems to have heeded the call of the tribe. This is despite the fact that Hon Shebesh is nominated, while Kilimo is elected. TNA also seems focused in ensuring they get all the Kikuyu politicians in ODM to cross over, whatever the cost.
TNA is also aggressively consolidating all GEMA politics & politicians within it. This has seen older parties like PNU being literally forced to wind down. APK is struggling, and GNU is fading away. The strategy is of course to get the GEMA vote in one basket so as to ably negotiate with the 'owners' of other communities, maybe over lunch at the Norfolk Hotel or some up-market boardroom, for who gets what seat in the next government.
Unfortunately TNA has ignored the fact that Kenya has not healed from the ethnic divisions and the Post Election Violence of the last general election. Hon Kenyatta of all people must know that overt ethnic political mobilization introduces a ‘1 versus 41’ narrative into the next general elections debate, even by default. This is a very dangerous narrative as he is aware of where the ’41 versus 1’ in 2007 left us.
America goes to the polls in 3 weeks united as one nation, despite the power of the office the American politicians are competing for. The politicians know there are limits to what the American public will allow as political competition. Americans also still remember the cost of a civil war, though it was centuries ago.
Kenya is five months away from an election that for all intents and purposes will be as competitive as the American one. Campaigns for this election are also happening within a background of inconclusive and highly ethnically divisive general elections 5 years ago, that left millions of Kenyans adversely affected. They are also happening within the context of highly inflamed religious tensions following Al Shabaab attacks on churches. However Kenyan politicians have no limits to how far they will go, to win. They are even willing to orchestrate Kenyans to slaughter each other on ethnic lines to get into power. Kenyans are letting them do it, having forgotten the PEV of 5 years ago.
Shame on us!