Numbers always follow the money, and the Kikuyu have got both

Writer’s notion of anti-Kikuyu sentiments as being fallacious failed to paint the whole picture

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By Kenyatta Otieno

In the October issue, Alfred Mosoti wrote of how Kenyan politicians like to whip up anti-Kikuyu sentiments then go round and work with them as a selfish move for political survival. Mosoti had his facts right; he only failed to paint the whole picture. They say politics is a game of numbers, I will add that politics is a game of money. Numbers will always follow the money, and the Kikuyu have both the numbers and money.

The combination of money and numbers explains why Luhyas, who I believe by now must have more than Kikuyus in terms of numbers, lack political muscle because they lack money. In 2007 when Raila managed to beat Kikuyus by pitting all the other tribes against Kikuyus, he got the numbers but the money behind Kibaki beat him to the presidency.

This is the reason no formidable political equation in Kenya can be balanced without factoring in Kikuyus. Mosoti tells us how the LDP brigade bolted out of KANU against Uhuru Kenyatta only to line up behind Mwai Kibaki, another Kikuyu, as an example of the falsehood of anti-Kikuyu sentiments. Raila with his team, low in cash, could not forge a formidable force against State-oiled KANU machinery behind Uhuru Kenyatta; Kibaki brought the money behind the numbers.

There is one fundamental thing he missed to highlight – that the basis for political mobilisation in Kenya is the tribe. If you work from this premise, then you will understand that the Kikuyu elite and politicians also whip up negative sentiments against other politicians and tribes to galvanise their votes. As the front-runners, the Kikuyu will always face the political force of anyone wishing to be president of Kenya. The outcome depends on how Kikuyus respond to this force.

Why the Kikuyus lead other tribes

There are several factors that explain why Kikuyus are economically ahead of other tribes – which is what gives them the extra political punch. One is proximity to the capital city. A landowner in Kiambu will sell half an acre at an amount someone in Luhyaland will get only if he sells fifty acres, or fifty years from today. As farmers, Nairobi is also a near and excellent market for their farm produce and rental houses. This has nothing to do with politics, but the people who decided to make Nairobi, and not Machakos, the capital city.

Another advantage of this proximity to the City is that many Kikuyus can reside in their rural homes and work in Nairobi. This enables them to save on rent while engaging in other economic activities at home. On the contrary, the other communities must rent houses and reduce the number of times they go to their rural homes due to, among others, time and travel constraints. Even Kikuyus from Embu, Nakuru and Nyeri can rush home in the evening after work, check on their projects and still make it to the office the next day if that needs to be done. This gives them access to affordable ancestral land in terms of economic ventures and regular supervision. If someone from Western or Coast decided to shift to Nairobi, it will take them time to raise the money needed to lease or acquire enough land in and around the city.

Another factor is the effects of colonialists’ acquisition of fertile Kikuyu land. Most Kikuyus were displaced from their ancestral land. The Kenyatta government did not give them back after independence; rather, they were required to “buy” land wherever one could get land so that Kikuyu elite could grab prime land left by leaving Europeans. This meant that the Kikuyu communal and family units were dispersed. As much as this was a setback, it generated determination and grit from this “immigrant syndrome”, motivated by lack of social support. The Kikuyus who overcame this setback are the ones who flourished; the rest live in abject poverty to date.

One might ask why it is only Kikuyus who seem to have taken advantage of their proximity to the city and not the Kamba or Maasai. This is where post-independence politics come to play. Nevertheless, the Maasai of Kajiado North and Kambas from Kangundo are better off financially compared to their counterparts further away from the city. The X-Factor among Kikuyus is what I will explain next.

Kikuyu is not a tribe

Moses Kuria is known for raising controversy more than he is for clearing matters but one thing I believe he should get an award for is his quip – that the Kikuyu are not a tribe but an enterprise. The only other known matriarchal African community is found in Malawi. The difference between them and the Kikuyu is that the man moves into his wife’s homestead after marriage. The Kikuyu matriarchal setting retains the common African way of the bride moving to the groom’s home but retaining some sweeping powers.

The matriarchal power comes into play only if the marriage breaks down where the lady is expected to leave with all her children. Let me first dispute a Kikuyu fallacy that they share this with the Jews by asking you a question. How many daughters did Jacob (Israel) have? The Jews have always been patriarchal; if that changed then it must have been after the holocaust for purposes of repopulating.

Consider the Kikuyu origin myth – I call it a myth because people do not set out to form communities but to survive and then thrive – and you quickly realise the stories of origin of a community are always an after-thought in an attempt to explain issues and forge communal identity more for sentimental reasons. I say this because I have seen several attempts online by people to create an original Luhya man who had eighteen sons representing the clans in the community, even as it is common knowledge that Tachoni and Tiriki have their roots among the Kalenjin; so this theory does not hold.

However, for argument’s sake, let us say that the nine women whose children formed the nine clans of Kikuyu were indeed daughters of Gikuyu and Mumbi. This means that they brought home husbands or children sired by the Kamba, Meru, Samburu, Borana, Kalenjin and Maasai. A few adventurers’ daughters could even have travelled further to find the Luhya, Luo and Kisii for husbands. This is the source of the Kikuyu X-Factor.

Even today, the people who tend to marry outside their tribe are not the poor folks back in the village. It is the wealthy, exposed or learned that have a higher chance of meeting an “exotic” spouse. This means that the children who were brought back to create this enterprise that is Kikuyu were sired from the “best stock” from other tribes, and then raised the Kikuyu way.

There is a cliché that Kikuyu women know how to “spot potential” miles away. The idea of spotting potential from far is a survival instinct passed on to the girls from an early age because it was vital not only for their individual good but also for basic subsistence and for the thriving of the community. This is why other communities believe that a Kikuyu lady will leave her marriage if the math does not add up. I say it is an inbuilt instinct.

This culture was a channel for good genes and wealth that accompanied the elite from other communities who were attracted to Kikuyu women. It could be said that the Kikuyu are an aggregate of the best of other communities – an inbuilt advantage that got a push from the first post-independent government. The idea is that, hate or like them, rest assured that it would be extremely difficult to displace the Kikuyu from the centre of power in this country.

This explains why, even with twenty-four years of Moi’s anti-Kikuyu rule that crippled the dairy and coffee industries that are central to Kikuyus, did not bring them down. In the end, like Alfred Mosoti clearly said, anti-Kikuyu sentiment always leads their mongers to the Kikuyu. Moi, for instance, had no choice but to anoint Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred successor. They do not have a choice; politics is more a game of money than numbers. Hitler said that the person counting the votes is more important than the voter; I will add that every person has a price, and that is where Kikuyus come in.

The writer is a practising geologist; @stuttistician

2 COMMENTS

  1. I beg to differ on the post indepedence factors benefiting Kikuyus. By the time we got indepedence, Kiambu area had the highest literacy level. This was after just 60 years of exposure to external world. Compare this to Coast Province area who had been exposed to external world (read education) for centuries.

  2. This is thought provoking. It has opened my eyes to the following:
    1: Is this why Kikuyus embrace things foreign very fast? English and French language etc. They don’t care when if their kids don’t speak English.
    2: Is this why Kikuyu elites work well with elites(monied) from other tribes e.g. Aworis, Nyachaes etc.
    I wish we could see more of this kind of mature debates…

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