The President must give meaning to his word and forge nationalism

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By Rukaya Mohamed

Since independence in 1963, although a democratic state, two tribes have run Kenya: the Kalenjin and Kikuyu. It is this phenomenon that is now causing uproar and political discontent. This is because democracy, being based on the voice of the vast majority with free and fair election, has not fairly reflected on the ethnic and social diversity of the country’s composition.

Kenyan politics, like with most African countries, is a matter of power and resource allocation. For instance, during the Moi regime, regions that had a majority of Kalenjin tribes benefitted from development in health care, education and infrastructure. The same is evident during the Kenyatta regime in Kikuyu-dominated counties. Although some may argue that these resources benefit all tribes within those counties, resource allocation, or the lack of, is key here. For example, counties such as Garissa, where the majority is neither Kikuyu nor Kalenjin, have their children walk for miles to fetch water on a daily basis. While solutions such as wells and boreholes might be long-term plans, it is difficult to see these issues resolved because the people of those counties do not belong to the tribes in political power.

The second main issue is unemployment and low standards of living. This issue is more of a global problem, and not specifically a Kenyan one. This era has witnessed significant numbers of people with postgraduate degrees without jobs, who find it extremely challenging to make ends meet. However, Kenya is a little bit different; there aren’t equal chances for employment, due to tribal favoritism. This means that the tribe of the president will fill spaces within office and majority of government positions. In practicality, this is reflected in the budget priorities and resource allocation of certain counties. Some other tribes stand on the opposite end of this spectrum.

The Luo, for example, claim to have been discriminated against by the government, and that feeling of oppression is ever so evident within rallies and protests organised by its leaders supporters. The idea behind winning the elections in 2017 was more than just voting for one tribe or the other. For the supporters of Odinga, it was an opportunity for a new tribe from the 42 tribes to hold power in government. This then, ideally, gives the rest of the population hope for a future.  However, popular uprising, actions of the National Super Alliance (NASA) and current worsening economic situation in Kenyan are the recipe for a revolution. The only thing that makes this scenario unlikely is that despite undergoing the same suffering, ethnic identity does not allow Kenyans to firmly cohere.

Western media claimed that no one saw the ‘Arab Spring’ coming. It all seemed to be a bad situation that went out of control via the use of social media (mainly Twitter) and uproar of the lower social class. However, word on the streets of Egypt and Tunisia prior to the revolution, was that the vast majority of people were already in discontent with the government. The situation is much too familiar with that of Kenya, where a political party held power for too long, with political and economic benefits spreading to the tribe or family in power. In addition, resources were not allocated in a close-to a fair manner, citizens were discriminated against depending on their tribe or social class, and most importantly, the majority of young college and university graduates were jobless with no hope of having an independent income.

These factors combined, along with the rising cost of living, similar to that in Kenya, led to the youth taking their frustrations to social media and organising protests for political change. According to the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, the economy is not expanding fast enough to match a one million increase in population every year.

The current political rhetoric in Kenya is deeper than about who won the elections. For most Kenyans, it’s a chance for change, a chance for equality, a chance for the interests of others to be represented in government, and also a chance for economic opportunity. The discontent witnessed by an already disillusioned electorate – at least part of it – should worry every one of us. In other words, these factors, which the government and political advisers in Kenya should pay attention to, could give the current government a wake-up call that might be too late to handle! If it happened in Tunisia and Egypt, it could happen in Kenya. After all, tribes, religion and linguistic differences are merely a form of social identity that count for little when most of the population are suffering from low-paying salaries and living in poverty. Soon, there may be nobody to cheer on politicians whose political talk has got a single characteristic – cheap.  

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