By Kenyatta Otieno
In the 2013 General Election, several counties went for guided democracy. In Mandera, lawyer Abdikadir Mohammed did not defend his parliamentary seat because elders had worked out how to share the posts between clans. Sospeter Ojaamong’ from minority Teso won the Busia governor’s seat. In Migori, the minority Kuria were given the Senate and Woman Representative seats, as a bargain for presidential votes for Raila Odinga, who is a Luo – they are the majority in the county. The Luo kept their side of the deal while Kuria’s gave Uhuru Kenyatta more votes than Raila Odinga.
In 2017, the Luo had learned their lessons and locked out the Kuria from any county seats. They only got the two parliamentary seats entitled to them. In August 2017, Boaz Okoth won the County Assembly Speaker elections but his sole opponent, a Kuria in Kerario Marwa, went to court and won the petition. In February, Okoth garnered 39 votes against his sole opponent Marwa’s 16 votes. The governor, Okoth Obado, at least rewarded the Kuria with two county executive seats for the votes they gave him.
During nominations, Obado insisted on retaining Nelson Mwita as his deputy. The people of Migori wanted him to pick Anne Anyanga, who had run against him in the ODM primaries but lost. Obado said he would retain his “good friend” Mwita because he received good support from the Kuria, where he got 70% of their vote in 2013. But what Obado was really doing was reciprocating the protest vote by the Kuria against ODM for picking Dr Machage for Senate. Obado had ditched ODM and ran on a PDP ticket in 2013.
The High Court in Rongo had earlier on in 2017 nullified the list of nominated members of the county assembly as it did not meet the criteria laid down regarding nominations. A quick look perusal of the list of 12 people showed just one name that is not Luo. ODM, as the dominant party in Migori, was ordered to send in another list.
What these events show is that the Luo, smarting from the happenings of 2013, had determined to teach the Kuria a lesson or two on how to keep their side of political deals.
The space Kuria find themselves in is replicated in Busia by the Teso, Bungoma by the Sabaot and by the Kipsigis in Narok, among others. It is a disadvantaged position which calls upon the minority group to find a working formula with the majority. As things stand, the Kuria are a disadvantaged lot because of how they approached political deals in 2013. Likewise, it is upon the powerful group, in this case the Luo, to also find a way of accommodating the minority.
The Kuria should learn from the Luhya who border the Luo to the west and north. If there is one border line where you will never hear of tribal clashes, then that place is the common Luo-Luhya border between Kisumu, Siaya, Vihiga, Kakamega and Busia Counties. Here, it will take an outsider time to identify where each community stops and the other begins. Both communities feel at home across all the borders.
As a Luo who grew up among the Luhya, I get the pulse of both communities. There are some deep-seated stereotypes and historical injustices between them but none is enough to spark disharmony.
Recently, Vihiga County laid claimed on Maseno, which currently sits in Kisumu County. The story goes that Jaramogi Oginga Odinga hived off Maseno and Trans Nzoia from the former Western province to settle political scores. All is not rosy as Luos also claim that Martin Shikuku also betrayed the good relations in 1992 by siding with Kenneth Matiba’s Ford Asili against Jaramogi.
At the base of this mutual respect is the shemeji spirit. There has been extensive intermarriage and cross border settlement between the two communities since the olden days.
It is common knowledge that in African culture, you always go “slow” on your in-laws – whenever there is a dispute – in the interest of the daughters married across the divide. The solution to the Kuria situation lies in the cultivation trust and respect that cannot be shaken by something like failing to keep political promises.
A good example can be derived from Musanda, the border between the people of Ugenya and the Wanga of Mumias. There is Luo Musanda and Luhya Musanda but the inhabitants speak the two languages interchangeably, and with so much ease. Word on the ground is, David Ochieng’, who successfully petitioned the election of Chris Karan as Ugenya MP, has more relatives among the Marachi in Butula than he has Luos in Ugenya. His ethnicity was never an issue in his election in 2013 or defeat in 2017. Such fluid coexistence is a good lesson to Kenya.
It is worth noting that a good number of Luhya from the Maragoli sub tribe reside in Migori County. Just like their kin up north, they have integrated well with the Luos and soon they might be able to send an MP to parliament. Everybody has something to offer so it is important that Migori County finds a way of bringing everyone on board.
It is paramount for the Kuria to respect the fact that forces beyond their ability placed them in the same county with Luos. Now that they are joined at the hip, there is no other way but to cultivate ways of living in harmony without feeling like the Luo are overbearing – even if they are! The fact is that they are vastly outnumbered. The one must accept the “mercy extended” graciously, and the other must extend such grace magnanimously.
Everything rises and falls on leadership. The leaders of Migori must find a way out of the acrimony in the county. It is my hope that a Kuria will be elected Governor of Migori soon, either out of negotiated democracy or out of his or her sheer brilliance. It has happened in Busia so it should not be a surprise. It is all about cultivating respect and trust, out of the recognition that differences will always exist. (