Dishonest political lane-changers

Dishonest political lane-changers

By Alfred Mosoti

When driving, particularly in two way traffic, darting between lanes is not just idiotic; it is also dangerous. It confuses and irks other road users, more so oncoming traffic, and can cause head-on collisions.

The same principle applies – or ought to apply – in on the political highway. The trend by politician(s) to indoctrinate their fans into certain ethno-political axes before unceremoniously shifting to opposing ones is equally catastrophic!

In both scenarios, erratic behaviour is not only detrimental to particular actor(s), but also to the ‘innocent’ followers for, to quote the sages, the hyena split in two for trying to walk on both sides of the road.

The Kikiyu are the most populous community in Kenya, accounting for about a fifth of the national population. To speak politically incorrectly, they are loved and loathed in equal measure, for socio-economic and political reasons.

Non-Kikuyu look up to them for being the prototype of modernity, owing to their comparatively rapid desertion of retrogressive traditions like female genital mutilation and elaborate and expensive burial rites. As well, their entrepreneurial and political acumen are legendary on these shores.

On the other hand, they are vilified by a substantial portion because they are presumed to be selfish, harbouring criminal tendencies and having the sinister objective of capturing Kenya’s econo-political space. Regrettably, these attributes/ clichés have often been so amplified as to drown out the positives.

Many non-Kikuyus silently believe the tribe to be untrustworthy, and harbour latent misgivings against them! In Rift Valley and Coast regions – the stolen land mantra makes for the main course, followed by political grievances.

Even as we concede that the historical character of the Kikuyu is not beyond reproach – no tribe’s is – any objective observer will deduce that many of these accusations are replete with prejudice, sycophancy and/or overstretched truths.

The genesis of anti-Kikuyuism, and subsequently debt politics, can be traced to the release of Jomo Kenyatta courtesy of the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga refusal to agree to any deal until his countryman was released. Although this was a morally and ethically sound move, it was politically suicidal.

According to Burudi Nabwera’s book How It Happened, authored by Prof Masinde Kusimba, prior to independence Oginga Odinga was approached by British Colonialist with the suggestion that they would wish bequeath him the presidency, and subsequently isolate Jomo Kenyatta into political oblivion.

Odinga told colonialists to first release Kenyatta, before any discussions on a deal could be held. Odinga’s words, according to The Change of Guard, were:Kenya cannot move without Kenyatta, he is our second god. Unless he is out of jail to lead us, we shall never accept any other leader.”

The story goes that, upon securing freedom, Kenyatta eclipsed Odinga and proceeded to stamp his authority across the country, an episode has dented Kenyatta’s image and legacy to date.

Additionally, he outlawed Odinga’s Kenya Peoples’ Party (KPU) and used State machinery to crush rebellion and dissent, as evidenced by the 1969 shooting in Kisumu during the launch of Russia Hospital. The assignation of Tom Mboya in the same year and JM Kariuki in 1775 add to the pile of Kenyatta’s misdeeds.

Then, as if anti-state seeds had been propagated, Kisumu town has been a perennial battlefield between the police and anti-government rioters since then. One only hopes that the newfound friendship between Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta can make for a change of fortunes.   

Given this brief history, I still think it is unfair to habitually vilify the Kikuyu for their ‘elites’ sins‘, yet the same thing is not done to other tribes – for instance the Kalenjin, for the assassinations of Robert Ouko in 1990, Bishops Henry Okulu and Alexander Kipsang’ Muge, and others, by President Daniel Moi’s regime.

Disappointingly, as in Biblical times when subjects shared culpability for blunders committed by their leaders, the Kikuyu have been/are unfairly haunted by Kenyatta’s sins. This has degenerated into a primarily Luo-Kikuyu enmity that has, in time, ossified into a Kikuyu-non-Kikuyu adversity.

When, in 1978, Kenyatta died, Daniel Moi, then Vice President, assumed power in line with the then constitution. After ruling for 14 years “without a challenger”, in 1991 Kenya re-introduced the multiparty system after repealing of Section 2A of the old constitution, compelling him to defend the seat in the 1992 polls.

According to the Akiwumi and Kiliku reports on tribal clashes, despite the fact that non-Kalenjin tribes – deemed pro-opposition – having been evicted from the Rift Valley and Coast provinces in the run-up of the 1992 and 1997 elections, Kikuyu expulsion was especially vicious, an approach that was interpreted as “revenge for their refusal to ‘pay a political debt despite living in ‘stolen land’.”

In the run-up of the 2002 polls, KANU merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party (NDP) in 2000 to form New KANU. Likewise, three opposition outfits – Charity Ngilu’s Social Development Party (SDP), Kijana Wamalwa’s Ford Kenya and Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party (DP) – morphed into the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK).

As the succession politics within the KANU got hotter and more frenzied, some party stalwarts like Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, Raila Odinga and the late George Saitoti, dubbed ‘The Young Turks’, flirted with the idea that they could be picked as the party’s flag bearer, which was synonymous with inheriting the presidency. But Moi had other ideas.

At a ceremony in Kapsokwony, Bungoma, Moi dropped the bomb-shell by announcing Uhuru Kenyatta as his preferred successor, a proclamation that stunned both friend and foe! In a nutshell, to political novices, he was simply swerving lanes, from being an anti-Kikuyu to a pro-Kikuyu, while moving in the same direction!

Upon fleeing from KANU, following the announcement of Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor; the Young Turks, under Raila Odinga, on a Liberal Democratic Party (LPD) bandwagon, crafted a merger with the NAK to form a formidable National Alliance of Rainbow Coalition (NARC).

Raila proclaimed “Kibaki tosha,” although he would shortly rebel. This turnaround would also be acted out by William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi, who voluntarily supported Uhuru Kenyatta’s candidature at Moi’s proclamation, only to begin castigating him – and his tribesmen – a few years later.

While Raila, Ruto, Mudavadi and others may have had the moral authority to castigate a Kikuyu regime (Kibaki’s 2007 PNU), they participated its formation either through supporting Uhuru or Kibaki in the 2002 polls. Politically speaking, only those who supported Simon Nyachae had that moral ground.   

The nation had split along the Uhuru-Kibaki camps, including sworn anti-Kikuyus. It is worth noting that neither Kenyatta and Kibaki or their kinsmen lobbied – openly, for this article’s purpose – for their candidature.

Interestingly, in the run-up of the November 2005 referendum, Raila Odinga and his LDP faction, after being expelled from NARC, teamed with the then opposition KANU stalwarts, through Uhuru, and successfully shot down a state sponsored draft constitution, christened the Wako Draft. Riding on discontent with the government, the opposition cast the document as an avenue designed by the Kikuyu for socio-economic and political status above the rest!

After the formation of Coalition government, the political landscape greatly shifted. William Ruto (ODM), who had been named as fuelling violence in Rift Valley, began to warm up to Uhuru Kenyatta, his co-accused from the PNU side. Ruto swerved and changed lanes from being a staunch critic to a pro-Kikuyu, for self-preservation. It worked; today, they are in power!

Thepoint here is, the Kikuyu are players in the same game of chess like the rest of us, only that they are – with support from history – better at it!

Politicians are masters at double speak, and the sooner we recognise that trait in them, the better we become at learning to choose for ourselves. (

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