Tales initiated at dinner tables can break or make communities

Tales initiated at dinner tables can break or make communities

A country is destroyed at family dinner tables long before leaders embark on political rallies

By Kenyatta Otieno

Mr. Mukenya lived with his wife and children in a simple home near Nairobi. He never lacked, yet he wasn’t from a wealthy lineage. His home sat between the homes of his two brothers. He was the middle child. The siblings had relatively good education and stable sources of income – they stayed on the community land they had inherited from their father who had since died. And it was well until they all got married and their wives began to fight for territories.

Soon, Mukenya was busy telling his children that his older brother was a witch and the younger one was nothing but lazy bones. His wife instructed the children not to visit the other two homes because they will either be bewitched, or pick bad habits. All these were taking place, yet it is the “lazy” brother who somehow connected the other two families who appeared cordial on the surface but were passively up in arms.

At the end of it all, the children would grow up suspicious of their uncles, and wary of their cousins. They played together and attended the same schools, but that was as far as it went. The brothers soon found ways of living in peace where everyone lived within their own boundaries, and only came together when necessary mostly in times of grief. Life went on as if nothing was a miss but they all knew that below the calmness was a bubbling volcano waiting to erupt.

The children grew up and found their own ways of managing their uncles and cousins. They would only attend the most important events and said only what is vital. They neither disrupted the peace nor improved the relationships. Every family concentrated on their own business and the friends they made in the course of their life endevours.

Then, one day Mukenya summoned his children home. He told them that things had changed and his brother was no longer a witch. He talked about how it is his elder brother who showed him the paths of life. He began with holding his hand around the village then introduced him to a friend who gave him his first job. His wife and children were surprised – what the head of the house was saying did not make sense at all.

He kept repeating that he wanted peace at all costs and that they can no longer afford the cost of antagonism that existed between them. One outspoken child tried to say that they prefer their younger uncle to that witch. “Trust me on this, I have your best interests at heart,” Mukenya said in a bid to reassure his family.

He went on to exalt the virtues of his older brother. He then said that he doesn’t know how long he will live because he has been diagnosed with a terminal disease but he was sure that his family will be safe in the hands of his elder brother.  

The room went silent, eyes bulged, and veins filled up as some jaws were raised slowly from the floor. No one said anything for some time. At the point, Mukenya adjourned the meeting for another day but asked everyone to think through what he had just said. Their mother started to think how she will rope in her husband’s younger brother-in-law before the elder one establishes himself. Laziness is a lesser evil than sorcery, she thought.

Kenyan politics

This story paints a picture of Kenya especially Central Kenya region going into 2022 presidential General Election – people abreast with politics say it will be a battle between Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga. It is interesting to note that for the first time since the advent of multi-partism in 1992, there is seemingly no strong Kikuyu candidate as we go into 2022. It is also the first time since 1997 that Mr Odinga is running as the preferred candidate of a sitting president.

Every aspect of this year’s election looks new and unchartered yet there is nothing new. Mr Odinga will be running for president for the fifth time while Mr Ruto is going to take a bow for his first stab like many before him. Apart from the Kikuyu of Central Kenya or what is commonly called Mt. Kenya region, the rest of the country is watching keenly with disenchanted emotions.

Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta lost support in his backyard for being seen to favour Raila over his deputy Ruto. Talk on the slopes of Mt. Kenya is that selling Raila to Kikuyu is like selling pork in a mosque, but that is slowly changing.

Raila Odinga is a man who evokes great emotions in Kenyan politics. Former Vice President, the late Wamalwa Kijana called it “Raila mania and Raila phobia”. Worrying is how one man was used as a tool to galvanize an entire region; it beats the logics of democracy.

Politics without ideology like ours is marked by shifts in interests and camps and no one exemplifies this than Odinga. Since 1997, Kikuyu leaders have pushed a narrative that if Kikuyus are Jews then Raila is Adolf Hitler. If Raila rises to power then that will be the beginning of their end as a community.

I used to think this is a joke until a polished Kikuyu man whispered to me that Luos should front another leader and not Raila. The narrative had entered their ears and crystalized from their blood into a dark residue at the bottom of their ventricles. Until recently no one could imagine Raila Odinga mastering anything beyond twenty percent from the region. No elected leader was accompanying him in his initial tours of the region. Nominated leaders like Maina Kamanda and business men were his companions. Popular leaders like Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata gave up his Majority Leadership role in Senate for William Ruto’s foot soldier role.  Things looked bleak for the son of the doyen of Kenya’s opposition politics.

Change came in from Mt. Kenya east counties of Meru and Embu. They sent subtle messages that they don’t mind a Raila presidency. Then slowly elected leaders like Kieni MP Kanini Kega began to accompany Raila in his tours in the region. Slowly the numbers are building up but he is not yet fully accepted. The only remedy is no strong candidate has come up from the region to challenge Raila and Ruto.

This reminds me of a talk I had with a random matatu driver plying Ngong Road. I picked a newspaper from the dashboard, flipped a few pages, and read some stories.

“Mũndũ, you people just give us this presidency. We have really desired this seat,” I said as I lifted my head from the newspaper to look at him.

“It is not that easy, let me tell you a story,” he said as we drove up from Dagoreti Corner and I became the Kenyan social media proverbial Maina and listened to a story that reminded me that there is nothing as powerful as a story.

He told me how his grandfather invited all his grandchildren to his home one Saturday. The old man was long in years and his health was failing so they went with the belief that it was a farewell. Or, maybe he just wanted to pass down his properties to his grandchildren. 

Everything was normal and joyous until his grandfather began to talk to them from a seat placed in front of them. The long and short of what he said was that his time on earth was limited and from his experience over the years, none of his scions should ever marry a Luo. He did not live long after that. What do you expect when the tales told at the dinner tables come to pass? Just listen to such stories and make a decision that will not ruin your future. 

At the end of it all; the stories we share at dinner tables as families can break or make communities and the future of the country because stories are powerful. Another lesson is that, a country is destroyed at family dinner tables long before leaders embark on political rallies.    

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