We know who we are but not what we may be – William Shakespeare
This post is a bit radical in that it draws from the history of other African countries and nations in the hope that their history will inform Kenyan choices going into elections next month. No nation lacks aspects of their history that are less than savoury and so this post might at times seem like pointing out the speck in our African brothers eyes. So to other Afro-centrists, please do not interpret this as a pharisaical prayer not to become like the publican. No this is standard African peer review. Hopefully of the type that spurs improved action and governance.
My central and persistent thesis in this election is that Kenya is at a junction in its history. This junction is fundamental and defining as far as Kenya’s national identity is concerned. The choice we make in 2017 will define how we respond to any challenges in future. Therefore we need to make a prudent decision. That being said, let us dig in by studying the histories of other African nations.
- South Africa
In South Africa in 2009 a frail, old Nelson Mandela went round the country campaigning for Jacob Zuma. The reason for this was that that Mandela is a Xhosa, same as Thabo Mbeki. Zuma on the other hand, is a Zulu and was the foremost Zulu in the ANC. Zuma was allowed to run on an ANC platform. There was a marginal Zulu grouping known as the Inkatha Freedom Party. At the time of the 2009 election the rhetoric surrounding the IFP was getting increasingly violent. This violence in my opinion was partially based on Zulu dominance a la King Shaka. Granted, the IFP only had marginal electoral support but if Zuma had not been voted in, the IFP would have gained legitimacy in the eyes of many Zulu who would have switched from ANC to IFP.
To come back to present day affairs, it is generally acknowledged around the globe, and within South Africa that Jacob Zuma has been less than ideal for South Africa. The generation that did not interact with the system of apartheid has no allegiance to the ANC. As a result Cyril Ramaphosa, another Xhosa, might be named as Zuma’s replacement. Neither the late great Nelson Mandela nor Thabo Mbeki were neophytes at nation-building. They must have known that Zuma was a less-than-ideal candidate. But like true statesmen interested in a thriving stable South Africa, it was politically expedient to do so. They also knew that as part of the elite, it was not their place to make that decision. This decision to turn away from the Zulu or Zuma had to come from the electorate itself. South Africa is now dealing with much more substantive political issues than ethnic rifts within the ANC coalition. Malema vs Ramaphosa is much more to my liking than Buthelezi Mangosuthu vs Mbeki, if you get what I mean.
Of what relevance is this to Kenya in 2017? For starters it must be said that advanced democracies are beginning to define democracy not only as “Everyone has their say” but also as “Everyone has their day.” This is why Mandela and Mbeki are not neophytes at nation-building and why Raila deserves the same benefit of doubt that Zuma received. It is my humble submission that a Raila presidency would not be as reprobate as Zuma’s. Moreover Kibaki’s Anglo-Leasing scandals should clear our imagination of any illusion that a Raila presidency will be all that and a bag of chips. For goodness sake, even this team digitalis finding it hard going. Application of the simple principle of accountability to the electorate at the ballot should be enough to weed out bad leaders by the ballot. Otherwise our fledgling democracy would not even be “government of the people, for the people, by the people.”
But the main point to be drawn from this history is that the call to shunt Raila and the Luo aside was not and is not one for our political elites to make. This decision should come from the electorate. 2013 gave us a golden chance to get over our ethnicity issues once and for all, but we spurned the opportunity. Metaphorically speaking, we chose to continue marching around our mountain of ethnicity for another 40 years. As a result, our politics will continue to be identity-based instead of issue based for the foreseeable future.
Once upon a time an astute analyst commented that Kenya and Nigeria were twins separated at birth. At first glance the similarities may appear to be superficial and hilarious, given our population sizes and mineral deposits, but you only need to drive in Lagos and Nairobi rush-hour traffic to feel the similarities. A closer look however reveals an uncanny resemblance.
Nigeria as a state was defined as balancing the requirements of three main political groupings, namely the Hausa-Fulani, the Yoruba and the Igbo. Perhaps to give a bit of background, The Hausa-Fulani are northern and originally more nomadic. The Yoruba are centred in the south-west whereas the Igbo are centred in the south-east. Also, you could almost say that the Igbo are the Kikuyu of Nigeria in terms of business and trade acumen while the Yoruba are the Luo of Nigeria in terms of being flashy, educated, white-collar professionals. Perhaps to stretch our analogy a bit to fill out the triangle, the Hausa-Fulani would be the Kalenjin of Nigeria.
Now as you would well know from history, the triangle is the least stable political structure of all. So much so that it is completely contrary to nation-building efforts to find accurate census figures of these three populations who are all scattered across Nigeria. Nigeria’s history and political discourse has to the best of my knowledge been dominated by the interactions between these three groupings. This triangle came apart during the Biafran War, an event which is still a political hot potato 50 years after its outbreak. Nigerian social media also regularly has heated and vitriolic tribal arguments much like Kenya. In short Nigeria’s national identity is yet to come to grips with the Biafran War.
Given Nigeria’s history, I have often wondered what greases and cools Nigeria’s political engine. And then it hit me, off course they have oil! And well, their unemployment is at around 14% compared to ours at 39%. So apples to apples, we both have political triangles. But apples to oranges Nigeria has its unemployment under the 20’s and oil revenues to boot. These are 2 luxuries we as Kenya do not have. This makes our economic policy making twice if not thrice as much in urgent need of solid job-creation.
Again we must ask ourselves, exactly how does this affect cocoa production in Ghana? For starters, this must not be interpreted as agitating for a secessionist Biafran or Luo state. Not at all. I quite like the Kenyan map and borders as they are. (Thank you very much for that question.) The point here is that, our political triangle must be recognised for the problem that it is towards building a strong cohesive Kenyan national identity. Our continued tribal bigotry will have consequences whether we like it or not. Attempts to bury our head in the sand about its existence, or offer stopgap measures without dealing with the problem itself will only further exacerbate a bad problem.
We could go on and on about how DRC in the 50’s had Africa’s largest middle class; and how Tanzania is ensuring local value addition of their minerals; or how our unemployment is a ticking time bomb which needs to be dealt with. But rather than make you read an additional few hundred words, we will stop there for now. It is my fervent hope and prayer that this ‘processed’ history of Nigeria and South Africa will inform our choices going into the election this August.