Saturday, 20 May 2017

Dear Akamba, Kenya's destiny is in your hands, don't break it; 21.05.2017

 By Makau Mutua 

I write this Open Letter to the Kamba Nation not because of my ethnicity. No – I do so because of my Kenyan nationality. But I write it knowing there are few Kenyans in the country called Kenya. Most Kenyans are paper citizens, and nothing more. That’s because most Kenyans are co-tribalists – they primarily and fundamentally identify with the tribe. To them, Kenya is only a convenient political and legal fiction. They can’t even define a Kenyan really except to point to the country’s geographic location on the map. They don’t belong to a nation because they lack a national consciousness – a unique zeitgeist called Kenyan. I am afraid most Akamba, like other co-ethnics, are no different. I address the Kamba Nation not because I want to reify, or essentialise it. Nyet – I do so as a reluctant and tortured nod to the toxic reality of our politics. If I were a co-tribalist, like most others, I wouldn’t have supported NARC’s Mwai Kibaki for President in 2002. The Kenya Human Rights Commission and I endorsed Mr Kibaki and NARC in that gargantuan contest. If I were a bilious tribalist, I wouldn’t have forcefully supported CORD’s RailaOdinga for President in 2013. Nor would I have thrown my weight behind Mr Odinga as the NASA presidential candidate this year. I realise that NASA – with Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka as Mr Odinga’s running mate – is a historic opportunity for Kenya. I am writing to the Akamba because they can make – or break – Kenya in August. In fact, I believe the election will be determined by the Kamba Nation. This will be unique, and a first for Kenya. Mr Musyoka, by shelving his presidential ambitions until 2022, made NASA a formidable force. He’s the one who has made NASA a juggernaut. If my math is correct – and if the Kamba Nation shows up on Election Day – Jubilee will be a one-term misnomer. This is the basic fact the Akamba must internalise and not miss. Their vote for the first time in Kenya’s history will determine who sleeps at State House for the next five years. Ironically, that will turn the Akamba into Kenyans. Let me explain. The bane of Kenya’s existence has been the tribe. That’s why Kenya hasn’t cohered into a nation. Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups have stubbornly refused to deposit their loyalty in the project of the Kenyan Nation. The contest for meager resources and power among tribal elites has arrested the national project. The most destructive office for nation building has been the presidency. ALSO READ: IEBC dilemma as credibility fears jolt poll preparations It’s the presidency that’s the symbol of tribal virility. Through it, tribal elites and their hoi polloi either loot, or benefit, from State largesse. As a result, ethnic groups vote to a woman for their co-tribalist. That Kenya’s presidents have come from only two groups has been a great curse to the idea of the nation. Run for President This is where the Kamba Nation and NASA could truly re-launch our national project. It’s true that no one who is qualified can legally be denied the right to contest the presidency because of their ethnic identity. But it’s not prudent for anyone who is qualified to run for the office. We have a nation to build, and that fact should trump the right of individuals in communities that have already occupied the State House to run for president now, or in the near future. They should sit out and let individuals from groups that haven’t been there hoist that trophy. That’s the only way to lance the boil of tribalism and demystify the presidency. It’s called nation building. Intelligent elites in Tanzania and South Africa have shown us how this is done. No two presidents in Tanzania have come from the same ethnic group. Until President John Pombe Magufuli, a Sukuma – the largest ethnic group in Tanzania – all the country’s presidents hailed from numerically very small groups. No person of Chaga descent, the largest dominant economic group, has ever been president. Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the genius pan-Africanist, was the author of this brilliant national script. In South Africa, after the iconic Nelson Mandela and the technocrat Thabo Mbeki – both Xhosa – the baton was passed to the ANC’s Jacob Zuma, a Zulu. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa from the minority Venda will most likely succeed Mr Zuma. Let’s take a page out of Tanzania and South Africa. But let’s go further. Mr Odinga has pledged to serve one term if elected. I urge all other NASA luminaries – led by Mr Musyoka – to pledge to serve one term when their turn comes. We will not defeat the demon of tribalism – and build a nation – unless the Akamba, Luhya, Luo, and all groups taste the presidency. Mr Musyoka and the whole Kamba Nation can launch us there. ALSO READ: Raila must smell the coffee and move fast to rekindle waning Odinga magic —The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC. @makaumutua
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