Kenya

The Central-Rift political curse

The Central-Rift political curse

ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses the media after a meeting with the Central Kenya leaders.

Photo credit: Pool

The Kenyan state has been a tortured – cursed – republic since 1964. At the dawn of the republic, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga dramatically fell out. In tandem, their communities were put asunder.

This was the advent of the Kikuyu-Luo curse on Kenya. Ever since, the two communities have been circling each like two malignant predators to the detriment of Kenya. We’ll see if the rapprochement between Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM’s Raila Odinga — truly the scions of their fathers — lifts the Kikuyu-Luo curse from the shoulders of Mother Kenya. But today, I want to focus on a more virulent curse that’s befallen Kenya. The Kikuyu-Kalenjin political curse now makes the Kikuyu-Luo malediction child’s play.

At the core of both curses lies deep ethnic psychosis, a sort of general madness running through each of the communities. It’s a mental sickness wrought by proximity to state power and the greed to plunder national resources.

It’s true that one cannot paint all groups with dirt for the elites are the ones who always selfishly husband – and I use the word deliberately – resources. But I’d be foolish to overlook the “trickle-down” effects of ethnic bigotry and chauvinism. That’s because the political minds of Kenyans are segregated by ethnicity. You just need to look at voting patterns since 1964. Kenya’s communal electorates generally vote for “their man” —their ethnic kingpin — or as instructed by him.

The Zeitgeist of Kenyans is highly ethnically prejudiced. It’s akin to an incurable mental defect. Poor Kenyans at the bottom of the ladder fight the political elites of opposite groups with a zest that scares the bejesus out of any reasonable person. The demonisation of Mr Odinga, and before that his father Jaramogi, among ordinary Agikuyu, is truly a work of witchcraft.

You will often hear Central Kenya elites and their hapless hoi polloi say that “selling” (euphemism for campaigning) for Mr Odinga in the region is similar to selling pork to a Muslim. Nothing could be disgusting, or revolting. Yet, this vituperative epithet is said without effort times without number. It’s a central myth of the Kikuyu-Luo curse.

Born to rule

The Kikuyu-Kalenjin curse has eclipsed this. The psychotic nature of this curse needs unravelling. Let’s peel the onion. The Kikuyu are Kenya’s community of entitlement. They believe — with all their fibre – that they were born to rule over other Kenyans. To lord it over them as of right. The Kalenjin, on the other hand, are the community of incumbency.

They don’t know how to exist outside the state. Ever since Daniel arap Moi joined the colonial state, they have been used to suckling the breast of the state. Outside the state, they are fish out of water. The evidence was there after the Mwai Kibaki-Narc state froze them out of power. They screamed bloody murder.

Mr Moi ascended to power courtesy of Mzee Kenyatta, but it’s no secret that Gema attempted to block him after openly humiliating him throughout his vice presidency. Stories are told of how middling officials would gratuitously slap him. He took it all in his stride. This may explain the psychology of why Deputy President William Ruto is the one doing all the “slapping”. Revenge is not always a dish best served cold.

Once Mr Moi captured power in 1978, he took a sledgehammer to the Kikuyu. He laid waste to the commanding heights of their economy. Very soon, many were reduced to penury. The Agikuyu in the diaspora — Rift Valley — faced pogroms and opprobrium every election cycle.

The worst came during the 2007-2008 post-election violence. I won’t repeat the gory details here, but the massacre at the Kiambaa church and the corresponding Mungiki-led attacks etched the Kikuyu-Kalenjin curse in stone. Even at their worst, the Kikuyu and Luo hadn’t exhibited such vicious brutality and bloodlust. Just as quickly, Mr Ruto and Mr Kenyatta found common ground in 2013 to pepper over the curse.

Ironically, this ascent to power enabled them to escape from the International Criminal court cases. The Kikuyu-Kalenjin curse had been put on ice, not lifted. In 2018, after Mr Kenyatta’s re-election with Mr Ruto and his “handshake” with Mr Odinga, the Kikuyu-Kalenjin curse reared its ugly head again.

Mr Ruto has camped in Central Kenya the last three years trying to conquer Gema and reverse the curse. Will he? Can he? Will the so-called “mountain” succumb — submit — to his wily and obsequious seduction? Will the pogroms of 1992, 1997, and 2007/2008 in the Rift Valley be forgiven — and forgotten?

Can Mr Ruto be trusted to end the Kikuyu-Kalenjin curse alone without Mr Kenyatta’s blessing, or participation? There’s a large deep-pocketed stratum of the Central Kenya elite that hasn’t made secret of its disdain — and fear — of a Ruto presidency. What’s the fate of this elite were Mr Ruto to capture the state? That’s a very pregnant question.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua.