Revv22's Blog

February 13, 2013

The Tribe-question:lessons from the “Tyranny of Numbers”

Contrary to popular opinion, I am increasingly convinced that Kenyan politics is becoming more and more about ideology and value systems rather than simply tribe and ethnicity.


When Mutahi Ngunyi released his “Tyranny of Numbers” in a bid to explain why he thinks Uhuru and Jubilee has already won the 2013 race to form the next Kenyan government he was literally crucified,   at least in a classic i-generation fashion with a dedicated R.I.P facebook page.  Other political scientists came out to disagree with his hypothesis saying that it insulted the integrity of the Kenyan voter and its ability to see beyond tribal lines. It was also argued that despite the fact that certain regions are dominated by certain communities thanks to historical settlement partners and colonial reserve systems, large urban areas are cosmopolitan and have a wealth of ethnic diversity . Political parties that seemed to be disfavored by the hypothesis also came out to castigate it saying that it was one way of polarizing the country further.

Now, the unanimous rejection of Ngunyi’s “Tyranny of Numbers” is not the reason why I say we are moving towards and ideology based politics.  I think most people misunderstood or rather, failed to apply reason in looking at what releasing the hypothesis meant. It (the hypothesis) was NOT rejected because Kenyans are not tribal. It was rejected because it reminded us of what we are trying so hard to erase from our history but still, shamefully are. It was rejected because we felt it gave us the option that, even if for one more time, we can use the excuse of irrational fears of the unknown to hide behind our tribal cocoons and choose one of our own, or one endorsed by one of our own. It was rejected because unlike opinion polls, it laid bare what some of us fear most and some of us see as the only hope for redemption and in effect, it was more believed.

When the “tribe question” was included in the last census, few but loud voices could be heard questioning its inclusion. It is ironic how the majority, who is now pretentiously assassinating the messenger Ngunyi for his hypothesis, conveniently avoided a boycott of the tribe-question in the census despite the fact that it had and still has no conceivable bearing on the planning process in a country which has a bill of rights in its constitution that protects minorities as well as the majority. 

The recently held, first ever presidential debate courtesy of the Kenyan constitution that forced competing media houses to perform their social duty in ensuring public participation in elections was a platform where we could see and hear what the candidates and their parties want to do for Kenya, how they want to do it and deduce what their values, views and ideologies were.

Even if they did not all explicitly state their ideologies, one could clearly see the candidates who had plans to work with things as they are and had manifestos vaguely detailing how it is possible to deliver without addressing the social economic inequalities, those whom I call the pro-establishment; the social-justice proponents who wanted to address the evil of corruption and ensure that the money is used to provide services for Kenyans: the other social democrats who plan to allow the already established to operate as long as they assist the government in providing services such as health and job creation; those who believed that mending the moral fiber through religion and other forms of indoctrination was the answer; some who felt that I would take an iron hand to be able to restore the country to its rightful development trajectory.   The most interesting observation was that they all, apart from one who reminded us that he supported two different tribal chiefs during his political career, had such a conviction for what they were saying and stood by their various views, values and ideals. These are all ideological positions.

The Kenyan mistake has been to look at ideology only as the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program, and ignore that ideology also speaks to the manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture. This thinking characteristic is heavily informed by the individuals, groups or communities experiences and therefore whereas we need and have to move towards nation building, it will be impossible to achieve a united national march without addressing the inequalities brought about by inequitable distribution of resources, political marginalization and other forms of historical injustices that happened in the first 35 years or so of independent Kenya.

Pre-independence political organizing had to overcome not only technological and military inferiority in the Mau Mau front but also ethnic segregation. It took unity of pan-Africanist intellectuals and trade-unionists from all the majorly affected ethnic communities to put up a political front and ensure native representation in the Legico. When the independence government inherited and perpetuated internal geographical and social boundaries drawn up by a colonial administration that used divide and rule tactics to retain power, we included “tribe” in a question that required an “ideological” solution.

While it is true that poverty, disease, joblessness and poor quality education plague many Kenyans irrespective of their identity backgrounds, it is also true that some Kenyans are immune to the plague due to their social origin and it is also true that some have been disenfranchised of the opportunity to better their lives simply because of their “otherness” in terms of ethnic background, gender, age, religion, sexual identity and many other things that define them.  

The answer is not in shunning every reference to those identities but taking an approach that appreciates their respective histories. 

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