Uhuru and Ruto have laboured might­ily to cre­ate – in their new Ju­bilee Party – a broad-based po­lit­i­cal coali­tion in which just about any­one, from any corner of the coun­try, can feel at home

The Star (Kenya) - - Front Page - WY­CLIFFE MUGA @mu­gawycliffe

The end of tribal pol­i­tics?

If you have been keenly fol­low­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal spec­ta­cle of the race for the US pres­i­dency, fea­tur­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump, a phrase you will have come across over and over again is ‘America has gone tribal’. By this the com­men­ta­tors mean that Trump’s can­di­da­ture has re­vealed the US to be split into two ir­rec­on­cil­able groups, largely on the ba­sis of “iden­tity pol­i­tics”. On the one hand there are those whose con­tempt for Trump is of such depth that they sim­ply refuse to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity of a Trump pres­i­dency. And on the other hand there are those who will stick with Trump, come hell or high wa­ter: They be­lieve that he rep­re­sents their in­ter­ests, and are will­ing to for­give him even the most out­ra­geous mis­takes that he may make.

Two tribes; two ir­rec­on­cil­able world­views; two vi­ciously op­posed nar­ra­tives: that is the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in a nut­shell.

Well, here in Kenya we have long strug­gled to put an end to our own trib­al­ism, which is far more toxic than any­thing that Amer­i­cans have ever seen. But there is a dis­tinctly Kenyan twist to the way in which the tribal fac­tor plays out in elec­tions:

First, bear in mind that although Kenya is tech­ni­cally a ‘mid­dle in­come na­tion’, the day-to-day ex­pe­ri­ence of a clear ma­jor­ity of our peo­ple is one of un­re­lieved poverty. In this con­text, the gap be­tween what is promised at elec­tion time and what hap­pens there­after is enor­mous. And so this makes the work of an op­po­si­tion coali­tion seek­ing power rather easy, in the mat­ter of cre­at­ing a po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive that will pull a clear ma­jor­ity to its side.

This nar­ra­tive, seen in ev­ery elec­tion where there was a serv­ing pres­i­dent seek­ing a sec­ond term, is sim­ply this: The pres­i­dent and his tribes­men have “eaten alone”. This is the Kenyan way of al­leg­ing that the ben­e­fits pro­vided by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment have all gone to just one com­mu­nity, or one re­gion.

You would think this would not be an easy nar­ra­tive to sell in the era of de­volved gov­ern­ment, where each re­gion gets its share of what­ever is to be “eaten”. But that is not the case.

Kenyans in gen­eral know as lit­tle about re­gions out­side their own as they do about for­eign na­tions. So if, for ex­am­ple, you tell a poor farmer at the Coast that there are many equally poor peo­ple in the Rift Val­ley, he will not be­lieve you. In­stead he will point out the orgy of “land al­lo­ca­tions” dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Daniel Moi, which was largely un­der­taken at the ex­pense of the coastal com­mu­ni­ties – and of which Moi’s Kalen­jin com­mu­nity were the pri­mary ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

But on this is­sue of tribes we must con­cede that a huge step was taken to­wards in­clu­sive pol­i­tics last week­end. Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and Deputy Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Ruto have laboured might­ily to cre­ate – in their new Ju­bilee Party – a broad-based po­lit­i­cal coali­tion in which just about any­one, from any corner of the coun­try, can feel at home.

But their prin­ci­pal ri­val, op­po­si­tion leader and for­mer PM Raila Odinga is in fact ahead of them in this: He is per­haps the only Kenyan pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rant who could be said to have “fa­nat­i­cal sup­port” out­side his own tribal com­mu­nity.

So, even as the US strug­gles with this newly re­vealed tribal fac­tor in its pol­i­tics, on our side the ques­tion is: Have we at last suc­ceeded in end­ing our tragic pat­tern of tribe-cen­tric vot­ing?

For ex­am­ple, in the March 4, 2013, gen­eral elec­tion, Raila got far more votes from out­side his Luo com­mu­nity than those cast for him by the Luo. While the bulk of Uhuru’s votes were from what are tra­di­tion­ally called the Gema com­mu­ni­ties – the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru.

So will Uhuru, in 2017, get more votes from out­side the Mt Kenya re­gion than those cast for him in his own po­lit­i­cal back­yard?

The an­swer lies in yet an­other ques­tion: Did all those op­po­si­tion politi­cians who “crossed over” to the Ju­bilee Party last week­end ac­tu­ally take their sup­port­ers with them? Or were they in­volved in a soli­tary “walk of shame” which will soon see the end of their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers?


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