The opposite of dictatorship is pluralism. Poetically defined, “Instead of one, many”. A shift of enormous proportions is happening in Kenya. Dictatorship is back through the backdoor and pluralism lies on its death bed.
After independence political pluralism was strangled. We slowly but surely drifted into a de facto single party dictatorship and finally a de jure single party monolith, a Moi-dictatorship that sought to quell any and all alternative voices. The monolith became so notorious that at its height Moi asked every Kenyan to sing the KANU song like parrots. State power was abused to ensure that this dictatorship became a way of life, mama na baba, and alternative thinking was crushed with a ruthlessness and efficiency of a police state.
But Kenyans refused to be cowed.
Agitation for pluralism, then defined as multi-patyism, gained traction even under great repression. The agitation of the 80s and early 90s ushered in pluralism through the re-introduction of a multi-party system of government. We thought that the inevitable exit of Moi in 2002 and the ushering in of the new Constitution 2010 had put the final nail in the coffin of monolithic dictatorships.
We spoke too soon.
The last 15 years or so have seen the reversal of the gains of the 80s and 90s with the rise of the tribal overlords and ethnic monoliths that stifle pluralism in ways that would put KANU to shame. It started in Luo Nyanza where, for one to make any progress politically, he/she had to prostrate themselves at the feet of the self-styled tribal tin-god Raila Odinga. The casualties of this tribal dictatorship were the progressive forces of the 80s and 90s then called the young turks e.g. James Orengo and Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o. Having resisted Moi and won, they found it difficult to resist Odingaism. Today it is difficult to imagine they were at the forefront of the fight for pluralism. They have accepted the single voice that comes from Luo Nyanza and they can hardly imagine an independent line. Under the Raila Odinga guillotine, pluralism in Luo Nyanza is dead and buried. He has a grip on Luo Nyanza that would make Moi envious. It is ironical that a person who likes to sell himself as a crusader of pluralism was the first to kill it among his supporters. If KANU was mama na baba, Raila, like we have been ably warned is baba, mwana na roho mtakatifu. He has never denied the statement.
That is not the end of the story of the death of pluralism under the malice of the tribal kingpins. It is actually the beginning.
Raila Odinga has become the prototype of a tribal kingpin and all other wannabe tribal warlords have learnt well from him. Like him, the ultimate political goal of tribal overlords is to establish a tribal dictatorship that locks in a tribal constituency and ensures that the kingpin is the ONLY voice of the tribe and no other can dare rise up in the tribe without prostrating themselves at their feet. William Ruto locked a tribal constituency, and became the sole tribal overlord of the Kalenjin. Kalonzo locked a tribal constituency and became the Kamba tribal kingpin. Up until 2013, the Kikuyu had held out. There was a glimmer of hope that the era of the tribal warlord had not completely drowned pluralism in Kenya. Impressively there were four Kikuyu presidential candidates and each hoped to be listened to. Each believed they had a chance even if Uhuru Kenyatta the Kikuyu candidate with the tribal narrative was a front-runner. They believed that the self-styled Kikuyu tribal overlord could be defied and opposed, after all we were supposed to be in the era of pluralism.
Not anymore. Sadly.
The events of the last few months in Central province should worry any Kenyan who cherishes the values of pluralism as enshrined in our constitution. It started with Isaac Mwaura who had been a nominated ODM legislator, putting himself in a most awkward and ridiculous position of being a nominated MP with ODM but preaching for the corrupt Jubilee government and singing praises of Uhuru Kenyatta in order to have a chance of being elected in Ruiru constituency. Then came Koigi Wa Wamwere the longest serving political detainee, a gallant crusader of pluralism during the Jomo and Moi days. More notably, he was a tough critic of Uhuru Kenyatta and the thieving Jubilee government. Even he capitulated, joining the newly formed monolith called Jubilee Party headed by two tribal overlords and former ICC suspects.
This was a bad sign.
Things got worse when the very people who had presented themselves as alternatives to the Jubilee tribal duo and their tribal narrative in the 2013 presidential elections, Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua, not only quit the race but prostrated themselves at the feet of the Kikuyu tribal supremo. Who could have believed that Martha Karua could ever endorse Uhuru Kenyatta? This sent the message that there was no place for pluralism in Central Province. The only voice would be that of the tribal kingpin and anyone who dared him had no political present or future.
Raila Odinga’s script had been borrowed and has worked in Central Province. The other tribal kingpins like to demonize Raila, but they have no qualms about using his formula of stifling and killing pluralism. While we had four Kikuyu presidential candidates in 2013, only an extremely brave and brilliant Kikuyu can run for president against Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017, or a very stupid one. The era of the tribal dictatorships is truly here with us. Pluralism is dead.
To be sure, some large communities have resisted this single narrative and one hopes they will hold out longer. The Luhya for example have refused to be herded together for sale in the political market-place. There have been calls for them to do so. The calls so far have been unsuccessful. The Luhya would be tribal overlords remain pathetic wannabes.
I would like to note several things about this scenario. One a clarification and the other an imploration.
The first one is that what is happening is not a reflection of who Kenyans are and what their aspirations are. Kenyans know that tribalism is bad for them. The challenge is what I have called the power of a single narrative. The tribal overlords have sold this single bad narrative of tribalism to the people. They have temporarily succeeded in suppressing pluralism so that there is no other narrative in the political space today. The people are intimidated, bamboozled and herded into tribal baskets for sale in the political marketplace for a path to power by the tribal overlords. Based on this, some people have called Kenyans hopelessly tribal. They are not. This is simply what a single narrative does to a people. It is the stuff that genocides are made off.
Secondly, those who fought for pluralism through multi-patyism seem to have been the first casualties of tribal dictatorships through tribal warlords. What this country needs is a new breed of independent thinkers who refuse to be intimidated by the tribal warlords. The torch of pluralism must be rekindled and the right of Kenyans to think, express and associate freely as envisioned in the Constitution reinstated. This is the time for a new generation of actors to rise and fight the era of the tribal dictators and dictatorship in the same vigour that the young turks fought Moi, the political godfather of the Jubilee tribal duo, in the 80s and 90s. I have seen the argument being made that tribalism and the tribal warlords are the reality of Kenyan politics. They are not “the” reality. They are “a” reality. A created “reality” based on a created narrative of ethnicity, impunity and mediocrity, siasa ya ukabila, ukora na upuzi. We need to create a new reality based on a new alternative narrative based on patriotism, accountability and productivity.
When President Barrack Obama came to Kenya, he said that the problem of ethnicity is a problem of the imagination. I agree. We have been bamboozled by the tribal political class into tribal cocoons. So much so that we are unable to imagine an alternative narrative. Due to lack of imagination, we feel helpless in the face of this narrative and under the grip of the tribal warlords who eat, drink, sleep and wake tribalism. We see all possibilities only in tribal terms and therefore only in the terms of the tribal warlords. It is the reason why the likes of Koigi, PK and Karua are trooping back to Jubilee a.k.a KANU Re-loaded, with their tails between their legs.
It is R. Burkminster who said,
“Never change things by fighting the existing reality, to change things build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.
We must imagine a new model of political mobilization which will make the tribal narrative obsolete. There is no other way. The tribal warlords have locked in the tribal narrative and suffocated all possibilities of pluralism within that narrative. When all voices are silenced all possibilities defined along this tribal narrative, it will be the death of the Kenyan dream and the country will be on its way to conflagration. It should worry every Kenyan. It is at such a time that a new generation of political thinkers and actors are required. It is truly time for the political next because the tribal status quo is in and locked. The era of the tribal warlords is here with us, be afraid, be very afraid.