Last week I read about police in Naivasha recovering coffee beans estimated to be worth over Sh10m after they had been stolen from a coffee factory. This was another incident in a long series of coffee thefts that reminds one of the ‘Chepkube Black Gold’ robberies of the 1970s. Unfortunately stealing coffee is not the only bad Kenyan habit of the late 70s that has come back.
The Chepkube coffee thefts were happening at a time when Kenyan politicians were bracing themselves for a regime transition from a Kikuyu-led government. In the political scenes, a group of primarily GEMA politicians were traversing the country holding public rallies on how they wanted the transition to pan out, a lot like is happening today!
The GEMA politicians in the 70s included several cabinet ministers in Kenyatta’s government, and their message was that Vice President Daniel T. Moi must be stopped from being the next President of Kenya should anything happen to Jomo Kenyatta, at all costs. This gang of ethnic chauvinists believed that only a Kikuyu could take over from Jomo Kenyatta, and they were willing to change the Constitution to create the requisite environment to achieve their goals.
What was extremely problematic about what they were doing was that this group had the financial and numerical ability to mobilise Parliament, to achieve what they wanted, as well as intimidate politicians who did not agree with them by marshalling huge rallies across the country to put across their point. They also had the government capacity to get the State machinery to do their bidding, which means that they could transfer their contempt of Moi the individual to the office he occupied as Vice President of Kenya by manipulating government systems to visit various indignities on both the man, and the office.
They were therefore able to have the Vice President of Kenya stopped by traffic police officers and body-searched by the roadside; or kept waiting in Nakuru Statehouse as groups of women were ushered in to dance for the President.
The French have a saying ‘Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’; i.e the more things change, the more they stay the same. In Kenya, we are back to the 70s all over again!
Our political arena is bracing itself for a transition from a Kikuyu President in a few months, and the reality that a non-Kikuyu politician is poised to take over from him if all things remain constant. We also have a gang of primarily GEMA politicians using the same script used on Moi to fight the closest non-Kikuyu presidential contender, i.e; huge facilitated political rallies; ethnically-loaded exclusive political statements; open contempt for non-Kikuyu presidential aspirants; the ability to rally numbers in Parliament to do whatever they want (including pass laws that are not necessarily in public interest!), etc.
Just like in 1976 when over 20 MPs met at a pubic rally in Nakuru to denounce a Constitution that created an automatic transition from Vice President to Presidency; this last weekend even saw a series of political rallies in Eldoret and Kiambu to denounce the values of leadership integrity enshrined in our constitution with the challenge that ‘the people of Kenya will decide’.
The argument being used is that even though it is wrong for an accused to hold public office as per our constitution we have the vote numbers to not only keep our people in office but we will even ensure that they become President!
It is clear that Kenya is facing another political moment similar to the transition environment of 1978. I am also personally persuaded that Kibaki will not support a Kikuyu candidate to take over from him; even Kenyatta, arguably a more tribal leader than Kibaki, knew better than to do that. What worries me is that so far we have no challenge to those shouting about ‘mundu wa nyuba’ taking over.
In 1978 a group of young politicians and government bureaucrats realised that what GEMA was out to do would damage Kenya’s nationhood. They were smart enough to understand that no one could be the President of Kenya by mobilizing two or three tribes of Kenya, no matter their size.
This group then strategically mobilised against the GEMA gang and using ‘right over might’, managed to thwart each and every plan of the much more powerful group. The irony is that this second group was led by politicians and government bureaucrats drawn from the GEMA communities; primarily Charles Njonjo and Mwai Kibaki. As a friend cheekily observed, they had their own KikuyusforChange then! Kenya owes a lot to the foresight of this group of leaders, and it is not a coincidence that one of them is the President today.
Kenya needs another generation of ‘Kibaki’s and Njonjo’s’ to emerge; a group that understands that Kenya’s interests are more important than the fears and interests of any individual, whoever he is, and are not scared to say it politically. Siasa Mpya creates the environment to do it; especially from within the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities.
(Ngunjiri Wambugu is the convenor of the Siasa Mpya initiative firstname.lastname@example.org)