We must move from “it’s our turn to eat” politics

Kenya is 48 -years-old as a republic, and has had three regime changes to-date. After each change members of the public sector from communities perceived to be friendly to the regime leaving power have been adversely affected, or so it is believed.

Narratives exist of incidences where individuals serving in a former regime have been humiliated by even junior officers and/or unceremoniously bundled out of office. On the other hand communities friendly to the incoming government are perceived to be on the path to prosperity.

Unfortunately with these narratives the facts do not count. It does not matter what exactly happened: once a perception seeps into the public domain that a certain community is no longer in favor the stage is set for additional narratives to start circulating.

The narratives start from the 1963 political transition that affected Kenyan Asians and is perceived to have benefitted the Kikuyu. After 1978 the Kikuyu were out and the Kalenjin were in, or so it was perceived. After 2002 the Kalenjin were out and after the failed MOU, the Kikuyu were perceived to be back, again.

This reality has led to a situation where general elections have not been about political competition between individuals but overt and/or covert battles between tribes. On one side the message is we must get ‘our’ own into power: on the other side we are told we must keep ‘our’ own in.

This dynamic has been at every level of Kenya’s political competition with slight amendments at regional and/or local level so that in addition to tribal affiliations social classes, gender, age-groups, and/or families/clans is also a factor. Whatever the level the ideology is the same: KANU called it ‘Siasa Mbaya, Maisha Mbaya’, under NARC it became ‘it’s our turn to eat’.

The results are inter-ethnic tension, lack of a national identity as we view other tribes as our rivals for public office, and election-related violence around every general election. Incidentally the situation is not exclusive to Kenya: the Rwanda Genocide, the inter-religious violence in Nigeria and Ivory Coast and the inter-ethnic violence in Congo and other parts of West Africa are driven by the same. It has been called the African political curse.

In August 2010 Kenya made a gigantic stride away from this ideology with the enactment of the new Constitution. (I think after the 2007-08 PEV we all realized an eye for an eye makes everybody blind). The new Constitution fundamentally changes this element of our politics.

In Chapter 2 the Constitution explains that all state organs, state officers, public officers and all persons are bound by the national values and principles of governance whenever applying, interpreting or enacting the constitution or any law, or implementing public policy decisions. The national values and principles of governance include patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people. They also include human dignity, equity, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized. Our national values and principles also include good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability, as well as sustainable development.

In Chapter 15 the Constitution explains how public officers will be appointed, operate, and be removed. It specifically states that appointments shall take into account the national values mentioned in Chapter 2, as well as reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya.

However the wine could be new but the wineskins are still the old ones. Our politicians are still spreading the old narratives under the excuse of the need for regional balancing. In the process certain communities are learning that they will suffer if status quo is interrupted, with explicit examples of what is already happening. On the other hand other communities are being shown how they will benefit when status quo is broken.

I completely agree that there are glaring regional imbalances in various government and public offices. What I do not agree with is that ‘positive discrimination’ is the way to go especially with the past we are coming from. This means we must come up with a way of achieving regional balance without adding onto the narratives of isolation and/or exclusion.

Maybe we should start with an all-inclusive audit of the entire public service as far as qualifications are concerned, and the transparent removal of all unqualified individuals. This might free a substantial number of public offices without anyone saying they have been discriminated against on a tribal basis. We could then re-distribute all the remaining qualified staff across the public sector as qualifications allow, which could create some regional balance (and give us a much needed professional public sector!)
Whatever the case whatever we do must be different from what has happened in the past.

We need to pre-empt the possibility of another ‘41 versus 1’ narrative taking root and/or confront calls for a community to unite and protect status quo. We all want change and it will be achieved by a new thinking. This is what we call ‘Siasa Mpya’ and you can sign up by writing to info@siasampya.com.

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