I can’t put it any clearer than Einstein did: “The challenges we face today can’t be solved at the same level of consciousness we were at when we created them”. At the same time he defined insanity as “doing the same thing and hoping for different results”. We need to change our system of “democracy”, otherwise we’ll go on perpetuating tribalism/ and negative ethnicity. Singing the national anthem won’t help, and neither will exhorting tribalists to end tribalism. I’m still not convinced as to how old tribalists will ever grow up to be non tribal, or tribalist professors get educated to stop being tribalists. Maybe our salvation lies in the children we are busy telling how Kikuyus,luos,kalenjins,kambas are evil in the name of “exercising our Democratic right to elect a president…”
There is no one universal definition and practice of democracy. Indeed, Democracy as practiced by USA, Britain, India and all the other great democracies in the world differ a great deal.
However, there are two basic tenets upon which democracy hinges, viz:
1) That all the members of the society (citizens) have equal access to power.
2) That all citizens enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties
In a democracy, access to power is mainly through voting. Thus, ‘equal access to power’ implies an assumed equality, in numerical terms, among the various groups or members of the society competing for the same. Any numerical differences among the members of the society leads to feelings of marginalization of the smaller groups which may ultimately be exploited by some people to cause strife.Once the first principle(numerical equality) fails the test, the second principle will not be worth the paper it’s written on, the assumption being that once a group is denied ‘equal’ access to power their freedoms and liberties will be trampled on by the bigger group.
HERE IN LIES KENYA’S POLITICAL TRIBALISM WHICH RAPIDLY SPILL OVER INTO SOCIAL PROBLEMS
First, the groups (tribes) in the society competing for power have numerical differences, so that there is this all pervasive notion that the political process is not fair; especially when it comes to the highest political office in the land, namely, the presidency. With the kikuyu at 22% of the Kenyan population and Turkana at about 1%, it’s understandable. This will always be used by politicians as an excuse to sow hatred amongst the various ‘marginalized’ groups, as it happened in 2007/2008.
Secondly, Most Kenyans equate power with the presidency. Full stop.
Thirdly, the curse (some might call it a blessing) of Kenya’s ethnic differences (cultural diversity) and its attendant numerical differences. However, one should be cognizant of the fact that homogeneity might not necessarily be a solution to Kenya’s political problems: A case in point being Somali, with citizens of same tribe and religion and endless political conflicts.
WHAT IS TRIBALISM?
Belonging to a Tribe (ethnic group) is just one of the myriads of identities an individual has as a member of the society. It’s just like being a member of a family, a church, a university, social class etc. Belonging to a tribe is neither negative nor positive.
Identities usually turn negative only in cases of competition.
Let me split hairs: If the identity called you and I were in a competition, whom would you support? What of if our children were competing, would you really support mine rather than your son or daughter? Remember London Olympics 2012, which country did you support (especially in games where you had countrymen/women competing?)
Politics is essentially a competition for the power or authority to manage public resources. In a democracy, Politicians need the numbers to emerge winners. To get the numbers, a politician will appeal to members of his/her family, clan, tribe, religion etc depending on the position at stake, or the identity with the requisite numbers.
Most People always tend to support someone with whom they have a commonality, including sharing a world view, having similar beliefs, being from the same tribe, having similar policies, etc.
Tribalism is basically, ethnocentrism, where individuals feel that their tribe is better than the others. This might extend to the feeling that one’s tribe is the only one capable of leadership or deserves leadership.
In other words tribalism is racism writ small, and nepotism writ large. It’s easy for a person to elect one of his/her kind: what percentage of black voters voted for Obama in his reelection? How many whites voted for Romney?
The easiest way of addressing the issue of tribalism is to remove all situations where ethnic identity can be invoked as a source of “numbers”. In Kenya, devolution in the new constitution will go a long way in addressing the issue of competition for resources, but the presidency is still an issue. The COE erred by putting the requisite threshold of the attainment of the presidency so high, effectively sustaining the flawed perception that the presidency is still as “all powerful” as in the old constitution. As long as this perception remains there will always be people who’ll prey on the gullibility of their fellow ethnocentrists to try and get elected. There are two ways of dealing with political tribalism:
1. CUTTING THE DIRECT LINK BETWEEN THE ELECTION OF THE PRESIDENCY AND THE VOTERS
Kenyans are ONE, 4 out of every 5 years: They school together, they engage in business, interact at their work places, drink together- heck they even intermarry!
In the course of the four years, we engage in many PEACEFUL by-elections resulting either from successful petitions against elected officials or from their demise. This should serve as proof enough that elections, per se, aren’t exactly the cause of election violence (pre or post)
The fifth year is exclusively set aside for every Kenyan to go back to their tribal cocoons, and help one of their kinsman/woman to become the president. And if a tribe doesn’t have the requisite numbers to make it to the presidency, the members are “herded” into coalitions that would make sure that the Kikuyu doesn’t get the presidency (again!). The end result of all this is resentment towards the winning candidate’s tribe, the flawed perception being that “now the whole of that tribe will benefit at the expense of all the others”. This resentment is a powder keg that require just a few comments like “mass action” from some leaders to ignite it into a full blown explosion as was witnessed in the ’07/’08 PEV.
The only way to prevent this resentment from percolating into our social fabric is to eliminate the direct thread that ties an individual, and by extension the tribe, to the determination of the occupant of the house on the hill.
The model I have in mind that would cut this direct link, is the election of the speaker of the national assembly. The speaker of the national assembly (quite a powerful position) is elected by MPs-elect without asking for the electorates’ help. This ensures that the issue of tribe doesn’t feature so prominently as there’s no direct link between the election of the speaker and Wanjiku the voter.
My proposal for severing this direct link between Wanjiku and the presidency is as follows:
a). The voters elect their local officials (county assembly representatives, MPs, senators, women representatives and Governors).
b). The legislators (senators and MPs) join together and elect the president and his/her running mate from amongst themselves, just the same way they elect the speaker of the national assembly.
In any case, since the legislators have the powers to fire( read: impeach) the president, why can’t we give them the power to hire him/her?
The president is supposed to be the president of the whole country. This is the best way to ensure that this theory is in tandem with the practice.
2. A REVOLVING PRESIDENCY/MAKING TRIBE THE SUBJECT OF THE FORMULA
In this one I am proposing we replicate the 2002 general elections
For those of us with short memories, or worse, selective amnesia, I’m referring the only general elections since the advent of multi party politics that we didn’t have electoral violenc(pre or Post).
The campaigns were fun: no tribal tags, one took money from the rich (read: corrupt politicians) and voted for his/her leader of choice, nobody got threats from neighbors because they considered them “outsiders”.
One factor which many Kenyans refuse to credit with these peaceful and blissful ‘02 elections is that THE TWO MAIN CANDIDATES WERE FROM A SINGLE TRIBE! Kenyans were, therefore, forced to rise above “tribe” as a qualification for the presidency. We were able to argue on party policies, academic qualifications, age, experience etc of the candidates.
After the elections were announced there was actually a spirited effort by Kenyans to “straighten things out” without “tunaomba serikali iingilie Kati” excuses. A case in point being the people actually arresting bribe -taking policemen!
If we could replicate this ’02 election scenario, Kenyans can rise above tribal politics and embark on making Kenya an African tiger by 2030.
In a revolving presidency system, each tribe gets a shot at having one of their own as the president without interfering with the day to day Kenyans’ activities of eking out a living, like it happened during ’07/’08 PEV. Unless, of course, there’s a tribe which doesn’t have the capacity to produce leaders…
This will involve the following:
a). One ethnic community is selected. The ethnic community must not have had “one of their own” as a president.
b). Once this ethnic group is Identified, ALL presidential candidates shall come from just this one ethnic community. This will remove tribe as an issue in the elections.
3). The selection of the concerned community can be done through either
i) Using the numerical differences: the community with 3million members is followed by the one with 2.3 million members and so on and so on.
ii) All those tribes who’ve never had the presidency can be engaged in a raffle.
I understand this is not exactly the “democracy” as we read in all those big books, but it’s the only way forward for Kenya and kenyans to rise above tribe and avoid another bout of PEV.
I’m not saying that we won’t have ignorant ethnic bigots who believe only their tribes are perfect,they’ll be always be there; the same way we have some individuals in a family who believe the rest are crap. These will be cured in time, and they won’t bring the whole country grinding into a halt.