By Nana K A Busia Jr.
During my visit in Kenya after the 2017 election, I interviewed several people but what struck me is the observation from some people from Mt Kenya who argued that the Luos, Luhyas, and Kambas, were just jealous of their hard work and big numbers. They argued that Uhuru won the election fair and square. I only encountered some dissenters from Muranga, who were sympathetic to the swearing-in then.
Lawyer Miguna Miguna’s apt observation of this period, (contained in his book, Treason, 2019), is spot on; that everywhere in the country everyone wanted Odinga “to eat the Bible.” To the majority as I observed it was about dealing a final blow not just to the Jubilee government as such but uthamakism.
I submit that, uthamakism is an ideology formulated by a few elites from the Mount Kenya region and has been a negative driving force since 1963 to justify their domination of the country’s factors of production through political power.
Birthed during Jomo Kenyatta Presidency, Uthamakism is sustained by a myth; that the House of Mumbi is superior and has almost a divine right to rule Kenya in perpetuity. This sense of entitlement has made some Kikuyus think that they inherently have a strong sense of business than any other ethnic group within the Kenyan and therefore for Kenya to develop economically it is only the Kikuyus that should rule lest the economy crumbles.
There were many political assassinations that were viewed as the work of uthamakists who would not allow anyone to stand in their way in the quest for political power. President Kenyatta senior presided over a Kenyan state which was perceived as being discriminatory in favor of mainly his own people. This is the genesis of tribal politics that continues to haunt Kenya today.
Kenyatta’s approach contrasted sharply with what was being embarked upon deliberately by the leaders of other newly African countries like Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, and even Uganda under Nkrumah, Nyerere, Kaunda, and Obote.
Truly, since independence save for retired President Moi, Kenya has been ruled by Presidents who hails from the Mt Kenya region. Admittedly Moi regime also witnessed the primitive accumulation of wealth. The looting and hold of political power was therefore not deep-rooted in the psyche of the Kalenjins society that they had the right to rule all others forever or only on their behest; as the case has been with the uthamakists. The Kalenjin only was told that it was their time to graze the green pastures of Kenya and as a pastoralist, they understood the figurative meaning.
The notion that political and economic power should be in the hands of uthamakists is the backdrop explaining the nature of succession politics in Kenya and all the problems that were witnessed since independence especially after the re-introduction of multi-party politics in 1992.
Kibaki’s missteps on Uthamakism
Retired President Mwai Kibaki Missed the Golden Opportunity to reinvent the Lost Kenya National Project. He had the best opportunity as a Kikuyu to have ended the uthamakist hegemonic politics when he was elected in 2002 from a broad ethnic backing.
This was the period that Kenya came close to re-inventing the lost national project. What happened after barely two years was unthinkable. President Kibaki trashed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that formally sealed the national arrangement and cobbled another yet another uthamakists government.
History may be very unforgiving for Kibaki for this grand error of judgment. He failed to utilize the goodwill and unity of purpose which ushered him into power from other communities by entrenching a purely ethnic government.
Enter the elections of 2007 led by Raila Odinga and the concept of Pentagon as a national movement against uthamakism. It was Uthamakist inward looking parochial politics that provides the fertile grounds for Odinga’s mobilization.
Objectively looked at, this period was all against uthamakism. It was sadly the stark reality brought about Kibaki’s exclusionist government. The greater majority, who felt excluded came together under Odinga to fight back. This gave Odinga the numbers whereby he won the elections but Uthamkist, crudely robbed the other Kenyans led by Odinga of power.
The national anger that followed was directed at the wrong targets- the ordinary Kikuyus. It was spontaneous and was rolling like a snowball until Odinga, against the wishes of his key followers, agreed to a peace deal to form a coalition government as a junior partner to a man who lost the elections.
Kibaki’s plan was to get another Kikuyu-Uhuru Kenyatta, to succeed him. It is no secret that the elections of 2013 were managed by Kibaki security managers, most of whom if not all were from Mt Kenya, to ensure that Kenyatta won the elections. The trial process was a drama that in some sense also mobilized opinion of Odinga supporters into believing that again Uthamakists have robbed Kenyans of another electoral victory.
What held the country together was the confidence in just one individual: the person of Mutunga. That he will deliver justice. This acted as a safety valve for the country. The concession speech of Odinga contained anger. The anger, the discontent, and eagerness to resist were abandoned but the held the view that justice has not been served.
To many, 2017 was to be the final push to bury uthamakism in Kenya once and for all. Aside from the nullification by the court for the illegalities and irregularities that characterized the electoral processes of August 8th, most of the people I spoke to were of the view that it was Raila Odinga who won fair and square.
The resistance to the rigging as confirmed by the Supreme Court and the subsequent killings, torture, rape and maiming was being carefully thought out than never before.
Post elections in 2017 posed the most serious challenge ever to the Kenyan state since independence. It was more than a bluff. About 65% were refused to vote because they did not have confidence in the electoral system. There was an open protest against the Jubilee regime.
Systematic state violence did not deter the people who were resisting in the urban areas and the strongholds of Nasa, which was almost two-thirds of the country as stated. The economic boycott as a novelty in the struggle. Identification of certain type of companies known to be owned by persons with sympathies to the regime was boycotted. This was having a serious effect on the economy before the Handshake.
Yet another element that was introduced was the right to external self-determination, that is secession to the resistance. It was not necessarily the first time in Kenyan political discourse, but it was invoked by the various peoples or groupings within the Kenyan polity in a way that threatened to dismember the country. Flags of the new republic to emerge were seen already in the country by October before the elections.
The arguments were couched as a break away from the state of Kenya because of its capture by uthamakists. Seemingly it started as an academic debate but later assumed a more serious dimension with buy-in by the ordinary people. Just before the Handshake, there was a case for self -determination before the courts.
Nana K A Busia, Jr. is a Pan Africanist, Research Fellow, and guest lecturer, public international law, ICWS University of London.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the position of any organization, employer or company.