Monday, January 31, 2011

Tribe and age are not political statements

Sunday Nation 30 January 2011

Our politicians never learn. And it is probably fair to state that the Kenyan voter never learns either.

For the past few weeks, a bunch of politicians has been traversing the country popularising the idea of forming a coalition of tribes to win the next General Election.

No matter how much they protest, several ethnic alliances have been floated, coalescing around prominent politicians purporting to represent their tribes.

At the same time as the formation and reformation of these alliances, some of our politicians began singing the “generation change” song.

They argued that no politician aged over 50 years should be allowed to be president of this republic.

They have vowed to galvanise the youth vote in order to facilitate this “generation change”, ensuring that only “young” people rule the country under the new dispensation.

At the core of these messages is the unspoken declaration of war against anyone who does not meet the criteria being proposed based on age or tribe. For this reason, I feel that we seem to be stuck in a time-warp resembling the thermodynamic law that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and can only change from one form to another.

In our new “thermo-politics” (hot-air politics), ideas can neither be created nor destroyed. They only change from one form to another, but remain unchanged at the core.

Tribal alliance

Underlying the tribal alliance and generational change talk is the politics of exclusion that has remained at the root of most of our governance problems.

It is a form of politics that sees any opponent as a mortal enemy fit to be eliminated together with all his supporters.

It is the form of politics that culminated in the conflagration three years ago, resulting in the formation of the Grand Coalition. It is the form of politics we sought to change by passing the new Constitution last August.

In the minds of our politicians, tribe and age are sufficient political statements, and one does not need any ideology beyond stating these attributes.

Unfortunately for all of us, our tribe and age are accidents of history and geography, and we had no role in deciding them.

In civilised societies, one must state their political ideology or position before being branded one thing or the other, and personal attributes are never used as the basis for political organisation and the struggle for power.

Using ethnicity as a political manifesto has resulted in bloodbaths all over the world, from Hitler’s Germany to Kibaki and Odinga’s Kenya; from Milosevic’s Serbia to the Rwanda genocide.

Youth, on the other hand, is a truly transient state, and the evidence for this is the penchant for Kenyan politicians to keep shifting the ground on the definition of “youth” for personal reasons.

Our Constitution clearly stipulates that youth are individuals under the age of 35 years, while our “youthful” cabal of politicians have reset this figure to 50 in view of their own rapidly advancing years.

Advancing years

It is time the Kenyan electorate violated this Kenyan law of “thermo-politics” and insisted on real political ideology and manifestos as the basis of political organisation.

Failing this, we must then brace ourselves for another round of ethnic baiting resulting, perhaps, in a bigger conflagration than we saw in 2008.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

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