Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The price of ethnic demagoguery is another war

Sunday Nation 18 March 2012

As political temperatures continue to rise in the country, one cannot fail to notice that much of the rhetoric is gradually acquiring dangerously ethnic undertones. As Prime Minister Raila Odinga engages more directly with his opponents, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto, many ordinary Kenyans are being led to think that their spat is a bigger issue between their respective communities.

Last week, after the first statement was issued by the Raila Odinga secretariat, vernacular radio stations were awash with call-in sessions, with everyone eager to give their two cents’ worth on the matter. Predictably, opinions were clearly divided along tribal lines.

Many commentators have already accepted as a given that this coming election will once again be an ethnic contest, with the ultimate prize being the ability to determine the flow of resources in this country. Unfortunately for them, the Constitution did away with most of these powers, and made the prospect of wielding power significantly less attractive than it was at the last General Election.

The most ominous issue, however, is the emergence of cynical and manipulative circuses masterminded by ethnic chieftains in order to taint their opponents and their supporters, resulting in the sort of ethnic animosity that recently erupted into open conflict in several parts of this country.

Building up momentum 

Any observer will not fail to notice that politicians are slowly building up momentum for ethnic alliances ahead of the General Election. Current talk revolves around the emergence of Luhya leadership in the Orange Democratic Movement, instead of talking about the chances of one Luhya, Musalia Mudavadi.

There are steps being taken to form some sort of alliance among the Meru, Embu and allied tribes, as reported last week in the Press. During the funeral of a former leader of a tribal outfit bringing together the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru communities, former President Moi even endorsed Mr Kenyatta as a worthy successor to that particular tribal throne.

Finally, as Mr Odinga’s troubles increase in ODM, people are discussing the chances of the Luo ascending to the highest office in the land.

This whole scenario is extremely trying, especially for those of us living side by side with internally displaced persons who are still waiting for resettlement. It is scary to those of us who had to run up and down offering emergency medical services to survivors of the most brutal election-related violence in the history of our republic.

Above all, it is irresponsible for those seeking political leadership to use their tribes as a means of securing victory. Obviously, in this day and age, anyone who needs to be elected on the basis of the language his mother taught him has no business in leadership.

Of course those that elect such a leader fully deserve the consequences, including buffoonery in Parliament in full view of cameras, mindless thievery, and enactment of laws and policies that need amendment as soon as they are signed into law.

The greatest price we shall pay for allowing tribal demagogues to have their say is the inevitable violence after the next General Election. As has been pointed out elsewhere, this time we shall only remember the 2007 elections the same way we think about a Christmas picnic.

However, the decision to go to war remains firmly in our hands.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine www.lukoyeatwoli..com

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