By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 17 March 2013
In all the General Elections since 1992, Kenyans have lined up behind their tribal chiefs or their nominees. However, during the 10 years of Kanu rule under the multiparty system, this trend was masked by the then regime’s divide-and-rule tactics that ensured there was a multiplicity of parties that had difficulty uniting to end the Kanu kleptocracy.
In 2002, many praised the end of ethnicised politics when an overwhelming majority of Kenyans elected President Kibaki and a majority of aspirants under the National Rainbow Coalition banner. It was said that for the first time since the introduction of multiparty politics, Kenyans had seen beyond their tribal boundaries and chosen a person not necessarily on the basis of his tribe, but on a platform of change.
Of course this over-exuberant interpretation of events could not go unchallenged. The truth is that the two main candidates at that election were nominated precisely because of their tribe, keeping in mind that they hailed from the country’s most populous ethnic community. Tribal political chiefs lined up behind one or the other candidate, with a majority of them backing President Kibaki due to frustration with then President Moi’s political antics. President Kibaki, therefore, won by securing the support of the leaders of the most populous ethnic groups.
In 2007, ethnic profiling hit a peak. The campaigns openly focused on the candidates’ tribes, and a narrative about one tribe versus the rest took root, leading to the election result which was disputed by ODM and its violent repercussions continue to reverberate across this country.
This year, after attempting to fix the system and encourage issue-based politics, many had hoped that the election would be fought and won on issues and not tribe. Indeed, many observers without the experience of interpreting local political messages thought that the campaigns were exemplary in their focus of the issues that are important to Kenyans.
The presidential election results released on Saturday last week demonstrated just how deep-seated the ethnic sentiment is among Kenyan voters. The reaction to the subsequent dispute by Cord over results confirmed this to anyone who doubted it.
First, the two leading presidential contenders managed to get huge margins of victory from their ethnic “strongholds”, scoring over 99 per cent in some constituencies. There was no logic to this pattern, except the candidate’s tribe. Poverty, unemployment, insecurity, poor healthcare and education, and dilapidated infrastructure affect all Kenyans similarly, and the voting pattern would have been more random had we voted on the basis of issues.
Second, when one of the presidential candidates disputed the results and yesterday challenged them in court, members of his community showed almost unanimous support for this move, while those belonging to the leading candidate’s tribe were almost unanimous in demanding that all the “losers” concede and let Kenyans move on.
Obviously, we are still a long way away from slaying this stubborn ethnic monster, and we shall need to employ new tactics in this struggle. Of course this is predicated on the assumption that we want to slay this monster in the first place, an assumption that may turn out to be off the mark.
One can only hope that we are raising our children differently, and that they will make their decisions based on more than just a candidate’s surname.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine email@example.com; Twitter @LukoyeAtwoli