Tuesday February 12 2013

In Kenya, have tribe, form political party or alliances

By David Sseppuuya

Here is a quick quiz. Which five of these are not Kenyan political parties/coalitions? The National Alliance, National Resistance Movement (NRM), National Democratic Movement (NDM), Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Party of National Unity (PNU), KADU, Wiper Democratic Movement - Kenya (WDM-K), CORD Alliance, Jubilee Alliance, National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), NARC-Kenya, FORD – Kenya, Party of Independent Candidates (PICK), The Independent Party (TIP), FORD- People, New Ford Kenya, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chama Cha Uzalendo (CCU), Civic United Front (CCF Chama Cha mapinuzi), Africa National Congress , Kenya National Congress, United Republican Party, United Democratic Front, and Party of Action.

We continue: National Labour Party (NLP), Sisi Kwa Sisi, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), Kenya African National Union (KANU), Agano Party, Forum for Non Parliamentary Parties (FORUM), National Vision Party, National Party of Parties (NPP), Party of Democratic Unity, and New Democrats. (Out of breath? These are only 30 out of about 60 registered parties and coalitions, the total being roughly equal in number to Kenya’s ethnic groups – admittedly some parties are genuinely ethnically-inclusive, but the tribal names of their leaders normally have the final say on voters).

Answer: The obvious non-Kenyan parties above are our own NRM, ANC (South Africa), ZANU (Zimbabwe), Civic United Front (CCF, Chama Cha Mapinduzi) of Tanzania, and then the cryptic one, the National Party of Parties (NPP), which is your columnist’s own creation. I had considered registering a party in Nairobi, but my nationality came in my way. Are there no people of the Nsenene Clan among the Gikuyu, or maybe the Luhya? For our ancient lineages tend to transcend colonially-determined borders so, who knows, my clansmen could also have their own Kenyan party.

For this is how, on the face of it, Kenyan politics appears. Deeply riven along ethnic lines, the number of political parties is even greater than the total number of ethnic groups, depending on how actual ethnic alliances like Gikuyu-Embu-Meru would count (in Uganda we would be going down to the clan) Of course, it is not a straight forward linear thing that for every party there is a tribe, or for every tribe there is a political party. But the intricacies of the network of alliances and coalitions points to well thought-out ethnic compositions.

For instance, in next month’s election, the Jubilee Alliance of Uhuru Kenyatta/William Ruto is a well-contrived balance of the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin bloc, with their main opponents, the CORD Alliance of ODM maintaining the old Luo base, with a strong dose of Kamba allegiance from Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper. In the last election, in 2007, it was more a Raila Odinga-led Luo (for decades feeling marginalised) allying with the Kalenjin (feeling rejected after Daniel arap Moi’s departure), taking on the NARC, or NAK, or is it PNU, that apparently fronted Gikuyu interests in the form of President Mwai Kibaki.

Those who follow Kenyan football will know that Gor Mahia FC represents Luo cultural interests, and that AFC Leopards was once brazenly called Abaluhya Football Club after the Abaluhya community, the second-largest tribal group (Kikuyu 22 per cent, Luhya 14 per cent, Luo 13 per cent, Kalenjin 12 per cent, Kamba 11per cent, Kisii six per cent, and Meru six per cent). (Imagine Jinja’s Nile FC being Abasoga football club – even changing to the abbreviated AFC Nile would not hide the Soga element). Ugandans who have plied the Kampala-Nairobi road route may need to know that the venerable Akamba Bus Company was an economic stronghold for Kamba interests.

It is amazing that KADU (Kenya Africa Democratic Union), which lost the Independence fight to KANU 50 years ago, is back, albeit much changed. KANU, its old nemesis, still breathes but is weak. They have both lost the national character they had at Independence and have, inevitably, sank to the depths of the ethnic mire that Kenyan politics is today.

How Independence nationalists Tom Mboya, Jomo Kenyatta, Oginga Odinga, Bildad Kaggia, Ronald Ngala, and Dedan Kimathi would be shocked if they resurrected in the 21st Century. But many, including Karega Munene in the journal ‘Wajibu’, have argued that though at Independence Kenyatta, Oginga, and Mboya were elected on cosmopolitan (nationalist) tickets, “they and their disciples quickly retreated to ethnic refuges in their attempt to consolidate their political influence”.

FORD has many variants. It would be like if we had NRM, NRM Uganda, NRM Progress, NRM Original, NRM Reform etc. Except that FORD, in whichever guise, is nowhere as formidable as our NRM. There is also a party called Wiper (Wiper Democratic Movement - Kenya [WDM-K]), whose initials look uncannily like WMD – weapons of mass destruction. Here is to hoping that there will be no mass murder this time.