The Common room: Why only ‘diaspora Kikuyus’ can kill Kenya’s tribalism

Feb 28 1 loveThe saying that ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans,’ attributed to St Thomas, implies respecting the beliefs, cultures and practices of local people. Culture includes material culture and immaterial aspects of culture, such as political organisation and social institutions.

Barack Hussein Obama, for instance, is through and through an American, regardless of what people from Nyang’oma Kogelo and Indonesia, or Africans and even ‘Birthers’ like the cantankerous Donald Trump want to believe. Born in America, he consciously chose to do as the Romans despite his primordial identity feelings or filial feelings for his ‘fatherland.’ The question that a Kamau in Siaya should therefore reflect upon is; what is he doing to identify himself with Siaya before thinking of his fatherland in the former Central Province?

According to the 2009 population census, the Kikuyus are the largest tribe in Kenya with a population of 6,622,576. This figure does not factor in the other GEMA (Gikiyu, Embu and Meru Association) tribes like the Merus at 1,658,108, Embus at 324,097 and Mbeeres at 168,155, which totals to 8,448,520.

The census indicated that (the former) Central Province had a population of 4,383,743, conservatively estimating that other tribes in Central are 500,000, the Kikuyu population there is approximately 3,883,743. From a population of 6,622,576 and Central population of 3,883,743, the rest of the Kikuyu population (2,738,833) lives in other parts of the country. These so called ‘Diaspora Kikuyu’ are more than Merus and Mijikenda who total 1,960,574; Kisiis estimated to be 2,205,669 and the Maasai who number 841,622. One then wonders why Kikuyu Diaspora has never been appointed to a senior government office, save for a few from Central Rift!

These are the Kikuyus I am addressing, hoping that by heeding the ‘when in Rome do as the Romans,’ saying, they might further national cohesion and integration.

But first, how come such a large number of Kikuyu leave in ‘Diaspora?’ The colonialists subdued and took over the Kikuyu’s rich agriculture land. By the 1930s, there were 30,000 settlers in Gikuyu land, leading to massive exodus to the city. At the beginning 1941, the British embarked on a series of resettlement schemes involving forceful evictions and repatriations of Kikuyus back and forth between the central highlands and Rift Valley.

The Mau Mau uprising, as depicted by Caroline Elkins in Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, was a mass, armed rebellion of Kikuyus demanding return of their land. The British detained nearly the entire population of one and half million; holding them in camps or confining them in villages ringed with barbed wires.

Others argue that the uprising was actually a Kikuyu civil war pitting home guards against the Mau Mau. It’s argued that by 1970, 0.4 per cent of farmers held over half of Kenya farmland while 99.6 per cent shared the remaining. All these factors combined, in isolation and with others not captured, led to the large number of Kikuyu ‘Diaspora.’ The justification or lack of it, as to why there is a large ‘Diaspora’ population notwithstanding, this is the reality of the matter and the ‘Diaspora’ has to grapple with this.

Since independence, the ‘Diaspora’ has politically been casting their lot with their ‘motherland.’ This has made them bear the brunt of any ill feelings associated with the ‘motherland’ political direction. The 1992 tribal clashes had its epicenter in Molo and not Murang’a where Matiba hails from or Kibaki’s Nyeri. The same script applies to 1997 clashes. These previous clashes were half buried by the atrocities of 2007. Today, a Kikuyu in Murang’a will tell you he won’t vote for Deputy President Ruto come 2022 and expects the one in Eldoret to follow suit, disregarding his political and economic interests.

A motherland is attributed by some as the place where your umbilical cord was buried. This means Central is motherland to the first generation ‘Diaspora’ but not the second, third, forurth, fifth and even sixth generation ‘Diaspora.’ Devolution may necessitate the political re-thinking of the ‘Diaspora.’ The constitutional provisions cited are constitutional safeguards to all ‘Diaspora’ Kikuyus.

The Bungoma High Court, in constitutional petition 2 and 2’ A’ of 2014, ruled that the Bongomek is a minority community and should be treated as a special interest group after the Bongomek community, a Kalenjin sub-tribe with 3,704 members which some allege are the original inhabitants of Bungoma, petitioned the appointment of county chief officers. The court noted that overriding factors are merit, fair competition and representation of the diversity of the county.

The ‘Diaspora’ might pursue this legal route, but in most counties, they are the larger minority. It might therefore be prudent to forget about the ‘motherland’ and cast their lot with the locals. Kamau in Siaya should follow the Siaya political leanings and not Kiambu’s if a son of Siaya is gunning for presidency.

Politics is about interests and candidates from ‘motherland’ take the ‘Diaspora’ for granted because they are not organised politically but are simply a voting machine for the motherland.

The writer is a governance consultant








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