Ugly tribalism forging strange alliances

In spite of 1,500 ethnic-related killings early this year, Kenyan politicians continue to devise ethnic strategies in the bid for power if a forthcoming by election is any indicator.

Former Speaker of the Kenyan Parliament, Francis Xavier ole Kaparo. Picture by Xinhua.

Former speaker of the Kenyan parliament, Francis ole Kaparo. Once a respected political leader, Kaparo is now a tribal mathematician plotting how the Maasai will retain the Kilgoris parliamentary seat. Picture by Xinhua.

And politicians formerly respected for their sobriety have jumped into the ethnic bandwagon further upping the stakes in the political arena. Ethnic alliances are being forged and broken in shifting tides that clearly portend doom in the next general elections. Obviously, the plight of the ordinary Kenyan does not feature in the politico-ethnic equation currently unfolding in the country. Political parties are playing their usual role in Kenya as vehicles for the ethnicisation of the individual pursuit (or greed) for the spoils of power.

The forthcoming by elections are an interesting case study, more specifically, that for the Kilgoris constituency in Tranmara District. The by election is slated for June 11th together with that for Emuhaya, Embakasi, Wajir Central and Ainamoi.

The Emuhaya seat is vacant because its elected Member of Parliament (MP) became house speaker and Kenyan law specifies that an MP who gets to be speaker must vacate his/her seat. Embakasi and Ainamoi by elections are being held because those elected to those constituencies were murdered just days after being sworn in. Wajir Central is vacant because there was a tie between two candidates during the December 27 general elections.

The reason there’s going to be a by election in Kilgoris is because bitter rivalry between the resident Maasai and Kipsigis ethnic groups prevented the announcement of a winner back in December.

There were two main candidates: one a Maasai, the other a Kipsigis. The Maasai consider Kilgoris and the larger Transmara to be their ethnic homeland. Over the years, large numbers of Kipsigis settlers have moved into Kilgoris from the Kalenjin homelands in Kericho, Buret and Bomet.

The Maasai fear Kipsigis domination and have vowed to ensure that only a Maasai MP gets to represent Kilgoris. However, the large numbers of Kipsigis settlers can potentially sway the vote in favor of their candidate. In December, trouble started when vote counting indicated that the Kipsigis candidate was in the lead. A group of Maasai warriors stormed the counting hall and disrupted vote counting. The Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) canceled the exercise for a later date. No sooner was the postponement of counting announced than the storeroom which had the ballot boxes was destroyed in a fire. This meant that voting had to be repeated in a by election which will now be held in June.

What makes the Kilgoris saga intriguing is that both the Maasai and the Kipsigis voted for ODM and Raila Odinga during the general election. The Maasai candidate, Gideon Konchellah, stood on President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU party. For the June by election, ODM is supporting the Kipsigis candidate but all Maasai leaders have rallied behind the PNU candidate. Maasai leaders from ODM, PNU, KANU and ODM-K have apparently decided to back their kinsman.

ODM hardliners such as William ole Ntimama and Joseph Nkaissery have joined PNU’s George Saitoti and KANU’s Julius Sunkuli in fighting for the Maasai candidate. Former parliamentary speaker, Francis ole Kaparo has travelled all the way from his native Samburu to also campaign for the Maasai candidate against the Kipsigis. Francis Kaparo had hitherto won the respect of Kenyans for his philosophical approach to leadership but he has now thrown that into the winds. Kaparo’s Samburu tribe are ethnically related to the Maasai.

Meanwhile, Kalenjin leaders of the ODM, such as William Ruto, Isaac Ruto and Kipkalya Kones are supporting the Kipsigis candidate in Kilgoris. Prime Minister Odinga has is said to be backing the Kipsigis candidate but this might cost him the support of the Maasai. However, Raila may have calculated that the Kalenjin, of which the Kipsigis are a subtribe, command a far larger voting bloc than the Maasai. Indeed, in the last General Elections, while the Kalenjin gave ODM a bloc vote, the Maasai split their vote among several parties including PNU. Raila may therefore have calculated on losing the Maasai vote in order to gain the support of the Kalenjin.

But what does these mean for the ordinary Kenyan? The tribal scheming demonstrates that little has changed in Kenyan politics since the ethnically driven violence that not only killed 1,500 people but drove close to half a million out of their own homes. The politicians have not learnt any lessons from that near disaster. Kenya’s elite are really working hard to ensure the balkanization of the country on ethnic lines and its all part of the post-Kibaki succession strategy. Under Kenya’s constitution, President Kibaki cannot run for another term in office in the 2012 general election.

That being the case, Kenyans should prepare for worse things to come. As the saying goes, “if you keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same results.”

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