Inheritance politics locking out promising leaders

“The apple does not fall far from the tree,” goes a well-known saying. For those in the dark, the proverb means that an offspring is likely to possess the same qualities as his/her parents.

In Kenya, we assume that guavas, lemons and bananas growing next to the apple tree will become apples. It is a twisted kind of political logic perfected by power brokers out to impose their will on voters. Unfortunately, the Kenyan voting public is complicit in its own subjugation to the wealthy elite.

Visionary leaders born outside the circle of prominent families cannot expect to achieve much in a political environment where political power is handed over from father to son, husband to wife, mother to daughter, etc … Not surprising, then, that our so-called leaders are taking us down the path of failed statehood. As experience has shown in other parts of the world, inherited leadership does not owe anything to the people. Instead, it seeks to preserve itself at all costs.

Voters in Bomet and Sotik constituencies, in addition to several civic wards across the country, will go to the polls on September 25th. The Bomet and Sotik seats fell vacant following the deaths of their legislators in a plane crash several months ago.

Bomet and Sotik are located in the wet, fertile highlands west of the Rift Valley. Picture by Masdar International.

Bomet and Sotik are located in the wet, fertile highlands west of the Rift Valley. Picture by Masdar International.

In Bomet, a widow of the late Kipkalya Kones will run on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party ticket, just like her husband. Meanwhile, an elder sister of the late Lorna Laboso, is taking up her sibling’s place on an ODM ticket. ODM is the most popular party in both constituencies and the candidates are highly likely to sail to parliament.

Mrs Beatrice Cherono Kones will be running against Nick Salat of KANU. For many years, the Bomet parliamentary seat has changed hands between the Salat and Kones families. Nick Salat is a political inheritor from his father, the late Isaac Salat. Clearly, the two families have a monopoly of leadership abilities in Bomet.

Prior to the death of her husband, Beatrice was quite obscure. During Kipkalya’s funeral, ODM leader, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, declared that, “the wife of a lion can also become a lion.” The remarks were a direct endorsement of Beatrice due to Raila’s popularity in the area.

But what does this mean for the people of Bomet and Sotik, and Kenyans in general? It means that these two newly minted politicians will owe their loyalties to their annointer. It also means that those constituencies will be dominated by these prominent families at the expense of hardworking ordinary people. It makes nonsense of the concept of equal opportunity for all. Incidentally, ODM ran on a platform of equality during last year’s campaigns.

The happenings in Bomet and Sotik are a microcosm of Kenya’s political elite, most of whom are inheritors. Prime Minister Raila Odinga inherited leadership of the Luo community from his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Both of Raila’s deputies are inheritors: Uhuru Kenyatta is son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta while Musalia Mudavadi inherited from the late Moses Mudavadi. Currently, Mudavadi is holding his late father’s cabinet portfolio as Minister for Local Government.

Joseph Nyagah is son of the late Jeremiah Nyagah who was in Kenyatta’s first cabinet after independence. Saboti legislator, Eugene Wamalwa is brother to former Vice President, the late Kijana Wamalwa. Oburu Odinga, Raila’s brother, took over his father’s Bondo seat after Raila decided to maintain his political base in Nairobi. Gideon Moi is the favorite son of ex president Daniel arap Moi.

Indeed, Kenya’s politics are filled with the wives, sons and daughters of former legislators, former senators (Kenya had a senate in the early 1960s), army generals, top clergy and high ranking civil servants. For instance, we have the son of former Police Commissioner, the late Phillip Kilonzo, in parliament. Dr Julia Ojiambo’s daughter, Josephine, is active in politics though in a different party.

Charity Ngilu joined politics thanks to connections made through her late husband, who was a government contractor. Naivasha politician, Jayne Kihara, was married to a former Member of Parliament for the area.

A second group of political inheritors consists of people not biologically related to their godfathers. For instance, President Kibaki was mentored by Jomo Kenyatta, while Kalonzo Musyoka and George Saitoti owe their positions to Moi’s guidance. Najib Balala is a product of the late Shariff Nassir. William Ruto would be nothing today if it wasn’t for Moi.

Most politicians in Luo Nyanza owe their positions to Raila Odinga’s family. Dr James Orengo, Raphael Tuju, Dalmas Otieno and Professor Anyang’ Nyongo have had to contend with this political reality at one time or another.

The ordinary man or woman born into a middle class or peasant family has little chance of getting to political leadership. However, Kenyans still have the power of the democratic vote, and should vote for people without looking at family background. There is no point voting for clueless people and then expecting rapid development overnight.

It is also obvious that the beneficiaries of inherited power are not ready to relinquish their priviledged status any time soon. Most of the presidential succession strategies being debated today revolve around which family will take over next. All the hype about “equitable distribution of resources” was really about “equitable distribution to political families”. That explains why politicians from across the political divide are busy appointing their spouses and children to head state organizations.

With this standard of leadership, it will be impossible to achieve Vision 2100, let alone Vision 2030. Ordinary Kenyans are hardworking, creative people. They should get equal chances to prove their worth.

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