Ringera: Too much noise over small issues

The furore over Justice Aaron Ringer’a reappointment to the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission is an unfortunate piece of drama that has induced a frenzy of euphoria among legislators and the general public.

Justice Aaron Ringera

Justice Aaron Ringera

When the euphoria wears off, most will realize that nothing really changed despite what is billed as an iconic step by Kenya’s Parliament to reject the re appointment done by President Mwai Kibaki.

If anything, the ongoing cheap drama is working out perfectly as a tactic by Kenya’s ruling classes to engage in political bargaining, or horse trading, while hoodwinking the people that democratic space is growing.

Now, legislators are on a blood frenzy as they vow to re-examine previous executive appointments and subject them to a similar fate. If Members of Parliament go through with their threat, there will be total chaos in State Corporations and government departments as it will be difficult to tell who is in charge.

Despite all the hullaballoo about the legality or otherwise of the reappointment, the core of the saga was that the ODM wing of government was not consulted over the appointment. Prime Minister Raila Odinga tried to play down the issue so as not to appear as opposing the President but his allies, James Orengo and Prof Anyang Nyongo, could not have opposed Ringera’s reappointment without Raila’s tacit approval and encouragement.

The Ringera saga is reminiscent of previous tussles over the powers of the two main principles in the Giant Coalition Government, namely President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The Prime Minister has numerously said that he is an equal to the President and therefore should be consulted in every government decision. The result of the impasse over powers has resulted in a divided government.

Confusion in government was evident in parliament during the week as Cabinet Ministers harshly attacked their own government. When challenged to resign for disagreeing with their boss – the President – the ministers argued that they were debating as ordinary legislators and not as Cabinet Ministers.

The principle of an independent prosecution agency to tackle grand corruption was proposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) back in 1997. It was then known as the Kenya Anti Corruption Authority (KACA) and was meant to be an independent body that could prosecute top government officials. However, the very concept of a parallel prosecution body was not acceptable to Kenyan authorities and efforts were made to ensure its downfall.

On December 22, 2000, the High Court in the case of Gachiengo Versus Republic (2000) ruled that the existence of KACA undermined the powers conferred on both the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police by the Constitution of the Republic of Kenya. In addition, the High Court further held that the statutory provisions establishing KACA were in conflict with the Constitution. That spelt the death of KACA.

The present KACC was established in 2003 by enactment of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act. Justice Aaron Ringera as Director and three Assistant Directors formally took office on 10th September, 2004.

KACC has been accused of not prosecuting top personalities who have been implicated in corruption and instead going after “small fish.” In its defence, KACC says that it lacks powers to prosecute and it can only investigate and forward the files to the Attorney General. This situation is likely to persist as there are many in government who are uncomfortable with the idea of multiple prosecuting agencies in the country.

Conflict between Kambas and Taitas brewing

There’s growing tension between the Kamba and Taita ethnic groups following a dispute at the highway township of Mtito Andei. Politicians from Coast Province are exploiting the issue to whip up nationalist sentiment while threatening to secede from the rest of Kenya.

Image showing the source of the border conflict between Makueni and Taita Taveta County Councils. Satellite image by Google Maps

Image showing the source of the border conflict between Makueni and Taita Taveta County Councils. Satellite image by Google Maps

It began as nothing more than a storm in a tea cup, centred around a small highway township by the name of Mtito Andei. For many years, the County Councils of Makueni and Taita Taveta have quarrelled over the provincial border that runs either through or alongside the town.

Taita Taveta County Council puts the border at the Mtito Andei River, which means that Mtito Andei town should be under the jurisdiction of Taita District of Coast Province. On its part, Makueni County Council says the provincial border lies outside the township on the way to Mombasa. Makueni County Council therefore puts Mtito Andei township firmly in Eastern Province.

Taita leaders say that during President Jomo Kenyatta’s administration, they used to stand at the Mtito Andei River to welcome the presidential convoy as it drove from Nairobi to Mombasa (See above map). This, they say, is clear evidence that the border between Coast and Eastern lies at the river. The location of the Mtito Andei State Lodge has also added to the controversy.

The root of the dispute between Makueni and Taita Taveta is the collection of revenue from highway businesses at Mtito Andei. The township is located halfway between Nairobi and Mombasa, making it an ideal resting place for truck drivers, tourists and long distance buses. The town’s economy is based on restaurants, lodging houses, bars and petrol stations.

At the moment, control of Mtito Andei and its revenues lies with the Makueni County Council. Taita Taveta Council will find it very difficult to argue its case, considering that 95% of Mtito Andei’s inhabitants are Kamba and prefer living under Makueni County Council rather than Taita Taveta. Besides, the vast Tsavo National Park has created a huge barrier between Mtito Andei and the rest of Taita District, with the nearest Taita villages located at the Taita Hills almost 100km away.

Early this year, Makueni County Council officials worsened tensions by placing a border sign at the Tsavo River bridge, thereby pushing the provincial boundaries 50 kilometres deep into Coast Province. The border sign has since been defaced by persons believed to be allied to the Taita side.

The border dispute has attracted the attention of politicians at the national scene. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was at Mtito Andei recently and called for peace. He did not make any concrete statement over the issue but told the local people to await the government’s verdict.

Tourism Minister Najib Balala last week led other legislators from Coast in a scathing attack of the government over this and other issues. Balala claimed that Coast Province had deliberately been left poor and underdeveloped despite contributing to the national economy through the tourism industry and the Port of Mombasa. Balala and his allies accused the government of neglecting the Coastal tribes especially with regards to appointments to top government positions. They pointed at the Mtito Andei dispute as an example of “oppression of the Coast by up-country tribes.”

The group vowed to secede Coast Province from the rest of Kenya in order to keep tourism and port funds to develop the region. They said they will start a movement to that effect. Though these are treasonable words, there is little the government can do against Balala without whipping up ethnic animosity. The situation is complicated because Balala and his group are members of Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM party.

Balala was close to Raila in the run-up to the 2007 elections, but of late, the two do not see eye-to-eye. Balala has maintained a low profile in the past year as he seethes with anger over what he sees as Raila’s betrayal. Balala believes that Raila is sponsoring opponents to challenge him for the Mvita Parliamentary seat in 2012. Balala sees himself as a senior player in Coast politics and has not been happy with Raila’s ties to East African Co-operation Minister Amason Kingi Jeffah (MP for Magarini) and Ali Hassan Joho of Kisauni.

Najib Balala is among those mentioned in the Waki Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence. He is accused of paying youths Shs300 per day (US$4) to engage in looting and ethnic clashes in Mombasa. It was Balala who made the infamous “we will confine them to Lesotho” remarks against the Kikuyu tribe. By threatening to confine the Kikuyu to a Lesotho-like enclave, Balala was seen as supporting the forceful eviction of the Kikuyu from wherever they had settled, including Coast Province.

The Mtito Andei issue has given Balala a fresh lifeline to revive his waning popularity by doing what he does best: inciting ethnic hatred.

Ali: a very effective police boss

Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali is, without doubt, the most effective police chief Kenya has seen in a long time.

When he got the job back in 2003, the Kenya Police had practically ceased funtioning as an institution. While there is currently lots of talk about police reforms, the situation back then was extremely bad.

Police patrols had stopped. There were no vehicles as most lay grounded in government yards across the country. The few police stations with vehicles did not have money for fuel. Police housing was in a deplorable state. The police command was not working thanks to corruption, under-funding, political interference and plain incompetence.

Crime was at an all time high, as Kenyans got used to car-jackings, robberies, burglaries, cattle rustling and political violence. There seemed little that anybody could do about it, as the Police Commissioner’s office became a revolving door of top cops leaving in frustration.

Critics of Ali would argue that nothing much has changed. For sure, Kenya still experiences a relatively higher crime level compared to similar countries in the region. Robberies, burglaries, cattle rustling and political violence plague the nation. Memories of the 2007 – 2008 political and ethnic clashes are fresh in the minds of many, and have provided ample ammunition for Ali’s critics who describe him as a failure because of the bloodshed.

Police housing has only witnessed a marginal improvement despite billions invested in new units. It seems there was such a huge backlog of housing that it will be a long time before police officers can live in comfort.

However, the problems of crime, cattle rustling, political violence and ethnic militias are a result of structural problems in Kenyan society and should not be blamed on one man. Indeed, some of Ali’s critics have been implicated in the violence that left over 1,500 people dead after the 2007 elections.

Crime is caused by a growing youthful population that cannot find enough jobs, and therefore joins criminal gangs to gain psychological and financial security. This is why groups like Mungiki and others exist. Extreme income inequalities between Kenya’s elite and the majority poor have worsened the bitterness felt by disenfranchised youth.

Cattle rustling is a result of competition for pasture and water mostly in the arid and semi arid areas of Kenya. Since communities see little chance of growing their herds in the face of climate change, the obvious solution is to raid their neighbours for more livestock. Politicians have worsened cattle rustling by either inciting their constituents or defending them from arrest.

Political violence is another structural failure in Kenya that Maj Gen Ali could not solve. Politicians and their parties are quick to play the ethnic card whenever they are arrested for criminal activity. They make it seem as though their tribe is under attack.

Without comprehensive reforms in Kenya’s political, economic and social dimensions, no police commissioner can salvage the situation.

Nevertheless, Maj Gen Ali did his best. Under his six year tenure, Ali re-introduced police patrols across the country. He re-equipped the police force with new patrol vehicles and trucks. He helped supply officers with modern policing equipment. He increased the recruitment of police officers as part of a long-term revitalization strategy. He improved the flow of information between the police and the public, with the best highlight being a video on the Mount Elgon operations against the Sabaot Land Defence Force.

Maj Gen Ali was a no-nonsense police chief who believed in using all available means to get the job done. For this reason, he got in trouble with the international community for ordering the abduction and execution of thousands of people in 2006 as part of the “War against Mungiki.” This will remain a blot on Ali’s career. (Search the Nairobi Chronicle for articles on extra judicial killings)

It is unfortunate that Ali’s tenure at the helm of the police force has become victim to the Kibaki – Raila and Grand Coalition Government political intrigues. Kenyans are wondering how far politicians will go to destroy the country’s vital institutions for purely selfish reasons.

For sure, the new police chief has a tough job living up to the standards of his predecessor. Mathew Iteere has an even tougher job living up to the expectations of politicians and their demagoguery.

Grave shortcomings in US Africa operations

by Scott A Morgan

While most advocates of African issues and observers were focused on other things such as the visit to Africa by Secretary Clinton and the Comprehensive Policy Review towards Sudan, an internal investigation of the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs had very interesting revelations.

Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson: Current head of the Bureau of African Affairs

Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson: Current head of the Bureau of African Affairs

What did this report reveal about what the Bureau that will shape the next likely test in US foreign policy?

The Bureau of African Affairs is underfunded, facing staffing shortfalls, burdened with demands and has a public diplomacy program that in the words of the report is “failed.” There are questions regarding the priorities of long term planning. Despite these shortcomings the report by the State Department’s Inspector-General praised the work of the Bureau.

The evaluation into the Bureau took place between April 20th and June 9th of this year. It should be noted that Johnnie Carson who was nominated by President Obama to this post assumed this position while review was underway. Before Mr. Carson took over, Philip Carter III was the acting Undersecretary. The review saw that the time under the stewardship of Mr. Carter as a time of “renewal”. The report sees Mr. Carson as a strong leader for this position.

Some of the lowlights revealed in this report were that several US Embassies have significant morale, staffing and leadership issues. There was also a lack of communication from the regional desks to the front office and disinterest in all posts except those that deal with crisis situations. All in all, this does not bode well for the Secretary of State but could adversely affect decisions made by the President as well.

The lack of foresight in planning affects several aspects of US policy in Africa. One glaring example was in food aid. Quoting the report, “The United States feeds Africa, it is not focusing as it should on helping Africans feed themselves.”

Another example was in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The US provides funds to programs that focus more on medication than on preventing the spread of this deadly disease. Little, if any, resources were allocated for education and combating HIV/AIDS.

Another point of controversy is AFRICOM. This newest command of the US military was resented by members of the Bureau. More often than not, the reason was that the military was getting more money allocated to it then their State Department Counterparts. For example, a military information support team dealing with Somalia received $600,000 while the State Department got $30,000. It should be noted that the military has resources that State either dreams about or resents. The Inspector-General also suggested that the Peacekeeping Training and Support Programs be transferred to AFRICOM if the funding does not increase.

The Inspector-General’s report found that AGOA (Africa Growth and Opportunity Act) has had marginal success due to several factors including poor infrastructure, lack of credit and not meeting the goals imposed by Washington. It also found that within the Bureau, Somalia is the hot button issue but militia activities are a rising concern as well in the US.

This report is both good news and bad news for the Administration. Africa has high hopes and expectations from President Barack Obama. The military Command is better funded for some missions. Morale at the State Department is low but the job is increasingly become more and more crucial on a daily basis.

Nothing improves morale like having some successes. Clearly the State Department needs some when it comes to Africa.

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The author comments on US policy towards Africa and publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet.
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No mercy for rights abusers

As ordinary soldiers and police are arrested for crimes committed 30 years ago, it is becoming clear that there will be no mercy for abusers of human rights. This has clear implications for Kenya’s security forces who are blamed for the disappearances of thousands of people since 2006.

Former police driver, Bernard Kiriinya, seen here in this video grab from a testimony he made to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Former police driver, Bernard Kiriinya, seen here in this video grab from a testimony he made to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

According to the BBC, a judge in Chile has issued arrest warrants for 129 people for allegedly helping to purge critics of former ruler General Augusto Pinochet. They are accused of taking part in killings and disappearances of dozens of leftists and opposition activists mostly in the 1970s.

The suspects – the largest group so far to face arrest warrants – all worked for the secret police agency, Dina. Many of those named in the arrest warrants are former low-ranking officers who were previously excluded from prosecution for Gen Pinochet’s human rights abuses.

Thousands of activists were killed or disappeared during the 1973-1990 rule of Gen Pinochet, who died in 2006 while awaiting trial.

The arrest warrants cited various Dina operations to track down Pinochet’s opponents, such as Operation Condor – a long-running campaign launched in the mid-1970s to hunt down and kill left-wingers. Condor was a continent-wide operation, also backed by the rulers of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

These are good news for human rights activists in Kenya, who have for long condemned Kenya Police and security forces tactics of abducting people, torturing, then making them ‘disappear.’ It just proves that, someday, the perpetrators of human rights abuses will have to account for their deeds.

There is ample evidence linking the Kenyan government to human rights abuses. United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston released a report early this year accusing the police of human rights violations, including killing people without following due process. The Kenyan National Human Rights Commission,  itself a State body, has implicated police officers and their commanders in heinous crimes against humanity.

By far the worst evidence comes from a former police officer who confessed to participating in what can only be described as an orgy of butchering human beings.

Bernard Kiriinya, a former driver in a police death squad, told the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that police officers abducted people from homes, roadsides and restaurants. The victims were taken to isolated locations where they were shot dead and the bodies chopped into pieces.

The bodies of the victims were deliberately disfigured with rungus and pangas to conceal their identity. This explains why hundreds of people are listed as missing even though their bodies may be lying in mortuaries across the country.

To what extent was the police command involved? Kiriinya said that Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali and senior commanders were fully briefed on the activities of police death squads. Officers who were involved in killings regularly received cash payments ranging from Kshs 2,000 (US$25) to Kshs15,000 ($187) for each successful “assignment.”

Police officers outside of the death squads were not spared either. At one time, a Constable hiked a lift in a police Land Rover that was ferrying four Mungiki suspects to Murang’a. On arrival, the four suspects were ordered to get out and lie on their bellies where afterwards they were shot. The innocent constable was also killed in order to conceal the executions.

Unfortunately, Bernard Kiriinya is no longer available to produce further evidence. He was shot and killed in Nairobi soon after his testimony. The gunmen have never been caught. However, the tapes he left behind prove that truth will always defeat evil. Read more of his testimony by clicking here.

The events in Chile, coupled with an increasingly assertive International Criminal Court, means that violations of human rights can never be forgotten. It may take ten years, perhaps twenty years, or maybe even thirty years, but justice will sooner or later catch up with the guilty parties.

Raila foes lick wounds after by-election losses

Opponents of Prime Minister Raila Odinga are now engaged in a blame game after losing two constituencies where by-elections were held in the past week. Raila now feels vindicated in his earlier claims that he can ignore disgruntled legislators and work directly with voters.

odm_logo

Raila was in an ecstatic mood over the weekend after his ODM party won the Bomachoge and Shinyalu by-elections. The victory came despite intensive campaigning by Raila’s opponents, many of whom are in the same ODM party as Raila. In a political scenario that can only happen in Kenya, ODM officials were campaigning for rival parties in a bid to prove who is bigger or more influential in ODM.

It goes without saying that Agriculture Minister William Ruto, who of late does not see eye-to-eye with Raila, was secretly hoping that the official ODM candidates would fail. Several other ODM legislators who have fallen out with Raila openly campaigned for candidates running on other political parties. These include Omingo Magara, Isaac Ruto and Joshua Kutuny.

In Western Province, the Kenyan African Democratic Development Union (KADDU) of Cyrus Jirongo suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the ODM candidate. So resounding was ODM’s victory in Shinyalu that Jirongo admitted that his campaign machinery made fatal mistakes that cost his party victory. Jirongo told Citizen Radio that the KADDU candidate, Daniel Khamasi, was not a favourite among youthful voters. Khamasi is a former area MP.

President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU party was so hopelessly disjointed that its presence was hardly felt during campaigns. Appearances by Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and party leader George Saitoti could not salvage the situation. PNU’s campaign was riddled by wrangling and a total lack of co-ordination. Party members are beginning to question the leadership credentials of Saitoti, who is planning to vie for Kenya’s presidency in 2012.

Still in Western Province, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi was also ecstatic after ODM’s victory in Shinyalu. This was because the by-elections had been billed as a battle between Mudavadi and Jirongo. Both men are vying for the political control of Western Province. While Mudavadi was born into luxury in the family of the late Moses Mudavadi, Jirongo is largely a self made man who rose to prominence as the head of a KANU campaign outfit in 1992. Jirongo was spotted by former President Daniel arap Moi and appointed to head the Youth for KANU 92 with William Ruto as his deputy. Youth for KANU 92 had access to unlimited cash whose source remains a mystery.

Over the past decade, Jirongo has tried to become political pointman for the Luhya tribe that dominates Western Province. The role of community spokesman was previously played by the late Moses Mudavadi (Musalia’s father) then the late Masinde Muliro and late Michael Kijana Wamalwa. Jirongo is highly contemptuous of Mudavadi who is regarded as a reluctant politician waiting to be given power on a silver platter. Jirongo feels that he has worked hard to get where he is and sees Mudavadi as a spoilt brat unworthy of leadership. This explains why Jirongo is so eager to prove that he can influence voting patterns in Western at the expense of Mudavadi. However, Jirongo’s backing in Shinyalu for former legislator Daniel Khamasi was, by his own admission, a mistake.

That is not to say that the ODM candidate and Mudavadi were exceptionally popular with voters. Shinyalu voted overwhelmingly for ODM and Raila in 2007 and the by-election victory could simply have been a continuation of the trend. Any other person running on the ODM platform had a good chance of winning the seat.

In Bomachoge, voters may have wanted to vote ODM as a means of rectifying what they see as a mistake they made in 2007. The larger Kisii region was perhaps the only part of Kenya where almost all major political parties fared well. The Kisii were split between supporting Kibaki and Raila. After the elections, the Kisii people were violently attacked by their Luo and Kalenjin neighbours for not supporting Raila. This time, the Kisii were eager to show solidarity with their ethnic neighbours by electing an ODM, pro-Raila candidate.

With the by-elections now a closed chapter, the rival camps in ODM are assessing the lessons from that experience and gearing up for the next battle. Raila is unlikely to change his mode of operation and will want to continue working directly with voters. He sees the by-election victory as proof that he and ODM remain popular at the grassroots. The likes of William Ruto, Cyrus Jirongo, Omingo Magara and Joshua Kutuny will also be analyzing their actions. They should learn to present a more united front in future and to choose a viable candidate capable of connecting with voters.

In coming days, Parliament will begin debate on the enactment of a Special Tribunal to prosecute persons responsible for post election violence in 2008. This is likely to be the next phase of the war between Raila and his opponents. It promises to be a brutal showdown where those working against Raila will be eager to make up for their losses in the Bomachoge and Shinyalu by elections. Jirongo has said that he will work to ensure that the Special Tribunal bill flops. “The perpetrators of post election violence must be taken to The Hague,” says Jirongo.

As political contests continue, issues affecting the day-to-day lives of Kenyans have been shunted to the periphery.

The meaning of tribe and tribal statistics in Kenya

By Samuel Abonyo

“Tribalism will live for at least another fifty years”, Daniel Arap Moi said in 1957, historian Keith Kyle tells us in “The Politics of the Independence of Kenya.”

Moi’s prophesy has been fulfilled, and his contribution to its fulfilment is huge. In the 1950s, his construction of the Kalenjin tribe had begun in earnest, and by the 1990s, Kalenjinisation was an established word in Kenya. Yet the existence of the Kelenjin tribe is still being contested.

But what is tribe?

A tribe, according to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is a group of people of the same race, and with the same customs, language, religion, etc., living in a particular area and often led by a chief. Webster’s Dictionary says that a tribe is any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions and adherence to the same leaders. Evidently, the definitions are not of much help, as, according to them, any group of people can conceivably be a tribe.

Peter Skalnik, an anthropologist, believed that tribes were politically defined units having dimensions such as culture, language and territory. To that strange belief, he added the weird opinion that the basic tribal identities are ancient, powerful and closed to amelioration, with the result that hostility and tensions break out when members of different tribes come into contact. Skalnik’s definition of tribe is definitely an exercise in pure futility.

In Ethnic Groups And Boundaries, social anthropologist Fredrik Barth says that, as it is understood in social anthropology, tribal groupings “are categories of ascription and identification by the actors themselves” that structure interaction between people. In the opinion of social anthropologists, tribe has other attributes in addition to that basic one. A tribe, they believe, is largely biologically self-perpetuating, shares fundamental cultural values, makes up a field of communication, and has membership which identifies itself, and is identified by others as constituting a group different from other groups of the same order. I have applied that meaning of tribe to my tribe, the Luo tribe, and it has not worked.

A tribe is a label. A tribe is a logo. A tribe is a categorical identity which classifies you in terms of the biological background assumed to form your ancestry. A tribe is a socially defined biological master status others, who are excluded from it, use to recognize the difference between you and them and which you use to distinguish yourself from them. The other has its own socially defined biological master status. A tribe is a socially defined master status from which, because it is strictly enforced by sanctions of all sorts and the many mechanisms of social control that are the cages in which our lives are kept, those it includes and those it excludes can escape only at the price of achieving the status of social deviants. As we do know, however, most people conform to the rigidities that are our lives, so that the tribe’s stranglehold on us is immensely powerful indeed. Once fully constructed, tribes tend to stick like leeches.

But they are not concrete, they cannot be seen, they cannot be touched, and they cannot be counted. They are not real. But they count. And they have real and palpable consequences.

Transition to tribalism

We are members of our tribes. But tribal membership does not constitute tribalism. The existence of tribes is not a necessary and sufficient condition for tribalism to occur. For tribalism to arise, a tribe in itself must be transformed into a tribe for itself. In pre-colonial Kenya, for example, there was no tribalism, even though we had tribes. But tribes were then not tribes for themselves. Tribalism was at the time not a reality, let alone the paramount reality it is now.

It is needless to say that we fell from tribe to tribalism because of colonialism. The colonialists exploited our cultural pluralism to create tribalism. The colonialists brought with them Western nationalist discourse and ideology. Because of the discourse and ideology of nationalism, and the Western criteria for success and achievement the colonialists transplanted into Kenya, tribesmen began referring to their lots as better than their neighbours, or more advanced or superior in some way. That was tribalism.

To institutionalise tribalism, the colonialists established administrative units that were almost the same as tribal ones. The practice of tribal geography, an effective means of maintaining tribalism is still going on in Kenya.

Colonialists lived in dread of African unity and fought hard to prevent it from arising. As late as the 1930s, for example, colonial administrators sought to control the activities of the Roho Musanda, lest the members of that movement should proselytise among non-Luo communities. The “religion” of Odongo Mango, the founder of the Roho Musanda, shows his theology, was for Africans. As Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton reports in Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya, it was the colonial administration that turned the movement into a Luo thing.

Once the colonialists had institutionalised tribalism, it now determined the life chances of individuals. Tribes were now politically significant. They now had leaders or spokesmen. They could now be represented as acting agents. They had now gone past beginning to call themselves Luos, Nandis, etc., to borrow a phrase from the nobleman in Bernard Shaw’s SAINT JOAN.

But still, and this is one of the simplest but very effective tricks used to maintain politically important collective identities, and it is to keep our tribal identities alive, the Luo, the Nandi, and so on, have to be continually invoked and pronounced by ”authorised” persons like writers, priests, prophets, politicians, journalists, administrators and tribal statisticians.

And that is how tribal statistics participate in the maintenance of tribalism. But it is not only the role of the statistics in tribalism that is the trouble with them, they are also of poor quality.

The potential benefits of tribal statistics

It must be allowed that, if tribal statistics were up to standard, they would be useful. We know there are ethnic inequalities in Kenya. Those who want to reduce the inequalities may use the statistics to establish their causes so that they design appropriate policies. Even just confirming what we already know would in itself be good enough, since we would be confident that our policies are based on fact.

The problem with counting tribes and their members is that we do not know what we are counting. Nobody really knows what a tribe is. Even the government does not know. And the way tribal membership is defined may also vary from tribe to tribe. For example, is it tribe at birth that is your tribe? Or is it acquired tribe? And if Kenyans were allowed to state more than one tribe, that is, if the question on tribe were open-ended, then we would have cases of dual or multiple tribal identities, even though tribe is a categorical identity.

Further, we inaccurately count what we do not know. And we incorrectly aggregate the figures.

The practices of tribal statistics discriminate on grounds of ethnicity. The statistics do not recognise the identities of tribes like Ogiek, and that is ethic discrimination. The statistics amalgamate diverse tribes into fictional political identities such as the Kalenjin “tribe“. The statistics have for example divided the Luo tribe into the Suba and Luo tribes. The statistics paint a misleading picture of the ethnic composition of the country.

And there is no proper reason to collect the data. The government has not documented its claims that the statistics are used in planning. It has merely asserted falsehood after falsehood.