Why do Kenyan Politicians Promote Tribal Politics?

By Josphat Kingori

Kenya has a reputation of tribalism as the main factor that drives Kenyan politics. The political pundits analyse politics with respect to ethnic communities and their voting patterns. Political leaders who command respect from members of their tribes get the most media coverage.

Most Wananchi (Citizens) believe that their communities and regions would only develop under one condition. That is if “one of their own” (someone from their ethnic group) is at the helm of the country’s leadership.

Now, assume that tribes never existed, and we were all members of one community, as a nation. Assume that the same people, with the very thinking, habits, levels of knowledge, experience, and exposure, were the citizenry.

What, would be the main rallying call, the political card, or glue those politicians would use to psyche up their tribes against their “enemies”? Since there would be no tribes, and therefore no tribal voting blocs, what manner of voting blocs would we have?

I am sure that, Kenyans, with the very kind of thinking that abounds now, with the same, habits, attitudes and composition of political leadership would never go for issue-based politics. Regionalism would probably be the focal point in the absence of tribalism.

We would have a different Kenya

There would probably be politics of “Wabara” (those in the mainland) versus “Wapwani” (coastal people), “Easterners” versus “Westerners”. Sometimes the divisions would even attract religious sentiments. We would have Christians versus Muslims or Traditionalists.

On education, we would have “Washenzi” (uneducated people) versus “Wasomi” (educated people). Should all that fail, we would have politics pitting clan against clan. ​

Each of the groups would have their leader. That is just as the tribes recognize their so-called tribal kingpins (we are yet to have tribal “queen pins”). This group of masquerades pretends to hate tribalism yet they ride on it to political positions.

Each group, as they organized themselves, would demand “bendera yetu” (their own flag) or a share of the “national cake”. Violence and cleansing of some sort would exist just as we experienced during the previous post-election violence.

Kenyan politicians fear issue-based politics

Why am I projecting this kind of imagination? My concern is why politicians in Kenya fear issue based politics. I try in vain to understand why Kenyans always approach politics in terms of ‘us’ (read a particular tribe), versus ‘them’ (another tribe).

I fail to understand why people view office holders, whether public or private, in terms of which tribe they come from. More so, I do not understand why the office holders would want to ride on the backs of their tribes to office.

My submission is that, politicians mislead the people into diagnosing their problems incorrectly. Thereafter, they go ahead and apply the wrong solution. Would it make a difference, perhaps, if they lead the people to ask the question, for instance, why the poor work hard yet earn peanuts for a living?

Better yet, why does the largest percentage of the citizenry from all tribes barely afford quality education, quality healthcare, quality food, or decent housing for their children? Why do they not lead the people to ask the government why such social injustice prevails?

Kenyan politicians mislead Kenyans

My submission is that, they will not ask such questions. They only fancy asking questions like why some communities seem to receive more favour than others do. They have perfected the art of setting tribe against tribe and sowing tribal discord, as they did in 2007. The blood of the poor and innocent carried them like a flood to political positions.

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other. — Oscar Ameringer

Someone once said that politics is the art of getting votes from the poor, and resources from the rich, while promising to protect each from the other. Most of the politicians, despite having education, know very well that what they are doing is not right. Nevertheless, they do it for their own political survival.

I wonder if the people who the politicians mislead have the same knowledge as them. It is either that the politicians are too smart, or the people, are too stupid or, to be less harsh, asleep. Are Kenyans stupid? Are you?

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the post? Sound off in the comments!
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I comment on the current political and social issues in Kenya. I am also passionate about devolved governance and public finance. Follow me on social media.

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