Tyranny of the Past: Historical parallels of the two Kenyatta victories

In many ways, the just-concluded General Election was a
repetition of the 1966 Little General Election of 51 years ago. The August 8
2017 election was a monumental event, in which President Uhuru Kenyatta fought
off a powerful Luo-Kamba onslaught against his presidency, and, with the help
of the Kalenjin, he prevailed. There are clear historical parallels between the
presidencies of Founding President Jomo Kenyatta and his son, Uhuru, not just
in this defining election but in the way they conducted the affairs of government.
With Uhuru winning this election, it has become even clearer to the casual
observer that we may just be reliving our history all over again. There were
massive disputes against the conduct of the 1966 election, just as is the case now.
The election brought in an air of national mistrust and a feeling of despair in
certain quarters, just as is happening today.

Let us examine how we got here.


You have definitely heard the expression, ‘History repeats
itself.’ While historians do not quite agree whether the statement is true,
they generally agree that there are certain events that seem to recur
periodically that lend credence to that thought. Historical recurrence is
defined as the notable pattern of similar events returning after a period of
time. Eminent historian GW Trompf, in his book The Idea of Historical Recurrence in Western Thought, clearly
points out aspects of historical recurrence in political thought and behaviour
from ancient times. The election of 1966 saw the Kalenjin rally powerfully
behind Daniel Moi to support Kenyatta and Kanu, a fact that contributed to the appointment of Moi as Vice President in
January 1967.


The recurrence of history brings about a sense of ‘déjà vu’
— that feeling of having seen or heard something before, but since more than 90
per cent of the voters in the just-concluded election were not here in 1966,
they may not be aware that they are a part of a giant historical loop. Despite
being in government briefly during the first dispensation, the Luo today find
themselves in a similar position as in 1966, this time led by Oginga Odinga’s
son Raila. This parallel is most interesting since the rivalry between Kenyatta
and Oginga has now come full circle, with their sons in continuation. However,
just as it did in 1966, this rivalry has engulfed the nation, splitting it down
the middle. What emerges in contrast between the two periods, is the Luo and
the Kamba political union.


In April 1966, Vice President Odinga orchestrated a dramatic
walkout from the government. He had felt slighted by the decision to split the
Kanu vice-presidency into eight positions, and so he quit the Independence
party altogether. He went on to launch his own political party.

The upshot of it was that 27 MPs, including nine senators,
resigned from Kanu and joined Odinga. They formed what was known as ‘The
Opposition Party’, and Nairobi East MP JD Kali (a Kamba) was appointed
opposition whip, while Odinga became the head. This was the birth of a
Luo-Kamba unity, which was reflected by the spread of the resignations.
However, they did not know that their problems had just begun. Attorney General
Charles Njonjo moved fast and amended the law to ensure that those who resigned
from Party had to seek a fresh mandate. When the Bill became Law, they
immediately lost their seats and by-elections were called. Odinga went ahead
and formed the Kenya People’s Union and, in the election that ensued, Kanu went
ahead and fielded candidates in all the electoral seats and won all of them,
save nine that went to KPU. Of the KPU legislators, all were from Luo Nyanza
and one was from Ukambani, Simon Musau Kioko, who won the Machakos East seat.
It was natural then that S.M. Kioko would be appointed the Deputy Opposition
Leader to Oginga Odinga. Exactly 50 years later, the Luo-Kamba alliance came in
the persons of Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. Notice the fact that Kioko and
Kalonzo share the exact same initials in what can be defined as a case of
historical recurrence.


German philosopher Georg F Hegel said in his writings that,
in one way or another, all great events and personalities in global history
tended to reappear after a while. Karl Marx, agreeing with him on this issue,
stated that Hegel had forgotten to add that history repeated itself “… the
first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Marx was commenting on the fact
that Napoleon III had come to power in France in 1852, reviving the empire of
his uncle Napoleon Bonaparte, who had come to power in 1799, some 53 years
earlier. That to him — the coming to power of Napoleon Bonaparte — was ‘tragedy’,
and the rise of his nephew Napoleon III was ‘farce’. It is easy to say the rise
of Kenyatta was a tragedy as he set us on the path of kleptocratic rule and a
hegemonic ‘State Capture’ by him and members of his family. Conversely, Uhuru’s
presidency has been marred by allegations of massive graft, pitting members of
his close family and associates in a grand theft of state resources. Some have
therefore described his presidency as farce.


There are numerous other observable parallels in the two Kenyatta
regimes. One of them concerns the legal issues that surrounded the coming to
power of the two Kenyattas. During the clamour for Independence, Mau Mau
orchestrated horrendous acts of violence (as the Mungiki did in the Mwai Kibaki
period) and both led to thousands of needless deaths. Kenyatta was said to have
been behind the Mau Mau, and was described as ‘a leader unto darkness and
death’ by Governor Patrick Renison. Uhuru was similarly described as being
behind financing the Mungiki, helping them take part in the 2007-08
post-election violence. In fact, the Western powers, in particular Britain,
backed Oginga to form the Independence government —preferring him over
Kenyatta. Similarly, the Western powers backed Raila for the presidency in
2013, preferring him over the younger Kenyatta. In both cases, however, the two
Kenyattas won power but had to suffer blame for the chaos, enduring gruelling
national/international justice. While Kenyatta was jailed in a sham trial,
there was actually good reason to believe that he had been behind the Mau Mau.
His coming to power was a tragedy insofar as human rights was concerned.
Conversely, Uhuru pointed out to the bogus evidence in his trial and led a
spirited effort to extricate himself of the charges before the ICC.


Another similarity of the two Kenyatta regimes is the political
cooperation of the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. The appointment of Moi as Vice
President brought the Kalenjin to the forefront of national politics. Today, a
similar arrangement has seen another Kalenjin, William Ruto, deputising a President
Kenyatta, exactly like it was a half-century ago. In the earlier arrangement,
Kenyatta was said to have appointed Moi to ensure the Kikuyu quietly settled in
the Rift Valley. The second arrangement was designed to beat the perennial
Kalenjin-Kikuyu rivalry in the Rift Valley, and ensure their peaceful


Another historical parallel is the Kalenjins opposing the
two deputies — Moi and Rutto. Not all the Kalenjins welcomed the appointment of
Moi as Vice President. Soon after the appointment of Moi, there were several
prominent Kalenjin politicians who were against him: Tinderet MP Jean-Marie
Seroney was one such. DP Ruto is today embroiled in a long-shot race to succeed
Uhuru, just like Moi was in the few years into his tenure as Vice President.
Moi had to endure mounting resistance to his bid to succeed Kenyatta, not just
from the Kikuyu but also from fellow Kalenjins. Today, there is a section of
the Kikuyu who do not quite trust the DP, and if the past is anything to go by,
Ruto can only expect even greater pressure against him, going forward. Also
tied to this is the deep resentment of Ruto by some of his fellow Kalenjin
leaders such as fallen Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto and at some point Nandi Hills
MP Alfred Keter and the defeated Zakayo Cheruiyot.


Closely tied to this is the Kenyattas’ marked intolerance to
dissent. It is clear the two Kenyattas had little time for the media. In fact,
the media in this country is today struggling to find its space in the face of repressive
and highly punitive media laws, not to mention (in)direct government
interference or indifference. Soon after coming to power, Kenyatta Snr orchestrated
numerous expulsions of high-level journalists and media personnel attached to
international media. On April 11, 1969, Vice President Moi, who was also Home
minister, expelled the Nairobi-based correspondent of the Russian daily paper Pravda, and lashed out at Chinese
publications critical of Kenya. Fast-forward to today and government pressure
has seen the removal of media personalities deemed critical to it.


The other parallel of the two political dispensations is the
massive personal financial power of the major players. Kenyatta, Odinga and
Moi, representing the first dispensation, had extensive business interests in
nearly every sector of the economy, as do Uhuru, Ruto and Raila, not to forget
the next generation of the Mois. They are involved in high-profile business
ventures and it is clear to all that their financial muscle is the bedrock of
their political power.

Whether they somehow benefited from the taxman’s wink or the
direct appropriation of state resources, I can’t tell, but your guess is just
as good as mine.


The next parallel is the doubtful commitment to Devolution
by the two Kenyattas. Kenya went into Independence with a federal (Majimbo)
Constitution that recognised eight devolved regions, but soon after the coming
of the First Republic in 1964, Kenyatta embarked on a series of constitutional
changes and political actions that saw him entrench more power in the Office of
President and began systematically centralising the nation. It was on his watch that the Senate was
killed. The 2010 Constitution brought about 47 devolved units, but there has
been strong censure from both sections of the political divide against the
Uhuru administration, saying it could have done more for devolution. Whether
devolution will die on their watch remains to be seen, but there is observable
danger on the horizon.


Another parallel is the role of the Provincial
Administration. Kenyatta raised the profile of the provincial and district
commissioners, while the younger Kenyatta has reinvented it into what is now
known as the National Government Administrative Officers – NGAO. Last year, I
needed to have a special bank account opened to help a needy case and I was
referred to the area chief for approval. When I arrived at the Mugumoini
location chief’s offices (yes, that is in Nairobi), I was asked to first get
the nod of the Nyumba Kumi chairman. Looking for him is a story for another
day, but yes, the old colonial relic is still very much alive. The old ‘Bwana
DC’ John Bull isn’t dead; he continues to govern the affairs of independent
Kenya with a whole new name. In fact, after learning of the Uhuru victory in
the election, someone on social media commented that he pitied the NASA-leaning
Makueni chiefs, who had received a direct threat of dismissal from Uhuru.
According to him, their goose is cooked.


Another quite important parallel is the inheritance of
cross-border conflict with rebel elements from neighbouring Somalia. The two
Kenyattas had to deal with the Shifta and al Shabaab insurgents, who used
terror against Kenyans. Both sent in the national army, which was backed by
both the United Kingdom and the US/EU respectively. The first Kenyatta
prevailed and we sure hope the second one does so too. From next year, we will
be on to the second post-Independence historical cycle. We don’t know what the
future holds, but, in the final analysis, nothing is certain in this world. In
1849, the French journalist Jean-Baptiste Karr truthfully observed that the
more things change, the more they stay the same.

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