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Kenya: the Politics of “Half a Loaf” & the Networked

By Matunda Nyanchama, PhD

February 12th, 2014

Let us admit it! Kenyan politics is about eating, not development! It is about nusu mkate (half a loaf) rather than development! It is about the wired rather than the talented! It is about “ME” rather than “US”.

Parsing Kenyans’ public discourse is an interesting exercise that offers insights to the nation’s collective psyche. This is especially so with respect to political leaders. This discourse underlines a fact many people don’t want to admit: our country, Kenya, is wrong-headed.

For instance, the president recently appointed people to run the country’s state corporations. No sooner were the names released than noises, protestations and (even) veiled threats emanated from across the political spectrum in the country. They were largely voices of politicians claiming lack of regional balance. They were noises of women and youth asking for gender and youth balance, respectively. All these were loud (not even undertones) voices on how their “constituencies” would miss out on the “gravy train”. Few mentioned how they would contribute if given appointments!

And this is not to discount the need for representative government but to emphasize the need for a balance between competence and representation. Governments should not be appointing people merely on the basis of balanced representation but also the ability of those appointed to perform and deliver effectively on their mandate.

The Jubilee administration itself is faced with internal strife as it attempts to accommodate the varied demands from its supporter base. Voices, especially from Rift Valley, the power base of the Deputy President, have been loud at times demanding nusu mkate, in effect equal number of appointments as the President’s party TNA. They argue that the pre-election agreement was based on 50:50 power sharing! Deputy President William Ruto himself has retorted that this government is NOT about nusu mkate.

The same politics dominated the Mwai Kibaki-Raila Odinga post-election violence Coalition government that was in power between 2008 and 2013.

A story is told of a courtesy call to the then Prime Minister (PM) and discussions on how Gusii land, which gave substantial support to the PM could benefit as well. This revolved around the PM’s share of the government’s nusu mkate, and requested that the PM consider for appointment some of the sons and daughters from the region.

At the end of the day, the story goes, the PM told these leaders there is little he could give. After all, Gusii voter numbers (considered against the national population) were small, adding that these were just nyongesa (remnants!) meaning ntotereria in Ekegusii! The long/short of it: Abagusii you don’t matter. Your numbers are miniscule and cannotelect anyone at the national level. You have no entitlement to a share of the nusu mkate!

Mkate politics is what has been Kenya’s story since independence, which has also evolved with times with focus shifting from the community to individual gain!

The roots, some say, lie back in the immediate post-independence days. In those times, those leaders that promoted (even if using unorthodox means) their ethnic groups, continued to have massive support. The scramble then was for former White Highlands and politicians organizing land-buying companies with membership drawn from their constituent bases. The after effects are clear today. Leaders’ “success” can be seen by who resides where, especially in the Rift Valley: Trans Nzoia, Nakuru, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Uasin Gishu and the like. And these continue to be points of contention to date. They were at the centre of the 2008 post-election violence.

Then, as now, it wasn’t about the disadvantaged, displaced populations that needed settlement. It wasn’t and hasn’t been about whom would best utilize the resources for national good.

If it was about community in the 1960s and 1970s, it is about the individual today. The psyche is: get one of those jobs and one’s fortunes would be transformed! As head of a state corporation one can dish out contracts (damn the public procurement law) with kickbacks lined up for one. And who would those contractors be? Friends, (usually) business partners and political benefactors (present and future).

There is more: under Daniel Arap Moi, it is alleged that those that were appointed had a duty to channel money from their workplace to their benefactors. This is money that would be used for political work and war chests for the next election contest.  There are murmurs of the same today. It is purported that some appointees get the nod only when they agree to find ways of raising money for political work for their benefactors. You agree to the deal, you get the job. Merit and or suitability to deliver results are secondary.

“Leadership” then and now has been about a chance to grab a share of the “national cake” for oneself and one’s people. In the US it is termed the politics of pork barrels.

The Kenyan appointments underline a conglomeration of like interests of the elite, where the networked (rather than the competent) get the nod. Damn Wanjiku! What she gets doesn’t matter! It is the last consideration!

As a country, we need to get our priorities right. There are enough brains and ideas that can transform this nation to a first-world state if these were harnessed for the benefit of all. It then means we should get the best of our best to serve the nation. And we can get the best of the best by changing the discourse from eating (mkate nusu) to service to the people.

We should, in that process, appreciate talent regardless of the origin of that talent as long as it is within the country. In any case, no one chooses his/her mother or father. No one chooses his/her ethnic group of birth! One’s birth place is a pure accident!

Why then should we punish people for their origins of birth?

Indeed, I occasionally ask myself what would have become of Barrack Obama were he born in Kenya. It is possible that he would have been dismissed as “just another Luo”.

And suppose our best brain (potentially) to lead this nation were a Rendile, would they ever hope to lead Kenya? And what loss

Dr Matunda Nyanchama is an ICT Professional, Book Publisher, past candidate for Governor of Nyamira County and retired President of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA).

Comments

Comment from Charles Nyangwara
Time: June 3, 2014, 6:28 am

The meeting might have been disorganized but the message was clear. The half loaf thing has been misinterpreted and/or purposely taken out of context. CORD asked for an all inclusive government and not a government for two tribes. I don’t necessarily agree with you here but you are entitled to you opinion.

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