‘In my father’s house’ and the stunting of a nation

Saturday November 18 2017

Nasa leaders Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi

Nasa leaders Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi addressing a political rally at Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi on October 18. Elections are tribal contests, divorced from considerations of ideology or development policy. PHOTO| EVANS HABIL  


The language of our political discourse has become infantile, dominated by references to ‘nusu mkate’ and ‘full mkate’ government.

The most potent accusation by Jubilee is that all the Nasa protestations and manoeuvring are really aimed at forcing a ‘nusu mkate’ government.

In response, Nasa, in all the vehemence they can muster, deny this charge, and assert that what they want is a ‘full mkate’.

The multitudes who follow the two tribal formations pick up the debate on various forums, weighing the pros and cons of either option in an attitude so emotional, it reminds one of the faithful at a religious festival.

In impoverished god-and-government-forsaken slums, the ‘nusu’ or full ‘mkate’ debate becomes a life or death issue.

Houses are bound to be burnt down, women raped or people hacked to death with machetes as a continuation —if I may modify Carl von Clausewitz’s famous phrase — of the debate by other means. The profound and ironic tragedy is that these people who eke out their living in truly hellish conditions kill and die for a ‘mkate’, whether full or half, that is not meant for them. The ‘mkate’ belongs to the elites of the tribal formation(s) that get power, either in a ‘nusu’ or full ‘mkate’ arrangement.

Consider, as illustration of this fact, the instant billionaires minted under the ‘nusu mkate’ arrangement after the 2007/8 massacres, or under the full ‘mkate’ Jubilee administration of the last five years.

By contrast, consider the reality that the poverty index in the impoverished urban and rural areas, and the country generally, either remained the same or worsened over the same periods.???

There is a subtext to the ‘mkate’ debate that makes it so inflammable — tribalism.


Tribalism is propagated by the political elite as having a biological basis. But tribe, like race, as Kwame Anthony Appiah educates us in his book In My Father’s House, is a social construct.

However, because many people believe in the biological basis of tribe ( i.e that tribe is determined by DNA), elites from all ethnic groups are able to sell the idea that they are biologically related to their tribesmen, and they are fighting for the ‘mkate’ on their behalf.

Thus when the people in Kawangware and Mathare slums commit horrific atrocities against one another, they do so in the belief that they are helping their biological kin get the ‘mkate’ for the tribe.

The truth that the majority of Kikuyus and Kalenjins remained as poor as everyone else despite committing atrocities to defend the Jomo Kenyatta’s and Daniel arap Moi’s ethno-fascist regimes has not stemmed the ever-deepening belief in tribalism.

While we are murdering each other for a ‘mkate’ we will never see, we forget that a few billionaires from all ethnic groups own half the country’s wealth.

Which class has the full ‘mkate’ and which one subsists on crumbs should really be the debate.

Therefore, we need to reframe the debate in terms other than the ones crafted by the political class.

However, institutions that have helped frame debates in the past have also, with the exception of civil society, been co-opted — the universities, students’ unions, the trade unions, Parliament and, sadly, the media.

The media fails to deconstruct the Nusu ‘mkate’ debate within the context of our objective national economic and political needs.

The media do not only legitimise the ‘mkate’ language and its terms of debate, they now seem to be obsessed with broadcasting “political orgies” from the political “Happy Valley”.? And so recently, the media covered a press conference in which politicians were arguing about who bought tea for whom.

Even when a fist fight broke out over the matter, the cameras dutifully continued to roll.

In a country that is developmentally more than hundred years behind countries with which it was at par at independence, the politicians and media think that the matter of which politician paid tea for whom, and their fighting over the issue constitute important national news!

Meanwhile, as we obsess over these infantile debates and dramas, Ethiopia, a drought-prone country that fought devastating wars with Somalia and Eritrea, and which for many years was embroiled in a bloody and destructive civil war, has overtaken Kenya in GDP, and in other important parameters.

Tribalism has infected everyone and everything. Elections are tribal contests, divorced from considerations of ideology or development policy.

Tomorrow, Uhuru Kenyatta could lead the Kikuyu into a party called Gurututu, and soon, Gurututu rallies would be attended by millions.

Professors with a string of degrees from Harvard and Stanford would argue on TV panels that Gurututu is the party that stands for peace and development.

William Ruto led the Kalenjin from ODM, to opposing the constitution, to URP and to Jubilee, and God knows where next. Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka… you get the drift. Our tribal warlords can make an alliance with the devil, and their followers would start wearing T-shirts bearing the message: “The Devil Is Misunderstood.”

In the ‘60s, despite the steady growth of the ethno-fascist state, people who framed and led debates on the economic model Kenya should adopt were defined by their ideological or policy stance.

In the ‘70s, historians in our universities were defined either as conservative or progressive. In the late ‘80s and ‘90s, people who framed and led the debates on constitutional reform were defined by their constitutional philosophy. Today, you are a Luo politician or a Kikukyu writer or a Kamba professor, etc, ad nauseum.

An infantile nation such as we have become has two destinies — stagnation or Rwanda-style violent implosion. We have stagnated over the last fifty-four years. We are now courting an implosion.

Unless, of course, those good men and women who have been watching the infantilisation of the nation from the sidelines break their silence, help us re-appropriate the framing of debate from the political class, and grab this country by the scruff of its juvenile tribal neck and say in no uncertain terms, “It is time to grow up!”


Tee Ngugi is the author of ‘Seasons of Love and Despair’. Email: [email protected]

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