Retired president Daniel arap Moi: Stirring up trouble for selfish reasons.
If, as some allied to the NO campaign are preaching, my little piece of land will be taken over by the government upon passage of the proposed constitution, then I’ll need little or no incentive to activate the Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF) and related Kalenjin militia to battle Nairobi.
Battle Nairobi, because my ancestors suffered from what has come – in Kenyanese – to be known as “historical injustices.”
As witnessed in 2007/8, either only a foolish or callous regime would want to court massive unrest, predicated on “historical injustices.”
Historical injustices, because my great grandfather was a man of means, occupying land and several heads of cattle in the area surrounding Mt. Elgon.
When some British settler came around, the family lost the wealth, and its members were appropriated as farm-hands in the new enterprise. Two generations later, the clan had been scattered into Bungoma, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot and – in my instance – the wider Trans-Nzoia District, in addition to other parts of the country. I cannot return to my “ancestral” home and claim anything, were I to lose what I call home in Trans-Nzoia. Other people moved in following my grandfather’s displacement, - there’s no telling where the livestock is, and locals have developed new narratives, devoid of our past or immediate presence. The new inhabitants even think colonial history gave us a better lot in Trans-Nzoia, and that we have no business seeking to look back.
Few care to know that the colonial legacy and compromises that gave birth to settlement schemes in Trans-Nzoia, as indeed elsewhere in the Rift Valley province, birthed chronic land problems, now cannon fodder to some in the NO campaign. Few care to know that the land no longer speaks Kalenjin, and that several among us cannot trace our way back to Egypt, Sudan, Shungwaya, the Congo or West Africa. Few care to know that some in the NO campaign – alongside their surrogates in the YES camp - propped up a privileged, propertied elite in Trans-Nzoia, as indeed the rest of the province, at the expense of the rural poor.
When I was in Cherangany to get my vote a few weeks ago, local concerns centered on a powerful elite seeking to dispose off some community land in Chebarus – a major trading center - before the proposed constitution becomes law, when it is feared such deals might be impossible. Taken to its logical end, the NO gospel that individual pieces of land may be taken away can only serve to stoke up embers, and awaken demons of the region’s troubled past.
Thus, former President Moi’s recent warning that stability and peace in the province are contingent on a NO vote ought to be seen for what it is: a coded message for Rift Valley residents to either fuata nyayo, or prepare for the worst. On other occasions, I would have laughed off Moi, and likened his concern for peace and stability to Tony Soprano talking about law and order.
Similarly, I would have easily asked him – as indeed others who have become the political face of NO in the Rift Valley - to take anger management classes from Julius Malema, for their ire at the manner in which the proposed constitution has decidedly re-configured local politics along Moi-era district boundaries. But the time and occasion is such that we just might be witnessing a revolution in Rift Valley politics, so peaceful that those who make periodic violence inevitable could well be on their way to irrelevance. Skewed as it is, the chapter on devolution particularly gives a glimmer of hope for those in the province who have repeatedly been considered “Kenyans in the Diaspora.”
Creating desolation of the kind witnessed in the province in 2007/8, calling it peace and seeking to build electoral alliances around the same is going to be tenuous, particularly if transitional justice in the grander scheme of things runs its course.
Thus I’ll neither laugh at, nor scorn Moi and company: they have a right to be on the other side of history, and to believe that it will absolve them. Instead, I would that both the Kalenjin and non-Kalenjin intelligentsia in the province imagine and labor for a shared future, that’s honest about both the past and present, yet even more hopeful about the future. The effort must be clear, bold, with social justice at its heart and so visionary as to consider a tomorrow grounded on a knowledge economy and less on land as the primary factor of production. It might also be time for a new crop of leaders to emerge in the Rift Valley, over which hovers an unforgettable cloud of witnesses: Jean-Marie Seroney, Chelagat Mutai, Bishop Alexander Muge, Masinde Muliro and others.
Of course all this is predicated on social renewal, and the hope that Wanjiku will genuinely outgrow the narrow ends of ethnic nationalism.
Guest post by Jesse Masai. The writer directs the Institute for Faith, Law and Society in Nairobi
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