There is a man based in one of the constituencies close to Machakos whom I know very well. He is in his late 50s and has earned a living from politics all his life. Currently he has two children in high school and things have really been tough for him since the exit of Kanu from power in 2002 despite the fact that his children go to the relatively cheap rural area high schools. He has survived by holding regular fundraising drives in his home where he has desperately called in his favours from his long years in politics.
However he has recently hit the jackpot. At around the time the referendum campaigns started, all his financial problems vanished very suddenly. It goes without saying that he was a firm campaigner for the No side.
Ukambani is filled with such characters. People who earn a living from political handouts. And for anybody who doubted that there was a lot of money in the NO camp, then Ukambani is the evidence for you that there was indeed a fortune floating around to convince Kenyans to vote against the very document that offers them the best chance for a brand new beginning. Incidentally what happened is that retired President Moi simply revived his old Kanu network and the campaign was ready to roll. Moi of course was well aware that the network is powerful and works wonders but has to be constantly oiled with hard cash.
For the majority of Kamba voters thinking for themselves seems to be very hard work. It is like they feel pain in the brain whenever an effort is made to reason. And so they rely on characters like the councilor guy I introduced this post with, to do all their thinking and reasoning for them complete with the conclusion and course of action. They will then steadfastly stick to what they have been told, no matter what. Indeed parliamentary seats are won or lost in Ukambani depending on which campaigners a candidate gets to represent him to the people. They then just have to ensure that they feed with them with some cash on a regular basis. Thus the more money you have for politics the more successful you will be. There are exceptions of course as Harun Mwau found out a few years back. Generally if people believe that you have sacrificed human life in return for your wealth too recently, then and only then will cash fail to work for you.
This tradition of earning from politics without being an MP has been in Ukambani for a long time. For instance illiterate Kamba politician and the man who made Kalonzo Musyoka politically, the late Mulu Mutisya used to get paid Kshs 100,000 every month by president Moi “to keep the troops in line” in Ukambani.
While it is true that things may not be very different in other parts of the world, the referendum vote clearly proved that Ukambani has been left behind even as the rest of the country has moved on. Many politicians (including Moi) have discovered that these days the foolish-looking voters in many rural areas outside Ukambani will eagerly take your money and nod their heads in agreement with whatever you have to say and will leave with a funny smile on their faces. However come polling day, they will vote different from what the cash handouts were persuading them. Fascinatingly some of them will spend the cash that you have given them to travel to poling stations to vote for your opponent. This is what is terrifying so many old school politicians. If only it was possible to win a national election by getting substantial Kamba votes. Clearly cash was not effective with the Masai or even with the Turukana, communities that the Akamba feel are less developed than they are. No matter what those jeering my posts say, the truth of the matter is that Moi, Ruto and company got real value for the cash they poured in Ukambani.
There are those arm chair analysts seated behind their computers farting Nyama choma in some rooms that are fortunately air-conditioned and fantasizing that the Kamba voted against the constitution because of the great work the church has done in the mostly dry and arid Ukambani. And to make matters worse, they are passing off this as fact at every opportunity. Such a suggestion is laughable for a community where the vast majority of church goers still carry witchcraft charms into the holy sanctuary of their church as a second line of defense incase their church god fails them. Admittedly people who are still learning about the community will easily be fooled by their constant mention of the creator and the love they have for singing gospel music.
Although I was delighted by the substantial votes in favour of the new constitution that still came out of the Kamba people, the worry is that this is a place that is still way too vulnerable to cash handouts and there should be plenty of that in 2012 as the political class make one last ditch effort to hang on to power. The real danger here is that although the votes we are talking about may not be enough to win an election, they could dramatically alter things in the wrong direction in a close race. Most analysts agree that the dynamics suggest that the presidential race will be pretty close in the next general elections.
Kamba Secrets Part 1
Kamba Secrets Part 2
Kamba Secrets Part 3
Kamba Secrets Part 4