Were Uhuru Kenyatta and Jacob Zuma to trade places, they would soon discover that they have in common much more than they would ordinarily own up to.
The latter is the ruler — spare the word “leader” in this context — of a country that only two decades or so ago emerged from the long night of one of the most brutal oppressive political orders humankind ever knew.
One could easily imagine Uhuru in the regal edifice of Government House in Pretoria wondering what all the noise is about when people are airing their dissatisfaction with their falling living standards, students are rioting over rising fees and civil society are saying he should quit because he has allowed “state capture,” the term alluding to Zuma’s extremely good friends, the Guptas.
So can one, in the same breath, easily see a smiling and moonwalk-dancing Zuma in State House Nairobi laughing like a clown after it has become clear that his opponents in the last election were again felled by the ‘tyranny of numbers,’ a Kenyan clairvoyant’s prediction from five years ago.
Zuma would know something about the magical potency of what sangoma ordered. Get the numbers right, and you can never go wrong. If the two biggest ethnic formations in the country managed to get together around an electoral ticket and then roped in a few other groups to deliver an unassailable majority, how is that different from the African National Congress? Except that the ANC does not work with ethnic calculations. Officially, that is.
Now, it is the tyranny of the numbers of the ANC which allows that grand old party to ride roughshod over anyone and everyone who dare raise issues of lack of probity, morality and ethical behaviour on the part of Zuma and his acolytes.
The argument seems to go thus: JZ is our own. We suffered together during those dark days of Apartheid, and in that struggle JZ proved his worth. No white liberal or his pliant little smart Black is going to make us remove pour comrade, based on trumped up charges of corruption.
The man has helped so many to feather their nests and advance their interests, the interests of the people; what did we ever want from life other than that? We are the only ones who can remove him, just like we did Thabo Mbeki; remember Polokhwane?
In the calculus of South Africa’s politics, the numbers do not have to come from the Zulu, Zhosa, Venda, Suthu or Ndebele. It is the humongous, ponderous, amorphous, lumbering and shambolic tribe called “Ikongressi” to which everybody must pay homage.
So, those who rose to power on the crest of the anti-Apartheid struggle-— and who have enriched themselves largely illegally — can now afford to turn their noses up at the vast majority of South Africans who have never known anything but deprivation, and say, if you want to get rid of us, get the numbers, you idiots, or suffer this our tyranny for some time to come.
That’s the logic that would carry Zuma to Nairobi. Uhuru would also discover he has never erred too far from that kind of thinking, which is in his DNA.
In a Kenya that fought for its Independence, with blood and guts, during what scholars from the very colonial power and its allies have dubbed “Britain’s Gulag,” we did not really see a rise to the fore of the freedom fighters in the ilk of Dedan Kimathi or General China.
Instead we saw imposters in the shape of the collaborators and their clans take over the reins of power while standing on top of the bones of those who truly died for Kenya. But the numbers still call the tune when it comes to deciding who shall eat or continue to eat.
So, whether in State House, Nairobi, or Government Building, Pretoria, in both edifices there is a kindred politics that has transcended the true aim of those who fought for us to be free.
All we need today is do some no-brainer arithmetic to see how many are on our side because of some criterion no one can articulate, and once that is done, we have a working formula according to which we eat or we die.
And that is why Africans will continue fighting at election time, and also why Uhuru and Jacob could change places and no one would notice.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]