In last week’s column focusing on the recently released Building Bridges Initiative report, I noted: “If we put our ethnic politics and overblown egos aside for the next few months, we can make discussion of the BBI report not just a constitutional moment but also a moment for personal and national reinvention. And history will record that this moment created the foundation of a prosperous, united and peaceful country.”
I now realise I was hoping for too much. The moment of national introspection witnessed at the unveiling of the report at the Bomas of Kenya and the general goodwill towards it immediately afterwards have disappeared, and the political class is back to ‘‘factory settings.’’
The calm language at Bomas (except in one instance from a serial offender), the educated and magnanimous speeches, the dignified demeanour, and statesmanlike visions have all evaporated.
The sycophants are back to screaming. There are ethnic retreats to craft ethnic positions on the BBI.
Ethnic chieftains have staked their positions on the procedure the BBI should take going forward. Ordinary Kenyans, unable to extricate themselves from the false ideology of tribe, are taking a cue from their chieftains even before they have read the report and discussed it.
Steve Biko once wrote that the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor was the mind of the oppressed.
For apartheid to work, Africans had to believe in their inferiority. It is an ironic tragedy that words made with reference to apartheid, a system that aspired to build a society based on a mythical biology of superior and inferior races, have come to apply to us.
The most potent instrument of manipulation in the hands of the political class is our explicit or implicit belief in the false biology of superiority and inferiorly of tribes.
Listen carefully to the language of our political discourse: “Our community is here by right,” “Kenya does not belong to one ethnic group,” “It’s out turn to eat,” “Our community needs a political party of its own,” ‘We are not anyone’s slaves,” To be quiet does not make us cowards,” “Those of our tribe who are not with us are traitors,” “We are the blessed community, thus the jealousy of others.”
And we the citizens repeat these mantras as if they were religious dogma. Of course lawyers, professors and church leaders among us try to couch the same sentiments in less crude language, but, as the saying goes, “the difference is the same”.
We have become putty in the hands of the political class. That is why ethnic caucuses—styling themselves as leaders from Mount Kenya, Rift Valley or Western—can go on retreats and emerge with a position on the BBI they are confident will be bidding on members of their ethnic group.
So the danger I now see is that the BBI report will not be read by people because they will wait to be directed by the politicians.
The opportunity to use the report as a basis for careful audit of the Constitution—to discuss what has worked and what has not—will be missed. The issues BBI raised will not be interrogated to separate the useful and useless.
The recommendations therein will not be cross-checked with others from reports such as the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to see areas of divergence, continuity or duplication.
We will miss a golden opportunity to have an honest conversation about what ails us. Therefore, we will not reach consensus on the way forward in relation to the BBI report and, more importantly, as a nation.
Frightfully, we will continue to see our national challenges through ethnic lenses. And the political class will continue to manipulate us and rob us dry as we wait in vain for goodies promised to our community.
Instead, helicopters parked at Wilson Airport will multiply. V8 behemoths will fill the parking spaces of parliament, county and national governments. Famine will make its seasonal visitation and claim lives and livelihoods.
Our staple foods will continue to poison us. And yet we will be singing our tribal war songs, machetes in hand, even as we hobble to early graves.
The late Bishop Henry Okullu, despairing at the tribal scramble for power after repeal of Section 2A of the Kanu Constitution that had outlawed democracy, wondered where Kenya’s true leaders would come from. But even he could not have foreseen what we have become—a soulless and nihilistic country.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.