No citizen should be at the mercy of an ethnic group

Thursday October 15 2020

Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka speaks in Taita Taveta on September 29, 2020. PHOTO | LUCY MKANYIKA | NMG


Can you remember who once told a Kenyan journalist that your name betrays you? The scribe had asked a question but instead of answering it, the politician intimated that he was pushing his ethnic community’s political agenda.

Let me give you another hint. The same politician was at it again in Taita Taveta County. At a rally, he told residents of Kamba descent to respect the Taitas and Tavetas by remembering that they are guests in the county. They, therefore, cannot aspire to govern Taita Taveta as the seat belongs to the ‘owners’ of the county. Be satisfied with a ministerial post, he told the Kambas; you cannot come from Ukambani and want to be governor here, he told them.

No doubt you have now guessed that the man in question is Kalonzo Musyoka. For a man aspiring to be Kenya’s next president, his vision is downright scary because it goes against fundamental assumptions of the constitution and the very the idea on which the Kenyan nation-state is founded.

First, the constitution sees people as citizens of Kenya who, therefore, should be accorded the same rights and equal opportunities. It proposes “communities of interest,” not tribes, as the basis for political mobilisation; people forming alliances as residents of an area, as farmers, as middle class or workers, in order to press for political action.

Second, from the perspective of the constitution, someone’s ethnicity is not an indicator of their ideology or their moral or intellectual worth.

In Kalonzo’s vision, ethnicity carries with it certain inalienable characteristics and political predispositions that an individual carries throughout his or her life. The young man Kalonzo humiliated could have been a journalist for all he cared, but he, like the Biblical Cain, carried with him the mark of his tribe.


The idea of Kenya as a nation-state presupposes that citizens can reside and own property anywhere within the country. This assumption is protected by the constitution as well as institutionalised in various statutes.

The constitutional and legal import of this is that no Kenyan citizen is a guest anywhere within the country. Turkanas who live in Kiambu County, for instance, are not guests there. They are Kenyan citizens who reside in an administrative unit of the Republic of Kenya called Kiambu. The Kambas in Taita Taveta are not guests there. They are bona fide residents of that area and have every right to participate in the politics of the county as either electorate or as candidates for all available seats including that of governor.

If someone whose ancestry is Kamba is elected Governor of Taita Taveta, the roads she builds will not somehow be transported to Ukambani.

Additionally, such roads would not be for the exclusive use of people of Kamba ancestry. They would benefit all residents of Taita-Taveta.

It is backward logic such as that espoused by Kalonzo that makes it difficult for people to form “communities of interest” regardless of ethnicity and, more dangerously, justify violent pogroms of ethnic cleansing.