By Makau Mutua
Kenya: Last week, ex-VP Kalonzo Musyoka made an unforced error.
In response to an inarticulate, but
loaded political question from a reporter, Mr Musyoka demanded the reporter’s name.
The reporter identified himself as Kennedy Mureithi.
To which Mr Musyoka tersely retorted, “that name betrays it all, I have nothing else to say”. He added,
for emphasis, “absolutely, I have nothing to say”.
The reporter had accused Mr Musyoka and CORD of always whining about what’s wrong with Jubilee without offering leadership. In the wake of the exchange, Kenyans crucified Mr Musyoka on social media and in pubs. Only a small cadre defended
Which begs the question — was Mr Musyoka xenophobic, or was he being pilloried for being truthful?
You need not have to be a rocket scientist to predict how Mr Musyoka’s comments would polarise Kenya.
Virtually all those who condemned Mr Musyoka’s outburst — except for a few like me — were leaders and supporters of the Jubilee regime.
Their names —you guessed it — identified them as primarily from
the Jubilee strongholds of the Rift Valley and Central Kenya.
Bloviators from the two regions screamed their lungs out on social media.
It was an ironic twist that seemed to vindicate Mr Musyoka’s tribalist gaffe.
Unsurprisingly, the few brave souls on the CORD side who spoke in defence of Mr Musyoka termed
him a “hero” for being truthful, and for calling a spade by its name.
Let’s dig deeper.
Only the most moronic Kenyan doesn’t know that the country is one of the most tribally charged
societies in the world.
The 2013 election was fought
along tribal lines.
The main political coalitions are
groupings of ethnic lords. Support or opposition for Jubilee and CORD is largely reflexive based on the
ethnic ancestry of the partisans.
This is pure fact.
Statistically, you can predict — perhaps with an accuracy of over 80 per cent — the support of either
of the coalitions based on the ethnic identity of the partisan.
The ethnic-political cleavages in Kenya are so vast that they are scary.
What’s shocking is the zero effect of education on naked tribalism.
Illiterate peasants and intellectuals alike swim in the filthy miasma of tribalism.
This is my point – Mr Musyoka’s unfortunate response to the journalist was an honest
representation of the tribal toxicity of the average Kenyan.
Listening to the question, most Kenyans could have most likely predicted — with a very high
degree of accuracy — the ethnic identity of the speaker.
That’s why Mr Musyoka casually dismissed Mr Mureithi once he found out his ethnic ancestry.
Mr Musyoka’s sin was to speak aloud what most Kenyans were thinking silently.
But this is where the going gets tough for Mr Musyoka.
Thinking something privately and saying out it loud are totally different things.
I once saw a couple fight over “thoughts”. The female slapped
the male when he swiveled his head to stare at a passing beauty.
You may think it, but please don’t betray your thoughts even if it’s true.
In civilised society, we see
and hear many tantalising or offensive things, but it’s impolite to hoot or holler no matter how excited
This is especially true for national leaders like Mr Musyoka who are subjected to intense levels of public scrutiny — and who are expected to lead by example.
Mr Musyoka knows — perhaps more than most — how ethnically divided Kenya has become.
That’s why it’s incumbent upon him, as a national leader, to heal the nation, and to bind its tribal wounds.
It’s a tragedy of immense proportions when a leader of Mr Musyoka’s stature succumbs to the base instincts of the illiterate villager who worships at the altar of the tribal warlord.
But I will also take issue with Mr Mureithi.
I don’t know where Mr Mureithi was trained as a journalist, but I believe he needs to refer to his Journalism 101 notes.
Not only was his question to Mr Musyoka inarticulate and fumbled, he sounded like a Jubilee youth-winger.
It was asked in a patently biased and
partisan manner unbecoming of the employee of a major media house.
His editors need to have a talk
The Fourth Estate is the “independent eye of the
The private press isn’t an extension of the state, or an apologist for the government.
It’s not a patsy for one or other political party.
To be trustworthy, the media must stay above the fray.
It’s true Mr Musyoka acted instinctively, and failed to check his xenophobic impulses.
As I have said, most Kenyans have xenophobic impulses, but leaders can’t put xenophobia on display if they hope to build one nation, one people.
Nor is it helpful to hypocritically vilify Mr Musyoka for the tribal gaffe if you also routinely ethnically slur others, or support a party simply because your ethnic warlord is in charge.
The writer is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.
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