Why Diaspora Kenyans Just Don't Get It
I lived in the US for more than ten years and recently returned home in the midst of elections. Before boarding the flight, I harbored disdainful views of voters going to the polls on ethnic lines or being so apathetic to the critical issues that should determine who you vote for.
I followed the US Presidential debates and watched Obama and Romney spar on issues like taxes, immigration, education, foreign policy and spending. I kept asking myself: why can’t Kenyan elections be about issues?
I could not comprehend why Kenyans do not consider the economic agenda of the candidates, insecurity, high food prices etc as valid parameter issues. I would expect those issues to be high on the various political parties agenda and in the candidates stump speeches. I found out that these issues do actually exist - on the various parties glossy manifestos and they end there.
For those diaspora people who have in recent weeks been calling home to rant about why your relatives would consider voting an Uhuru-Ruto ticket or Raila-Kalonzo ticket and why not Martha Karua or Peter Kenneth, I have news for you. You really just don't get it about these elections.
I have watched some of the videos posted on YouTube of Kenyans in various cities across the world debating and talking about the upcoming March 4 elections. It is a highly commendable effort and shows the zeal of Kenyans who want to be engaged with the process back home.
The March polls are not about issue based campaigns. It would be lovely if they were then we would all be divorced from ethnic cocoons and like western democracies, vote issues. Not here. I found out as soon as I stepped off the plane at JKIA that Kenyans vote along tribal lines. Period. It is the tragedy of our democracy.
When push comes to shove Kenyans recline to their ethnic caves where they feel more comfortable about themselves. Now here is a shocker for you sitting in the comfort of your homes and apartments in London, Atlanta or Melbourne and reading Internet websites and blogs about the elections. The driving issues in this election cycle is the ICC. Period.
Voters registered in the thousands in Rift Valley and Central province especially to protest the ICC case and to regiment around Uhuru and Ruto. Why? Lets go back to 2008. When Kofi Annan left Kenya, he left with a peace deal that included a lopsided power sharing deal and an envelope for ICC suspects to please the West – not seek justice for local victims.
The envelope conveniently left out the two principal beneficiaries of the violence but picked six names that were eventually whittled down to four confirmed suspects. What the ICC has never addressed and that remains unfathomable to Kenyans in the furthest of places is why the two principal beneficiaries were left out and why specifically Uhuru and Ruto were charged.
I have spoken to many Kenyans in the rural areas especially; if you want to know the real feeling on the ground, talk to the villagers. Now forget that argument that Ruto and Uhuru supported the Hague option and fought efforts towards a local tribunal that would have been a compromise option.
Hello, does it mean that the local option means they would have received a fair trial or been off the hook? The issue of PEV is to find justice for those maimed, raped and killed merely for voting. That was there only crime. They just happened to belong to the wrong tribe and were in the wrong place during elections. How inhuman.
The objective of the ICC is to prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility for the PEV. To the villagers in Kigumo or Nandi hills, Uhuru and Ruto were not on the ballot. Further they ask, since 2008, how many have been prosecuted for rape, looting, property destruction or murder? Many young men who were caught in the euphoria of violence walk the streets with blood on their hands, traumatized by dreams of the crimes they committed in 2008. They are still scot-free.
Women walk the paths in Timboroa or Kericho and meet the men who raped them and probably holding the hand of a child, a product of a vicious and heinous act. Families still live in IDP camps all waiting for justice five years on.
How do you convince them that only four suspects bear the greatest responsibility for the violence when the real culprits walk the streets free? How do you engage them when the Government has abdicated its role for providing justice and mitigating their damages?
And finally, these villagers who were on opposites sides during the PEV are now ironically enjoined by ICC and see Uhuru and Ruto as their heroes. How do you tell them not to vote for Hague bound suspects because it may have international implications for Kenya’s foreign policy, friends, aid and so forth? What about whispered sanctions? They wont buy that.
As long as they have never seen justice for the dark events of January 2008 and Uhuru and Ruto are heroes in their eyes and are sacrificial lambs, it is their winning ticket or bust. I can see diaspora Kenyans rolling their eyes in disgust. And then there is the famous sanctions line and why Kenyans should accede to western Governments veiled threats.
Firstly, the Kikuyu and Kalenjins loath being patronized by white people. The voter who is versed about the struggle for independence and the atrocities committed by the British on their people resent being lectured. The subtle warnings by western powers merely strengthens their resolve and emboldens their support.
Here is the really intriguing classic phrase from the west attributed to Kofi Annan when he was in Kenya last October about the elections and ICC. ‘“Everyone needs to ponder particularly when we are dealing with leadership of a country and leadership that involves other countries outside Africa. These cases are against individuals and not against any tribe or group. Justice must be done and Kenya is obliged to assist the court in accordance with the Rome Statute,” Mr. Annan said.
Here is breaking news to Annan and the west, those supporting Uhuru and Ruto tragically do actually see this cases as against their tribes, not individuals. Wake up and smell the coffee.
To the voters in the village in Central or Rift Valley where the majority of voters live, Raila remains the greatest beneficiary of the ICC. They view him as the villain who wants both Uhuru and Ruto out of the way so that he can win elections. Why wasn’t he and Kibaki indicted yet they bear political responsibility for the PEV?
So what is the way out of this predicament that we find ourselves in? First, the west should encourage Kenyans to conduct peaceful elections, not telling them who to vote for with subliminal messages. It’s highly offensive and merely strengthens Uhuru and Ruto supporters.
It’s important that this elections be free and fair and by extension credible to help Kenya return to the good books of international friends. Encourage Kenyans and especially the candidates to respect the outcome and concede. Recent accusations by one party that the elections are being rigged do not auger well for Kenya.
The BVR and technology that has been embraced by IEBC is the most effective weapon for a credible election and Isaak Hassan has done an outstanding job. Dead and ghost voters have been banished from the voters roll. Forever.
Finally, it’s probably too late for a bigger and effective solution, which would be to erase the spectre of the unfinished business of 2007 from this elections. It sounds extreme, but remove both Uhuru and Raila from the ballot. If this two were out it removes the shadow of 2007 and creates room for an issue-based campaign with Peter Kenneth, Paul Muite, Martha Karua and Ole Kiyapi. But then that's just wishful thinking.
By Sayila Liganga
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I get what you say...I dont agree with all the points, but I get it, and I am a Kenyan in the Diaspora. I am sure there are others like me. The title of of your well written article is misleading, casts a wide net, and is polarising. You are unfortunately contributing to what I have heard described as the "love-hate relationship" between Kenyans in Kenya and Kenyans in Diaspora . You can always bet for our people to find every reason to be divided....but thats a topic for another day. So why not simply "educate" us on your enlightment - by virtue of being on the ground full-time - in a respectful and unifying manner. I know of Kenyans in the Diaspora who share the same sentiments you bring forth and I also know of others who are more on the idealistic side. There is nothing wrong with lobbying friends and relatives to elect the type of leaders we need in Kenya. The more people we have thinking like that, the better Kenya will be in the long run.
Tribal politics is very real as your correctly stated, I believe most Kenyans regardless of where they are understand this very well...but when you have had the benefit of experiencing something different, like you yourself did for 10 years, you will want something different for your homeland. If the civil rights leaders of the 60s in America had told their people - dont waste your time, segregation and racism is the reality and is here to stay, you would probably have never had the chance to have lived in the US for 10yrs in the first place. But it took lobying for change, idealistic leadership from people like Martin Luther King and others to bring down segregation. Kenya is no different, it will take many years of preaching a different message, several election cycles starring non-tribal candidates, several failed administrations, for a new generation of Kenyas to realise that tribalism does more harm than good. That lobbying of a different message must continue.
Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow. ICC is the driving force behind the massive voter registration turnup in jubilee strongholds, and let me dare say it will be the driving force towards voter turnout on election day. Secondly unlike tanzania where upon attainment of uhuru, the late Mwalimu took a different direction of unifying first tanganyika-no mchaga, msukuma or mmeru but tanganyika, and he did that in words and action, then unified tanganyika, zanzibar and pemba . His efforts to unify east africa didnt go well with kenyatta and obote. In kenya we took the path of tribalism and its very evident in all our elections with the exception of 2002, thats why tanzanians in diaspora keep asking us nini mbaya na wakenya?
The election wont be voted on issues no no no... lets not deceive ourselves we not yet there.. But it will be voted along tribal lines and ICC.
Liganga wrote a very captivating piece! I do Not agree with all the points put forth and the arguments clearly are skewed towards the support of one ticket. It started off well, however, the attempt to blind folks with rhetoric in support of the Jubilee ticket to deal with the supposed ill of the west punishing 2 tribes is just plain dumb!
Obviously the 2 principals should've been indicted as well, but to support the already evidently charged Uhuruto---playing on the emotions of the Kikuyus and kalenjins, is nothing short of belittling our intelligence! So, are you saying that if they feel aggrieved their folk is at the ICC, the 2 great communities should vote for them...to punish or make a statement to the west?? If so, thats very shallow, we have got to come up with a better way to exert our sovereignty and stamp our feet to show our 'anger'. We should Not vote them in, rather, they do not need our pity...we have about 4 other major ones to choose from. Head up!