24 November 2012

Tanzania: EA Whispers - No Tribal Politics in East Africa Please


Politics in Kenya can be said to be very different from Tanzania. A notable feature and big difference is the struggle by Kenyan politicians and political parties to project a national image and character while firmly bunkered in tribal stronghold.

It is a problem that Tanzania overcame decades ago, thanks to the highly nationalistic approach to politics under Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

In Kenya, tribalism is also discouraged but not quite frowned upon. Thus, I was not altogether shocked to read from the Kenyan press recently that Uhuru Kenyatta, a de facto prince of Kenyan politics, had given an ultimatum to his Gikuyu tribesmen to either stand by him or be against him in his bid to be Kenya's next president, come elections slated for March 4, 2013.

From an East African perspective, politicians of Kenyatta's type and genre are extremely irrelevant. There is no doubt the Gikuyu are a highly industrious, rich and prominent community in Kenya. However, in a politically federated East Africa, which is the ultimate goal of the revived East African Community (EAC), there will absolutely be no room for leadership based on tribal appeal.

In Tanzania, Mwalimu said, tribes were only important for sacrificial rituals but had absolutely no place in national politics. Also, Mwalimu said appealing to tribal or religious support was the platform only of a politically bankrupt leader. Times have lived to prove him right.

Any leader who thinks that their tribe, religion or skin colour were the important factors for their popular appeal was extremely misguided. Such leaders will have no place in a federated East Africa. The worst disservice that they are doing to the cause is simply to calcify opposition to deeper integration.

TNA party that Kenyatta formed recently is said to be the most formidable political machine in Kenya currently, with almost double the number of members of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of Prime Minister, Raila Odinga.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka's ODM-Kenya is even far behind in terms of membership. Kenyatta, believed to be the richest Kenyan, is said to have pumped personal cash into TNA, stoking the party's meteoric rise to the top of Kenyan politics. Yet, oath-taking like rallying of all the Gikuyu to his side is hardly a plausible modern day strategy and tactic for political mobilization.

Politicians in Kenya should learn from US President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan. If Obama had relied on ethnic Luo tribesmen, he would be nowhere near the presidency of the world's most powerful nation. Neither would he have been reelected if his political appeal was just concentrated among blacks in the US.

I have considerable respect for Uhuru Kenyatta. I believe, he is by and large, a self made man despite the fact that his father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was Kenya's founder president. Mzee's halo in Kenyan politics has long faded and if Uhuru were not a strongman in his own sense and right, he would long have been crashed under the carpet of Kenyan tough politics.

But his call to Gikuyus to sheepishly follow him, has in my own opinion, removed him from the pot of East Africa's political stock for regional leaders. In political federation, East Africa seeks political leaders of global appeal, who would serve all East Africans equally and without regard to the size of their ethnic communities.

All EAC partner states have dominant ethnic communities, which would polarize any future political dynamic if they were all to exercise block voting. On the other hand, if the Tutsi, Ankole, Banyoro, Toro, Bachiga, Bahaya, Ha, Wakerewe and Zinza were all to invoke ethnic sentiments, then there would probably be no other group to dislodge them from power.

If East Africa is to realize deeper integration, then current political leaders would better start showing they have the bigger picture in mind. They should act locally but think regionally. Otherwise, Kenyatta's tribal twist is outright rotten politics.

East African News Agency.

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