The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Are Kenyans Ready for a Muslim President?

Former high school teacher Mohammed Abduba Dida is the Alliance for Real Change presidential candidate in the March 4 polls. He appeared on Kiss TV's JSO@7 hosted by John Sibi-Okumu. Here are excerpts from the interview transcribed by Star writer SHARON MACHARIA.

Mr Dida, first things first: You were a school teacher before now. You are interested, intellectually, in the study of religion and philosophy. And you are pursuing studies towards that end. But you have decided to run for president in this forthcoming election as the representative, first and foremost, of a minority community: You are Borana, I think am right in saying. Would you take us along a line of thinking about the history of your people within the Kenya of the last 50 years, and the marginalisation that is meant to have been part of their history?

You know humanity has it that there are some standards of a system of life that we need to live, but because of selfishness since the history of humanity, injustices were rampant. What they call marginalised communities... this is actually a polite way of accepting injustice. That we have exploited them, that we have neglected them, that we don't care about them. So as much as any listed community group are referred to as marginalised, 95 per cent of Kenyans are marginalised economically. There is nothing they have. You could belong to a larger community that is not marginalised but there is nothing they have. There is no difference between those referred to as marginalised and those not marginalized in terms of...

To what would you attribute the marginalisation of the Borana, in particular?

Man has developed a system of classifying his fellow man. Respect in terms of riches, respect in terms of how far your community has gone in terms of acquiring. What people have. So, after the independence of Kenya or when others communities were struggling to fight the colonisers, my community was in the bush.

I think I am right in saying that some of the first political assassinations in Kenya were directed to people of your community?

When you look at the research centre report released by State House various communities in Kenya later joined. And if you remember well KAU and Kanu were formed, and things were OK. But what brought Kadu was the conception by minor communities that now that we are attaining independence we may be swallowed up. Now this is when the brainstorming session started for minor commnunities... Now that a teacher like me can be cleared to vie for president, so many people, so many Kenyans have really seen that, well we can also achieve it. So when Kadu was formed, from fear that these larger communities may frustrate the minor communities, then it was an eye opener for the other communities in Kenya, the Somali and all those in Northern part of Kenya included. And they started struggling for there rights. Historically, there is that difference between Christianity, and Islam, the Arabs coming, and the missionaries coming...

Let's not talk about religion, for a while. I think there is a Borana community that lives in 'Boranaland,' so to speak, but also a significant Borana community that lives in Nairobi. Why couldn't somebody emerge from the urban Borana before now to seek leadership. Why the marginalisation up until this time?

You know conformity is a very serious problem. When you struggle and somebody tells you if you go to Nairobi you will be robbed, or you will be killed, you develop a negative attitude. Kenya is known for frustrating its potential. So, anybody who had an idea will suggest it to the community members and will be told you are young, don't frustrate yourself, Tom mboya was gunned down. This has happened. So, don't risk yourself and, by virtue of moving around with a bright idea, you may affect the larger community, you will be a marked man. If you remember, sometimes back, if they wanted to rig an election or win the provincial administrator was under instructions: if you don't not ensure that in your district this party will win a lot of votes then you will no longer be a DC. So, for this gentleman to retain his employment, he has to go an extra mile to convince people that, "Please, you know that I am the only District Commissioner from this district, and for me to stay on longer, this is the instruction that I have been given." People conformed to the negative impression that if you try this then your children will be orphaned, your wives will be widowed. So, there was that fear.

You are a Muslim, do you think that Kenyans are ready for a Muslim president in the same way they might be ready for a woman president?

Kenyans are ready for the development and overall development of humanity.

We are all party of humanity. May I put the question to you again rather more specifically: Are Kenyans ready for a president who practises the Muslim faith?

Very much. They are ready. We were born in Kenya. We live in Kenya. You visit towns and you talk to people. You see they are saying so and so is a leader he comes from a certain community. What have you profited? Or that gentleman comes from that religion...

I am trying to say that, if Kenya perceives itself as a largely Christian country, given the existing climate in the world and the negative perception of Islam, are we ready for a Muslim president such as you?

If they have that notion in their thinking, then so many Christian leaders have been in charge and they have failed us. So, why not try a Muslim?

And you think that the Kenyan populace is prepared to try a Muslim?

They are prepared to try any sincere and honest leader.

In the wake of incursions to go and sort out people like al Shabaab, al Qaeda, the idea of Islam taking over the world, the Americans are wary of such developments. Do you think that, with Kenya being such a focal area for their interests, Americans would allow there to be a Muslim president here? Are these issues you have dealt with before attempting to become president?

Yeah. They are ready. The majority of Kenyans most affected as much as five years ago you would have convinced somebody, you give me your vote I give you money. But today it's not an issue. Talk of religion is gone. Kenyans have a lot of experience and you see they are very sincere, patient and hardworking.

Only five years ago, Kenyans were quite prepared to kill each other and bring the country to the brink of utter destruction based on tribalism. And you say that we are now mature enough to have a minority leader from a minority religion? I think you are deluding yourself...

When you talk of Kenya and what is happening you need to categorise people: We have 90 per cent normal, prudent, rational sincere Kenyans and we have five per cent of leaders who want to achieve their ends by any means, and we have the youth who have actually lost self control. So, if you see a bunch of youth paid to go and burn tyres in the streets, you should not conclude that Kenyans have burnt the tyres. So many people are very sincere, condemning what is happening. We are talking of a lady very early in the morning walking her son or daughter to school. It is very cold. She doesn't have the money for transport with her son. Her hope is in this young child, lunch time she will take lunch to school because she cannot pay for the meals provided in the school. We are talking of that gentleman who struggles; he is pushing a mkokoteni twice higher than him and he pushes and sees that this is a difficult responsibility. He cannot deliver it and he stops. He remembers his wife and the children at home without nothing then he says, "I must go through these difficulties to get 20 shillings." Real Kenyans; people moving from one side of Nairobi to the other, waking up at five in the morning. We are talking about these people. They are really human and they love peace. I am not talking of the few mad, selfish leaders and the five per cent youths who can be turned right, left, or centre. No. Some 90 per cent of Kenyans are ready for this.

Mr Dida, in what way would you be different from these mad, selfish people whom you have described?

One thing that shocked me. You know there was hope when we got the new constitution and there was hope when we got Salaries and Remuneration Commission. But I was shocked when I saw the management of the commission who were earning Sh300,000 have added to their salaries. Now, they want to earn Sh750,000. I was shocked when they proposed Sh14 billion for state officers. And this money is to be paid by that gentleman who is jobless, by that lady who is selling her bananas.

I should imagine that a person who is jobless has no money to pay taxes.

They pay. If the man is jobless he is depending on his sister or mother or father at home. All of them are affected by the huge imposed taxes. Sometimes you come home and you tell your wife, "I cannot manage the huge house rent, I can't manage the taxes. Look at what I am getting! So, why don't you talk to your parents so that they can add something to what we have."

Mr Dida. You are now in a media forum. You have said of the media, "I have come to the media houses and they keep telling me they will send reporters to my meetings and they never do. The media is biased. When we approach them to convey what we have, we are a bother yet they bother the rich so let's take the rich for granted." Now you have a forum and a few minutes in which to say what would you offer that will be different. So, please don't evoke the scenario. Evoke the solution.

In my manifesto and what we want to deliver to Kenyans, there are five items: Item number one we are looking at life overall. How do we live, how many people who are living are comfortable?

For those who haven't read your manifesto could you go very quickly to the five because it could take five minutes to describe each.

We are looking at life.

The quality of life?

Yeah, the quality of life.

Right, number two?

Number two we are looking at the family.

Number three?

Number three we are looking at property.

Number four?

Number four, we are looking at intellect.

Number five?

Number five we are looking at religion.

I would say that those notions are very sort of airy fairy. None of them are concrete. Let's take one, intellect, what are you going to do to improve the quality of the intellect of Kenyans?

You have seen in your family, in the neighbours, and in Kenya somebody who has gone through the system of education, has a PhD in Physics, and cannot help himself if there is a problem with electricity in the house. He can stay the whole night in darkness. You know it is not learning because there is no application of what we are learning. I don't know the relevance. How many form fours have wasted their eight years in primary, their four years in secondary. What happens to the 109,000 standard eight leavers who were locked out of the form one secondary school? There is nothing the eight years they have taken will have done to help them.

But I would suggest, the 109,000 who were locked out, the 150 million jobless are so because there are no jobs for them. How would you create jobs?

We will create jobs by, and I have tried this, you know there are friendly and willing countries to help us. It is only that they fear the magnitude of corruption in the country.

And the friendly countries will do what, exactly?

They are in need of human resource, and we have so many educated men and women.

So you would ship Kenyans out as a source of labour?

Yes, Europe needs them.

Surely not. Europe doesn't need them. Europe has very strict measures to make sure that outsiders don't get jobs in Europe. People die in the Mediterranean being sent back home because they don't have any jobs in Europe. That's a bad example.

There are 57 employment bureaus registered in Saudi Arabia...

Kenyans who go to work in a country like Saudi Arabia come back with horror tales of slavery and being abused. And you are suggesting that, under your wise leadership, you would take our people to those conditions?

This frustration is because the government of Kenya is lacking a legal infrastructure. It is the government to sell its human resource to the other government; there must be a memorandum of association. It is the Kenyan government that must state this is my Kenyan citizen. This is the salary that he should earn..

Are we reading different newspapers? Or I my not reading tales of the Kenyan government being unable to repatriate its own citizens from countries where you say you would farm them off to be labourers.

I travelled sourcing employment, when I went there...

Where is there?

The middle East. When I went there, it is in your capacity as a Kenyan citizen that you are bargaining.

Your solution as President Dida is to propose a mass exodus of Kenyans to go and work elsewhere...

With the bargain by government. What I told them...

Which percentage of the population are you going to send abroad?

I want to tell you of my experience, and I want to tell you of the market outside. If you look at the middle East God has blessed them with oil and a lot of mineral resources, their education system was in Arabic currently changing to English, and they suggested because Kenyans are very good in the British system, they have gone and they are very good in English, why don't we go and borrow HR from Kenya and Russia and this is why we got the communications we got. Now as a company you go and bargain. This is what I was told, we need 1,000 drivers and there are so many here, but the terms you are given is their salary is KSh40,000 and that is it. Then I was telling them when you get this man or woman to come and work for you for three years without going back home, what happens to the children by this lady? Why don't you employ the husband to drive your vehicles for the three years and then you also get the wife and the children a small room so that when he works...

I am still somewhat shocked. You are going to export Kenyans as slave labour to other countries?

We are rich in human resource, if people want your assistance, if they want the skills that you have, you take them. Qatar wanted quantity surveyors and we were interviewing people. They said we want to pay Sh150,000, you know if the government, when we went there and they could not accept our terms we came back here we went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We went to the Ministry of Labour and we had a three-day meeting at the Kenya School of Law, and we were told, fine what is happening is not what you can really handle, let's form a commission. The Kenyan government wants to bury everything. A commission of enquiry was formed to go and investigate this. The government has clearly posted it in the newspapers. Don't go! This place is risky. But every night and every day they go. Thousands and thousands.

Could you use the last minute to have a final word or message to our viewers.

What I want to tell our viewers is that we are all human beings. I am reasoning and I am thinking and I am explaining this, when I talk of a lady working outside Kenya, I am just imagining of my daughter. If it is getting money, I would have gotten a lot. Go and check my records with the Ministry of Labour. There is nothing. It reads nil, nil, nil, because that environment was not there. So what I am saying is I am struggling and am talking to everybody, if I am educated and I am 40 years old almost and I cannot make ends meet, what will happen to our children? What will happen to that young boy and young girl coming up with hopes you can make it? I cannot make it... How will they make it? We need to sacrifice all what we have to expose the truth and you have no reason to doubt what I have for you. I am a brother. We are human beings. We are not animals. We are Africans. We are Kenyans. I am going through the huge rents you are going through. I am going through the huge transport. Today the landlord will just knock on your door and tell you, by the fifth, the rent is up. You are going to a matatu with Sh30, you are told it is Sh80. There is no control for this. We need to be a united team and I usually tell people: You don't know me or you may know others better but God understands best.

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