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After the election, negative ethnicity has flared up

Friday September 8 2017

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Some years ago, I explained that in a society, there are three levels of identification. I call them the three Es: ethnicity, economy and empathy.

These three Es are indicators of how developed, mature and refined our democracy is. They also give us a guide on how voting patterns work.

Ethnicity is what defines voting patterns in traditionally rural and agricultural democracies. These democracies are still at the basic level of the first E, or E1. The measurement of success at this level is not based on purchasing power as such, but bare ethnicity, or the elders’ advice on how to vote.

At this level, the purchasing power makes little or negligible impact on our political choices. Cash flow from the big cities is scarce, just like infrastructure programmes, and they make no real impact on the lives of most citizens. All that matters is to have your candidate in power. The rest is practically irrelevant.

As societies evolve, the second E for Economy, or E2, acquires more relevance and power to change voting patterns. In these young democracies people are usually guided by their pocket.

“How much can I buy with this amount of money?” This is basically the purchasing power and, every time the president appears in public, people remember what they could buy with this same amount of money before he came into power, and compare. 

As democracies mature, leaders tend to ensure that everyone, or almost everyone, can satisfy basic needs, social service delivery systems function, justice is available and effective, impunity is eradicated from the social, economic and political arena, and personal security is guaranteed. Then, the attention of the state is directed to the third “E” for Empathy, E3.

This means empathy for the environment, for those who suffer in the world at large, for the poor countries, for refugees, and in foreign policy. Empathy for the fight against injustice in the world.

This empathy brings people together and identifies them under one candidate or agenda which determines the outcome of general elections.  


I have asked myself this question many times. I still do. After devolution became a reality, we had slowly been moving towards E2; but recent developments have thrown us all the way back to the most basic and archaic forms of E1, ethnicity.

Our two opposing political poles, Jubilee and NASA share the responsibility for recent developments. The calls for mass actions by Nasa, the killings of protesters by trigger-happy government security forces, attacks on the Supreme Court and its judges by Jubilee, calls for ethnic-centred secession by Nasa, and lately, express calls for displacement and extermination on ethic grounds by some Jubilee members of the National Assembly.

It is unbelievable how low and archaic our political speech has grown to be. The country is sliding down into a pit while we stand by and watch.

Half my friends cannot stomach, for better or for worse, any criticism of Jubilee. The other half feels the same for Nasa


I do not believe in secession. Secession is a radical way to give up. Considering Kenya’s economic and social fabric, we cannot guarantee success, but we guarantee failure by giving up.

Secession means giving up on identification; denying the struggles of 55 years; denying all the ideals that brought the country together, and denying the national anthem, the constitution and the future of so many young brilliant Kenyans. Secession is a political tantrum.

Certainly, we have serious identification challenges; “one Kenya, one people” is work in progress, and I am afraid our leaders are not helping much.

I do not believe in repression either. There is a limit to how much and far a sizeable part of the population can be marginalised. The easy misuse and abuse of our institutions, our easiness at hate speech and rumour mongering is all pressure-cooked, ready to burst.


In 2008 we were all surprised at the “sudden” post-election bitter violence and deaths. It was a shock to the country.

This shock was triggered by frustration of the great hopes the political changes of 2002 had nurtured.

The amazing 2002 election campaign and victory was founded on two key pillars: a drive for constitutional change to make the country a more inclusive nation, and the power-sharing MOU signed by the principals, which was perceived as the embryo of devolution.

Both pillars were knocked down within 100 days of Kibaki’s government. The promise of a new constitution came to naught when Kibaki said that we no longer needed a new constitution.

Perhaps his views were better informed by economic than politics, but he told Kenyans that the problem were the people in power, KANU, and we had already kicked them out.  

Then, cabinet changes followed. These changes betrayed the political coalition that had brought Kibaki to power, and marked the death of the MOU and of Kenya’s political balance, which was finally buried at the 2005 disastrous referendum.

No one could see it coming, but what happened in 2008 was the pressure built from that stillbirth of a new Kenya in 2002. And now, no one sees it coming, but what could be the result of political machination that eventually leads to a stillbirth of the 2010 Constitution?

We have Members of the National Assembly who rejoice in climbing the ladder of parochial political approval by promoting hatred, mass killings and displacements. They go up at the cost of poor people’s lives, because it is always the poor who die, suffer displacement, jail and torture.

The poor is the “ready mass” for mass action for they have nothing to lose; they have already lost it all. They are manipulable, usable and disposable, and Machiavelli-type politicians know this and make use of them. This type of politicians leave no legacy, save for destruction, disintegration and hatred.


Our sense of identification as a nation is so fragile, that we are unable to criticise our choice presidential candidate or the party we support. It has become a soccer match where when our team loses it is surely the fault of the referee plus the tricks and bribes paid by the other team.

We have lost objectivity, capacity to critique, to question and to improve the quality of decision-making.

When reason makes no sense, we must appeal to the heart. I asked Stephanie, a brilliant young law student, almost a lawyer, to write a poem that could appeal to the hearts of Kenyans, to reflection. Stephanie wrote this short poem, and titled it PEACE:

“Listen to me when I ask for peace.

I am not asking for calm, quiet streets, ordinary workdays and controlled traffic.

I am not asking for silence.


Listen to me when I ask for peace.


Listen to me when I ask you to stop being violent.

I am not only asking you to put down your gun,

I am also asking you to stop poking at the wounds you and yours inflicted on me and mine,

Been 54 years and counting

Ha – Even more.


Listen to me when I ask you to stop being violent.


Listen to me when I ask you for Kenya. 

I am asking you to look into the eyes of the mother of the child who is now gone and you know why,

I am asking you to look at those who ask themselves in the middle of the night whether this might be their country, too.

I am asking you to remember that you had to learn to ignore the screams,

I am asking you to remember recognition of pain.


Listen to me when I ask you for Kenya.

Because I will not stop.”

Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi