Fighting tribalism and graft is getting more urgent than ever

Monday November 18 2019

Uasin Gishu County youth demonstrate at the Youth Enterprise Fund offices in Eldoret on May 27, 2019 over delayed disbursement of funds. Kenyans want to see a genuine war against corruption and making opportunities available to all indiscriminately. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


We can finally acknowledge that President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga are in search of something deeply personal and precious.

They know what they want; they are just unable, or unwilling, to plainly explain to the public.

Everything around their political truce is shrouded in mystery — from the circumstances that midwifed the “handshake” to the formulation of the Building Bridges Initiative, selection of its members, timing and contents of its report. Whatever they are pursuing seems elusive.

It forced the President to retreat to his ethnic base for consultation on allegedly national issues.

Media reports on the Sagana meeting — how it was choreographed and purposely scripted — suggest that the President is yet to find a winning road map.

Mr Odinga and the President have publicly stated that they came together to find a long-standing solution to our polarised and, at times, violent politics.


As to what to expect, the duo claims the “handshake” has birthed peace and restored political stability to our land.


Ironically, the President even pointed to the recent Kibra by-elections, where scores of individuals and elected officials were assaulted in full view of the media and law enforcement personnel, as a hallmark of this new-found peace.

We cannot pretend that the President is too busy to receive the BBI report, weeks after the exercise was completed.

The wait-and-see, some say, may have been informed by a general feeling that the public, particularly in the Mt Kenya region, may not embrace the report and its ideas. But that is expected of such supply-side intervention.

The BBI is a political agenda of two individuals meant to prescribe political solutions to a people grappling with economic and financial woes.

It is widely seen as a component of the succession calculus and a decoy to pivot public attention away from widespread joblessness, mounting national debt, government incompetence and runaway corruption.

The BBI notwithstanding, Kenyans are deeply sceptical of the Jubilee administration’s sincerity in fighting corruption.


Occasional arraignment in court of government officials is nothing more than theatrics.

We are yet to witness high-profile convictions despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence and confessions to nail the culprits.

Back in the 1960s, the country rightfully identified tribalism and lack of equal opportunities as major impediments to the pursuit of social cohesion.

Today, however, tribalism appears to be a non-issue, given the ethnic appointments to strategic public positions or the boards of government institutions.

This practice is illegal, yet there are no protests in Parliament, on the streets and in the corridors of justice.

The ethnicisation of the workplace is normalised and ongoing — even as duty bearers put up a facade of seeking gender parity.

In 2002, President Mwai Kibaki led Kenyans on a reform agenda with the goal of restoring ethnic balance and representation in public sector recruitment.

These efforts have since stalled and the country appears to have returned to the dark days of Kanu, where state appointments are reserved for individuals from a particular tribe — whether qualified or not.


Kenyans are not blind to the abuse of discretional powers. These discriminatory “us-versus-them” practices create feelings of resentment and bitterness that routinely manifest in uncontrolled street anger.

Providing public-sector jobs as political and ethnic patronage prevents the professionalisation of bureaucracies.

The ongoing institutional decay and erosion of national ethos is, precisely, due to the ethnicisation of jobs at the national level and the acute nepotism and cronyism in our counties.

Regardless of what the President and Mr Odinga are seeking, Kenyans want to see a genuine war against corruption and making opportunities available to all indiscriminately.

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based economist. [email protected]) @kenchesoli