Tuesday, November 16, 2010

History repeats itself

A political philosopher ordained once that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it — the second time much more tragically.

Thus the cast of last week’s alfresco production of The Return of the Messiah probably did not know that they were repeating verbatim repeaters of very recent history — almost episode by episode. Just before the 1992 General Election, a very angry man called Kenneth Matiba — the newfound minion of a large ethnic community — travelled to a European capital for treatment for what was believed to be a mental condition. Just before the 2012 General Election, a very angry man called William Ruto — the newfound political darling of a large tribe — travelled to a European capital for “treatment” for what was believed to be a mental condition (really a life-and-death worry occasioned by a certain international prosecution project). After recuperation in the British metropolis of London, the Kikuyu messiah made a triumphal entry into Nairobi.

The welcome at the airport by his Kikuyu supporters was so overwhelming that Matiba must have felt that the realisation of his dream for State House was just around the corner. After a semblance of “recuperation” in the Dutch metropolis of The Hague, the Kalenjin messiah made a triumphal entry into Nairobi. The throng of Kalenjin acolytes who welcomed him at the airport was so great that Ruto must have chortled in his joy that his dream for State House had come true.

And if you visit any public “hansard” — for example, the clippings library of any daily newspaper — you may marvel that the words uttered by this year’s tribal messiah were practically identical to those uttered by the tribal messiah of 1992 — a veritable jeremiad, a frightening deluge of oracles. Like Palestine’s own 2,000 years ago, the latter-day messiah pledged everlasting fire for those who opposed his own coming new “Kingdom” but vowed ever-flowing milk and honey for those who would rally round the banner of salvation. As the hymn says, Christ is captain of the mighty throng. Had Matiba been a little more patient in the multi-ethnic opposition led by Jaramogi Odinga and himself, the opposition would easily have defeated the Moi regime in the 1992 presidential polls. Odinga would then have taken over as President. But, two years later,  he would have died. Matiba himself would have romped home almost unopposed.

Had Ruto remained a little more faithful to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), led by another Odinga — Jaramogi’s own scion (with Ruto himself among the top Pentagon members) — it would be a foregone conclusion. The ODM candidate would be seen as invincible come 2012. Odinga would be the next President. But his tenure would be timed. But, during the ODM incumbency, things would have been arranged to ensure Ruto was the most likely successor.

But — as in 1992— “vaulting ambition” had, by 2010, become so overmastering that it gave no chance at all to predictive wisdom of this kind. Personal appetite for power had banished long-term strategy for good. The question seems to be: if — by its numerical magic — my tribe will take me to State House tomorrow, why should I wait for five years? But, even in Kikuyuland, Matiba soon faced an unexpected problem (to prove how dangerous it is to put all your eggs in one tribal basket). The sudden candidacy of Mwai Kibaki, an equally weighty Kikuyu, soon terribly vitiated Matiba’s efforts. In the inevitable realignments of the coming months, how can our “Kalenjin Matiba” prevent the emergence — as if from the blue sky — of a “Kalenjin Kibaki” to alter the political equation beyond rescue?

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