The coronation of Uhuru Kenyatta as the GEMA presidential candidate. Photo/Jesse Mwangi
BY CHARLES WACHIRA
"Gema is going round telling Kenyans only a Kikuyu can lead this country again. This is misleading... We had a Kikuyu as the first Head of State when the country attained independence and now we have a Kikuyu as the president. Who says that other women outside the Mt. Kenya region have not borne children bright enough to lead this country?" — Charles Njonjo
"You first murdered Pio Gama Pinto, and you told us that he was simply a Goan, then you murdered Tom Mboya and you went ahead to explain to us that he was a member of the Luo community, today we are finally burying one of our own who has also been murdered by the same government, what are you going to tell us this time round," asked a distraught, Mama Habiba, one of the many anonymous mourners who had turned up during the interment of Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, a flamboyant and populist politician at his Gilgil farm, in the Rift Valley.
Recalling this unraveling incident that took place in 1975, Wanyiri Kihoro, now a lawyer but formerly a legislator and political detainee, says this single sanguinary blight in the chequered history of Kenya, pervasively brought to the fore the existing estrangement existing between the governors and the governed at the time, nicely defining a chasm that cut across the ethnic, religious and gender aisle.
"Mama Habiba hailed from Majengo area within Nyeri County. When she spoke at the funeral, she captured the looming mood of the country," explains Kihoro, then just one of the ubiquitous students drawn from the University of Nairobi who had attended the burial of J.M, as the legislator was fondly known; an event which signally indicted the establishment under the peremptory heel of President Jomo Kenyatta of committing the heinous crime.
A sanctioned parliamentary inquiry headed by the late Elijah Mwangale, a former Foreign Affairs Minister, into the murder revealed that Kenyatta's underlings held the quintessential smoking gun.
Then the international media speculated that the murder of the gregarious MP, a man widely thought to harbour presidential ambitions, had the latent effect of stirring a people-led revolution, jettisoning the plutocracy that underlined the Establishment of Kenyatta.
To date, 37 years after the grisly murder, not a single soul has been persecuted; a phenomenon that sorely symbolizes the anaemic and enfeebled stature of Kenya’s judicial arrangement.
When the current President, Mwai Kibaki -- himself a Kikuyu and the only Cabinet Minister drawn from the Kenyatta Government to attend the funeral -- ascended to the presidency in 2002 the world was inauspicious that the JM file would be rifled out, triggering a much-waited-for but belated public inquiry into the murder, bearing in mind that during the emotive funeral Kibaki had publicly proclaimed that "even if it takes 100 years, we will get to know who killed J.M."
With no follow up to date, 10 years after been elected President, Kibaki's words will immortally be remembered by generations to come as part of the legacy of a politician who, in times of convenience, sought the I.D. of a recidivist addicted to hyperbole.
For, after all, politicians all over the world cherish nothing better than getting an opportunity that allows them to be seen as casting their lot with the underdogs. Veritably, President Kibaki is analogous to this tribe. "The irony was that JM Kariuki belonged to the Kikuyu community, just like Kenyatta himself. And so did Mr. Kungu Karumba who, coincidently, had been incarcerated together with Kenyatta prior to independence, but who disappeared without trace soon after Kenya got independence.
And the Government of Kenyatta was thought to be behind the disappearance. But the most telling of events was the fallout between Kenyatta and his acolytes with Mr. Bildad Kagia, also a former prisonmate of Kenyatta, who also happened to be a Kikuyu. He suffered political persecution for the sin of bearing an ideological bent that identified itself with Socialism, while the inner circle of the Kenyatta regime favoured a rapacious form of larceny that was conveniently wrapped up as capitalism," says Wanyiri.
Tellingly, the assassination of JM, the disappearance of Kungu and ostracization of Kagia, all exclusive members of the Kikuyu community, by a Government whose reins were in the hands of arguably one of their own, opens up the seminal query of whether the Kikuyu community can truly be labeled as being a homogeneous society as some people would wish to believe, or whether the term heterogeneous is much more suitable.
Fact: In big measure, its believed that the guerrilla warfare, famously referred to as the Mau Mau (1952 – 1958) war, which is widely thought to have speeded up the departure of the invading British colonial Administration, leading to Kenya’s independence or "Uhuru na Bedera" in 1963 remains relevant today as a classical study of the disparate mosaic that is the Kikuyu nation. For example...
As the protracted war, whose central theater was within the Mt. Kenya region -- a forested swathe of real estate settled predominately by the Gema community-- got underway, cold acts of fratricide morphed with unparalleled zeal as members of the community opted either to become quislings (Home Guards) of the British army aka "Kamutimus" or, alternatively, freedom fighters (Njamba cia ita).
It was rather telling that even on the eve of independence, the differences between these two groups subtly played out behind the scenes as some of the former freedom fighters temporarily balked in leaving the forest, arguing that land -- the resource which had led them to the war front in the first instance -- which had been expropriated by the British and the local quislings must be handed back to their rightful owners. In a way, what the freedom fighters were expressing was an axiom that pontificates that the absence of war does not amount to the possession of peace.
Kenyatta, who scandalously denied having been part of the gallant Mau Mau freedom army and his oligarchy -- disproportionately stitched up of Home Guards -- understandably thought the thinking of the Mau Mau remnants was basically farcical.
It is popularly believed that a sizable number of the intransigent fighters were eventually tracked down and mowed down under a hail of gunfire by Home Guards who had been handed a tacit go-ahead by Kenya’s inaugural first government. The vile incident has remained a hush-hush affair in government circles for rather obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, the historical burden of being a member of the Kikuyu community -- because vicariously, that’s what it is -- has not escaped the ivory towers too where occasionally, biased interpretation or interrogation of the role played by members of the Kikuyu community in emancipating the country from the clutches of British imperial rule has remained a dubiety. Can you imagine?
For according to a derisory lot of enthusiastic sophists who occasionally view history through ethnic lenses and sometimes appear to ail from self-inflicted amnesia, the Mau Mau war was simply a tribal affair (read Kikuyu) and had nothing to do with the granting of independence in 1963.
A random pick on the academic works of Professors William Ochieng' and Bethwell Ogot and Dr. Henry Mwanzi will attest to this, with the celebrated and internationally acclaimed local novelist Prof. Ngugi wa Thiongo -- a Kikuyu elder -- receiving arguably the short shrift for highlighting the nationalistic valour displayed by particularly the Mau Mau during the war leading to independence.
Said the local Weekly Review magazine of October 1984: “Historians have been taking him (Prof. Ngugi wa Thiongo) to task over what they see as a distortion of history in his novels, particularly in regard to the role of the Mau Mau and that of the late Jomo Kenyatta in the struggle for Kenya’s independence. Led by Professor William Ochieng, now famous for his passionate dislike of Ngugi’s work (some say it is personal), other prominent historians who have taken time out to discredit his literary achievements include Professor Bethwell Ogot and Dr. Henry Mwanzi.”
Elsewhere, the senseless murder of Tom Mboya on July 5 1969 doubly triggered an ethnic backlash whose aftermath continues to reverberate to date, as the world noted a burgeoning of an intractable political relationship between Mboya’s Luo community and Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe, which has transcended the passage of time.
It turns out that a small cabal imbibed with hubris that had the ear of President Kenyatta -- exclusively drawn from the Kikuyu tribe, and which traced its ancestral roots to Kiambu County -- believed that it possessed an ethnic linage blessed with an entitlement to rule the country.
"Events took an ugly turn after 1969. A powerful and influential group, surrounding a senescent President Kenyatta, was intent on retaining power at any cost. It is now public knowledge that the membership was made up of Mbiyu Koinange who happened to be Kenyatta's brother in law, including serving as the Minister of State; Dr. Njoroge Muigai, who headed the powerful Ministry of Defence, and who coupled up as Kenyatta's personal doctor; Ngengi Muigai, who happened to be a nephew of the President; and the late Dickson Kihika Kimani and Njenga Karume -- two heavyweights who were arguably Kenyatta's alter egos. Coincidentally, all these guys, including the President himself, hailed from Kiambu," says Mr. Koigi Wa Wamwere, a former legislator and political detainee.
According to Koigi, after the murder of Mboya, an internecine plot with heavy ethnic undertones was executed by the group which witnessed the coerced act of oathing taking place in parts of the country with the target been locals of Kikuyu extract.
"Kikuyus of all persuasions were forcibly given an oath and were also required to pay KSh. 5 for the exercise. The event which began in late 1969 running up to 1972, had a clarion call that pontificated that the Presidency of the country was the exclusive business of those born in Kiambu County. Leadership of the country would never pass River Chania, they foreswore. Gullible Kikuyus were made to believe that their collective safety would only be assured if a Kikuyu remained President," explains Kihoro.
Today its logical to state without watching your back, that the forces intent on keeping the presidency within Kiambu county were at the time throwing straws against the wind, in other words they were engaged in perpetrating a rearguard action.
Simply because since Kenyatta’s death, his two predecessors so far, trace their roots away from the Kiambu region.
And if Kihoro is to be believed, the oathing at times went horribly wrong, like when worshippers of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) based in Naivasha, Rift Valley, -- almost all of Kikuyu extraction -- refused to take the oath, arguing that their faith forbid them to embrace atavistic practices such as oath taking. As a result, they were allegedly summarily shot dead.
Seeking a ballast to further entrench possession of redoubtable power, Kenyatta in his twilight years forced the hand of then Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, to register an organisation that would ostensibly advance the economic, social and political goals of the Kikuyu people, including their related kindred, the Embu and Meru.
This led in 1971 to the registration of GEMA (an acronym for Gikuyu, Embu, and Meru Association) Holdings.
Ironically, despite Njonjo being a Kikuyu himself, he overtly displayed a punfunctionary interest in the goals of GEMA Holdings. Privately, he held the top membership of the organisation in severance. And as proof of his disdain for the group’s goals, in 1976 he saber rattled the leadership of the organisation, with a sophistry that spelt out that to "imagine, think or compass" the death of a sitting president would be considered a treasonable act.
At the time, the GEMA leadership was plotting to snooker the automatic ascendancy of the Vice President -- Daniel arap Moi, a chap who cut the sorry image of a wooden character with a disposition cut out for the sticks alone -- to the acme of power, notably the presidency, in the event Kenyatta’s health suffered irreparably, or if he became incapacitated or in the extreme, died in office.
Suffice it to point out that upon the death of Kenyatta in August 1978, a hesitant Moi received a popular mandate to run the country, thus throwing a spanner in the works for the 1976 change-the-constitution group which, beginning in August of the previous year, had embraced an itinerant character as it traveled the length and breadth of the GEMA territory, preaching a gospel that sought to stymie the inchoate ambitions of the then Baringo Central MP, a geographical locale ensconced within the vast Rift Valley country.
A year later, an emboldened Government under the heel of a now confident arap Moi issued a legal writ banning all tribal organizations, GEMA Holdings being the exemplar. But bad blood between Moi and Njonjo saw the duo break up, catapulting Njonjo to political wilderness for close to 15 years. Today, a rejuvenated and reinvented Njonjo is hogging public attention with invectives towards a resurrected GEMA raising the specter of carrying out an old war by other means.
Said this former Constitutional Affairs Minister recently, "GEMA is going round telling Kenyans only a Kikuyu can lead this country again. This is misleading….We had a Kikuyu as the first Head of State when the country attained independence and now we have a Kikuyu as the president. Who says that other women outside the Mt. Kenya region have not borne children bright enough to lead this country?"
Njonjo was alluding to the endorsement of Uhuru Kenyatta, the political scion of the Kenyatta household, by a cross section of political, business and spiritual leaders drawn from the GEMA fraternity, as the preferred Presidential flag bearer for the Mt. Kenya region, the ancestral home of the GEMA populace.
The elections which are scheduled not later than March 2013 have also drawn in three other candidates from the region who have also declared publicly that they too will be running for the country’s top seat. "This endorsement is bad and should be discarded if we want Kenya to be free of tribalism," said Dr. David Gitari, retired Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
Both Njonjo and the retired man of the cloth are widely thought to be batting for Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a member of the Luo community in the forthcoming Presidential race, despite the duo tracing their ancestral to the Kikuyu community. Like Uhuru, Raila also traces his roots to a powerful political dynasty that is equivalent to a local Croesus. "Rubbish" is what Justin Muturi, a confidant of Uhuru thinks of the assertions of Njonjo and company.
Charity begins at home, he says, providing a somewhat fitting anecdote. "When Raila ran for the presidency in 1997 on a National Development Party (NDP) ticket, the voter turnout in his ancestral Luo Nyanza was an overwhelming 98%, and five years later when he famously endorsed Kibaki for the Presidency, voter turnout in Luo Nyanza dwindled significantly to about 60%.
What does that tell you about the voting patterns in the country? And even in Europe the belief that all politics is local resonates very well as witnessed in the UK where the Liberal Democrats opted to form a coalition government with the Conservative Party despite having more in common with the Labour Party. Why? Because Gordon Brown, the leader of the Labour Party, is Scottish, while David Cameron is English, just like the leader of the Liberal Democrats. It’s therefore a total fallacy that when members of the GEMA community meet, the conclave is labeled tribal but when other communities meet to discuss their affairs it’s considered OK.
Also one needs to recall that when Raila visited parts of Luhyaland a while back, he reminded the audience that he belonged to the linage of Nabongo Mumia, adding that it was now 'their time' to lead. Why was this public pronouncement not given latitude, but when we as GEMA people say Uhuru Kenyatta will be our Presidential flag bearer, people make all sorts of noises? When Musalia Mudavadi sort endorsement for his presidential ambition, did he not initially seek blessings from his ancestral Luhya backyard?"
Even Muthui Kariuki, a media advisor to Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who identifies himself as a Kikuyu elder, says there is nothing wrong in an ethnic group meeting to chart their way forward. Pointing out that not all Kikuyus are members of GEMA because entrée into the organisation requires one to purchase a membership card, Mr. Muthui says ethnicity should be the least of factors when deciding whom should led the country.
"It’s totally wrong for anybody to suggest that someone should not run for public office simply because they hail from a certain community. Mature democracies eschew that sort of archaic thinking. Look, I taught Mr. Peter Kenneth, one of the presidential candidates, in Starehe High school, here in Nairobi. If one needed a reason to back him up, I believe I posses all the required qualifications. He happens to be a Kikuyu like myself and I am very well acquainted to him, as well. But I believe that as a country we should avoid parochialism. Lets vote in, the best possible candidate because our destiny as country is intertwined. If we vote in a capable leader, the entire spectrum of the country benefits and the converse is true. As a Kikuyu elder, I find nothing wrong with GEMA people congregating together."
Veritably, a legion of GEMA naysayers are agreed about the relevance and role of the outfit today, arguing that the organisation is quintessentially a club catering exclusively for the interests of elitist drawn from the Mt. Kenya region, alone. "GEMA is a club of Kikuyu aristocrats. Non elitist leaders from the Kikuyu community such as the late Prof. Wangari Maathai, Paul Muite, Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua including myself cannot be admitted into the organisation.This is because our interests and those of the Kikuyu aristocrats are different. When Mr. Maina Njenga, formerly leader of the Mungiki sect, initially attended the Limuru One discussions, he was denied an opportunity to address the attendees. Why? Because he is a member of the hoi polloi class. It is therefore mischievous to say all Kikuyus are members of GEMA," says Koigi.
"Amnesty can only be granted when one has been tried and convicted. If we brush aside violations without acknowledging we may encourage another chapter of chaos in the country."
-Martha Karua, Minister of Justice
"In 1980, Museveni went to the bush claiming that the elections were rigged. Now he is the same man congratulating Kibaki whose victory is being disputed. This is the saddest thing the President has done to East Africa."
-Prof. Ogega Latigo, Uganda's Leader of the Opposition in Parliament
"I do not know whether Kibaki won the election." -ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu talking to The Standard after admitting that he read the election results under pressure from PNU