Why Uhuru must free Kenya from his father’s oathing
By REV. CANON FRANCIS OMONDI
Mzee Jomo Kenyatta the founding president of Kenya.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” states William Faulkner in the Requiem for a Nun. His writings are apt warning to us who are struggling to overcome this sordid past.
We have had to wait more than four decades, to come to the day when the ‘Ichaweri Oaths’ become a matter of public discussion. It will be a moral test for us on whether we will remain servants to that past, or succeed in shaking those chains free.
Rev. Dr. John Gatu, the retired moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), has been a harbinger of reason here. He courageously and consistently stood up to President Jomo Kenyatta on the oathing issue and has now – in his memoir – immortalized his thoughts.
Rev. Dr. John Gatu the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa
Rev. Gatu’s profound and brave exposé in his memoir is indeed intensely political. A stinging message, one that the readership would hardly have been prepared to cope with, in these dark days as the specter of war looms over the 2017 elections in Kenya.
Earlier writers already informed us of the happenings. Galia Sabar writes in Church, State and Society in Kenya, how oathing ceremonies were imposed on the Kikuyu to foster unity and ensure Kenyatta and his ruling clique kept their grip on power. That grip had been badly shaken after the assassination of Tom Mboya, a powerful Luo ally of the President. The death galvanized support for Kenya Peoples Union, the Luo-dominated opposition party led by Oginga Odinga.
In this oathing ceremony, according to reports in Parliament, the Kikuyus would stand naked in a dark room in a house on the grounds of the home of President Kenyatta and take an oath that they would never allow the flag of Kenya to leave the “house of Mumbi,” as Kikuyus call their tribe. Whether the oath was voluntarily or forced, many Kikuyus believe sacred spirits will strike them dead if they break the pledge: they will be cursed.
A curse is not an end in itself. It is in a way an affirmation of blessings. This, as profoundly explained, is thanks to the African philosophy of perceiving curses positively as invaluable entities.
The Kikuyu people had no case against the Luo or others to call for oaths and curses.
According to the Kikuyus, a genuine curse is not to be pronounced out of malice or uncalled for emotional outbursts or jealous rage. “Kĩrumi gĩa Ũtũrĩka Gĩtinyitaga Mũndũ” (an uncalled for or unprovoked malicious curse is ineffective.) This is a caution that a far-fetched and unjust “curse” imbued with vendetta is null and void.
The oaths had devastating impact on the country. The curse may be, as Rev. Gatu and the PCEA clergy have demonstrated, a conjecture. It can be dealt with. But its spell that still grips the country years on is a huge challenge.
The oath to keep the presidency within their tribe is to blamed for the huge fissure between Kikuyus and other communities that we have never been able to mend. The perception here is that the Kikuyus wanted to keep the presidency indefinitely and dominate others forever.
What would one expect of non-Kikuyu communities hearing the talks of “uthamaki” on Kememe FM frequently? Our identity has been divided into two as a consequence: Us vs Them.
To illustrate this, I would borrow a term coined by Rabbi Lord Sachs: Pathological dualism, which means a mentality that divides the world between those who are impeccably good and those who are irredeemably bad. We fail to see any good in others and are quick to point out the bad of others.
This works in three ways:
- When we dehumanize and demonize those we categorize as our enemies. Those perceived to threaten the uthamaki project. Dehumanization destroys empathy and sympathy. It shuts down the emotions that prevent us from doing harm.
- It makes us see ourselves as victims. Victimhood deflects moral responsibility. It leads people to say: It wasn’t our fault, it was theirs. Outsiders aspiring for presidency have been blamed for being power-hungry and violent.
- It allows you to commit altruistic evil, killing in the name of the God of life. Altruistic evil recruits good people to bad causes. It turns ordinary human beings into murderers in the name of uthamaki.
Rev Gatu’s memoir confirms that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was fully behind the oaths.
“Of all the things and of all the places, this was the last thing we expected to come from the lips of one we had come to love so dearly, our President,” Gatu recalls.
That Kenyatta, the founder of the country, was allowing tribal factionalism at the expense of national unity and his own policy of pulling the tribes together was frightening and a great betrayal.
It contrasts with Tanzania where Mwalimu Julius Nyerere counterpoised nationalism to tribalism. He would not succumb to ideologisation and politicization of tribe. He constantly emphasized that the newly-independent countries had to weave together a nation out of tribes and ethnicity. On this he remained steadfast throughout his political life. In a dialogue with academics in 1991, questioned as to why he saw tribal identities as inherently negative when he himself was a ‘proud Mzanaki’, Nyerere retorted: “I’m a good Mzanaki, but I won’t advocate a Kizanaki-based political party. So I’m a Tanzanian, and of course I am Mzanaki; politically I’m a Tanzanian, culturally I’m Mzanaki.”
Mzee’s act placed Kenya in a perpetual trajectory of conflict and hate. But surprisingly there are little efforts towards correcting our politics. It will take a Head of State’s set policies to undermine this Kenyan politics.
Fear politics change the way individuals define identity; when people fear others they revert away from national identities and towards sectarian ones.Hon. Raila Odinga leader of ODM addressing opposition rally before the 2007 elections.
Hon. Raila Odinga leader of ODM addressing opposition rally before the 2007 general elections.
Michael Waikenda, writing in The Star newspaper of November 16th 2016, erred in claiming that the brand of politics by ODM leader Raila Odinga was divisive, when he claimed that in 2007 Raila rallied his supporters behind the propaganda of “41 against one,” which meant 41 ethnic communities were facing off against one community.
Didn’t the PCEA clergy foretell this?
In a letter they wrote to President Kenyatta On July 22, 1969, they told him – among other things – that the ceremonies were isolating Kikuyus from other communities on the account of the oath.
“Gikuyu as a tribe cannot keep from other tribes. This will result in the remaining tribes forming their block against the Kikuyu and aggravating the current harangues against the tribe,” they wrote. Sadly they were ignored.
The 2007 violence was a clear indication that the other communities will not accept to remain in the shadows; they demand their place on the table.
Unfortunately, this may be repeated unless all stumbling blocks to fair elections and just arbitration in events of disputes – currently being mounted – are removed. But most important, the uthamaki claim must dropped.
We are fast approaching apocalyptic politics, a term used by Rabbi Jonathan Sachs in his recent book, Not in God’s name: “Apocalyptic politics is the strange phenomenon of a revolutionary movement whose gaze is firmly fixed on the past. It arises at times of destabilizing change and speaks to those who feel unjustly left behind.”
Apocalypse is what happens to politics when it loses patience. It is like Samson in the Temple of the Philistines, bringing down the building on his enemies but destroying himself in the process.
Where avenues for change are manipulated and made impossible, this kind of politics spreads like contagion. They hold particular attraction for those who feel alienated, estranges, ‘wandering between two worlds, one dead and the other powerless.’
We are already there.
Former Nairobi mayor Aladwa was quoted saying early 2016:
“2017 imekaribia, na sisi kama watu wa ODM tumebaki na risasi moja.
Na mimi nimeambia party leader Raila Amolo Odinga, this time round, the outcome of the elections, ikiwa tumeshinda na watunyang’anye, wacha kiumane.”
(Things will be bad in 2017, and we as members of ODM have only one bullet left. I have told my party leader Raila Amolo Odinga, … If we win and are defrauded, let hell break loose…”
Mayor Aladwa was charged in court for these utterances, but latter freed, but his warning should not be wished away.
The patience to work on change seems gone among the opposition. Essentially they search for revolution without transformation, change without the slow process of education. They look to use power in the place of persuasion, daggers instead of debate.
Issues of truth have been simplified to the most elemental choice; agree or die.
Sachs describe this situation as: “Longing for the end of time in the midst of time. The search for redemption now, which is why it suspends the normal rules that restrain people from murdering the innocent.”
The opposition ought to take serious caution. Apocalyptic politics always fails, because one cannot create eternity in the midst of time, or unity without dissent.
Of all the illusions surrounding our Nation’s unity, none is more dangerous that the notion that leadership belongs to one “house of Mumbi” or their say-so.
Only President Uhuru Kenyatta can save this country.
The writer serves with the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi. The views expressed here are his own. (firstname.lastname@example.org)