Uthamaki, Giniwasekao – the relationship between tribal bigotry and voter apathy

I recently had an exchange with a colleague about President Uhuru Kenyatta’s new-found “swag” and (mis)use of the state’s instruments of violence to effectively abrogate the democratic rights of a citizen who also happened to be the duly-elected Governor of Mombasa County Ali Hassan Joho.

In the exchange the colleague asked, as justification for Kenyatta’s thin-skinned reactions to various county officials, “what would happen to me were I to approach POTUS the way Joho approached Uhuru”.

It was an interesting analogy only that it was also a false equivalence – a logical fallacy where two opposing arguments appear to be (logically) equivalent (in quantity and quality of evidence) but are not because one side has more and better evidence.

For one, I am not a governor of a state so were POTUS to visit the state where I reside, I wouldn’t be anywhere near him unless by accident.

For an apples-to-apples comparison, I offered as an example of presidential comportment, Barack Obama’s reaction to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s disrespectful behavior towards him when Air Force One touched down in Phoenix (back in Jan 2012). As the hosting governor, Ms. Brewer “welcomed” Mr. Obama to Arizona but allowed her partisanship to manifest itself in her reaction towards the visiting POTUS.

I told my colleague that “rather than call the US Army/Marines to place Gov. Brewer under ‘office arrest’, POTUS simply walked away leaving her standing on the airport tarmac in the hot desert sun – fuming.”

After that, my colleague demurred any further response to the Obama/Brewer saga and as he has done severally, pivoted to a friendlier topic.

Their partisan differences aside – Obama is a Democrat and Brewer is a Republican – The White House coordinated Obama’s visit with Phoenix (state capital of Arizona) and kept the Republican governor in the loop. By respecting the chain of command (as constitutionally mandated AND reflected in the relationship between the federal government and state government) Gov. Brewer’s behavior was widely-panned across the aisle because she had allowed her personal (and partisan) bias to manifest itself in the way she engaged the ultimate symbol of national unity – President Obama.

Had my colleague respected and embraced the fact that Gov. Joho is the chief executive of Mombasa even as President Kenyatta is chief executive of the country, he would have acknowledged that State House Nairobi had violated basic protocol by failing to co-ordinate the visit with State House Mombasa.

My take:

The pervading sense of entitlement or “uthamaki” (has) allowed President Kenyatta and his supporters such as my colleague to behave as if Kenya, its military and her natural resources belong to a select few i.e. “ya mama yao” and constitutional niceties be damned!

To wit, understanding the constitution, the various branches of national and county government and how the officials occupying those offices are supposed to interact with each other dovetail with the choices the voters make – at the ballot box – and what constitutes acceptable behavior.

Either my colleague knew the chain of command between State House Nairobi and State House Mombasa and chose to ignore it or did not know said relationship between the two hence was spewing partisan ignorance and hubris. Both scenarios point to one thing:

Understanding how government works or “Civic Education”, especially in a nascent democracy is extremely important and vital in assuring that citizens knowledgably participate in their own governance instead of defaulting to the banal AND extremely dangerous (sense of) entitlement reflected in constructs such as “uthamaki” and “giniwasekao”.

The ignorance and hubris reflected in the latter, “giniwasekao” loosely translated to mean “we’ve already taken this thing” proved even more costly because it bred an apathy that allowed supporters of Raila Odinga to incorrectly assume that their candidate had “already won” the 2012 General Elections against the crimes-against-humanity duo of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.

What befell CORD/Raila in 2012 is what befell the Democrats/Hillary in 2016; this regardless of the many narratives their respective supporters want to point to. Allegations that the elections had been “rigged” or “storen” by Jubilee-leaning IEBC workers or hacked by the Russians, swung by terrified and disaffected racist, misogynistic and xenophobic disaffected white male voters in Hillary’s case pale in comparison to the hubris and apathy of either party’ respective voters.

Instead of internalizing the simple and practical reality that elections are about hard numbers a la tyranny of numbers and executing on the basics of voter registration and election-day turnout, RAO’s supporters took their collective eyes off the ball and failed to (a) get their national ID, (b) register to vote, (c) canvass the precincts to make sure that others had executed on (a) through (c) and even more importantly, (d), turn out to vote!

Likewise, HRC’s campaign believed its internal polling that showed them “winning” and/or being competitive in traditional GOP strongholds. In the process, the campaign overlooked campaigning i.e. selling their ideas and even more important, election day turn in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – all states Obama won in 2012.

In the US, Democrats are already planning for 2018.

In Kenya, the countdown to August 2017 is on.



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