What the Coast Can Learn From Voting Patterns in the Rift Valley [opinion]

There are two Kenyan communities that historians believe were created by colonial demographers and cartographers – the Luhya and the Kalenjin.

Both groups were never internally unitary. What the colonialists did for ease of reference and administration was throw various scattered groups that spoke more or less the same language together.

Before the Mzungu got down to the business of forcibly modernising the region we now fondly call Kenya, Kipsigis were Kipsigis and Nandi were Nandi – no one referred to them as unitary.

The Maasai and the Samburu had many affinities but even to this day no one bundles them together.

The people that comprise the Luhya and the Kalenjin were likewise largely distinct at Independence. But that is where the similarities end. Consider the five multiparty general elections since 1992 – in each and every one, the Kalenjin voted as a bloc. The Luhya, who, ethnographically speaking, have the same linguistic and sub-clan fragmentation, started by dividing their votes between wazee Daniel arap Moi, Kenneth Matiba and Oginga Odinga in 1992, and more recently between Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi in 2013.

Kalenjins unite their votes, the Luhya scatter theirs

The Luhya have scattered their very considerable vote in every multiparty poll since the restoration of political pluralism.

Compare this to the fact that only once in the multiparty era has the Kalenjin vote gone to the loser, and the community remained out of government for one election cycle – in 2002, when Mwai Kibaki trounced Uhuru Kenyatta and downed Kanu.

In 2007 they voted for the loser again, this time Raila, but ended up in government through the expedient of the Grand Coalition regime that meant there was no opposition for a five-year cycle.

So, for us at the Coast who are convinced that the only way out of our marginalisation is to entrench ourselves deeply in the centre of government, the most urgent question that arises is: What can the Coast learn from the Kalenjin, given their remarkable track record of always ending up in government?

The Kalenjin really are without parallel on this count. The other perpetually united vote blocs do not enjoy the same record. For the Luo it is two out of five times, for the Kikuyu it is three out of five, and for the Kalenjin four out of five.

The meaning of Kalenjin unity

To understand Kalenjin unity and its single-minded purpose, you have to go back to the mid-1960s. In those early years, you found in the Kenyatta Cabinet men like Masinde Muliro, Ronald Ngala, Achieng’ Oneko, Tom Mboya, Jaramogi Odinga, Mbiyu Koinange, Charles Njonjo and Paul Ngei. All these were towering political figures.

The mild low-key men of that Cabinet were Lawrence Sagini of Kisii and Daniel arap Moi of Rift Valley. Ask yourself: How did Moi end up not only succeeding Kenyatta but being President for 24 years, something that most likely will not be matched, ever?

At the height of his power, President Moi stealthily introduced the factor of the Rift Valley cluster of tribes called the Kamatusa (Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and Samburu) to create a unity of purpose clout bigger than the Luo’s, and big enough to confront the Gema (Gikuyu, Embu and Meru of the Mt Kenya region) and attract considerable Luhya, Akamba, Northeastern and Coast votes.

It could be argued that Jomo Kenyatta’s 14-year rule was a time of continuing marginalisation for Rift Valley. It was out of their very special marginalisation during this period in the precincts of power that Kalenjin unity was forged.

What this amounts to is that the Kalenjin community knows the sweet fruits of high office intimately, but also the bitter harvest of marginalisation, and know that the way to avoid one and gain the other is through unblinking unity – voting massively as one.

Can anyone really deny that at Independence highly educated Kalenjins were in much smaller numbers than highly educated Kikuyus, Luos and Luhyas? But by the time Moi was through, there was such a vast pool of highly educated Kalenjins that even he, an Executive President unencumbered by the new constitution and the vetting systems of today, could not find jobs for them.

Ruto’s choice in 2022, nothing but a Coast Running Mate

To a large extent this is what I dream of for the Coast – not just economic empowerment and political unity, but also a vast human resource of highly educated coastals holding key positions all over the country and beyond, and thus able to use their brains and their networks to help uplift their brothers, sisters and cousins back home, for that is how progress is achieved.

I never tire saying this, for it is true – this sort of thing is only achieved by “having one of our own” in top political office, by which I mean President or Deputy President. Ascending to the Presidency only comes from strategic long-term planning at the regional level. In our specific example at the Coast, we must demonstrate in 2017 the things the Kalenjin have demonstrated in four of the five general elections of the multiparty era, now 23 years long.

First, total unity of the vote bloc and, second, being on the winning side and therefore ending up in government.

Thereafter, if indeed Deputy President William Ruto (a long-term planner himself) does achieve his objective of being the leading Presidential candidate in 2022, he will have no choice whatsoever but to stand with a Running Mate from the Coast.