African politics, Devolution, Kenya Watch, Uncategorized

Alfred Keter, Code switching and politics of sharing/eating the national cake

Alfred Keter, the first time Member of Parliament for Nandi Hills has become something of a lightning rod for the Jubilee government. His insistence the Ruto side of the coalition received a raw deal has animated both pro and anti-Jubilee supporters.

To the Jubilee supporters, Keter is Odinga’s agent – the arch-enemy bent on capitalizing on Jubilee’s weakness real or imagined.

To the anti-Jubilee brigade, Keter is the new “prophet” – confirming the myth the Kikuyu are untrustworthy partners, and sooner rather than latter what befell Odinga would befall Ruto.

However, both pro- anti Jubilee argument only provides a half analytical framework in understanding the Jubilee government’s crisis. A useful way is to transcend the anti-pro dichotomy and have a third way of looking at the situation.


In post-colonial Africa state can be divided into the formal and informal, and we conveniently swing between these two universes depending on the circumstances.  During the day we all suited up and transact most of our business in “English” language, in the evening and on weekend’s we switch to the “mother tongue” where transactions are conducted without any formal agreement. This code switching- from formal to informal is a permanent and effortless state of mind.

Binyavanga Wainaina in his essay “Inventing a City Nairobi” writes, “In order to negotiate our complex lives, Nairobi people have learned to have dual personalities. We move from one language to another, from one identity to another, navigating different worlds, some of which never meet”.  But Wainaina’s Nairobi story is by no means unique to Nairobi; it is a reality in most post- colonial African states.

In rebuking the elites convenient code switching the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga in a speech at Sterehe Boys center said, “We have an elite that ‘speaks in tongues’ – civil in the formal civic space, but quite native in motive, values, ambition, and operation. An elite that is as vernacular as the next opportunity permits, but one which cloaks its irredeemable attraction to the ‘natal centre’ with sophisticated gadgetry and technology talk”. He added, “Elitism that is ephemerally modern but innately nativist”

By transcending the pro-anti divide one achieves a better understanding the demands Keter is making on the Kenyatta administration regarding the Kalenjin community’s perceived “fair share” as a critical “shareholder”.

Uhuru and KenyattaUhuru Kenyatta

Keter said, “We are holding the horns of the cow while others are milking it,”

As a member of parliament Keter knows better than anyone that under the new constitution, patronage politics of rewarding the political supporters notwithstanding, theoretically appointment to public position is largely based on merit and qualifications.  But when making those demands Keter is abstracting himself from the formal realm and locate himself firmly in the informal universe.

Keter by no means inaugurated this new “sub-genre”, it is a well wrought path; every so often, individual public official run to their communities when they are accused of for instance corruption at the national level- they make an individual transgression communal. They rally their community tapping into the well established victim mentality, we are haunted by ethnic community X and Y. The merit of the accusation in this realm is immaterial, and politicians and the public will advocate for the official to be pardoned.

Keter in his mind feel like he’s rendering a public service to his community since they overwhelmingly voted for Kenyatta, and they are de facto a critical stakeholder in Kenya Inc.

But this raises two important governance issues.

One, this posture poses the question regarding the minorities who will be able to marshal votes to trigger such calls for 50-50 power/job sharing demands. There is no chance the Boranas, Garres, Dasanach, Ormas, Sanyu can reach the threshold of asking for equal treatment by virtue of the votes. But even more importantly, how about the Luo’s, Luhya’s and Kamba’s who voted for Odinga?

But to the Kalenjins what Keter is doing in noble, standing up for his community’s rights. But by ennobling such a blatant implicit marginalization of other communities we have been desensitized to the rigorous constitutional requirements, but the “Keter’s’ entitlement is not without a foundation, it is even applauded and pushed up from the bottom by the communities.

Two, the emerging schism in the jubilee administration also reveals an acute under supply of trust after winning election through fickle pre-election coalition whose exclusive raison d’etre is winning an election.  However, the cost of short- gun marriage anchored in political expediency is all to clear as demonstrated by the 2007-2008 whose seeds were planted by president Kibaki’s failure to honor the pre-election Memorandum of Understanding he signed with Odinga.

Arguably, this will not be the first time a pre-election power sharing arrangement based on 50-50 powers and job-sharing end up being a mkate nusu. But the implication is if the politicians cannot keep their promises to each other, how about to the voters?; what are the chances that all the glossy manifestos, poetic rousing speeches and wonderful policy proposals are just that- hot air? Talk is cheap.

The signs are too visible, Kenyatta- Ruto team called themselves the dynamic- digital duo, whose slogan was kusema na Kutenda- roughly translated, saying and doing, and their campaign was youth centered.  But the recent appointment in the parastatals heads was nothing but youth, some of the appointee served in the Kenyatta I administration. For a perspective, since Kenyatta died in 1978, the United States have had 6 presidents, and a fair amount of them served two terms.

The answer to having a fully functioning democracy is neither doing away with the informality- doing away with one will not automatically trigger the other, but it is finding a sweet equilibrium between the two state of play, and that requires a great deal of work from the citizens as well as the leadership.


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