Okello Oculi
Executive Director

The people of Kenya have just fought a political war
over which Constitution should form the common shade
under which collective living would be conducted.
While at a conference of Social Scientists which held
in Maputo, Mozambique's capital, from 6th to 10th,
2005, I met a Kenyan scholar who is currently
completing her post-doctoral work at Syracue
University who was incenced that, after four decades
of independence, Kenya's political leaders would dare
to tell the whole world that their people's political
awareness had not grown beyond elementary botanical
symbols like "bananas" and "oranges". Her Ethiopian
colleagues, she said, had been enraged that Kenyans
had let all Africans down by not selecting more
advanced political symbols like 'Haille Selaise's
Camp' and 'Kwame Nkrumah's Camp'. Thus before the
substance of the contest was examined, there were
challenges as to whose symbolism should be used.

It is not evident that both camps met and agreed on
the rules of contest. The Masai, we are told, used to
conduct their wars by first warning the other camp
that they will be attacked and then precede the actual
fighting itself by engaging in preliminary verbal
insults and boasts. If fighting did take place, the
rules protected elders, women and children from being
hurt. In other African cultures, boastful shows of
warriorhood were exhibited by leading individuals from
either side across an open field in which both armed
groups could see each other. This was followed by each
side running foward, throwing spears from a distance,
and if even only one person was wounded from either
side, the war was ended till another time in the
future. In the referendum war in Kenya, it is not
evident that these ancient codes were consulted. As an
example, as many as nine people were killed in
demonstartions in Mombasa and Kisumu in the run up to
the referendum,yet the leaders did not call it off
altogether untill another date.

The results came. The Kibaki government lost.It is not
clear if both the "Oranges" and "Bananas" side had
worked out which code of political warfare would be
used for governing the aftermath.It is not clear if
there had been a body of fence-builders working behind
the scenes as the referendum campaign sent clouds of
dust into the political skies. Nevertheless it is
instructive to turn to Jomo Kenyata the anthropologist
for some guidance. Like most so-called "stateless
societies", among the Kikuyu (like the Nuer and Dinka
of Sudan, the Balante of Guinea Bissau, the Igbo and
Tiv of Nigeria,the cardinal rule for defending freedom
and the dignity of each household was never to allow
an insult to go unanswered. According to Kenyata:"no
man with dignity would take another to court for an
insult...The proper procedure was duelling or
fencing". The question to ask is whether President
Kibaki, himself a Kikuyu, experienced his defeat in
the referendum within the Kikuyu cultural code and as
a 'political insult', which would flow into a duty to
avenge the insult.

Another route for interrogating this matter is to
consult traditions by stateless groups, all across
Africa, of settling cases of homicide in which a
member of a clan was murdered by a member of another
clan. Kenyata wrote that the "family group of the
murdered man took up arms and invaded the homestead
with the object of killing the murderer or one of his
close relatives, and letting them realise that the
murdered man had a family group capable of inflicting
retribution on behalf of one of its members". The
human dignity and communal status of the murdered man
had to be affirmed.That response, however, held
within its vortex a potential for perpetual
counter-revenge and consequent permanent depletion of
the tribe.

Among the Massa, in Chad, to remain inactive in the
face of an insult is to "admit one's inferiority" and
to "leave the field free for physical violence or
magical aggression". Yet revenge and counter-violence
was not always inevitable. Various of these African
communities, therefore, came up with different
strategies. Among the Tonga the injunction was to
"have strong hearts" by bearing the pain without
complaining. Their children graduated from yelling and
screaming, while babies and children, to refusing to
cry even under excruciating pain as they got older.
Unlike Yoruba women in Nigeria (who are reputed for
hurling abuses and curses at their husbands while
gripped by the pain of giving birth), Tonga and Fulani
women never cry out even "though they say the pain is
like a flame". Other people turn to mediators whose
magical powers are assumed to make them neutral in
moments of settling disorder.

Kenyata reported that among the Kikuyu a dramatic
transformation occurs when a Kikuyu man's first child
was circumcised and ready to marry. The father was,
thereafter, regarded as a junior elder through a
ceremony that "signifies that he is now a peaceful
man, that he is no longer a carrier of spear and
shield, or a pursuer of the vanity of war and plunder.
That he has now attained a stage where he has to take
the responsibility of carrying the symbols of peace
and to assume the duty of peace-maker in the
community". The society had devised an escape route
out of the potential cycle of violence, into a
trajectory of peace-building and communication across
political and communal divides.

In his famous novel "THINGS FALL APART", the Nigerian
novelist Chinua Achebe, invented the main character
called "Okonkwo". He is a man of maximum powers.
Okonkwo dug more mounds of wet earth on which to plant
and breed more yam than any other member of his
community. His physical powers and wrestling skills
made him triumphant over all in the land. His
obedience to injunctions of manhood were so extreme
that he did not draw back (even in the face of
contrary advice by a close friend)from using his own
machete to slaughter a young boy whom the community
had put under his roof (and had grown to see him as a
father) till the lad could be killed in the forest
under a collectively approved ritual. It is clear from
the novel that the Igbo people, of whom Achebe is a
member, disapproved of such extremities in the conduct
of human affairs.

Another people, the Banyanga of the Democratic
Republic of Congo, also rejected the jetissoning of
restraint and "coolness" or "being calm". In their
traditional folktale they tell their hero, Mwindo,
thus: "You, Mwindo, never accept being criticized; the
news about your toughness, your heroism, we surely
have heard the news, but over here, there is no room
for your heroism". In otherwords restraint is vital
for long term harmony to be ensured in the community.

How does all this apply to the post-referendum
politics of Kenya?
President Kibaki is no hot-blooded youth bursting with
combative political flames.He has reached the peak of
the age of peace-making. While he has already sent a
tremmor through Kenya's politics by dismissing members
of his cabinet who led in opposition to his banana
leaves,he can still respond to the pull of restraint.
New tremors have also rent the civil service through
hints in the media that all those loyal to the
"Oranges" camp may be purged from office. A minister
in the Foreign Affairs ministry apparently warned
about massive recalls and new postings. The opposition
has accused President Kibaki of victimisation after
previously telling Kenyans to take sides in the
referendum war withour fear, and to enjoy the freedom
to exercise their human rights to hold opinions
contrary to that of his government. The panic among
opposition ranks is clear evidence of a crisis over
the codes of political warfare in 2005 Kenya's
political culture.

The Kibaki camp appears to have hinted at the view
that in the rules of political party campaigns as
practised in Britain and the United States, incumbent
losers move out of government offices and the rules of
patronage dictate those who share the "mandazi" in
between elections or after votes of confidence in a
government. Yet it is not clear that the fact that
losers in British and American politics have "pumpkins
in the homestead" to go back to when they lose an
election, the same is also usefully applicable in
Kenya. In Kenya, like in most African countries,
losers may bite the dust of poverty, and unlike Masai
injunctions of protecting elders, women and children
from the tempers of war, losses from lost political
wars may be total and indiscriminate.

This raises the problem of stability and challenges of
nation-building. While the referendum may have
produced a Kenyan nation emerging and growing through
collective dialogue, and even diatribe, extreme
measures in avenging what was regarded as a political
insult, or homicide, may provoke the rumbles of a
social rift valley devastatingly parting the political
loyalty and territory of bananas from that of oranges.
The sad records of mayhem in Sierra Leone, Liberia,
Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo,
Uganda, Rwanda , Burundi, Somalia, etc started from
such rifts. They are enough warning for Kenya's
leaders on both sides of the botanical divide
considering that the global environment is full of
merchants of military weapons waiting to give Kenya's
unemployed hordes of youth not bread but bullets.

That doomsday scenario notwithstanding, Kenya's
political leadership owe their founder President, Mzee
Jomo Kenyata,an internationally celebrated
anthropologist (through his classic "FACING MOUNT
KENYA"), the burdensome intellectual honour of
rigorously and creatively going back to their cultural
roots and sourcing out of them codes of conduct for
running their public affairs and political wars.
Anything less would be irresponsible political
infantilism and barbarism.