Beware when politicians unite, and tribalism rules

There was a rare display of bipartisanism in Kenya as politicians who are normally bitterly opposed to each other voted themselves a massive pay rise to make themselves one of the highest paid politicians in the world.

There was a rare display of bipartisanism in Kenya as politicians who are normally bitterly opposed to each other voted themselves a massive pay rise to make themselves one of the highest paid politicians in the world.

This came as no surprise to many Kenyans who are used to their politicians and their endless intrigues. Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister and Uhuru Kenyatta, the Finance Minister have both vowed to block it even if it is approved by cabinet. 

I spent the last weekend with Kenyan and Ugandan journalists here to cover the Liberation day celebrations. I spent most of my time warning them of the effects of impunity and tribal politics.

Kenyan MP’s have been exempt from tax; a panel that was reviewing the overall pay of MP’s recommended that they start to pay tax. The MP’s pre-empted this move by giving themselves a massive pay-rise in line with this tax of 25%.

The MP’s complained that most of this salary goes on charity projects as many voters expect money from MP’s, which I found implausible.

In Kenya, they hoped that giving higher salaries would make MP’s less corrupt but that has not worked. On top of their massive salaries, the MP’s have Constituency Development Funds (CDF’s) that amount to millions of dollars without much oversight and accountability.

This impunity often stems from the way in which MP’s are elected along tribal lines. To challenge a corrupt MP is seen as a challenge to his/her whole tribal bloc, so little is done even though it is the MP’s own tribal bloc that is suffering.

It was very hard to explain to people from Kenya and Uganda, less so Tanzania because tribalism was almost abolished by Ujama. In Uganda and Kenya tribalism is deeply ingrained in the mindset.

Indeed a tribe goes so deep into personal identity that one cannot separate it from politics. A Kenyan friend of mine claims to absolutely love Raila Odinga but cannot vote for him for tribal reasons.

That is a tragedy because his mind is warped by prejudice even though his heart loves Odinga. 

I was once told a saying “if politics is a mountain, then tribalism is like a helicopter.” Indeed, what would take a politician years to do the right way like; define policy, build a powerbase, form coalitions, lobby for legislation, fund-raise to campaign and so many other things can simply be bypassed by taking the tribal route.

Suddenly you have a ready powerbase, you are insulated from accountability, you are entitled to funds from your tribe, and your vote in parliament is up for sale. If we allowed the likes of Victoire Ingabire to be voted in on tribal grounds, it would be the end of Rwanda as we know it.  

ramaisibo@hotmail.com

Rama Isibo is a social commentator

 

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