|Since the 1990s, Koigi wa Wamwere’s national image has gone down considerably. In the mid-1990s, he instigated a raid on one of President Moi’s police stations, an act which marked him as a misguided adventurer.
In the mid-2000s, when he joined the Kibaki regime, he said things which caused many thinking Kenyans to doubt his moral and intellectual make-up. They dismissed him as ethnically inspired and self-serving. He frequently worried even me.
For the Koigi I had known earlier was quite different. I first heard of him in the early 1980s, when — for their fierce parliamentary attacks on social injustice — he and others whom attorney-general Charles Njonjo marked as “the Seven Bearded Sisters” who – gave Daniel arap Moi, the new president, a very hectic time.
We subsequently met in person when Koigi telephoned to congratulate me on a review I had published on the book Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity by Frances Lappe and Joe Collins. It was a memorable lunch.
Last week, a young man called Muchungu of Longhorn, a Nairobi publishing house, telephoned to draw my attention to a little publication which has deeply strengthened my belief that Koigi wa Wamwere is among the great moral and intellectual forces extant in our country.
Although published five years ago, the book is even more relevant in the post-election mayhem. For it is an engrossing analysis of the root-causes and forms of manifestation of negative ethnicity (the book’s title).
The refreshing thing about Koigi’s work is that it is not a set of jeremiads of the sort we are used to from ethnic elites whenever they are politically disadvantaged – as the Luo-Kikuyu elite evinced during the Moi-Biwott ethnic elite tyranny.
Koigi affirms something which I have often asserted. No matter which ethnic elite is oppressing the whole nation, the masses of all ethnic communities – including especially even those in whose name the clique is dictating things – suffer terrible economic and intellectual deprivations.
Sub-titled From Bias to Genocide, the book recounts how the Kikuyu masses were robbed of land and other property by the power elite surrounding Jomo Kenyatta while the same elite preached to the same mass the doctrine that the Luo, Kalenjin, Luhya and Mijikenda were the enemy.
IT TELLS THE STORY OF HOW, LATER, THE KALENJIN masses were robbed of vast swathes of land by the power clique around Moi while that same elite convinced the Kalenjin that the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru were the enemy.
It warns between the lines that the power rearrangement now going on will plunge Kenya into the same pitfall if it is allowed to concern itself only with tribal elite interests at the expense of the people of Kenya of all ethnic and other communities.
But Koigi goes far beyond Kenya’s borders. Few books are more information-packed. Koigi is simply amazing by his scope of reading. He liberally quotes from books and articles concerning ethnic tragedies from Rwanda to Korea, from Ireland to Costa Rica, from Liberia to Yugoslavia.
He adduces facts and figures to show that negative ethnicity — a term which he prefers to “tribalism” — is not confined to Africa (as the Western news correspondent claims in his developed-world conceit) – but is a worldwide human tragedy governed by elite economic greed.
In a word, Koigi is much better read than those of us who allege that communication is our stock-in-trade. He is much better informed than all those who claim to be “stakeholders” in a new constitution — fellow MPs, lawyers and even journalists and university professors.
This painstakingly acquired social knowledge is what enables his moral and intellectual knife to spare nobody – not even the very Kikuyu elite of which he is a prominent member. Absence of such objectivity in most of our intellectual and political leaders is the number one enemy of Kenya’s aspiration to become a nation.
Because our intellectual and moral institutions – parents, churches, schools, and universities – are led by individuals who think, at best, only of their ethnic elite interests, events such as beset Kenya after December 27 will occur again and again tene na tene.
For, by its very nature, negative ethnicity blinds even the most intelligent individuals from the most glaring lessons from it. When they finally took power in 2003, even those who suffered most gravely in Mr Moi’s detention camps launched their own programmes for fleecing Kenya as a tribal clique.
Many were heard to declare that it was now “our time to eat” – where the pronoun “our” referred to a particular tribe, tightening grabbing, human rights abuse and favouritism in appointments, all based on tribe.
What happened to Koigi when he joined the Kibaki Government seems to happen to all of us whenever we enter elective politics. But his book is a definite source of redemption.