For decades past, there has been a substantial population of Luos in Taita Taveta County. Most of them are descendants of labourers who were taken there to work in sisal plantations. Similarly, there used to be a considerable population of Luos in Kwale County descended from labourers who went there to work for the Ramisi Sugar Company. These however left when the sugar factory went into bankruptcy.As for Mombasa, there is barely a corner of it that does not have its “Kisumu Dogo”, this being a generic term for a zone within any estate heavily settled by Luos. These populations of ethnic Luos, many of whose children don’t speak their mother tongue, have rarely met with any hostility from the indigenous communities among whom they live.And in many General Elections, Luo voters in Mwatate and Taveta constituency in Taita Taveta County; and in Kisauni, Likoni, Changamwe and Mvita constituencies in Mombasa County; have been a much sought after “swing vote” by parliamentary candidates.Likewise in Lamu County, there is the township of Mpeketoni, which has a predominantly Kikuyu population. These are people settled here during the Kenyatta era, on what was known as the ‘Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme’. And they too have traditionally been a key voting bloc in that region much sought after by local Swahili and Bajuni politicians.
Reading the reports of the Maasai community activists who have vowed not to let any of the Rift Valley IDPs be settled in Mau Narok, where the government proposed to buy a 2,000 acre farm specifically for IDPs settlement, I thought of these historical details of coastal politics.For just a few weeks ago, there had been a very militant demonstration in Taita-Taveta County over much the same issue: the locals did not want any IDPs settled among them.And whether it be in Mau Narok or Taveta, when hostility is expressed towards these IDPs, what the locals really mean, of course, is that Kikuyus are unwelcome in their part of the country.’Consider then the plight of our fellow citizens, the Rift Valley IDPs. Not only have they been brutally evicted from their homes and farms, but even when the government tries to find alternative land for them, the local communities in the areas where land is available come up with one reason or another why these IDPs should not be settled in their midst.How do you explain this virulent opposition to the settlement of IDPS, and the fact that this opposition exists as much in the Rift Valley, as at the coast? Well, the answer of course is that we are still living with the consequences of the last General Election, and extreme stigmatization of the Kikuyu community which was at the center of the ODM strategy for defeating President Mwai Kibaki at the ballot box.What we are seeing at work here, is the power of destructive political narratives, once they get a firm hold on the minds and emotions of a people.
Although the ODM leaders did not engage in direct hate speech(Sic!-they did), the subtext of their campaign message was clear enough. It was that although the entire country had mobilised to support Kikuyu candidates during the 2002 General Election – in which candidates Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta were the clear frontrunners – when Kibaki was safely elected into the presidency, the Kikuyu closed ranks and proceeded to “eat alone”.Playing on historical fears of Kikuyu hegemony, the ODM painted Central Province as a land overflowing with milk and honey, and benefiting disproportionately from taxpayers’ money, while the rest of the country languished in poverty.None of this is in itself unusual. Some of the things that various American leaders have alleged about President Barack Obama, are far more virulent and misleading than anything the ODM leaders had to say about President Kibaki. Also, the ODM candidate, Raila Odinga for many years faced equally vicious stigmatization, with his rivals (mostly from Central Province) openly declaring that “a Luo can never be president of Kenya”.
Nonetheless, the profound and comprehensive stigmatizing of the Kikuyu community which the ODM leaders achieved in that election is what laid the foundation for the extreme hostility with which the prospect of IDP settlement has been met in so many quarters within the country.The key mass-rally-propagandists for the ODM in that last General Election were the PM Raila Odinga; Now that they have seen what their dangerous narrative of ethnic exclusion has brought to this country, I would say they each have a moral obligation to take the lead in the IDP resettlement process.