Mr Gachagua, we, too, are your people and sing Kenya

Friday, January 13th, 2023 05:00 | By
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. PHOTO/(@RigathiGachagua)Facebook

Our people. This decidedly sums up Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s political philosophy and attitude. Throughout his impressive campaign for President Ruto, Gachagua barely disguised the idea that his presence on the ballot was to protect the interests of Mt Kenya against what he considered a conspiracy by traditional political families.

That is why nobody asks who he means by “our people.”  The DP has reprimanded Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja for implementing “overzealous” policies that could hurt people from Mt Kenya and reminded the young politician that ‘our people” helped him ascend to the seat. One would not be reflecting on such a refrain were it not being driven by a State officer at the highest office of constitutional political power, a man with an outsize say and fiat in government. Secondly, it ignites the poignant question about belonging, exclusion and nationhood.

The talk of “our people” reminds students of society about the narrative in South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People.

July, a black, works for a white family in Johannesburg when anti-apartheid riots break out with the help of militias from neighbouring countries who bomb airports and seize ports. The lives of whites are put in danger and the Smales, July’s employers, are forced to take refuge at their servant’s isolated rural home. Gordimer paints the spectacle of wazungus living in a mud-walled African hut. They are forced to adapt to a life of weed gathering and mealie cooking, “of shivering in a rainstorm while the hut walls grow sodden and flying cockroaches zip through the dark.” The clay vessels they used to collect as ornaments became kitchen utensils. Besides anxieties around the Smales’ condition arose the question of their identity. July had brought the white family to “our people.” But to the villagers, they were July’s People. By one stroke of fate, both the villagers and the white family became July’s People.

Because of his short political resume, it is not easy to put a finger on an iota of Gachagua’s contribution to the country’s Constitution making project. But the son of the Mau Mau as he prides himself, needs no reminding that once he held the Holy book and swore to protect and defend the Constitution, every Kenyan became his people. That is why he must be dissuaded from this unfortunate obsession with “our people.”

It is frightening to ponder that one of the roles assigned to Gachagua, is reforms in the public service. It is well documented that one of the biggest challenges of our Public Service- in which he earned his stripes- is an attitude that is not only an opportunity for primitive accumulation of wealth through dubious means but an avenue to reward and serve “our people.” It does not help that the President has tasked the DP to oversee the coffee sector, a fairly parochial choice of responsibility probably informed by the fact that he hails from the region where the crop is the economic mainstay.

But this does not negate the place of “belonging” in politics.  One’s ancestral roots and experiences are certain to shape his world-view, fashion of politics, relationships and style of leadership.  As Taban Lo Lyong once retorted in response to criticism over his quest for a political position in his Juba homeland, “every politician must have a local location.”

Obama used his Kenyan roots to inspire millions across the world on the importance of access to opportunity, ambition, discipline and hard work. Gachagua, too, can use his Mt Kenya roots to instill the values of bravery, tenacity, grit, organisation and enterprise for which he is celebrated.  Importantly, Gachagua’s minders should point him to the Preamble of the 2010 Constitution, which proclaims the people of Kenya as “proud of our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, and determined to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation.”

“I, too, sing America,” so sang  civil rights poet Lungstone Hughes in his poem, I Too, in which he bemoans exclusion of blacks in the American community.  Like any Kenyan, We, too, sing Kenya. 

— The writer is the Political Editor at People Daily

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