Now when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying:“What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” So Israel departed to their tents.
I Kings 12:16 (NKJV)
In 930 BC, the people of Israel seceded from the unified kingdom of Israel that Solomon’s son Rehoboam had just begun to rule. This was perhaps the first instance of secession in the Scriptures. The Divine Purpose was to punish Solomon’s idolatry. The earthly genesis of the matter, however, was economic: the people complained to Rehoboam that work had been too hard under Solomon. There is even a hint in Scripture that taxation was too heavy. When Rehoboam promised to be even harder on the people than his father had been, the ten northern tribes of Israel seceded. In a striking parallel to what is happening in Kenya today, the two tribes that were left behind by the ten seceding tribes were the same two tribes that had enjoyed rulership to that point: Benjamin (Saul) and Judah (David, Solomon and Rehoboam).
The secession did not end well. In order to prevent the people of Israel from worshipping at Jerusalem (which was in Judah) and re-uniting under a religious fervor, the nation of Israel instituted parallel worship-sites in Bethel and Dan. These centres of worship were actually centres for idol worship, and as a result the “ten northern tribes” were taken into captivity about 200 years later. The Kingdom of Judah lasted a further 130 years or so before falling to Nebuchadnezzar.
Nearly 2,900 years later, in 1960, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga uttered these momentous words:
“If I accept your offer, I will be seen as a traitor to my people. The British cannot elect me leader to my people… Kenyatta is around, just here in Lodwar. Release him and allow him to lead us; he is already our choice.”
It is from this point that any candid and honest appraisal of the current calls for secession must begin: we must begin from the fact that when Jaramogi Odinga was offered the leadership of the first post-colonial government in Kenya by the British government, he stepped aside in favour of Jomo Kenyatta. Odinga was a socialist by preference, with leanings towards China and the communist East. (These leanings, ironically, were to be imitated by Jomo Kenyatta’s son 50 years later as a result of criminal proceedings instituted against him at the International Criminal Court.) Within a short period of time Jaramogi Odinga’s views began to diverge from the views of the President he had stepped aside for. By 1966, just 3 years after independence, Jaramogi Odinga was so dissatisfied with the manner in which the nation was being led that he left the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU).
It is perhaps a sign of how little political progress we have made – and how constant the inequities of our politico-economic system have been – that 54 years after independence, our general elections are still pitting a Kenyatta against an Odinga. Yet from the formation of the KPU in 1966, a dissatisfied Luo nation (together with a varying set of allies) have sought to attain power.
The pain of repeated electoral loss beats constantly in the Luo heart. And while electoral loss is painful to anybody, this is not in and of itself cause for secession. But when such loss is believed to have been unfair (as in the 2007, 2013 and perhaps to a lesser extent in the 2017 general elections), the embers of that pain refuse to die, and are constantly fanned into flame by the bellows of that innate human aversion – the aversion to injustice.
And there are deeper hurts also. In July 1969, when this nation was just six years old, Tom Mboya was assassinated. Dr Robert Ouko was felled by the assassin’s bullet in February 1990. In September 2003, Professor Odhiambo Mbai was gunned down. You will say “JM Kariuki was also assassinated.” But it is not the same when you have never been in power, and when it is those in power who have done this to you. You may think these men have been forgotten, but they have not, for when Gor Mahia wins the Premier League, the fans chant the names of these men and dedicate victory to them. The lot of Luo is a deep and constant hurt, and a discussion of secession that does not acknowledge this context is a fraudulent and dishonest discussion.
And so we come to 22nd August 2017, when Dr David Ndii talked about secession on national TV. Now Dr Ndii is an economist of international repute. He has served as an economic advisor to the President of Rwanda and has been an economist with the World Bank. His academic credentials are impeccable: he is a Rhodes scholar and has both an M. Sc. and a Ph. D from Oxford. I have a lot of respect for his brand of economics, which despite his Oxford training and stint at the World Bank remains refreshingly people-centric, while remaining cerebral.
Why dwell on an economist? Because as the genesis of Israel’s call to secession was economic, so must we acknowledge that it is economic inequities that are the seed for the calls for secession today – a perceived exclusion from “sharing in the national cake”That said, Dr Ndii’s calls for secession are beneath a man of his intellectual stature.
For the solution to our tribal divisions cannot be to exacerbate them further; this is the fundamental flaw with Dr Ndii’s premise. Israel was not stronger for parting with Judah, nor was Judah stronger for parting with Israel. It is true that we cannot avoid our national disunity; we cannot pretend it does not exist. It exists in our offices; even – for some of us – in our families. It exists most tragically in our churches –
– And what of the church? It is a worry that the compassion of He Whom we call Master does not beat within our breasts. He Who taught to the Jew to call the Samaritan his neighbour; Whose eyes shed salty tears at the grave of Lazarus, and Who raised the weeping widow’s son to life at Nain – His attitudes are missing from our hearts, they are missing from our words, and they are missing from our bearing towards our countrymen.
Shall wife part with husband, that peace may prevail? Shall Pastor part with member and also call this peace? Shall employer terminate employee, over tribe, and call this peace? Shall countryman part with countryman, as a solution to their differences? Nay; it is a false peace whose genesis is in disunion and division. A solution whose father is the intolerance and insensitive bearing of the ruling peoples and whose mother is the pain of those who are ruled cannot be right. We must all reject secession as a false answer to the question of our national disunity.
And yet – in our rejection of secession we must not reject the context in which the call for secession has been made. We must be honest about what has brought us to this point. Calls to peace and unity that are made in the absence of a discussion about political and economic equity and justice are dishonest and unfair. We must put ourselves in our brothers’ shoes, no matter how much we think their victimhood is only perceived, or how much we ourselves are victims of the same misrule. We must walk 55 years in their shoes. And before we can claim to be dealing with the problem, we must start to correct the economic inequality in our nation.
Nearly 2,800 after the Israel secession, another secession took place – the secession of the southern states of the United States of America. The reason for the southern states’ secession was in order to defend slavery – another economic reason, for “free” slave labour enabled Southern enterprise to continue at a very low cost, an advantage the Southern states did not want to lose. And while we might like to think otherwise, the primary reason President Lincoln went to war was to preserve the Union. Nor was his resolution to go to war with his countrymen the lightly-taken, detached decision of a domineering tyrant. Nay, this is that Lincoln who buried a 3-year-old son in 1850, and an 11-year-old son in 1862. This is that Lincoln who was far too well acquainted with parental grief to send other people’s sons to war for matters of little consequence. And go to war he did – at considerable cost in human life – to preserve the unity of the United States of America. America went on to become the greatest nation in the world. The foregoing is not an argument for war. It is an attempt to show the lengths to which great men have gone to preserve a nation’s unity.
It is early yet. We should not go to war, brother against brother. Let us choose the path of peace. Let us choose the path of a just and equitable peace – a peace that acknowledges the context of the call for secession even as it casts off secession as a solution. Let us – on both sides – remember and live by the words of Dr Martin Luther King, who paid the ultimate price for believing that all men are equal:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.