Mzee Jomo Kenyatta with his little son Uhuru, Vice President Moi and AG Charles Njonjo in the mid 1960s. /FILE
Why Uhuru must free Kenya from his father’s oathing
We have had to wait more than four decades, to come to the day when the ‘Ichaweri Oaths’ become a matter of public discussion.
Rev. John Gatu, the retired moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), has been a harbinger of reason here.
He courageously and consistently stood up to President Jomo Kenyatta on the oathing issue and has now – in his memoir – immortalized his thoughts.
Rev. Gatu’s profound and brave exposé in his memoir is indeed intensely political.
A stinging message, one that the readership would hardly have been prepared to cope with, in these dark days as the specter of war looms over the 2017 elections in Kenya.
Earlier writers already informed us of the happenings.
Galia Sabar writes in Church, State and Society in Kenya, how oathing ceremonies were imposed on the Kikuyu to foster unity and ensure Kenyatta and his ruling clique kept their grip on power.
That grip had been badly shaken after the assassination of Tom Mboya, a powerful Luo ally of the President.
The death galvanized support for Kenya Peoples Union, the Luo-dominated opposition party led by Oginga Odinga.
In this oathing ceremony, according to reports in Parliament, they would stand naked in a dark room in a house on the grounds of the home of President Kenyatta and take an oath that they would never allow the flag of Kenya to leave the “house of Mumbi,” as Kikuyus call their tribe.
Whether the oath was voluntarily or forced, many Kikuyus believe sacred spirits will strike them dead if they break the pledge: they will be cursed.
The Kikuyu people had no case against the Luo or others to call for oaths and curses.
The oath to keep the presidency within their tribe is blamed for the huge fissure between Kikuyus and other communities that we have never been able to mend.
The perception here is that the Kikuyus wanted to keep the presidency indefinitely and dominate others forever.
To illustrate this, I would borrow a term coined by Rabbi Lord Sachs: Pathological dualism, which means a mentality that divides the world between those who are impeccably good and those who are irredeemably bad.
We fail to see any good in others and are quick to point out the bad of others.
This works in three ways:
1. When we dehumanize and demonize those we categorize as our enemies. Those perceived to threaten the uthamaki project. Dehumanization destroys empathy and sympathy. It shuts down the emotions that prevent us from doing harm.
2. It makes us see ourselves as victims. Victimhood deflects moral responsibility. It leads people to say: It wasn’t our fault, it was theirs. Outsiders aspiring for presidency have been blamed for being power-hungry and violent.
3. It allows you to commit altruistic evil, killing in the name of the God of life. Altruistic evil recruits good people to bad causes. It turns ordinary human beings into murderers in the name of uthamaki.
Rev Gatu’s memoir confirms that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was fully behind the oaths.
“Of all the things and of all the places, this was the last thing we expected to come from the lips of one we had come to love so dearly, our President,” Gatu recalls.
That Kenyatta, the founder of the country, was allowing tribal factionalism at the expense of national unity and his own policy of pulling the tribes together was frightening and a great betrayal.
It contrasts with Tanzania where Mwalimu Julius Nyerere counterpoised nationalism to tribalism.
It will take a Head of State’s set policies to undermine this Kenyan politics.
The 2007 violence was a clear indication that the other communities will not accept to remain in the shadows; they demand their place on the table.
Unfortunately, this may be repeated unless all stumbling blocks to fair elections and just arbitration in events of disputes – currently being mounted – are removed. But most important, the uthamaki claim must dropped.
We are fast approaching apocalyptic politics, a term used by Rabbi Jonathan Sachs in his recent book, Not in God’s name: “Apocalyptic politics is the strange phenomenon of a revolutionary movement whose gaze is firmly fixed on the past. It arises at times of destabilizing change and speaks to those who feel unjustly left behind.”
Where avenues for change are manipulated and made impossible, this kind of politics spreads like contagion.
Issues of truth have been simplified to the most elemental choice; agree or die.
Of all the illusions surrounding our Nation’s unity, none is more dangerous that the notion that leadership belongs to one “house of Mumbi” or their say-so.
Only President Uhuru Kenyatta can save this country.
The writer serves with the All Saints Cathedral Diocese in Nairobi. The views expressed here are his own.