By John Onyando
The fable of the Luo community being poor and miserable goes very deep. It was honed by Jomo Kenyatta and perpetuated by Daniel arap Moi, in order to marginalise the tribe. The latest person to use this ruse as a political tool is Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero. Speaking in Mbita recently, Kidero said: â€œThe number of our students joining both public and private universities is alarming, our numbers have dwindled to an alarming level.â€
Statements that speak to past Luo marginalisation might win Kidero some support among anti-Raila Luos and others who rejoice in Luo retrogression, but the reality is diametrically the opposite. On the specific issue of educational attainment, let Kidero be told that Luos are performing better now than at any other time in 30 years. In the last two years, more Luos in proportion have qualified for university education than any other tribe.
No aspiring leader will win Luo support by portraying his own people as backward. Luos are intensely demanding of their leaders, which is why, unlike other tribes, in the last 60 years we have produced only three: Jaramogi, Mboya and Raila. These menâ€™s outstanding qualities were quickly recognised by the people and they did not have to fight to win the mantle of Luo leadership.
Among the many non-negotiable demands Luos make on those seeking leadership is that they unite the entire community behind them, rather than divide it in order to make headway. We also want leaders who are nationalists, and whose politics will win them support across Kenya. Finally, given our historical intellectual and ideological leadership, which Kidero did acknowledge, we want reformers â€“ but reformers who can successfully take on the established elites who have done so much to prevent Kenya from growing.
One reason why Raila has so much support is because, across the political spectrum, including in Jubilee, there is a conviction that only he, amongst Kenyaâ€™s many leaders, can build public confidence needed to take on and rein in the ruling elites. That is why the last two elections were rigged against him.
No one who does not meet these four criteria has a chance of being a Luo leader. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see who else from the current contenders could rise to that level and take over from Raila.
Having said all this, let me debunk the notion that Luos are struggling. Luos are doing just fine! With the exception of Somalis, no large tribe in Kenya has made as remarkable progress over the last 22 years of multiparty democracy as have the Luos. Those who deride Luos, including some Luos themselves, do not wish Luos well. We do want to raise sensitive issues, we want to be self-critical so we can learn and grow, but we do not need Luo bashers.
In these 22 years, Luos have made huge headway economically and politically. They hold positions in every competitive government office (including Nairobi governor!). Schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure have proliferated across Luoland. A Luo business class has sprung up, many with interests beyond Luoland.
But let Luos and all Kenyans celebrate our successes, as we should celebrate the non-divisive successes of other communities. Let me illustrate our successes in just one small community. In 1992, Kabondo division, which has over 100,000 residents today, had only one secondary school, no electric power connection, no hospital, not a single major market and only one tarmac road â€“ built in colonial times, linking Kisumu and Kisii towns.
Today the division has 20 secondary schools, each one producing outstanding graduates. There are a dozen bustling markets, which are electrified, creating jobs in metal fabrication, high-end carpentry and other crafts producing household and construction goods in great demand. The regionâ€™s first tarmac road since independence, connecting to Nyamira town, boosted the historical trade and bond with the Kisii community. Now the Homa Bay county government has launched construction of a new road, linking the area to Lake Victoria. In paying tribute to Luo success since 1992, we see once again the power of democracy to lift people higher.
But Luos can and should do better. Unemployment remains a challenge and, with the surge in ethnic discrimination, Luo youths face infinitely more obstacles in government employment. We must tackle unemployment not just by fighting for fairness, but by building an industrial base in Nyanza to create jobs in agricultural production, processing, services, including construction, and tourism.
It is indeed sad that Luos donâ€™t own financial institutions that can marshal our investment capacities, or any large companies providing employment. For that all rich Luos are to blame, including Kidero who despite being a multimillionaire for at least a generation has no known large investment in Luoland. Raila himself hasnâ€™t done well enough on the economic front. And recently, his choice of close associates didnâ€™t inspire confidence, which is why his 2013 election campaign was so disjointed. Cord has not been well organised since, leaving Jubilee to execute its anti-devolution, anti-reform agenda with absurd ease.
Still, this does not take away Railaâ€™s credit of leading Luos back to the mainstream, and his bringing to the centre of politics other previously downtrodden tribes like the Maasai, Somalis and Coastals. It is the Raila-inspired outreach to all communities, in the Kanu internal debates in 2000-02, and subsequently the Narc era, that made our democracy very competitive, unlike in the past when deal-making elites held complete sway over Kenyaâ€™s political direction.
Raila was in the fore of fighting for change and multiparty democracy, from which every Kenyan has benefited. Now, however, we are seeing these gains being reversed in what is becoming a single party dictatorship. A new generation of Luos must rise to join their fellow Kenyans to restore the principle of equity to further entrench a Kenya in which no people are ever marginalised again.
The writer is a research analyst on Kenya issues currently based in the US. He previously worked as a communication officer for Raila Odinga in 2007-2009.Â This article first appeared in The Star.