Ethnicized Centers Will Not Help Africa

Published on 20th September 2017

Growing up in the village, my mum was always excited about having grade cows which supposedly gave a lot more milk than traditional zebu cows. According to advice, an ordinary zebu cow could be cross-bred with an exotic breed - or ‘grade’ cow - to give rise to a better breed.  Keen to improve her breed, my mother would buy a local calf and nurture it to maturity.  My mother would then take it to a common village insemination joint where a government veterinary officer would attend to it. If the cow stopped mooing and jumping up and down, this was a sign that the seed had been implanted. The long wait for the cow to reach full term and calf would begin.

There was this one cow that she had, which went through the artificial insemination ritual. Unfortunately, between three and four months, the cow would miscarry – bringing forth a kihuno, a small and poorly formed calf. After several episodes of miscarriage and out of frustration, my mother had no choice but to sell the cow to a butcher for meat.

After observing the attempts to reform the African state in general and Kenya in particular during my 30 years of active life as an academic in Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi, I conclude that the effort to democratize most often yields the kihuno that my mother’s cow used to give after cross fertilization. African political scientists such as Barkam, Kitching and  Goran Hyden have  observe that  patron clientelism ails the evolution of nationhood and democracy in  African States. They recommend that Africa should address its undemocratic institutions and change its mode of economies of affection, production and exchange.

The  attempt to create democracies in the context of varied tribes with different social cultural backgrounds, terrain, classes, languages and modes of production, like my mother’s attempt to breed a better cow through ‘artificial insemination,’ has often led to a kihuno. We need to be honest with ourselves, use our comparative advantages and address negative ethnicity. Karuti Kanyinga, one of the commentators on democratization, argues that development will not be realized in Africa and Kenya as long as special interest groups that concentrate development activities in specific places, at the expense of others, prevail. Reliance on borrowed technologies, incurring unnecessary external debts and the failure to evolve a local mode of production and exchange will always breed a kihuno.

Africa in general and Kenya in particular must come up with an inclusive model of governance and production that takes into account diversity. Unless this is done, our democracy will always be a kihuno to the dismay of peasants, artisans and traders. There is much to be gained by building a national economy based on comparative advantages, regional specializations, talents and gifts. For Kenya, alliances between counties can be made to strengthen markets and flow of capital.

As Desmond Tutu observes, “we are all inextricably connected and interdependent on each other.” We should seek to address issues of inequalities and marginalization. It begins with our African Ubuntu, realizing that we are all inextricably connected. We need to share and contribute to uplifting others. We need inclusive development policies and paradigms that uphold the humanness and dignity of everyone.

By Mary Njeri Kinyanjui

Institute of Development Studies, The University of Nairobi.


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