Whether the recent coronation of DP William Ruto was ‘illegally’ or “incorrectly” conducted to make him next Kalenjin Kingpin, the fact remains it happened.
The mention of DP’s name gives many a politician jitters, sleeplessness, artificial blood pressure, and most of all it evokes fear. He is not trusted in his own Jubilee Party by those who want to stop him from succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta.
But out there, while DP Ruto is with those who trust and believe in him, he is just a simple and a humble leader, whose village age mates see as another villager who lives in Nairobi.
After his coronation as a Kalenjin Kingpin last week, a section of Talai Elders scoffed at his installation noting that the traditional ceremony was illegal. Some of the reasons they have cited may not be in agreement with Christianity.
Led by Stephen Sugut, the elders claim the ceremony was carried out by young men contrary to the Kalenjin traditions.
But the Talai Council of Elders later refuted the reports claiming that DP Ruto visited them for a traditional cleansing as well as seeking special powers to stop the current purge in the Jubilee Party leadership.
The elders led by the chairman retired Anglican cleric Rev. James Baasi now clarified Ruto visited Kapsisiywa village in Nandi County to attend an abdication and accession ceremony where he was installed as the Kalenjin kingpin following the death of former President Daniel Arap Moi.
Ceremony Lasted One Hour
According to Rev. Baasi, the traditional ceremony lasted one hour and was blended with strong Christian/biblical symbols and prayers.
Those opposed to the coronation noted that the young men who conducted the ceremony did not consult the Kalenjin elders and declared the whole exercise illegal. The elders noted that during the ceremony honey was used contrary to the traditions.
“We are not against the coronation that was done at Kapsisiywa, but we are against how it was executed. For instance, honey cannot be used when a leader is dressed in Sambut (traditional regalia made of skins),” Sugut told reporters.
According to Kalenjin tradition, one would naturally abdicate the enthronement upon their demise.
After Moi’s death, the royal regalia now needed a suitable successor to be handed over to through a legitimate ceremony.
“The ceremony for Ruto was, however, an abridged version blended with strong Christian/biblical symbols and prayers,” said Rev. Baasi.
He maintained that the clan is not associated with sorcery and witchcraft as claimed on social media.
“We know that the function started very early in the morning according to our culture and this locked many people from attending the ceremony but it is very sad to see people speculate and brand us as sorcerers,” said Baasi.
The elders said Dr. Ruto was adorned with the sacred Kalenjin leadership regalia known as Sambut, Kuutwet, Shariit, and Rungut adding that he was also given Kumiat (honey) and a Kalenjin Bible.
Sambut and Kuutwet are the sacred accession treasures that are passed to successive Kalenjin community Kingpins.
They further explained that Sambut symbolises warmth and accommodative/inclusive leadership while Kuutwet and Royal Rungut represent authority, while Shariit is a symbol for shepherding.
According to the Talai elders, the kingship is now with the deputy president and that it is given to one person at a time, meaning that Dr. Ruto is now the sole leader bearing Kalenjin kingship mantle.
Leaders present at the ceremony included Nandi Governor Stephen Sang, his Uasin Gishu counterpart Jackson Mandago, Nandi Senator Samson Cherargey, MPs Julius Melly (Tinderet), Cornelius Serem (Aldai) and Wilson Kogo (Chesumei) as well as area MCA Pius Sing’oei.
Role of Elders’ Councils
The nature and role of elders’ councils were once again brought to the fore by the debacle involving Kenya’s DP Ruto and the Talai council of elders.
The crowning of an individual as a tribal chieftain has a long tradition in Africa’s post-independence history.
The nationalists who came to power—Nkrumah of Ghana, Kenyatta of Kenya, Kamuzu Banda of Malawi—would be crowned tribal chiefs at elaborate ceremonies where symbols of tribal authority—such as leopard skins and flywhisks—were conferred on them. This ritual was not just symbolic.
As Ali Mazrui explains in an essay, modern presidents were transformed into kings. So we had the absurdity of having constitutions when in effect what we had were absolute monarchies.
Crowning of tribal chiefs today has a similar function. It elevates those so crowned from being subject to political opposition. It is an extra-constitutional ritual with negative constitutional implications.
In a context bereft of ideology or principle, and where electoral competition is not among parties espousing different social and political philosophies, but between tribes and tribal chieftains, the ritual has become part of our political culture. But this is playing with fire.
In Rwanda, the politics of tribal competition led to the slaughter of a million people. We in Kenya periodically see this kind of violence.
Ethnic nationalism rests on the belief that members of the same ethnic community can only advance their political and economic interests if they stick together.
To engender this ethnic consciousness, tribal ideologues—often highly educated and widely travelled individuals—invoke customs and history of the tribe. They appeal to false notions of moral or intellectual superiority over other communities. And thus the proliferation of statements such as: “We Kikuyus or we Kambas.”
These statements do not only declare that we are different from you, but they also subtly claim a superior culture.
Dangerously, tribal demagogues claim, either directly or by innuendo that problems facing the community are caused by members of this or that community.
Through half-truths, skewed historical references, or outright falsehoods, tribal demagogues weave a narrative of persecution of the tribe.
Elders’ councils, whether Kalenjin, Kikuyu or Luo, have failed to be a progressive force in the creation of a new society based on the values of the 2010 constitution.
Instead, they have become custodians of beliefs and customs that perpetuate gender discrimination and practices that often go against the rights of children.
More ominously, elders’ councils have become how ethnic nationalism is fanned by politicians.
Council of elders can transform themselves from being instruments of ethnic mobilisation into bodies helping us to align cultural practices and beliefs with constitutional values.
AT KAJIADO NEWS UPDATE
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