Nairobi — Of the individuals who have served as national heads of state in East Africa since independence, I know only two who can be directly accused of "dynastic" practices. One is Daniel arap Moi of Kenya and the other is Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.
Moi once successfully imposed one of his sons, Gideon, as his successor to the Baringo Central parliamentary seat and the public murmur was that the old man was grooming the young man for State House.
For his part, Museveni has appointed his own wife to the Cabinet and is accused of having favoured his brothers and other relatives to high positions in the civil bureaucracy, the army and the parastatal empire.
But here, I think, the term "nepotism" would be more accurate than the term "dynasty." If so, then the accusations against Moi and Museveni are much more serious. For a nepotist is one who prefers his relatives (and friends) in public appointments.
In wider contexts, this is also the crime that a tribalist, a racist, a sexist and a sectarian commits. Many Western transnational corporations with offices in East Africa are guilty of racism, which is just a form of tribalism.
The question is: Can a dynast be accused of any of the three forms of favour (nepotism, tribalism and racism)? Maybe nepotism --because a dynast is he who has automatically assumed power from his father. I stress the word "he" because women usually have no chance.
Given these facts, how can we describe Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Musalia Mudavadi, Katana Ngala, Peter Kuguru, suchlike, as "dynasts?" They did not assume their present positions from their fathers (either through a traditional method or by ad hoc rigging of the succession machine).
Nor do we have any evidence that they are grooming their own sons to take over from them.
Indeed, in Kenya, the rise of the sons of former political potentates is not to be blamed on their fathers. If it is a crime, the accusation must, once again, go to Daniel arap Moi.
For Mr Moi it was who, as president, catapulted, for example, Uhuru, Musalia, Katana and Peter to the height of political power. And the reason was not difficult to see. Mr Moi was bent on repaying in kind at least some of his erstwhile benefactors.
He owed his presidency to protection by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (Uhuru's father) when certain powerful members of the old man's Kiambu cabal demanded Moi's sacking as vice president to pre-empt his automatic succession should anything happen to Mzee Kenyatta.
Ronald Ngala (Katana's father) had been Moi's boss in the Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu), the more reactionary of the two main nationalist parties at independence.
Davidson Kuguru (Peter's father) was among very few Kikuyu patriarchs who stood by Moi when Kikuyu and Luo leaders rebelled against him in 1988.
Moses Mudavadi (Musalia's father) did much of the president's more sordid work in Buluhya and other parts of Kenya.
Children or relatives of other agents -- like Okiki Amayo, Ezekiel Barng'etuny, Juma Boy, Kariuki Chotara, Mulu Mutisya, Shariff Nassir and James Njiru -- may have benefited in some other ways.
The only odd man out was Raila Odinga. But, again, the reason sticks out like the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. Jaramogi Odinga (Raila's father) was among those earlier potentates who never either helped Mr Moi to power or, thereafter, knelt before him.
Kenneth Matiba, Masinde Muliro and Charles Rubia may have benefited under Moi.
But -- like Odinga Senior -- they never grovelled either. It is instructive that they and Odinga Senior were the fulcrum of the rebellion when it broke out following the 1988 General Election.
Yet, when push came to shove, Moi tried very hard to curry favour with the Kikuyu by giving a high-powered job to a son of Mr Matiba and to appease the Luo by offering Raila a powerful position both in a newly-wangled ruling alliance and in the government.
But here we no longer know who was using whom. It was probably the grossly undemocratic attempt by Moi to impose Uhuru on Kanu and the country that ejected Odinga Junior out of the Moi bandwagon and into the trajectory that ultimately brought him to premiership.
The upshot is that Raila Odinga owes his position in the governing coalition to forces quite other than his father and Moi.
But, however you look at it, neither Raila, nor Musalia, nor Katana nor yet Peter is the epitome of a dynasty. They did not arrive at their positions through any wrongdoing.
Even in the traditional European dynastic systems, you could not fault the individuals involved. They did not grab power.
Whatever you think of those systems, automatic succession was a socially approved mechanism for furthering the interests of the given society's traditions and ruling ideals.
Of course, many of these dynasts were absolute tyrants.
Such dynastic houses as Russia's Romanovs, Prussia's Hohenzollerns, France's Carolingians and Austro-Hungary's Hapsburgs even claimed to be ruling with the authority of God on high.
It is no wonder that all these despots were among the targets of the spate of revolutions which, between the 17th and the 19th centuries, ruthlessly overthrew the absolute monarchs and replaced them with the ruling liberal-bourgeois system, still brandishing the "democratic" banner.
That, then, is what is reprehensible about the present attempts by African and other Third World presidents to appoint their sons, nephews or other relatives as successors.
They are trying to take Africa back to Europe before 1789, when the French revolution condemned Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the guillotine.
It is instructive that all African presidents who tried it have been semi-literate tyrants and kleptomaniacs.
They want the trillions they have stolen from public coffers to remain in family hands and they think that this is possible only if the power also remains in the family.
But that is the only thing I would oppose in dynastic succession.
I don't see any socio-moral good to be gained by saying that Jimmy Kibaki should not aspire to be Kenya's president one day.
First, he is a Kenyan like me and you. Therefore, as an individual, he must enjoy every political right.
It is not his fault -- if it is a fault -- that a certain Mwai Kibaki is his father. Secondly, exactly what benefit have Kenyans bagged from MPs and ministers who are not sons or daughters of former powerhouses?
What would be wrong would be for him to take an unfair advantage of his father's incumbency to further his interests. In this we can benefit from the example of at least one East African head of state -- the in inimitable Julius Kamabarage son of Nyerere.
When I worked in Dar es Salaam the story went that his family in Butiama pressed him extremely hard to take his children for education in England.
"How can I do that when I am the very one preaching equality is this country?" he is reported to have retorted.
The story is probably apocryphal. But, although his brother Joseph tried his hand in politics, Mwalimu refused to put any privilege of incumbency at his disposal.
And one of Mwalimu's sons continued to anger his mother by refusing to resign from the Morogoro Jazz Band.