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The Making of Tribal Kenya

The Making of Tribal Kenya
By Matunda Nyanchama
, Ontario
February 16, 2008

“We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.” Talmud

Today Kenya finds itself at a cross-road following the debacle after the 2007 general and presidential elections. Where we go from here is not clear, despite the reported breakthrough at the Kofi Annan-led negotiations.

That said, however, looking back, we can see why we got where we are and how we managed to dig ourselves into the quagmire of ethnic hate and unhealthy cutthroat competition that is threatening to break up what was once a promising nation.

The fact is that Kenya as a nation is a figment of imagination! It doesn’t exist. Ask people what it means to be Kenyan and all you get is silence. It seems to me that territory is the only common underlying factor among the 37 million Kenyans from a cross-section of 41 ethnic groups.

Territory alone cannot define a nation! There must be commonly held values, vision, dreams and aspirations. For Kenya these values (except for greed, ethnic hate and discrimination, if one can call those values) remain non-existent. And we wonder why we where we are?

Kenyans have killed Kenyan neighbours over nothing except that the victims are of different ethnic groups! It is criminal and shameful! It is as if life matters not any more! How cheap can Kenyan lives be? So where is the right to life for all Kenyans that, as a nation, we should work for?

That Kenyans spew hate against others just because they are of a different ethnic group baffles me! It is even more bewildering when so called educated Kenyans, men and women that have experienced egalitarian values across the world, engage in naked tribal hatred of the kind we see in many Kenyan forums. Many of these rightly protest police brutality against innocent demonstrators in Kisumu and Kibera. Their silence on those killed in churches or hunted off their land in the Rift Valley speaks volumes! A presidential candidate rightly asks his followers to desist from violence. However, he makes nonsense of his message when he says that some ethnic group should not be targeted! Implied in this: other ethnic groups are fair game!

Fellow Kenyans, do we consider to think that, as human beings, all of us (regardless of our stations in life) want a good life, want to succeed and bring up children in an environment in which they can grow up, mature and succeed as people? Onyango in Nyanza, Kamau in Nyeri, Kipkoech in Nandi and all Kenyans want the same thing: a good life as Kenyans where they can, hopefully, reach self-actualization.

What do you make of the case where a child calls a playmate adui? And for what? Because the parents of the “adui” child are of a different ethnic group and that they voted for a different party and presidential candidate! What are we teaching the future generation?

The tribalists we have become!

The journey to tribal Kenya started with our independence leaders. It was later entrenched under the Moi regime. By the time Kibaki and Raila came, Kenyans knew not how to handle things differently. All they know is tribe, tribe and more tribe!

Kenya started well (philosophically) with a unitary state where rights of individuals were recognized in the constitution. Thus, it was proclaimed, a Kenyan can live and work anywhere in the country. A Kenyan can run for public office anywhere in the country where s/he has property! And so on and so on.

The practice, however, is/was different. Leadership failed to walk the talk of providing the roadmap to Kenyan nationhood. Instead, people came to expect that when one had a public office, they represented their “tribe”, rather than the greater good of the country, Kenya.

Kenyatta was substantially instrumental to this culture of ethnic loyalty and tribalism that resulted.

I recall a time when a delegation from my place visited the late president Jomo Kenyatta at State House Nakuru. This was around the time the government was under siege following the murder of the popular member of parliament for Nyandarua North, JM Kariuki. Remember JM, as he was popularly known, is the person that said (and I rephrase) that he didn’t want to live in a country of “ten millionaires in a sea of ten million beggars”.

The delegation, as was tradition, proceeded to pledge the loyalty of the Kisii people to the president and his regime. They also presented the president with a series of requests, including new hospitals, roads, schools and the like.

When president stood up to respond, he paraded the ministers from the community – then it was the late Dr Zachary Onyonka and the late Mr. James Nyamweya. The president went on to remark that these leaders had offices and they should take care of the community! The message should have been: present your demands through your leaders; they will be discussed in cabinet and prioritized based on national needs!

Kenyattta, like almost all leaders around him, viewed Kenyans as tribes! It is no wonder we remain so – tribes rather than Kenyans.

Unlike Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania who started a lengthy civic education campaign (others called indoctrination!), Kenyans lay back and waited for representatives from their ethnic groups to bring home the beef! And these ethnic leaders knew not how to build bridges to other ethnic groups. In the process, the seeds of ethnic loyalties and bonds were firmly planted later to be watered following Kenyatta’s death.

Enter Daniel Arap Moi, a professed Christian and church goer. He came meekly promising to follow the late Kenyatta’s nyayo (footsteps); and nyayo he did follow and with that took ethnic discrimination to another level of entrenchment.

Under Moi, some corporations were reserved for certain ethnic groups as were some government departments and, in some cases, whole ministries. As an example, the defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) was reserved for the Kalenjin. Delegations after delegations from the Rift Valley that went to see Moi emphasized this point: that the corporation management must never pass to another ethnic group.

In the Moi era, schools that enjoyed broad national representation in their student population were directed to take students (not less than 85%) from their localities. This had side effects as kids would be sent to their “home districts” just because their parents were born there! I heard of cases of children born in Trans Nzoia, that had never set foot in (say) Kisii, being sent o get schools in Kisii!

Now talk about travesty of justice! So what happened to the constitutional proclamation that Kenyans could live, school and work anywhere in the country?

No matter! The policy was diligently implemented and the affected children grew up in their home regions without encountering other Kenyans from elsewhere. For many of these, stereotypes were/are the only means of judging fellow Kenyans from other ethnic groups.

And now these are grown up men and women. They are voters, and perhaps, mothers and fathers. Some have jobs while many others are jobless. They are an excitable pool, soldiers that come alive to disorder! People that can be commanded at a whim and made to cause havoc at tribal leaders’ will.

Mwai Kibaki, despite achieving substantial gains in the economic and freedom of expression, has done towards national cohesion. Kibaki appears to have sat back and thought that economic growth alone would be the answer. Yet, however rich a country may be, where the relations are poor among the people the nation will crumble.

And we are surprised that we are where we are.

The ODM campaign found fertile ground for excitement and (yes!) incitement. Theirs was about tribe and “our turn”! It was about majimbo (or was it ugatuzi?) and how they would bring resources to far-flung localities in the country; resources that, according to the ODM message to the masses, were being squandered by the other tribes that has been ‘eating’! “Enemy tribes!”

ODM’s campaign bordered on ethnic hate! It is no wonder that, with unmet expectations, some of their supporters directed anger at those that had acquired the “enemy” designation! Yet those murdered, injured and displaced may never have benefited from the Kibaki regime.

No common vision! No common direction! No common dream! And no common … name it! Theirs was to wrestle power for those that are “eating”!

The PNU side, confident successes in economic management, urged no change of course. Kazi (work) was happening! Kazi iendelee! All was good, they appeared to believe.

So here we are as Kenyans tribalists; and enemies we make of others from other ethnicities! And kill them we do, no matter their innocence.

It is a shame that we do this in the 21st century; it is even more shameful when those involved are people that have learnt about and lived in egalitarian societies where values count and respect for the rule of law is paramount. Many of these are more tribal than even some of their kin that live within their tribes back in Kenya.

There is a political settlement in the offing. The settlement would also see truth and justice meted. Reconciliation has been thrown in. A new constitution shall be worked upon and implemented and Kenyans would elect a new government under a new dispensation.

All this would come to nought without social engineering: to articulate a common vision, a common understanding and a common strategy to secure the country’s future. This would be taken to the next step via any means available: be it propaganda, indoctrination and the like; and all for a good cause and for the future of what was once a promising country Kenya.

Failure to do so would mean a stead journey towards the end of the Kenya we hoped for!

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The 2007 elections debacle didn’t Kenya. It should make us stronger.

“For the nation to live, the tribe must die.” Samora Machel, President of Mozambique, 1975-86

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