Sunday, February 10, 2008

Confronting the enemny that is 'Tribalism' (Phillip Ochieng, Nation Newspaper Feb 10 2008)

(The madness of 'tribalism')
For years, Kenyans have clamoured for laws better than the present ones. But, surely, there must be some good laws among the existing ones. What can be better than the one which states that a Kenyan can live in any part of Kenya?
It is a crime for a Taita to prevent a Teso from putting up a home in Taitaland, unless the Teso has acquired the land illegally. Yet that is precisely the law that we are now so busy breaking. Kenyans are chasing Kenyans with the civility of a cheetah pursuing a gazelle in the Maasai Mara.
WHAT CAN IT MEAN? SURELY, THIS – THAT THE “betterness” of a piece of law lies not in its wording but only in whether it is achieving its purpose. There are two ways in which it can do this. One is through the police – both to prevent flouting and to punish flouters.
But by far the cheaper and more effective one is to obviate the need for policing. Why waste resources -- which might be direly needed in vastly more important social areas -- on what Dostoyevsky called Crime and Punishment?
It is important to catch felons and bring them to book. Yet this can deal only with “manual crime.” But, as Jacob Bronowski remarks in The Ascent of Man, the hand is not an independent agent. The hand is merely “? the cutting edge of the mind?”
It is the mind that instigates the crimes that we commit, including the chauvinism which leads you to attack your neighbour on account of his ethnic affiliation. The upshot is that, in the war on crime, mental education is a hundred times more effective than a hundred manacles.
The chief failing of all our upbringing – including the classroom formality that we claim to be “education” – is that it does not attempt to remove from our minds any of the groundless assumptions, sentiments and thoughts that we hold against one another as ethnic communities.
THE CHIEF CULPRITS ARE OUR PARENTS, OUR teachers, our priests and – by the favouritism with which they hire and fire – our government officials. If these are members of our most “educated” elite, how can we expect our mass of peasants and proletarians to know any better?
That is why it is not surprising that, as we cut one another’s throats, most of us clamour merely for a greater police presence.
The police may have prevented much of what has happened. They may arrest us and the courts may sentence us to stiff punishment.
But they cannot arrest and detain or jail the parochialism that hag-rides us as races, tribes, genders and religions. It is not their duty. Appalling is the revelation, since December 27, that, since independence, Kenyans have not moved even a flea-hop in the direction of mental education, uplift and refinement.
Nothing is more embarrassing than to listen to PhDs from one community, seated at the counter of a pub, uttering the most fetid drivel about other tribes. They demand “revolutionary changes” in the body politic but only if these changes are manned by members of their tribe. At the counter – that’s why I call them counter-revolutionaries.
FOR IT IS THEY WHO OUGHT TO PLAY THE VANGUARD role in our seemingly insuperable task of creating a single national mind out of a conglomeration of disparate ethnic minds. Yet since December 27, I have not seen even a single suggestion from the academic community that tribalism is our national bane number one – leave alone how to tackle it.
If our professors are the ones who have created this straitjacket of thought during the 43 years in which we have been independent – probably uttering the bosh in front of their co-tribal students – how could we possibly have avoided December 27 and its aftermath? I ask you, my brothers and sisters: Is this what is called intellectual leadership?
The government says glibly that, economically, we have grown by six per cent. But I would be much prouder to hear that we have grown even by one per cent in our mentality, in our national awareness, in our sense of justice in governance, in our dedication to skill and experience alone when hiring cadres.
No, December 27 has not intensified our parochialism. It has merely removed the outer coating of our small-mindedness. It has merely laid us bare. It has merely made us the laughing stock among the comity of nations.
But, clearly, we cannot blame it on any absence of law or any shortage of policemen. We can blame it only on the refusal by our government and other institutions of moral upbringing to face tribalism full-throttle, to hound the behemoth by every weapon to us, till we slay it.

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