Monday, February 4, 2008

'de-tribalize yourself'

(picture: the 1,000 foot drop to the floor of Suguta valley. Home to the Pokot)

Why is it that we do the ‘musical chairs’ whenever the issue of tribalism arises. Even after seeing its devastating effects in full colour for weeks through various media we still can’t seem to put our ‘finger’ on the button. I have read my brain full, scoured documents and articles from media and the web. Still, I puzzle over us. An article on Rwanda, please read it here:

about the ‘Mutual genocide’ in Rwanda in the 90’s is insightful. Released by the ‘The International Center of Peace And Conflicts Reconciliation Initiative for Africa (ICPCRIA), it seeks to explore the root cause of the Rwandan conflicts and its possible remedies.

I am reluctant to delve into this topic actually because while I see the complications and contradictions in trying to unravel the root cause of the chaos that has engulfed us I also see a very simple solution.

De-tribalize yourself. That’s all there is to it. That does not mean you will cease to be from an ethnic community or practice your customs. What I intend it to mean is that we (you and I) must divorce ourselves from focusing on the ethic divisions among us as Kenyans and instead see all that unites us and agree as individuals, communities, regions and indeed as a nation that we are much better off united than divided.

Ultimately, my argument can be better versed in the words of the Apostle Paul when he says, ‘for who makes you different from anyone else, what do you have that you did not receive, and if you did receive it why do you boast as though you did not’,

None of us determined (or pre-) who we would be? Nor what clan we would belong to, nor what ethnic group, nor even what race. So what are we all arguing about anyway?

How much better can a Luo be than a Kikuyu? Or worse, or a Kalenjin from a Maasai or a Kamba from a Kisii or a Luyha? How much richer or poorer and ultimately so what?

We are all individuals thrown together in this ‘State’ called Kenya. Maybe our beef is that we didn’t want to be together. Okay. So what do we do now? Split up? Into how many pieces? Will that improve our condition? Then we may get to fighting about which clan or family is better or richer and simply move the argument to a different plane and take up our arms from there.

Really what I’m trying to say is that the only losers are US. And what’s the point of that.

Back to the beginning……. From the time of Kenya’s independence we became two things almost at one. A state (Republic) that is a self governing entity, and a Nation, a tightly-knit group of people which share a common culture. So in effect we are now supposedly a ‘Nation-State’ which is a nation which has the same borders as a State.

Or something like that.

We can blame colonialism all we like, or blame our own ignorance as a young independent nation, or the deviousness and malice of our early leaders but somehow we ended up systematically and deliberately weakening the very institutions that could and should have educated us on what Nations are and how they function. The result of this is that as we went along we became more polarized as ethnic communities and as such much more susceptible to the machinations of the increasingly corrupt political elite.

Unfortunately for the Kikuyu community, they as a group have inherited that dubious tag of being the group that initiated this moral regression because the Government at the time was largely controlled by a Kikuyu elite.

Other communities watched as various other factors combined to endow the Kikuyu with a clear economic advantage. Because of the perception that this advantage was gained more by political manipulation of Kenya’s economic opportunities a disproportionate fixation with politics took hold.

As time went on, we, the nation, instead of gaining an identity, lost our values. Money and power became the tools of trade to be negotiated fought over and killed where need be.

After the 1960’s Kikuyu elite sidelined Jaramogi and killed Mboya they inadvertently set a dangerous precedent that is still haunting us today. The Luo may visibly have recovered from these setbacks but are collectively traumatized nonetheless. This same impunity allowed them (the elite) to even take the life of their own who threatened the status quo, JM Kariuki.

In Moi’s time the Kikuyu were pacified while the Kalenjin set about creating their own political elite through largely the same though somewhat more sophisticated methods. But when the going got tough they resorted to the same brutal methods, hence the murder of Dr Robert Ouko. Yet another casualty for the Luo psyche.

During this period the ruling Kalenjin elite perfected the art of pacifying (read carrot and stick approach) any discontented or belligerent groups through what they learnt from the previous elite. In particular the single, simplest ‘carrot’ was land or the allocation thereof.

This flaw in the constitution empowered the executive to do what in my opinion may have caused more destruction to the fabric of Kenyan society than anything else. The ‘Ndungu report’ testifies to the absolute chaos that irresponsible land allocation has caused.

Meanwhile it was not lost on other smaller ethic communities that the quickest way to improve their lot would be to combine ‘forces’ to improve their bargaining position with the Government of the day, hence the revival of ‘Gema’ and the formation of the ‘Kamatusa’ group.

In the early 80’s a loose group of Luo and Kikuyu ‘old’ guard, disenchanted with the Moi regime staged a coup that was poorly executed and put down with not much difficulty. This though brought a new angle to the institutionalized corruption as the Kalenjin then sought to consolidate their grip on power and in the process subverted most of the institutions of Government.

Mega corruption became the order of the day. Dissent was not tolerated. Kenyans collectively as both individuals and communities suffered indignity and humiliation perpetrated by the ‘State’. As this culture became entrenched state resources, economic opportunity and hard cash went to the highest bidder and or the politically expedient groups or individuals. This period also witnessed unprecedented inflation and the attendant increase in the ratio of disparity between rich and poor further entrenching the perception, somewhat justified, that executive power was the ticket to ethnic/community empowerment.

By the end of the eighties, waning popularity and disillusionment from the masses allowed for the re-introduction of multi party politics. Again this was headed by a Kikuyu, Luo alliance, yet carrying with it a large portion of all other ethnic groups in the country. Moi probably rigged the 1992 election and with the two largest voting blocks going their own way in 1997 Kenya was ensured of another five years of economic hemorrhage.

Come 2002 and Kenya was prepared for change. Again it took an alliance of communities to create a loose coalition that took the battle to Moi and Kanu. That same Kanu of old now facing a collection of its own prodigal brood. A fallout in Kanu and the spoils to the new alliance (party) NARC swept Moi out of power and with it, thought Kenyans, the old order.

Under an MOU (whatever that is) Kenyans ushered in a new order that spelt freedom and prosperity and a reversal of fortunes for the poor and needy. This was not to be. As they say, ‘old habits die hard’. The MOU (needless to say, the masses did not see it or know its contents) was trashed early enough partly because Kibaki was in poor health and his lieutenants took the cue to make up for lost opportunities in the traditional Kenyan way.

Circa 2007 and were back to where we started, Kikuyu (Gema) on one side and Luo, Kamatusa on the other, but a flawed election between them and bloodshed. Plenty of bloodshed and very little sense.

This is what we need to talk about. These are the cards that we need to put on the table. This is why we MUST have a properly constituted, credible and expansively mandated ‘Truth and Reconciliation process’ (a committee or commission) that will allow Kenyans of all walks of life to come out openly, without fear and voice their concerns, their anger and bitterness. Their frustration and pain, their sorrow and loss. This and this alone will pave the way to the regaining of our values and the creation of a Kenyan identity and ultimately the healing of the Kenyan psyche and the growth of a real not merely convenient, ‘Nation’.

There is much more in terms of injustices real or perceived that need to be brought out. Massacres, killings, economic sabotage, corruption, poverty, favoritism and all other manner of anti social vices that we as Kenyans have committed against each other.

Ultimately this process should lead to the strengthening and re establishment of institutions that will give Kenyans the means to deal with issues about our Nationhood so that we come together instead of tear apart.

How we will deal with the immediate devastation that has befallen us is harder. To ask those who have lost loved ones and been terrorized on account of their ethnicity to forgive is a tough call. Yet the perpetrators of the violence be it spontaneous or organized are already known to the victims and will eventually come to light. Their shallowness is evident in that they seem to think that they and their families (because they do have them) can exist in a perpetual state of anarchy and commit atrocities against fellow Kenyans (indeed any humans) without retribution.

A stop to the violence is a prerequisite for any meaningful dialogue to deliver a political solution to the crisis. Hopefully this will include a period of stability that will allow for any Constitutional changes that may be required and the enactment of legislation to explore the flawed elections and reconstitute the Electoral Commission of Kenya.

To me it’s a foregone conclusion. We must save our country because it’s the only one we have. We must also save it, because we can. Kenya is only viable as one ‘State’ and one ‘Nation’. Much as we need to re examine our history to discover ourselves it is clear that the significance of Kenya both economically and politically to the continent of Africa and its future behooves us to dig deep within ourselves and pull together. If we don’t owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our children.

Lucas mboya

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