My article ‘Kenya’s Tribal Equations in the search for a new constitution’ does not paint the best picture of a 21st century Kenya or Africa for that matter, but it does deal with a few realities that traditional politics have forced down the throats of those who may care or not about the tribal nature of political ascendancy in many African nations.
My colleague Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah has pointed out elsewhere in these pages that “This is a very narrow manner of looking at the politics currently unfolding in Kenya.”
Ironically, I agree with him, even though I am the same person that sat down and sought to reduce Kenya’s political conundrum and the search for a new constitution to a tribal equation. So one may ask, is Kenya all about just tribes?
The answer is yes and no.
Yes, because like many other African states, the national construct was purely a creation of some colonialists cutting and chopping up Africa depending who wanted to take what, perhaps while high on vodka (forgive the pun).
We can not run away from the fact that before we became Rwandans we were Banyarwanda.
Before we became Ugandans, we were Baganda, Acholi, Karimojong etc. before we became Kenyans, we were Kikuyu, Luo, Kamba and the like.
So tribe gives us the first real identity as people with culture and norms. Then, comes the state that in many cases has been forged through fire and blood.
In essence, our tribes begin to mesh, as Oluoch points out, in such metropolitan places like Nairobi or sheng, because culture and norms are not passive.
They grow up, some parts grow old, they lose some and gain some and we result. Many times I find it offensive that the word ‘tribe’ reeks of ethnicity in a negative and in the western press and conveniently exported in Africa, the idea that tribe is primitivism.
We eschew our tribes, but pride in our traditional dances, our unique and varied cuisines, our African-ness.
Western tourists come to Africa to enjoy the good weather, our natural abundances and our cultural treats.
They take home unique images of the Kinyarwanda dance, the maasai shuka, the Swazi reed dance. It is all a product of this shunned animal called tribe.
In the same western society, red Indians who are true “Americans” or aborigines who are the true ‘Australians’ are referred to as tribal by those who have settled in their former homes because of migration and the like. These tribal people are sidelined form their own homes and treated as different people yet ideally all of us belong to tribes.
There are no American-Americans, but there are African-Americans, Irish Americans, Jewish Americans etc. there are French Canadians, south African Afrikaans and black Africans.
The tribal journey may still be fresh and young in Africa, but in future perhaps when the lingua franca of East Africa will be Swahili or even sheng, we might call ourselves nilotic East Africans of Luo Africans or whatever will be the case. So why do people hate tribes so much, I wonder?
Is it possible for people to belong to tribes and nations as well? Yes, the evidence is overwhelming, by the story of America or Britain or Australia or even France. Different people can come together and eventually forget their old ties to forge new cultures and identities.
And so will African states, that being subject to time. Most African states are about half a century old. That is not a very long time. The United States of America is over two hundred years.
In those years an American way has emerged strongly but believe you me, a Texan and Hawaiian have not much in common except that big amorphous idea called America. So tribe is good and strong but the realities of time imply that it always give way to something else.
No, Kenya is not all about tribes. A New times reader, Margaret Maringa together with Ojiwah pointed out broadly that Kenya’s future in the youth and the collapsing boundaries between tribes that are a reality in modern society. In Kenya, before and after 2007 Kikuyu regularly marry Luo and vice versa, despite the heavy tribal undertones.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s son is married to a Kikuyu who is closely related to the Kibaki’s. People of different tribes live and work together, are friends to each other and feel horrified that whatever happened in 2007 happened with this reality.
The post-election violence I believe was more of a comma in a continuing sentence and in most cases does not reflect the reality before or after it. The fomented hate and prejudice did not come from people’s hearts but from sources that have interests in perpetuating tribal distinctions to their benefit.
Kenya’s politicians do not give a good image to that profession. Tribal hate flares every around an election for obvious reasons. Real tribal hate is stoked and funded by humans who have political interest.
I, like every Kenyan would like to profess that tribalism is not the nature of Kenyans or Africans for that matter, but elections give stark evidence to the contrary.
I pray that the search for a new constitution in Kenya and the 2012 elections do not degenerate into tribal equations but on the other hand I am worried that time will prove me wrong.
The youth are a very strong tool for change but as experience has shown even the tribal kingpins know that fact and know how to exploit only too well.
I look forward to when the political chain in Kenya will send the current names into oblivion, but again it worries me that Kibaki and Raila’s sons are gearing up for their own political lives, obviously dependent of their father’s careers and money influence.
Why would some one throw all that away when it is easier done through familiar lineages and invoking of their famous ancestors?
Kenyan’s are a very resilient, hopeful, hardworking and innovative people. They do not deserve most of the lot of their leaders.
They are mostly vehemently opposed to any assumption that their political affairs are run through a tribal prism, fairly but how best can Kenyans get rid of that mentality in their politicians or that old breed of politicians themselves, who stake their political lives on their tribal zones, the same politicians who preach patriotism is the light of day and incite innocent people to kill each other in the dark, those that are eager to forget the results of their horrendous actions as long as they can have a share of political power?
That is a matter best left to Kenyans themselves. We can only hope that the inherent power of good in every human prevails.