I, and only I, choose to be a tribalist!

That the geopolitical entity called Kenya was created by historical happenstance is incontrovertible fact! In fact, the name “Kenya” only entered official nomenclature with the declaration of the ‘Kenya Colony’ in 1920, having before that been known as the British East Africa Protectorate. So we have really just been in existence for 92 years – not even a century!

BUT it is here, in Kenya, that we all find ourselves in time and space – 40 million-odd people living within the same defined international borders, sharing a common political and economic destiny, subject to the same fundamental law that we gave ourselves (the Constitution) and a variety of statutes enacted by our supposed representatives. For better or for worse, we are KENYAN!

Being an accidental conglomeration of ethnic groups which successive governments have not found it fit to actively meld together, the centrifugal forces of tribalism dominate the centripetal forces of nationalism. Because of our pre-existing atavistic instincts, well-horned by the politicians to guarantee their continued ascendancy, we are constantly pulling apart rather than squeezing together at the macro level, even as at the micro level we have valued neighbours, friends, workmates and even relatives that are not from our ‘divine and special’ ethnic group!

And THAT is what we must address! All common sense, even enlightened self-interest, dictates that it is in our common interest to build the Nation of Kenya. Surely, it must be clear, to even the most ethnically narrow-minded of us, that should our respective ethnic ghettos by some miracle become mini-states, such states would likely not be viable – and indeed, their emergence is likely to be out of an ocean of blood – each other’s blood!

We have blamed the divide-and-rule tactics of the colonial master for our intractable tribalism, and we have blamed the politicians that succeeded the colonial master. BUT to be xenophobic and hateful is a personal decision, not a community decision! To deny a fellow citizen their due rights because of their ethnicity, or give another citizen what they do not deserve because of their ethnicity, is a choice we each make! To spread hurtful stereotypes that demean and dehumanise, with the very and express intention to demean and to dehumanise, is a personal choice! To fail to speak up for or stand with a fellow citizen that is being subjected to diminution and dehumanisation, is silence and inaction that we each choose! When we fail to call out the haters; when we allow ourselves to be lulled by obfuscating statistics, and acronyms, and linguistic diminutives; when we opt for the convenient, safe and cowardly options in the face ethnic hatred; THESE ARE CHOICES WE EACH MAKE!

The colonialist has been gone for a generation and a half; the enhanced flow of information and enhanced levels of education allow us to dispel misinformation and disinformation; and our political dispensation is such that we actually have a choice as to who rules over us, what kind of leaders we elect. Destructive ethnocentricism is therefore a choice we have taken, a bed we have made!

Who can save us from ourselves but ourselves? We KNOW that the British employed divide-and-rule along ethnic lines, but rather than work to erase that, we perpetuated and enhanced it to sustain the ruling elites in power. We KNOW that the British marginalised certain parts of the country, but rather than rectify this we enacted an economic blueprint soon after independence that OFFICIALLY perpetuated this policy, leading to ethnic and regional bitterness. We KNOW that our leaders exploit ethnicity to perpetuate their hegemony and protect themselves from retribution for corruption, incompetence and indolence – yet we continue to re-elect them, or their doubles, into office! I insist that the British wronged us grievously, both by herding us into a single discordant nation and then by adeptly exploiting that discordance for their own purposes, but we have had time and space to mitigate the losses from those wrongs and failed to do so – it is so much easier to blame it on somebody else!

We must empathise with those whose circumstances have narrowed their world view, whose mothers feed them ethnic hatred with their breast milk, and whose fathers constantly admonish them for associating with non-human humans, and we must factor those circumstances into our judgment of them – but we must also acknowledge that each of us is created with the ability to pick ourselves up and move forward, and it is for this reason that not every citizen born in their native village, weaned in their native village, raised in their native village and schooled in their native village is a crass, willfully ignorant, hateful, blood-thirsty tribalist!

Many choices are made for us, but there are those choices that we make for ourselves! Once again I ask, who can save us from ourselves but ourselves?

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4 thoughts on “I, and only I, choose to be a tribalist!

  1. Good read, thought provoking. ’tis only me that can save me from me!

    • fredokono says:

      Amazing Kisumu,
      Thank you for taking the time to read! I pray our nation shall find itself – and each of us has an important role to play in ensuring that.
      Fred Okono

  2. Very good piece. I like the part that highlights how we often blame others eg colonialist but forget these guys left 50yrs ago. What’s happened in between is all us.

    I was in a forum where Mr Kebati of Visuon 2030 highlighted how the middle class in Kenya has come up with some sophisticated tribalism. We do not say we are reins IATA afterall we educated n know better, but if you remove the sophistication veil, we are worse!

    • fredokono says:

      Indeed you put your finger on the greatest tragedy in this matter – the fact that neither education nor exposure to other cultures seems to cure us of tribalism!

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