Sunday, August 9, 2009

President’s ‘two-tribe’ remark a recipe for disaster

Sunday Nation 09 August 2009, Page 33

Two weeks ago, President Mwai Kibaki visited Nyanza Province accompanied by Prime Minister Raila Odinga. A lot of what transpired during this tour was lost in the hype over the new-found rapprochement between the erstwhile foes, and much of the subsequent discussion has focused on this issue.

Lost in the cacophony was the very significant statement made by the President in an attempt to crystallise the problem with our country. In his considered opinion, the problem with Kenya could be linked directly to the relationship between “our two communities”.

At a public rally in Ugenya, he declared: “Each time we have worked together, Kenya has done well. And every time our two communities have fallen apart, Kenya has suffered.” The equanimity with which this statement was received seems to indicate that most Kenyan leaders consider it a truism not worth debating.

It seems we all agree that the history of this nation is largely the story of the relationship between the Kikuyu and the Luo, and that other tribes have only played supporting roles in the entire saga.

While exhorting the local community to help the nation’s leadership end tribalism, the President went ahead and asked them to work with “his community” for the betterment of the nation. The fact that nobody noticed any contradiction in these statements serves only to indicate that ours is still a nation in which the leadership has nothing to fear, no matter what they say or do in public.

These remarks constitute a massive slide back to our colonial past where no Kenyan had any identity beyond his or her tribe, and the sins of the leaders would be visited on their tribesmates across the breadth of the country.

Whatever imperialist structures were left behind were inherited lock, stock and barrel by the independence leaders, most of whom we can, with hindsight, characterise as being perfect examples of spectacular leadership failure.

Manifestly, our top leadership is still labouring under the same tribal millstones their forebears had to deal with, while the youth remain rudderless because they were brought up on a staple of lies about a united nation called Kenya where one is judged by the “content of his character” and not the surname of his paternal grandfather!

The view that the destiny of this country depends on the relationship between the two tribes further perpetuates the fallacy that the President and Prime Minister are indeed anointed leaders of their tribes, and locks the door on any idea of leadership change in their communities and, by extension, in Kenya.

It also indicates a disdain for the other tribes that make up our diverse nation, insinuating that their roles in the formation of the independent republic were at best peripheral. The President has, with this statement, only added fuel to the fire of the “Tribe Kenya” initiative which refuses to entrust data on tribe to a cabal that is determined to use this information for political deal-making and not for any other useful purpose.

For the avoidance of doubt, it must be clarified that the President is not alone in proclaiming this tribal philosophy. He joins the infamous company of politicians who keep calling for alliances between their tribes and others for purposes of winning political contests.

Terms like the Western Alliance, Kamatusa, Gema and more recently the KK (Kikuyu-Kalenjin) alliance have become such permanent fixtures in our political lexicon that nobody raises an eyebrow when they are mentioned.

It must be stated for posterity that Kenya is bigger than any single individual, and that the nation is greater than the sum of its tribes. Assertions of tribal collaboration and affinity are therefore inimical to the national interest, and only go to entrench some of the poison that has been responsible for most violent confrontations in this country.

As a matter of fact, the post-election conflagration that these leaders are deigning to gloss over with their camaraderie was partly triggered by the perception that the election was primarily about tribes rather than parties or even individuals.

The problem with Kenya has nothing to do with any two tribes failing to work together, but everything to do with our political leadership taking advantage of our ethnic identity to ride roughshod over the national interest in the name of fighting for “our community”.

Our national leaders will do well to focus on true national reconciliation and enable an enlightened debate on Kenyan nationhood.

Without an attitude change where each individual Kenyan is considered important in his or her own right, and not as a member of some tribe, the existence of this country as a cohesive entity in the next few decades is in serious doubt.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine,

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