Sunday, September 20, 2009

The bane of tribal loyalty will be our undoing

Sunday Nation 20 September 2009

Kenya Bureau of Standards CEO Kioko Mang’eli was recently relieved of his job in unclear circumstances after what was reported as a disagreement with the office of the Prime Minister. The Industrialisation minister implicated the head of the public service in the sacking, who now claims Mang’eli falsified information to justify a huge pay rise. This allegation was denied by the bureau.

Soon after the issue was reported in the press, a fresh angle was introduced, with certain politicians from Eastern Province fulminating that Dr Mang’eli was sacked as part of a wider scheme against Kambas. The CEO then came out fighting and declared he would not quit.

Ever since the destruction of the Mau forest complex entered the national consciousness, a clear tribal perspective became evident. Some Rift Valley politicians went to town with allegations that “our people are being finished”, and that their community was being blamed for all sorts of ills, ostensibly in a conspiracy to demonise them and prevent someone from the community from ascending to power.

Other groups of politicians from other communities are also playing the same game, ratcheting up the rhetoric on protecting the Mau complex, and issuing statement after statement to counter those issued by their perceived protagonists on the other side of the tribal divide.

There have even been noises about there being a conspiracy by the rest of the country to “gang up . . . to block any political appointees from the Mount Kenya region” to quote a letter in the Daily Nation on Tuesday last week.


Indeed, it is instructive that, barring a few ideologically driven Kenyans with no tribal motive whatsoever, most of the actors on the national stage have been taking a blatantly tribal line.

This tendency is bringing to the fore the role of the tribe in our national discourse but, as usual, we are keen to camouflage it as pursuing the “national interest” or some other politically correct euphemisms.

If there is such a thing as a Kenyan, why is it that most of our political disputes follow such a predictably tribal pattern? Why is it that those who speak out loudly in defence of Mr Aaron Ringera today are led by a vanguard of politicians mostly from his tribe and kindred communities?

Why is it that these are the same fellows expected to spring to the President’s defence whenever he is attacked for some executive misstep or other?

Why is it that whenever the Prime Minister is attacked for whatever perceived political failing he may have, the first “Kenyans” to rush to his defence are from his own ethnic community? Conversely, why is he more likely to receive flak from members of communities other than his own?

The situation has degenerated to such an extent that no public servant can be legitimately censured without a subsequent chorus from his or her community alleging some vendetta against them. The sum of this is that mediocrity is being perpetuated at the tax-payer’s expense in the name of tribal loyalty due to the ethno-political decisions being made by all branches of government.

Before the last General Election, there was heated debate on all sorts of topics that were thought to have the potential to influence the outcome of the election. In a commentary published in the Daily Nation on November 29, 2007, I argued that it was not edifying to listen to the arguments being advanced by analysts of all shades of opinion, and that all they needed to do was to utter their surnames and their opinions would become clear to all and sundry.

To be honest, despite the experience we had after the last General Election as a result of this sort of politics, we have learnt absolutely nothing. On any topic of discussion, all one needs to do is to find out what the main tribal chieftains on the political field think, and the opinion of most of their tribesmates would not be much different.

This position prevails on almost every national issue, from conservation of the Mau forest to the reappointment of Justice Ringera and even the rulings by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Kenneth Marende. That Kenyans sit idly by and sometimes applaud and repeat the same opinions held by their “leaders” indicates that we are least bothered by them.

This mentality robs us of the right to seek change in our national governance platform, given that any systematic change would significantly overturn the applecart in favour of meritocratic considerations that would give tribal loudmouths a wide berth.

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

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