Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Time to kill this colonial ethnic ideology

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 08 April 2012

General elections are coming up soon, and everybody who wants to have a say in the outcome is organising to ensure that they are heard. All segments of Kenyan society are in ferment, and all sorts of pressure groups and secretariats are being set up to influence the shape of politics in post-referendum Kenya.

Among the groups that have traditionally had influence in political processes in Kenya are the so-called ‘cultural associations’ and their leaders. This has been the case since pre-independence days when the colonial government would not register any national political organisation, and only allowed ethnic or ‘regional’ organisations. The colonial government’s aim, of course, was to ensure that the entire population was divided up into ethnic enclaves forever in conflict with each other, leaving the mzungu government alone to exploit the best of our resources and govern us with only token opposition.

After Kenya’s independence almost 50 years ago, successive governments failed in their stated objectives of uniting the country behind a common cause. A feeble war against tribalism has been sabotaged by its chief promoters who play Dr Jekyll by day and Mr Hyde by night. As recently as the late 1990s, the government encouraged the formation of tribal associations at our universities, with a goal not dissimilar to that of the colonial government over five decades before. 

What is however becoming clearer with each passing day is that younger people, though aware of ethnic stereotypes and prejudices, are more willing to test the waters and go against the ‘tribal chieftain’, if only for the fun of it. Evidence of this will be seen in the various ‘cultural’ associations which are really just covers for ethnic political organisations. Majority of the people at the helm of these organisations grew up before independence, and learnt their politics at the feet of tribal chieftains.

They have emerged with proclamations allowing younger post-independence politicians to lead their tribal voting machines, in the hope that the youth will perpetuate the same toxic environment they grew up in. The elders, by recycling the colonial ideas of political expression by tribe, have demonstrated a form of cerebral bankruptcy that is obviously irremediable. 

The youth must seize the opportunity and try to change this state of affairs in two possible ways.
Firstly, they could reject the wazees’ ideas and decide to organise themselves around ideals that will truly shape the future of this country. This they could do by joining political parties whose ideas they identify with, and actively campaigning for positions within these parties in order to play a role in realising those ideas both within their parties and in the country as a whole. 

This will progressively result in a political system in which ideas count for more than tribe or gender. Eventually, it will encourage politicians to formulate policies that they can implement when they win elections, instead of focussing on tribal alliances whose only goal is to place a few individuals in positions of power for their own good.

Alternatively, young people could join these tribal organisations en masse, and convert them from political vehicles into true cultural associations geared towards celebrating diversity and cohesion. They will thus have destroyed our political dinosaurs’ last political vehicles, allowing them to hopefully fade into oblivion and leave our nation in the hands of true leaders.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the Secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a Lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

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