Politicians only big winners of tribal divisions

Monday, November 11th, 2019 08:08 | By

By Michael Kasilon       

Tribalism and negative ethnicity is a cancer that has been eating up the nation since the advent of multi-party politics in the 1990s. Politicians are known to use tribe to divide Kenyans in pursuit of political mileage. 

Tribalism is so deeply ingrained in the political landscape that it has survived extinction through elections and the resultant tragic post-election experiences!

Kenyans are not clean of the vice either. It is not uncommon to flash our tribal cards because we tend to trust our “tribemates”. It is even more reinforced when it comes to matters election. 

It is, therefore, not surprising that tribalism played out in campaigns of the just-ended Kibra by-election, with politicians using tribe-based statistics and making references to tribal demographic composition of voters to calculate chances of winning.  

Basically, the race was reduced to a battle between the Luhya and Luo communities. Comments on the numeric strength of the two tribes—as well as the other “minorities”—was sickening and disturbing given that tribalism has cost Kenyans immense anguish in the past. Do Kenyans ever learn?

In creating imaginary boundaries among the various communities in the country, politicians remain the winners as Kenyans lose. They divide the common Kenyans while they themselves eat from the same plate with leaders from the perceived “bad” tribes. 

On the other hand, Kenyans on the grassroots treat each other with unnecessary suspicions. 

Tribalism is not a static force. It feeds on itself. It appeals on a gut level and evokes emotions that are not easily controlled and usually spiral toward violence. And there is no sign that the deeper forces that have accelerated this—social atomisation, secularisation and media polarisation will weaken any time soon. The media  is guilty of often fuelling this separation and ethnic profiling through making of references such as the “Kalenjin nation” the “Kikuyu nation”, the Luo nation”, and so on.

In the Kibra poll, rhetorical extremes were pushed further yet again than most of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago and the rival tribal camps were even more hermetically sealed. Did any of us anticipate that anyone would openly parade tribal bigotry proudly as a selling point like we saw a few days ago?

As utopian as it sounds, it behoves all of us have to at least try to change the culture from the ground up by embracing individuality. This, we can do by valuing each other’s’ lives irrespective of the bile we get fed with. This is the most important natural antidote to tribalism.

Nurturing our differences or dissent from our own group is difficult; appreciating the individuality of those in other tribes is even harder. It takes effort, imagination, openness to dissent and even an occasional embrace of blasphemy.

And, at some point, we also need mutual forgiveness. After all, no tribal conflict has ever been unwound without forgiveness. Peace and harmony is not created using “us” versus “them” approach. 

The Luo, Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Kisii, Borana, Somali, Kamba, Maasai, Turkana, Teso and all other tribes must learn to appreciate each other as individuals. And here is where the greatness of Kenya lies, in that there is room for all, and all are important.

Kenyans have proved they can unites as witnessed during tragedies such as terror attacks, when have all united to condemn the evil acts. The phenomenon is also witnessed when, say,  Kenya sportsmen shine on the global stage. Why then is it so hard for us to live and vote without profiling our neighbours based on their tribe? All of this runs deeply against the grain. It fights against our very DNA. 

But no one ever claimed that living in a republic was going to be easy — if we really want to keep it.

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