Can’t We All Get Along? Combating Tribalism And Negative Ethnicity In Kenya

14 Apr

Many in the US never believed a black man, let alone one whose father was Kenyan could ever be elected president in their lifetimes.

This is because despite progress made in the country beginning in the 1960s when laws were passed to ensure civil rights for blacks, racism still exists and some argue probably entrenched in the psyche of some Americans forever.

However, despite all these odds and more, then Senator Barrack Obama rose to the occasion and showed Americans and, indeed, the rest of the world that anything is possible if people put their minds to it with a resolve to get it donet.

His campaign slogan “Yes We Can” captured this simple but powerful belief.

There are many parallels between racism in America and tribalism in Kenya.

Racism has historically been defined as the belief that race is the primary determinant of human capacity; that a certain race is inherently superior or inferior to others, and/or that individuals should be treated differently according to their racial designation.

Tribalism, on the other hand, is the manifestation of strong cultural identity among members of a group that treats as different other cultural groups which also equally have strong cultural identity among its members and equally treat other cultural groups as different.

In some cases ethnic sub-groups within these tribal groups strongly identify among and between themselves and treat as different other ethnic subgroups within the same tribe.

Group identity along tribal lines or ethnicity is not per se a bad thing, however.

Such cultural identification becomes and has, in fact, been a bad problem in Kenya when it is used as an excuse to hate or otherwise engage in activities intended to annihilate one or more of the tribes or individuals within it.

Indeed, as racism in America which has largely been an impediment to greater achievement or progress for blacks, so has tribalism and negative ethnicity been an impediment to progress in Kenya.

What is the root cause of all of this?

People are not born racists or tribalists much the same way they are not born knowing right or wrong.

According to psychologists, both racism and tribalism are learned habits.

Thus, children are born with purity and without any of the traits characteristic of racists and tribalists such as hate and intolerance.

Based on these findings, one can therefore conclude that children learn hatred, racism, and all other negativities prevalent among racists and tribalists much early on in their lives.

While it’s true that children learn from early on in life many of these racist or tribal tendencies, it is equally true what they can unlearn them later on in life through education, maturity and exposure.

In fact, many, if not most, do just that at some point in their lives.

Unfortunately, however, the unlearning of racism or tribalism and other bad things learned in those formative years stays with some people to the day they die largely by choice.

Others refuse to let go of racism or tribalism because of experiences through life that further entrench or reinforce the learned tendency to hate others or to otherwise see and treat them as less superior.

For example, in Kenya, a member of a particular community may believe that given the superiority they have been led to believe has accrued to them by virtue of birth, no one should take it away or try to make them equal to others they have since childhood known or have been told are inferior.

On the other hand, members another community or other communities may view that entire community as having committed injustices against them and blame it for any number of things, including inability to gain economically or otherwise not partake in the sharing of the national pie.

Should this go on forever? What, knowing all of this, can we do to rid ourselves of tribalism?

It is a proven fact that, in order to address any problem, and more so a deeply rooted problem like this, one must start by acknowledging it.

To this end, every Kenyan must ask himself or herself this simple question: Am I a tribalist and if so, why?

The why is the key because once one knows why, then they must endeavor to seek a resolution of it either individually, or with the help of others.

To get us going in this direction, I have proposed to have a National Hug Day where such a soul searching can take place and further suggest on that day, let’s reach out and say something nice to your worst enemy or at least pray that you can get over whatever created the enmity to start with.

If we can identify that which makes us hate or otherwise want to treat members of another community as different from us to the point we wish them ill or want them to be miserable and unhappy, or in some cases simply dead, and if we start from the premise we are all equal in the eyes of our God who created us, then I don’t see why we cannot reach out to each other and try to find if there isn’t a way we can open our eyes and hearts and be receptive to at least trying to find a solution to that which ails us or drives us to have these feelings.

I fully realize this may be easy for some of us who may have no issues or are otherwise not tribal in our thinking but, at the same time, it can be done if people are willing to do so.

Barrack Obama said, “Yes We Can” and with that spirit, he was swept into office with great fanfare.

If Barrack Obama can overcome the biggest huddle that has for hundreds of years been in the way of having a black man elected into office as president of the United States, we surely must slay the smaller ugly rodent we have in our midst compared to the elephant of an ugly animal Obama had to slay to get to the White House and did so successfully.

The only person stopping us from doing so is us and by that I mean us individually.

We can change that starting from doing what I am suggesting above.

I am optimistic we shall succeed in ending tribalism in Kenya and yesterday, not tomorrow.

Many of you may be familiar with part of the phrase in the title of this blog as being a variation of what Rodney King following the acquittal of the police officers who brutally beat him back in 1991.

This was an appeal that not only applied in the heightened moment of racial tension in the US back in 1991 due to the tragic King drama, it also applies to us in Kenya in the wake of PEV and particularly now that we are getting ready for yet another likely tense elections.

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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in Politics


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