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

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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An Open Letter to H.E. Emilio Mwai Kibaki, C.G.H., M.P., President of the Republic of Kenya

Samuel N. Omwenga, Esq.

Silver Spring, MD

VIA EMAIL

H.E. Emilio Mwai Kibaki, C.G.H, M.P,

President of the Republic of Kenya

State House

Nairobi, Kenya

Re: Open Letter About Ending Tribalism In Kenya

Dear Mr. President:

You have served and continue to serve our country well, despite what happened during and after the disputed elections of 2007.

Indeed, in a previous communication to Your Excellency, I in behalf of other Kenyans acknowledged that you have done good, in redeeming your legacy and that the only thing left to seal it, is for you to ensure peaceful handover of the presidency to your successor, preceded by a period of peaceful campaigning and elections.

Your Excellency, the legacy you will leave behind from your illustrious career as an academician, cabinet minister, politician, father and now president of our country is beyond what I can describe within the scope of this letter.

Suffice to say, Your Excellency, that your name and that of the Right Hon. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, will be forever associated with leading the fight for, and ultimately ensuring passage of the new constitution, which we are already witnessing its impact and are enjoying some of its benefits that have eluded us, as a nation for decades, with an expectation for more.

With the appointment of the new Chief Justice and the rest of the justices of the Supreme Court having been accomplished under the new constitution—and to the satisfaction of all Kenyans, we are confident that further and necessary judicial reforms are also underway.

We are also equally confident that efforts to undermine implementation of the rest of the constitution shall not prevail and that therefore it’s only a matter of time for Kenyans to enjoy all the benefits of the new constitution.

It is accordingly our expectation, Your Excellency that, with the full implementation of the new constitution and execution of the concomitant judicial and political reforms, we as a nation shall finally be able to deal a serious, if not fetal, blow to poor governance, corruption, and impunity.

That’ll be all good but will not be everything.

We have a much more urgent and equally significant malady that we must cure ahead of the next general elections, and that is, tribalism.

This, Your Excellency, is the reason I am writing to you.

When we say Your Excellency needs to ensure peaceful handover of power to your successor, as well as ensure a preceding period of peaceful campaigning and elections, we are also implicitly asking Your Excellency, and now openly urge you to use your power and influence to make sure that we not only have free and fair elections in 2012 but, equally importantly, you must ensure that tribalism is crushed as the determinative factor in electing our leaders, especially at the presidential level.

If you accomplish this, Your Excellency, namely, if you play a key role in ending tribalism as a major determinative factor in presidential elections, Your Excellency would not only have presided over the changing of Kenya from the old to the new, with passage of the new constitution, you would have also planted a seed that would germinate to an even more beautiful Kenya where our affairs are governed not by tribe and negative ethnicity, but by who we are as Kenyans.

As Kenyans, we have for years and decades had a reputation throughout much of the world as a peace loving people.

Few, if any, would disagree, even in spite of 2008 that we are not incapable of living in peace and harmony with one another, divided only by the artificial boundaries necessary for administrative functions of the government.

We are quite capable of doing this, Your Excellency, and its my belief an opportunity presents itself for Your Excellency to set the stage in moving our country in that direction and create an atmosphere of improved ethnic relations upon which your successor can build and take to an even higher level, starting with the elimination of tribalism as a determinative factor in presidential elections.

This, namely, ending tribalism, Your Excellency, ought to be and must be your most significant and everlasting gift you can give our country, which in turn will result in leaving a legacy for you beyond any other, grand as each shall be.

Your Excellency, the question should not be whether you ought to play a key role in ending tribalism in Kenya, rather, the question should be, what role should you play in ending this debilitating disease of tribalism?

Your Excellency, let me suggest that merely urging Kenyans to end tribalism will not do because this has been tried and urged by every known leader since we can remember, but all to no avail.

Part of that is because the very leaders who call for an end to tribalism in the day, are often busy practicing or scheming to practice it at night.

Some, especially a number of those interested in succeeding you, Your Excellency, have made it known their ticket to State House is perfecting tribalism and they are openly pursuing this as their sole strategy, even to this day and, unless something is done to stop them, it shall be their sole strategy to the end.

Your Excellency, you must stop them in their tracks with this heinous scheme for success of their strategy, shall be further perpetuation of tribalism.

Tumechoka na mambo ya ukabila, Mzee.

We must end tribalism, and this is the ideal time to do so, Your Excellency.

The way I see it, Your Excellency, there are a number of things you can do to lead in this effort to defeat tribalism based schemes to succeed you and therefore cleanse our nation of this debilitating disease of tribalism in Kenya and these are:

First, and I say this with all due respect, Your Excellency, it is incumbent upon you, as the president of our nation, to inform our brothers and sisters from Central that, with 42 tribes in Kenya, and having had Your Excellency and our first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta elected from Central to lead our country, let our brothers and sisters from the area show love and unity with other Kenyans and vote for someone other than their own this time around.

Doing so, Your Excellency, will not be the end of Central as some might seriously believe; rather, it would be the beginning of a new and fresh relations between our brothers and sisters from Central and the rest of the country, the past notwithstanding.

I fully realize this is a tall order, Your Excellency, and that most will advise against Your Excellency undertaking such earthshaking action but this is what greatness in leadership demands and more so, unless and until our brothers and sisters from Central are made to understand and accept the altruism that all Kenyans are equal and that no one tribe or ethnic group should be deemed the preferred one over the others, we shall continue to struggle with the issue of tribalism in Kenya until such a time as this altruism is significantly accepted by our brothers and sisters from Central, which shall be a matter of time, as it is.

I say this, Your Excellency, because there are clear indications many from Central have already shaken themselves free of this debilitating disease of tribalism and view issues not from its prism, but progressively as to how best to move our country forward regardless of tribe or ethnicity, which is commendable.

This is a development, Your Excellency must fully and without delay take advantage of and lead in stepping up efforts to maximize its potential.

It’s our belief Your Excellency is in a unique position to so deliver, given where we are as a nation, your history and background.

Second, Your Excellency should reconsider your position reported the other day in the media that you will remain neutral and let those vying to succeed you, battle it out on their own and let Kenyans choose in the end, one among them to succeed you.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would be a very commendable and, indeed, the only position to take as our president.

As things stand relative to the upcoming elections, Your Excellency, these are no ordinary circumstances for both practical and historical reasons that Your Excellency is fully aware, thus the need for Your Excellency to play your hand, if not directly, certainly indirectly to make sure a successor is elected who is not only qualified to take over from you in every respect, but also one who can unite, not divide the country.

Third, if Your Excellency is reluctant or unwilling to actively influence or offer hints as to who your preferred successor should be—and there is really only one candidate who fits the bill, Your Excellency, if one were to assess all the declared candidates objectively, but be as it may be, the least you can do in playing a key role in ending tribalism as a determinative factor in presidential elections, Your Excellency, is to make sure those who wish to exploit tribalism as a means of reaching the State House, do not succeed at all in doing so.

This is something Your Excellency must do not just as our nation’s leader but in your personal capacity as well for I believe Your Excellency would agree, it’s time Kenya moved beyond tribalism and elected our president regardless of what tribe or ethnic group they hail from, as long as they are qualified and are otherwise fit to hold that office.

Abraham Lincoln, the great American president, freed slaves in America in 1863.

Your Excellency should lead in finally freeing Kenya from tribalism in 2012.

This is our prayer and may the grace of God be with you as you ponder these and other heavy issues you must deal with as our president.

Sincerely,

/s

____________________

Samuel N. Omwenga, Esq.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Politics, Uncategorized

 

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Tribalisim Like All Bad Learned Habits Can Be Unlearned

Following further below, is my response to the immediately following by a blogger who essentially believes there was deliberate efforts by the Kenya government during his early school years to make Kikuyus appear superior and everyone else inferior by manipulating the use of school textbooks to accomplish this.

His Posting:

People,

I have suffered internally with this thought for long and I think it is time I did something about it. I must admit I can not continue suffering like this yet it was the government’s blunder.

While I did my early primary schooling in the rural areas where the only language I could understand well was my mother tongue and slight and incorrigible kiswahili.the government deliberately designed a curriculum to favour some tribes than others.

I am now looking for a lawyer to put together for me my accusation against the government. All the books i read in English during my early education were designed in a way that i lived believing that there only existed Njugunas,Kamaus and the likes.These two names feature well in myb mind as my story books only mentioned the two.

Here we go:

  • The bus driver Mr.Njuguna asked the pupils to be seated in the bus
  • The shopkeeper,Mr.Kamau gave the boy enough change as he had been asked by his mother Nyokabi

In all the Safari books I was tutored with in my early primary I never saw a name that resembled even the locals names. Then there must have been someone at KIE who developed curriculum with alot of tribalism. The only place I met the name of my kinsmen was in venacular books which was titled” Akeyo olal e chiro” Akeyo gets lost in the market.

I therefore lived knowing that all bus drivers must be from Njuguna’s tribe and all shopkeepers are Kamau or his kinsmen
I want an explanation from the government why they allowed this blander or was it deliberate to make me think am lesser in the society.

And I am serious I need an explanation from KIE as well or else I get a lawyer to sue the government for misleading me and other young stars.

This is not hate speech,I know [_] is fond of fire fighting without a strategy on how to do his job,and may want to pick this as hate speech,but let him if he is the one explain categorically why this was done

My Response:

Your posting reminds me of a recent debate in Texas, USA between hardcore conservatives and liberals on education in general and pre-college student curriculum in particular; conservatives who have virtually taken over every aspect of government in the state of Texas, used their majority in the Texas School Board to put their conservative stamp in education curriculum, their justification: the Texas curriculum was too liberal for their taste (for a news story about this, go to New York Times, for a good blog on the issue, go to this blog).

While it’s true what we learn from early on in life and formative years has a major influence on what we believe or do and who we become later on in life, it is equally true what we learn in those same years that is against the norm or otherwise evil or improper can be unlearned through later education, maturity and exposure. Otherwise, if this were not the case, children born to racist families will always be racists; children exposed to tribalism from that period will always be tribalists; children born of one religion or the opposite will remain so forever, etc.

Unfortunately, however, the unlearning of the vice and other bad things learned in those formative years stays with some people to the day they die either by choice or by choice. This is not a typo, it is deliberate to say those who do not unlearn the vice and other bad things do so by choice.

And this is, precisely, our problem in Kenya today. While I can see the older generation having difficulty shaking ukabila, which I include hate of others simply because of their tribe, I simply do not comprehend why their offspring who are better informed, educated and otherwise exposed fail or refuse to do so.

We have no doubt made progress as time is going by but judging from the exchanges one sees here and on the ground, a lot of work remains to be done but the good news is, there are signs and I am very optimistic we are almost there.

Osama Bin Laden sent his boys to drive two airplanes through two landmark buildings in New York on September 11, 2001. That single act of brazen terrorism instantaneously united the country than ever before in its history; neighbors who hated each other found themselves giving each other hugs; family member who had disappeared from their loved ones found courage to call and say they were okay and were eager to reunite; Democrats who could not stand or simply hated President George W Bush or GW suddenly discovered he was a good guy and that they actually loved him (but that’s how far they could go; his VP Cheney they still hated); in Kenya, Moi so run the country into the ground when he attempted to impose a successor on the country, he was resoundingly told NO by way of the country overwhelmingly electing Kibaki as president in 2002; the aura on the ground and elsewhere in the Diaspora on hKibaki’s inauguration in 2003 was titillating.

What has happened since these euphoric moments? After a few months or so, in America, the neighbors went back to hating each other; a number of family members who reunited with their families soon went back to their hiding; Democrats went back to hating GW so much such that after losing the elections in 2004, he was appointed president by the US Supreme Court which is the first time that has happened in the US; in Kenya, the euphoria of 2002 disappeared such that Raila, who was instrumental in having Kibaki elected that year, faced off with Kibaki in the 2007 elections which most people believe he won but was not sworn as president, leading to the post-election violence and near civil war.

Fortunately, there was a compromise between Kibaki and Raila leading to the current coalition government which is where we find ourselves today.

Where are going to go tomorrow, come the day after election day 2012? Is the country going to rise in jubilation with election of a president they are all happy and eager to lead them to greater unity and prosperity as in 2002 or is it going to be an uncertain and gloomy day as was December 28, 2007?

I, for one, wish and pray it’ll be a jubilant day throughout the country as that bright day on December 28, 2002 when the country confirmed the Moi era was over and was prepared to have Kibaki take us to the promised land.

Were this to be the case, it will be a manifestation that we have learned to unlearn the vice of tribalism.

Peace, Love and Unity.

***********

Is our country ready to finally shake tribalism and all its vestiges?

“I think so but this is not to say our individualism and ethnic culture is thrown out with it as well. The two can happen together harmoniously, i.e., we can get rid of tribalism without sacrificing our pride in individual ethnic culture but certain barbaric cultural activities in all ethnic groups must be shed as well.”

Samuel N. Omwenga, Esq.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2011 in Siasa

 

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