Nationhood threatened by shortage of nationalists
By Kenfrey Kiberenge
The image of an elderly woman wailing outside the Kiambaa KAG Church in Eldoret in January 2008 where she had witnessed her kin consumed by an inferno will forever remain edged in the minds of Kenyans.
Gory images of people being hacked to death, women and girls being raped and men being forcibly circumcised using crude weapons are still fresh. And pictures of people carrying their belongings on their backs and heads, fleeing hotspots around the country where they had left their houses engulfed in fires are yet to fade.
This is the period Kenyans watched in shock as neighbours took on each other just after the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya chairman Samuel Kivuitu announced President Kibaki as winner of the 2007 presidential vote. But as the country approaches the next General Election, the country appears to have muffed the lesson; ethnic tensions are rising, especially since the International Criminal Court indicted four Kenyans for playing a role in the 2007/2008 violence.
Now, leaders are challenging Kenyans to shun negative ethnicity ahead of the General Election to prevent the country from going back to the dogs. Speakers at the ‘The Peoples Conference: National Diversity, Race and Ethnicity’ which had been convened this week by the National Cohesion and Integration Cohesion called on Kenyans to appreciate cultural differences.
Ms Koki Muli, an election expert, warned that failure to prosecute post-election violence cases had led to the recurrence in successive elections.
With the exception of the 2002 General Election, Kenya has experienced some form of tribal clashes after each election since the return of multipartysm in 1992. Prime Minister Raila Odinga who opened the conference on Monday said tribal divisions were being fueled ahead of the General Election.
"As political activity has picked up, we have tried to use our competitive political process to discourage unity and stir up ethnic emotions... we must march into the future not as tribesmen, races or a select grouping of people; we must march as Kenyans," he urged.
The PM cautioned politicians to maintain peace by not enhancing hatred among Kenyans: "We must ensure that our competitive politics can and must be made to facilitate cohesion. We must ensure that vested interests are submerged into common interest. Only then shall we move forward in a single formation with purpose to make Kenya a better place for all of us."
Making a presentation on ‘Who is a Kenyan’, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga warned that the biggest threats to nationhood are the over-supply petty politicians and a shortage of nationalists. "Petty politicians view everything through the prism of the tribe.
They equate national interest with ethnic interests. They are obsessed with ethnic hegemony. They hold hollow but dangerous supremacist ideologies and have invented false notions of ethnic entitlement. Most of it is anchored on exaggerated grievances, yet mostly fuelled by greed," he said.
Such individuals, he added, revel in insults and derogatory remarks about other tribes and groups, as they descend into mindless orgies of mirth and self-amusement.
"When they lose an argument, they rush to the defense of ethnic stereotype. They are incapable of mobilising across communities, and consider being referred to as the undisputed leader of the tribe as the ultimate political prize," charged Dr Mutunga.
The CJ also cautioned against pejorative commentaries even in comedy. Of late, stand up comedians have resorted to tribal stereotypes to keep their audience entertained. "I enjoy comedy, and I would be the last person to suggest that anybody should censor it, but let us give a thought to instances when well meaning activity may hurt the broader public interest," offered the Chief Justice.
Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka called for a ceasefire among party politicians ahead of the General Election to avoid a repeat of the 2008 post-election violence. The VP appealed to leaders to urge unity to promote development. "We must resist the temptation to amplify our differences. We should focus on the things that unite us as a nation," Kalonzo said, while closing the conference.
Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo discouraged politicians from abetting tribalism.
"The law emphasises that we must promote diversity and ensure cohesion," he said.
United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative and Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Kenya Aeneas Chuma hailed Kenya’s steps towards promoting national reconciliation. He also commended the country for the ongoing implementation of the new Constitution. He noted key constitutional institutions had been created and others reformed.
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