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Kenyans must stick together in 2016

COMMENTARY
By Mohamed Guleid | January 4th 2016

On the eve of the New Year, together with my family, I departed to welcome the New Year in a relaxed and serene environment. Of course, I was biased towards my home county. I retreated to the magnificent Shaba Game Reserve for a two-day break.

The Sarova Shaba, situated in the middle of the park, provides an exotic and breathtaking scenery with some of the world's unique wild life such as the gravy zebra (exclusive to Isiolo), the gerenuk, a slender, tall-necked antelope which derives its name from the local Somali language - since the British conservationist could not find a suitable Latin name.

What amazed me was the number of Kenyans I met at the lodge, who like me had come to usher in 2016 in style. Kenyans from all walks of life, diverse in ethnicity and different religious affiliations met and mingled.

There were Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, all getting along seemingly well. There were no Kikuyus, or Luhya, or Luo or Somali or Kalenjins. There were no whites or black, all ate from one table; we were all Kenyans.

We were enveloped by the beauty of humanity; of peace and harmony that we ardently seek. To me that was the Kenya I hope to see all the time.

This reminded me of the recent incident when Muslims passengers aboard a Mandera-bound bus stood up against suspected terrorists. When I linked the action of those valiant Muslim passengers and the ease at which Kenyans decided to celebrate the holidays together, I felt a wave of optimism spread in me. I believe Kenyans generally love their country and their neighbours too.

I wonder though why we become hostile to each other when matters of politics are discussed.

By the end of 2016 or even earlier, the drums of the campaigns will start beating and that is when politicians will flock back to their constituencies reminding their brethren about how they have been marginalised and excluded "since independence".

It does not matter whether this politician has been away from his people for most of his five-year term. Having amassed wealth beyond his needs, the prototype Kenyan politician will appear with suitcases full of cash to entice the youth and hypnotise them with a strong dose of ethnically divisive politics.

So what has changed?

Back to Sarova Shaba. I discussed with some of those I met there. We were all in agreement that the Kenya we want is a Kenya where everyone feels included and people live together in a cohesive and peaceful manner respecting each other's diversity. But so much, including the basic work against this quest for unity.

Unfortunately, we have institutionalised ethnicity through the manner in which we have fashioned our county boundaries. Did anyone tell us what happens when we concentrate people of the same ethnic background within the same administrative boundaries? Shared culture and identity aside, but the current administrative boundaries which were largely a creation of colonial administration could be a great diservice to the nationhood.

Upon attaining independence, our post-colonial regimes perpetuated the same design of ethnic balkanisation which continues to hold us back. We hear loud grumbles about how to deal with it. When one looks at some of our counties they bear the names of the dominant groups.

Counties such as Meru, Samburu, Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot clearly indicate that as the name suggests the counties belong the said ethnic group.

As a way out of this we can adopt the policy used by Ethiopia to the name their federal regions using numbers. For example the Somali regions in Ethiopia is officially known as region 5, while other regions similarly have numbers. Equally in Kenya we can also name all the counties using number so that the concept of any ethnic group claiming legitimacy of ownership for that particular county or sub-county can reduce.

In 2016, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission could, for example, come up with a campaign slogan that promotes unity and strengthens the diverse communities in the country. I remember during President Mwai Kibaki's first term, former Vice President Moody Awori attempted to introduce a national dress code which would have increased a sense of national unity in a sense.

That idea failed but it is high time we restarted that discussion so that we all feel as one. The number of local tourists who have visited Isiolo game parks this festive season is an indication that people are feeling truly proud of being Kenyans. Such events can also be promoted more often so that we all can say we are one.

This will leave no room for anyone to drive us into our religious and ethnic enclaves. With elections around the corner, we need a campaign to sensitise our people against any forms of divisive politics. Happy New Year dear readers.

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