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Let Kenyans look beyond the tribe factor

By Tania Ngima | March 29th 2016

NAIROBI: Columnists, especially opinionated ones, have become an endangered breed. Then again, if there’s anything the recent times have taught us, it is to stand on the soap box at your own peril. It’s preferable to hide behind the little (and big) white lies.

So obsessed are we with maintaining status quo that we will vilify anyone who speaks out loud what we all think and whisper in the sanctity of our closed, trusted circles. Yes, let us continue peddling mediocrity.

Maintaining the status quo has its advantages, after all. We get to keep our jobs; we avoid being exorcised when the time comes to clean up the voices of ‘dissent’. And yes, we get to keep our mediocrity.

As the debate over the last few days turned to nationalism, it reminded me of an article I wrote a while ago where I touched on patriotism.

Sycophancy states that speaking out loud of the ills that plague our countries is unpatriotic. We get accused, incessantly, of not focusing on the progress being made by say, the ruling elite and instead focusing on all the things going wrong.

According to some twisted logic, being patriotic entails turning a blind eye to systemic and endemic corruption, to the flagrant abuse of human rights, to absolving the government of its basic responsibilities.

I have a news flash for anyone who has ever peddled this speech. We did not elect our ‘leaders’ so they could deliver the bare minimum, nor so that they could cling onto isolated successes and past glories while the present is pillaged and plundered.

This is not patriotism. It is denial.

Nationalism is defined as a feeling people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries.

It is a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and facing primary emphasis on promotion of its interests as opposed to those of supranational groups.

Before we accuse columnists for their perceived misdeeds, let us take a critical look at Kenya and the protection of its interests over that of individual groups.

You will recall a year ago there was a hue and cry over corruption with perpetrators and their crimes laid bare. A list of monumental proportions was presented to Kenyans in what felt to most of us like our governance had finally taken the right turn.

A year later and the actions we cited as reformative and a step in the right direction remain just that; a nicely crafted speech, but a speech all the same.

The perpetrators of the crimes are still walking free, a mockery of a judicial system gone wrong, where justice is sold to the highest bidder.

Since then, the hell gates of corruption seem to have been opened wide, a race to see who can loot the biggest funds in the shortest period of time.

From the Eurobond to NYS, the Youth Fund and everything in between, names have been named and evidence provided.

Yet, in the manner that has become so characteristic of justice only applying to you and me, who cannot afford to pay a couple of millions, the privileged in the country are above the law and untouchable.

Suddenly, the long arm of the law has also become very selective choosing those who deserve to be protected based on the size of their pocket.

The notion of nationalism that we are clinging to dictates that the interests of the State supersede the interests of special groups of people. But in our case the only interests that seem to count are those of the people who can afford to purchase their freedom.

Instead of vilifying those who state that nationalism in the country is dead, we may be better served by opening up dialogue and truly speaking across our tribal divides into what the real issues are.

When it comes to seeing our leaders for what they are, we collectively seem to get clouded by our emotions, affiliations to political parties and tribes.

And they know that, which is why they play this card every time, fuelling our most basic and primal tendencies and banking on us not making logical decisions.

We forget like in the analogy of ‘when elephants fight the grass suffers’, we are indisputably the grass and we never let them down.

We can be relied on to be so inflamed that our thought process gets impaired and bogged down in the minutiae of ‘my tribe against yours’ that we do not see the real issues for what they are.

And what are the real issues?

For starters, righting the wrongs in the country by charging the perpetrators of crimes and putting the guilty behind bars.

Making demands for funds pilfered to be returned and put to their rightful use. Putting in a judicial system that is fit for purpose; that works in the way that it was intended in the first place.

We deserve to live in a society where our basic machinery works, and what we can agree on right now is that it currently doesn’t.

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