Beyond his prowess in acting, Benson Wanjau aka Mzee Ojwang’ Hatari Ondiek Mang’ang’a, the Kikuyu man who was best known as a Luo, leaves a legacy that stirs a critical conversation about negative ethnicity in Kenya.
For some unknown reason, we have chosen to be embroiled in petty tantrums that seek to look down, exploit, insult and oppress those who do not belong to our tribal outfits. We have opted to place the political, socio-economic development and the well-being of the Nation and its people on the back burner to focus on tribe.
So intoxicating is the tribe factor that we are deliberately ignoring corruption, insecurity, high cost of living, a frail economy, poverty, bad governance, unemployment, nepotism, injustice and inequity. Instead, we seek shelter in our tribal cocoons, either as an excuse for not working as hard as we should, or as a reason to justify injustice and the rape of national resources.
Yet, while ethnicity is used as a tool to advance the interests of certain deities, the blind sheep who cheer their leaders loudest are often pawns who never get to eat the crumbs falling off the table of ethnic-powered politics.
When the colonial masters came, they resorted to divide-and-rule by pitting one tribe against the other. But in a nauseous remake of our colonial history, when today’s political aspirants seek elective posts, they equally pit tribe against tribe, and clan against clan.
The bargaining chips of an aspirant becomes the tribe or clan and the people become a thing, a commodity, soulless individuals with no dreams and aspirations, but mere pawns to be used and discarded at will. It is no wonder then, that we as a citizenry are unable to hold our leaders to account. We become victims of bad governance, left to languish in poverty and die in misery because we have chosen to become ‘things.’
But what really is in a tribe? If we chose to make Mzee Ojwang’ a welcome guest into our homes and made his tribe a non-issue, can’t we also make tribalism a non-issue in the interests of our nation? Must we abase to the cheap politics that call us to segregate others who are not of our tribe so as to validate the dreams of individuals who are inferior and lacking in leadership skills and traits and have to resort to their ethnicity to gain power.
Francis J Grimke, a civil rights activist, wrote; “Segregation produces a condition that is not conducive to the best interest of either race. It tends to build up a false or artificial sense of superiority in the one, and is sure to create or engender in the other, feelings of resentment, of hatred, of discontent, out which no good can come to either, but will continue to be a source of friction, of irritation...”
Kenyans, therefore, ought to rise as a people and refuse the fabrication of tribal segregation into our society. This cancer of ‘our people’ ‘my tribe’ only creates a culture of entitlement and impunity. It does not advance the interests of the people.
To borrow from the lyrics of the Black Eyed Peas, if you only have love for your own tribe, then you only leave space to discriminate, and to discriminate only generates hate, and when you hate, then you’re bound to get irate. And ‘irate’ is what led to the 1992 tribal clashes and the 2007 post-election violence.
The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.