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It's no longer tenable for leaders to hide behind the tribal card

Opinion
 President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua (left) at the KICC during a past event, April 11, 2023.  [Silas Otieno, Standard]

Oliver Markus Malloy, German-American novelist, in his seminal book titled 'How to Defeat the Trump Cult: Want to Save Democracy?' writes that “The rich ruling class has used tribalism, a primitive caveman instinct, to their advantage since the beginning of time. They use it to divide and conquer us”.

Oliver’s sentiments are relatable in our Kenyan situation. June started with a rising political voltage, fueled by the supposed tension between President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua.

Some political interests closely monitored and nurtured the tensions, hoping they would precipitate into ethnic and tribal priorities.

If Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua disagree, should we care? Political interests, in their many forms and manifestations, are interested in the implications that if Gachagua is taken lightly in the Kenya Kwanza government, the whole Kikuyu tribe will be under attack.

Such fallacies of generalisation are out of date - even Ruto did not wholly depend on that narrative.

It could not work—he had to lean on a more accommodative 'tribe' called hustlers. Note that the political aspect has had a predatory relationship with the economic, social, and cultural foundations of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The nature of politics has been to elevate itself above the other aspects of society to create rifts on which it survives and thrives against the foundations of democracy.

In Kenya, politics has always survived on the back of tribalism and ethnicity, but fortunately, a generation is coming up that knows such a ‘Pharaoh’.

Tribal markers

The tribe we call hustlers, whose politics dominated in the 2022 elections and whose popularity Kenyan Kwanza rode to power, knows no Luo, Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Kamba, Luhya, or other tribal markers.

They are united, first through a cord of their clamour for equality and equity in resource sharing for their survival.

This is an indicator that the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba, Luhya, and other markers of the tribe are dying.

One pointer of the death of a tribe in Kenya is that you cannot accurately predict a person's tribe using their names.

It used to be very easy some years ago. It is not so today. You will meet a Gen-Z called Otieno, Kamau, or Kemboi and be frustrated if you switch to addressing them in their assumed tribe languages.

Why is that so? Because more children are born of unions across tribes than there were two decades ago.

Moreover, a huge percentage of Gen-Z and Gen-Alphas are born not in their parents' ethnic homelands, but in urban areas, where they grow and interact with people who care little about their tribes. Therefore, it is safe to say that when I peer into the future, it will be a disgrace for a politician to stand and start telling voters about their tribe.

That day will surely come and is coming. Hustlers hustle among themselves with little regard for who belongs to which tribe.

History teaches us that there was a time long ago when a tribe could not (barter) trade with another one because of their inter-ethnic conflict.

That fizzled out a long time ago. Trade and commerce must have been the first aspects of life to kick out issues of tribe—we buy and sell to people without caring about their tribe, ethnicity and what not.

If tribe were an important factor, as politics wants to elevate it, we would ask boda boda guys about their tribes before we jump onto their motorbikes.

But do we care which tribe our mechanic, tailor, carpenter, mason, mama mboga are from?

Political tribalism

We don't care from whose petrol station we fuel our cars, the supermarket from where we shop daily, or the owner of the matatu that ferries hustlers to and from our workplaces. Do we?

We all wish to live in a country where the doctrine of political tribalism shifts from loyalty to one's ethnicity to colleagues, neighbours, fellow citizens, and institutions that add value to one's survival.

Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer at Kabarak University’s Department of Mass Communication

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