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How ignorance, silly stereotyping fan tribal animosity in this country

By - | July 28th 2013 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Edward Indakwa

[email protected]

Listening to Kenyans, you would think men have suddenly gone mad. Okay, so newspapers reported about that chicken saga, then a cow followed, a goat was next and before we could digest it, a donkey died — raped by four men, it was rumoured.

Sorry folks, but that isn’t news. Kenyan men have been fornicating with animals for donkey years. Just because the media reported four cases in rapid succession is no excuse for everyone to get their knickers in a twist.

But then the moral issues aside, only an infantile community such as ours can conjure tribal insults between Jubilee and CORD supporters out of a couple of perverted men converting goats into bleating sexual objects.   For real? Just because one man was caught ‘with a cow’ in Kiambu so his entire community is rife with bestiality? And should other communities, whose men so far haven’t been reported romping livestock, as they definitely do, preen and coo from every hillside on social media?

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I think the reason why too many of us keep poking sticks into the tribalism beehive is because we can’t conceptualise what it means to belong to one nation state. In fact, writers routinely talk about the Luhya nation, the Luo nation, the Kikuyu nation and so forth. And they are right. Kenya is but a geographical space.

Ironically, some of our most rabid tribalists have never ventured beyond their villages to explore the remote fringes of their own districts of birth. Young white people fly thousands of miles to Nairobi and travel by matatu to remote parts of Kenya yet we have people in Nyeri who have never gone to Naivasha, people in Kitui who will never see Voi and people in Vihiga who only hear about Busia. Moyale? Where the hell is that on the map?  It’s unbelievable that this country has 40-year-old university graduates — in gainful employment — who have never been to Wajir, Kilifi, Bura, Elgeyo Marakwet or Samburu because it has never occurred to them to venture off the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, unless sent by some foreign NGO to a seminar.

How then do we envisage ourselves as part of a greater Kenya, a country whose geographical boundaries we can’t even conceptualise? Isn’t it idiotic how we have such virulent contempt for communities whose culture we have never experienced first-hand?

Our knowledge of ‘other tribes’ is based on the belligerent noises politicians make about opponents and a few nonsensical stereotypes that have somehow solidified into gospel truth.

These stereotypes are further reinforced by the flotsam that routinely wafts off the press — such as ‘suspected witch burnt to death in Kisii’ or ‘man caught in an unnatural act with a chicken in Nyeri’ or ‘widow thrown out for resisting wife inheritance in Bondo’ or ‘clan riots erupt in Mandera’. 

It doesn’t help that we have an awfully limited understanding of national history. If university students have to dub something they learned three months back to pass an exam, you wouldn’t expect them to know, or remember, what happened at the Lancaster House Conference in 1962, would you?

Recently, when Luo, Kamba and Kalenjin elders demanded for compensation from the British after Mau Mau veterans were given something small for the torture they suffered during the Emergency, an angry young man wrote on Facebook that people who had ‘bent backwards for colonialists while our forefathers fought for uhuru’ should keep quiet.

Bent backwards? Koitalel Arap Samoei, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Elijah Masinde, Mekatilili wa Menza, Paul Ngei and Makhan Singh bent backwards?

Hardly a month later, a young journalist turned to me and asked, “Who is Biwott?” and I was thinking Nicholas Kipyator Arap Biwott — the total man — is alive and kicking and you don’t know him? Would such a young fellow know Kariuki Chotara or Field Marshal Stanley Mathenge wa Mirugi? 

As if that wasn’t shocking enough, a colleague says that when he asked a candidate during a job interview whether he had read Francis Imbuga’s story in the newspaper, the young man thought Imbuga is a reporter. He didn’t even seem to be aware that the professor of Literature and famous playwright passed on!

I know everyone talks about patriotism.  Sadly, when politicians mount the podium, they only talk about the things that divide us — land, nepotism, scramble for resources and so forth.

But we will only forge one nation when we begin to talk about the things that bind us, when we look back to history; to the blood, sweat and tears upon which this nation is founded, when we start listening to old Independence songs with tears in our eyes, when we dare to dream beyond our villages and counties.

A good start would be for everyone who is a decision maker at any level within the government and political spheres to read David Anderson’s Histories of the Hanged – Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and The End of Empire.

Mekatilili wa Menza Mau mau CORD Kenya
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