Reject leaders who foster boundary conflict

We cannot wholly use ethnic borders to define economic contact. [Courtesy]

Our colonial history makes border conflicts a recurrent disease. But boundaries are a problem everywhere, and different nations solve them in their own ways. The senator who recently issued an ultimatum around Sondu Town is proof that miseducation among politicians risks carrying ethnic conflicts into the next century if the voter does not choose well.

Many widows and orphans on both sides of the 103km Muhoroni, Nandi and Kericho counties border used to blame bloodshed along the stretch from Kajulu Hill through Songhor to Sondu on old, uneducated politicians. They were wrong because today’s ‘princes of war’ are big-nosed educated men in their thirties.

It is sad that many are blind to the reality of life in Africa before colonisation. Such life did not know sanitised ethnic boundaries, and Sondu is an example of how Kenyan Africans lived.

We cannot wholly use ethnic borders to define economic contact between our counties because colonial boundaries are based on myths of ethnic extremism that colonialism invented. In the Nyando Sugar Belt, which runs from Fort Ternan through Koru, Muhoroni, Chemelil, Kibigori and Kibos, for instance, Britain conveniently relied on 1620’s Lwanda Magere myth to lay a fake Luo-Nandi boundary along the 1901 Uganda Railway line.

The trick worked so well that today’s leaders do not know they erase nearly three centuries of contact between the two communities. The British myth that Nandi and Luo communities fought every day cannot let them know that Ramula near Ahero, and Sondu, were principal markets where Luo traders and their neighbours bartered their animals and wares between 1620 and 1901.

Trade is how today’s Luo still grow a species of sweet potato called ‘Nyar Lang’o’ (daughter of the Kalenjin). It also explains how, in Songhor of the ’80s and ’90s, we grew up under the shadows of Mzee Obong’o arap Biri and Mzee Okuogi, respectable Nyang’ori and Nandi elders who had Luo names, and who shared their ploughing oxen with Luo neighbours.

Our leaders are often unaware of the realities of motherhood along the Nyando border.

These are places where emergency conditions and tattered healthcare services sometimes force women to join hands and help mothers whose languages they do not speak, deliver babies in the bush.

Voters should reject leaders whose blood-lust is inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution. Counties would gain more through trade if possible warlords used ultimatums as urgent deadlines to broaden the dimensions of their own ethnic worldviews.

- Dr Ndago works in South Africa