Why we need to learn from our past and detribalise national life

Bernard Awoya a newspaper vendor within Nakuru City. [Joseph Kipsang, Standard]

On Tuesday, December 12, Kenya marked 60 years of independence from Britain. After about 70 years of colonial rule, a nationwide revolutionary ferment that saw the natives engage the colonialists in a seven-year sanguinary gore typified by the Mau Mau uprising culminated in the independence declared on December 12, 1963.

Our independence heroes and heroines had fought for, not only the restitution of then-settler-held land to Africans but also self-rule, which the founding fathers hoped would then focus on the alleviation of poverty, ignorance and disease among the natives. 

Unlike in neighbouring Tanzania, though, the pioneers of the post-colonial State in Kenya failed to establish and encourage the continual promotion of social compact and justice as the doctrinal predicate of our societal founding.

They soon grew insular and predatory and, as a result, tribal predominance of government became - and has been, for the longest time - the sole goad and motive for political and electoral contests.

Consequently, Kenya is, for the most part, ethnicity-riven, institutionally pliant, sleaze-ridden and, though development-hungry, long in the maw of misgovernance.

In a volte-face from the ideology-based and idea-rich politics that informed the lodestar around the formation of political parties in the 1960s and ‘70s, later generations of leaders have come to mainstream political ethnocentrism so that electoral contests are “organised” around ethnic arithmetic, and our political parties are nothing more than a political euphemism for ethno-regional nationalism.

We “naturally” support the activities and electoral aims of the political parties associated with “one of our own”. And our presidential election outcomes, especially, are a bad commentary on our relational strength as a country and people.

We countenance corruption and whitewash the corrupt in high places because they are from the same ethno-regional enclaves as us. When “one of our own” takes over the presidency, we ethnicise appointment to State jobs because “it’s our tribe’s turn and, by implication, right, to eat.”

We are antagonistic towards calls for greater national integration because that would threaten our tribespeople’s predominance of national political power. And we are indifferent to the damage our alienation of others from the bosom of national consanguinity does to our oneness as people of one country.

We gloss over - and skirt discussion around - report after report on representational imbalance in the ethnic composition of staff membership at our State offices and agencies.

And we seem not to ever learn from the cyclical, ethnicity-fuelled election-time violence that sees many innocent lives lost.

There’s urgent need for us to retrace our steps back to where we first wandered off the path that our founding fathers envisaged and dared to lead us down sixty years ago. The present generation of political leaders owes it to us and posterity to pivot from the ethnicity-riven politics of the last 60 years and re-glom onto our founders’ vision of one, united and prosperous country.

Mr Baraza is a writer and historian. [email protected]

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