Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A Conversation on Tribe

Over the holiday season I had an interesting conversation. I had gone to my ancestral home in Meru for a funeral and ran into an unlikely acquaintance so we sat next to each other and got talking. On that day a lot was happening on the Kenyan political scene as that was when Musalia Mudavadi was dumped by the Jubilee coalition and so the conversation as is common in this season drifted towards politics.

He said something interesting along the lines that there should be some basic requirements to register as a voter. Not necessarily educational ones but that a basic grasp of issues is a prerequisite, perhaps a couple of questions to find out. For instance he gave an example of how he asked people in his home area which is Vihiga who they will vote for. An answer he got was “Mudavadi mtu wetu na kama si yeye Raila kwa sababu anatoka hapa karibu” (Mudavadi because he's our man and if not him Raila because he's from nearby”) That is the kind of answer that got him thinking of such drastic requirements for registration. I am pretty certain that is the same kind of answer you would get if you asked in other home areas of presidential candidates. He went on to say that we in Nairobi are exposed and can think of other political questions which are being asked by the so called progressive candidates but the rank and file Kenyan is still in the tribal mode of thinking. So we can sing as many songs about Peter Kenneth or Martha Karua but the reality on the ground is people don't even know who he is.

As we continued talking we went deeper into the tribal question. He is of mixed parentage – Luhya and Giriama so he was exposed to ethnic diversity at a young age. He is also married to a woman from Meru adding more to the mix. However others are not as opened up. He talked of the kind of conversations people have in the rural areas which are ethnically homogeneous. Some people for instance in Western would say “Kikuyus are like this and that” and when you ask whether they know any they say they don't. Then the question would be where they got such and idea then the answer would be “ I heard my father say it. “ So a person grows up having a certain idea in their head about people from another area based not on interaction but prejudice handed down from their parents. The same can be said the other way around about a Kikuyu in Central being asked about Luhyas. These ideas come to the fore a lot during the common inter-ethnic marriages of our day and of course in politics. I've mentioned these closed conversations before in this post. It's sad that we are programming our children with prejudice like that. For some of us who grew up in the city interaction with other communities from a young age was the order of the day and we never really made a distinction.

However somewhere along the way we start looking down on others we grew up with for example on the practice of circumcision for boys after completing primary school. We start thinking we are men and the others are boys and that kind of thing but it's just a cultural practice. Kenya is a diverse country within itself and instead of using that as a strength in the even more diverse global marketplace we are concentrating on petty differences which looking at it critically really don't amount to much. For me the real matters of concern in the coming election is not where somebody was born or where their parents were but how the government will be better in providing services first and in creating an environment for empowerment of every citizen. As we go along there will be differences but we can look beyond amorphous concepts like tribe and look into others that really determine our welfare. We did not choose where to be born and can not change that fact but it needn't be an impediment to free thinking and self determination and freedom of choice.

There is this habit of the media to lump Kenyans into groups and talk of Luhya vote, Kalenjin vote, Kikuyu vote etc. I call that out as load of tripe ( pun intended) as I doubt there is no individual called Luhya or Kikuyu. We have millions of people with millions of individual votes and this grouping and labeling is an insult to the intelligence and uniqueness of each of us. In the end the one with the most individual votes cast will win. I know it will take a while for our country to evolve socially but really the idea of my people should be replaced with the idea of me and what matters to me!

In other news... Happy new year everybody!