Assuming nothing; questioning everything

Posts tagged ‘tribalism’

This is how low we have sunk

A few months ago, I planned a group interview with residents of certain parts of Nairobi.  When I got to the venue of our meeting, I asked the guard to allow me in for the meeting. To my surprise, her response was, “unaenda ile mkutano ya waluhya?” Quite irritated with the question, I informed her that I didn’t know the ethnic identities of the people that I was meeting.

Shortly after that incident, I attended a meeting in a different community in Nairobi.  In this meeting, no one seemed to know the name of any of the people they were discussing, and the descriptions ranged from the “Kikuyu mama”, “Mkamba shopkeeper” to the “Mkisii policeman” and the “Kalenjin watchman” among other ethnic related identities.

Using ethnicities as a primary identity seems pervasive, not only in Nairobi, but other parts of the country as well.  Late last year for instance, I was conducting research in Turkana County, and I had this wonderful taxi driver who picked me up from the airport, took me everywhere I wanted to go, and was extremely helpful to say the least.  On the last day of my stay, as he was driving me to the airport, he asked the common question, “na nikuulize, kwenyu ni wapi?”  I told him that I am from Nairobi, since that is where I was born, raised and live.

As is common with many other Kenyan conversations, he wanted to know where my “real home” was.  I knew that he wanted to know my tribe, so I told him where I came from just to see where he was going with this.

When I told him where I came from, he almost jumped up to hug me.  I had never seen him this excited the entire time I was with him in Turkana.  Seeing how excited he was, I asked him “kwani huko ni ushago kwenyu, ama unajua mtu huko?”  He wasn’t from the place, and didn’t know anyone from the place, but he was my tribesman, and judging from his response that must have been the most important thing he got to know about me.

I think about these incidents, and I get the sense that we are losing it as a country, given the significance and primacy that is increasingly being pegged to ethnic identities. The number of times that people ask me where I am from, so that they can know my tribe is all too common.  Some will go ahead and ask whether my surname belongs to my father or my husband.  Perhaps because to them, my physical identity does not match that of the community that they associate my surname with.

A surname unfortunately is now used to judge political standing, and in some cases economic and social standing, as we saw with a recent tweet by a well-known political analyst.  We elect “our own”, and are satisfied with the simple idea of having “our people” occupy top positions in government, never mind that that they often do not represent us or our interests, often looting public resources for themselves and the few people surrounding them. As citizens we are often left bearing the brunt of the self-interested leadership of “our people”.

We seem to be sinking lower into the morass of tribalism by the day. The recent incident of a man by the name Mugo wa Wairimu, raping women while masquerading as a gynaecologist, demonstrates how low we have sunk as a society due to tribalism.

When I visited Mugo wa Wairimu’s Facebook page following the scandal, I was shocked to see how much support he had from his tribesmen, who purported that this was a political and tribal scheme by the opposing political and tribal camp.  His supporters alleged that this was an agenda to “destroy” their man, and encouraged him to be strong, knowing that the plan of the “evil one” would not prevail.

God was on his side, according to his supporters, who continued to encourage him with examples of men that had suffered tribulation, but emerged stronger and victorious.

Not too long before that, an audio clip of a woman who was being raped went viral in Nairobi.  This time it was by a man by the name Morris, but given the name Mollis, as the woman he was raping could not pronounce his name correctly due to mother tongue influence.  Using her accent to determine her community, jokes went round that this was evidence of the lack of sexual prowess by the women of her community, as the stereotype goes.

Tribalism seems to be eroding our humanity, intelligence and sense of justice.  Value for humanity, pursuit for democracy and justice have been replaced and blurred by tribalism, to the extent that as a society we no longer care how much we suffer or who suffers, the perpetrator will be supported by those they share an ethnic identity with.

It’s a sad state of affairs, and only time will tell how long we can continue this way, and where this will lead us.  What I know for sure is that this is not a healthy state for any nation to be, and as with all diseases, the longer it goes untreated, the more devastating and tragic the final outcome.

Advertisements

Obama’s visit tells of a society in need of emancipation

Liberating minds _ Angela Davis
Every month, the watchman of the building I live in asks me to lend him 1,000 or 2,000 Kshs, with the promise to pay me back at the end of the month. He rarely pays me back on time, because things always come up. Although he watches over property worth several hundred million Kshs, his earnings are barely enough to see him through the month.

This man walks three hours every morning to get to work and back home every evening. He works 12 hours a day, without a lunch break, and yet he cannot afford to pay 40 Kshs. for his daily transport. This is despite the fact that he supplements his income by washing the cars of the residents of the building, alongside other manual work that is given to him.

Even with all these efforts, he still owes me 1,000 Kshs. from last year, and he has explained to me that he is paying a loan, which makes it even more difficult to make ends meet. He is highly in debt, just to survive. On top of that, he recently got a wife, so things are probably worse, with an extra mouth to feed.

Now that he has a wife, there is a possibility that he will be getting children in the future. I don’t need to investigate to confirm that the chances of his children having the same kind of education, healthcare and nutrition as the children occupying the houses he mans are close to, if not zero. Miracles may happen, but I foresee a high probability that his children will be in the same situation he is in 20 years down the line.

Sometimes I overhear the conversations between the watchmen and the domestic workers, and I get a sense that they are well aware of the structural inequalities in this country. Talking and joking are their ways of dealing with the harsh realities of life. They talk about the challenges of being on the tail end of the inequality divide. They joke about how they can only afford certain luxuries in their dreams.

The luxuries they joke about are nothing luxurious by middle class standards – sometimes it is just the need for a decent lunch, the dream to take their children to university, or to take public transport to work and back home. For the domestic workers, they wish they could see their children daily, spend more time with them, and like their employers, receive their children when they come back from school.

These kind of inequalities glare at us every day in the places that we live, our places of work and just about every public and private space. Any Kenyan will tell you that the fruits of independence are only enjoyed by a few; that where you are born, and who you are born to determines your chances in life and the kind of opportunities that life will present you with.

In their conversations, the watchmen and domestic workers correctly correlate their social and economic challenges to corruption, nepotism, cronyism and tribalism. They know that without these social ills, their lives would be somewhat, if not significantly different.

Yet when Obama talked about inequalities, tribalism and corruption in Kenya, we spent the entire day quoting different sections of his speech through tweets, re-tweets, and Facebook posts that were liked, commented on and shared widely. We marvelled at Obama’s genius, his wisdom, and spoke at length about how inspired we were, never mind that any ordinary Kenya would have told you the exact same thing. We celebrated these obvious statements, as if they were the words of the prophet, foretelling a future that we don’t know of.

I have found myself trying to make sense of the response of Kenyans to Obama’s visit, and more specifically, his speech. I have found myself wondering whether the over-celebration of these obvious statements could be symptoms of a repressed society. Were we celebrating because Obama said what many of us could not say for fear of being branded traitors or unpatriotic?

Could the ‘Obama-mania’ that we witnessed, and the over-enthusiastic cheering of obvious statements be signs of a nation clinging to the hope of much needed salvation? Could these be signs of a society that is in self-doubt? Could the hope we vested in Obama be an indication of low confidence to emancipate ourselves from the problems that we often articulate so well, even across socio-economic divide?

As Africans, we have struggled to emancipate ourselves from the indignity of domination by foreign and colonial rule. Even after attaining independence, Africans have vehemently objected to be shaped by dominant narratives of the West, about Africa. This is a journey that we continue to pursue spiritedly.

However, we cannot succeed in the journey to emancipation if we continue to cling to the West for affirmation and legitimization. When we fail to believe ourselves until a foreigner ‘diagnoses’ our problem and speaks on our behalf. We must rise above the need for affirmation by the foreign, and believe that we are holders of knowledge about ourselves. We must believe that the power to chart a new kind of Africa lies with us, and not the West.

Bob Marley - Emancipation

%d bloggers like this: