Revv22's Blog

May 26, 2012


While still in school, I once asked my Paleoanthropology professor why it was compulsory to take that unit at third year level even if you never intend to venture into that field of study. (For those who don’t know, Paleoanthropology is a field of study that deals with human pre-history; looking at evidence and explaining chronological human evolution from its link with the larger primate community. Just think of Louis Leakey and you will get it).

May 3, 2012

New Kenya- Ethnicity vs Ethnicism

Filed under: Kenya Ni Kwetu — revv22 @ 6:43 am

A sitting MP recently stated that the contemporary battle in Kenyan politics is between “reformers and reactionary forces”.

I couldn’t agree more with this. Not because the MP and his political allies have my unconditional and blind support but because this is the reality of the matter.

Kenyan multi-party politics has always been based on two major factors; cultural ethnicity(tribe), and the personalities that forge as a result of a unanimous tribal endorsement. In many cases, these tribal-personalities are inherited positions from fathers, brothers and god fathers. In less cases the heir grows to outshine the father (or brother, or god father), assuming the image of not just a tribal bigwig but a nationally accepted personality.

It also happens sometimes that personalities arise out of a different type of ethnicity that may not necessarily be based on the African names and languages shared, but on the ideological stand points on matters such as economics and finance, ethics and human rights etc.. Am always taken to Tom mboya in the 1960s when I think of this cadre of political personalities. Despite being Luo, his “ethnicity” was mainly the economically minded Kenyan leadership who embraced capitalism as opposed to socialism which was being flogged by the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and in essence, the de facto ideology for Luo Nyanza.

In more recent times I would equate Martha Karua to this group of personalities. Mostly because her political path seem to have been one of total devotion to what she thought were like-minded thinkers, then betrayal and fortunately for her no assassination but a reinvention that sees her national acceptance index grow by the day. She has moved from the tribal affiliation to a more ideologically based ethnicity, that of Reformers who put at the pivot of their priorities, embracing and implementing the new constitution. She is one of the few cabinet ministers who have resigned their position on a matter of principle.

She seems to be of the thinking that the only way to get things done is to make sure you do it; even if it means existing in a different circle of “common ground”. After all, what is “ethnicity” if not a commonality in origin, ideals, values and thoughts for the future.

Professor Kimani Njogu, speaking at the inaugural session of “Kenya at Fifty-The making of the Nation-state” at the Goethe Institute, pointed that there was nothing like “negative-ethnicity” and proposed the use of the term “Ethnicism”, which he described as the negative manipulation of ethnicity. This is seen when in political and economic communication, “our people” and “those people” become the main reference points.
Ethnicism will continue to be used by socially irresponsible conglomerates only if we let them. It will continue to gain momentum only if Kenyans continue to be blind to their history, if they refuse to forge and abide by values that can serve to shape a better future for all.

It doesn’t make sense for the mwananchi to complain about “politicians” and label them all birds of a same feather, corrupt and unreliable; only to turn up during the elections and vote for them in huge numbers. There is need to provoke a more strategic voter. The way I see it, even if we get rid of every sitting MP, we shall still replace them with more politicians.

So the problem is not with the politician, it is with the appointing authority(read voter) that refuses to think like a player in the whole democratic process and is content with being a perennial pawn on the chess board. As a player, the voter will be able to think more strategically and see who is able to best serve their interest. One way to do this is to look at whom a vying politician is most likely to be accountable to when they are finally elected; if ones strategy is to coalesce with the elite for example, then they will be answerable to that coalition and serve their “protectionist” interest. On the contrary, a politician who seeks the support of the populous will be answerable to the populous and mere rhetoric won’t be enough to keep the people happy.

When participating voters realise and embrace the old cliché, “there are no friends or enemies,just common interests”, then we shall have a new Kenya in which a sense of self responsibility will echo beyond the political into other subsystems of society; a Kenya where Ethnicism will have no chance of survival and ethnicity will be able to take the various shapes favourable to our building of a true Nation-State.

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