Hitler’s Ghost Haunts Kenya’s Elections

Published on 11th September 2007

Very few people have not read some version of the Animal Farm by George Orwell. The most memorable feature in the book is the seventh commandment amongst animals that: All Animals are Equal.With  continued erosion of the animal freedom and in a bid to fortify favour for the powers that were, evolved the rule – All animals are Equal but Some Animals are More Equal than Others.

The Animal Farm depicts what happens to any previously united group of people when the power element is introduced. Lord John Emerich Acton (1834-1902), observed that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Any political enterprise – no matter how worthy – is doomed to failure if its leaders sniff too often from the bouquet of power.

Over the years, human beings, in their bid to mitigate negative repercussions have enunciated the crucial need to cultivate a healthy equality. This is seen in the 1776 US Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”, in 1789 the French National Assembly Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, Article 1: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights …” and in 1948 - the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1 – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Recently, at Bunge La Mwananchi (Kenya People’s Parliament) we conducted a survey on  tribalism or ethnocentrism. Bunge la Mwananchi is a public forum where ordinary Kenyans  meet everyday from 11am to 6 pm to discuss social, political and economic issues affecting them. It attracts at least 200 people in one sitting but cumulatively has over 600 people a day.In this fast growing movement that meets in several provinces of Kenya, we asked the following questions: Are Kenyans generally tribal? Have you ever been a victim of tribalism? Do you consider yourself tribal? 

From the 528 respondents, 98 percent answered YES to the first question while 1.6 percent answered NO. In the second question, 70 percent answered YES while 26 percent answered NO. The third question had 12 percent answering YES, 73 percent answering SOMETIMES while 10 percent answered NO.

Considering the third question mathematically, one can conclude that (YES-12 percent plus SOMETIMES- 73 percent gives us 85 percent); which means that 85 percent of Kenyans consider themselves tribalists. Politically speaking, 85 percent of Kenyans are likely to vote on tribal basis in the coming General Elections. This means that most Kenyans who have already made up their mind on who they will vote for may be acting out of ethnocentric instincts. This is dangerous because Hitler’s holocaust was driven by an extended stay in the SOMETIMES. Rwanda genocide was not started by all Hutus but a few who vacationed in the SOMETIMES. Kenya tribal clashes were instigated by individuals who hated “others” SOMETIMES.

Ethnocentrism (used synonymously with tribalism) is a belief in the superiority of one's own ethnic group or an overriding concern with race. It is simply "thinking one's own group's ways are superior to others" or "judging other groups as inferior to one's own." For example, the historical use of racial categorization was founded on the ethnocentric belief that the so-called white race was superior to the so-called black, red, and yellow races and promoted an attitude that there was no need for equality in entitlement to public goods and services.

In childhood, our elders used to tell us about the “other people” (tribes) and there weird habits. An honest Luhya, for example, would be told by his parent mostly at the dinner table: Never marry a Kikuyu, she will steal your children and desert you; If you marry a Kamba she will bewitch you; or worse still, Tesos eat people.

Our perception has been colored by biases and prejudices that have us stereotyping entire communities on the base of half truths and full lies. Ethnocentrism may manifest itself in attitudes of superiority or sometimes hostility, violence, discrimination, proselytizing and verbal aggressiveness. Many societal problems and conflicts have much to do with ethnocentric beliefs. An anthropological scholar, Van der Geest, notes that ethnocentrism encourages narrow-mindedness. To look at your tribe as better people is primitive behavior that should not have a place in our country. Some of these lessons have boxed regardless of educational status.

In a rapidly globalizing world, it is hypocrisy for Africans to speak of a "world family" when we are divided in our mother countries- this gap betrays effort at synergy of human capital. How can we seek to unite world tribes (oft called nations) when our home is on tribal fire? How will Africa ever experience progressive leadership when it is still cast in tribal prejudice?

The issue of tribalism, Professor Lindeke of University of Namibia says, should ideally not play a role in elections. Lindeke summarizes tribalism as “the idea of us versus them.” When voters elect leaders on tribal basis, there develops a concentration of power in one ethnicity.  These tribal leaders will under the influence of tribal advisors work overtime to consolidate power in their favour, slowly evolving equality to some being more equal than others.

Tribalism is fast becoming a time-bomb in our country. How did you feel when Umar Nazlin was harassed in Kisumu city? How did you feel when Hon. Kalonzo was heckled in a rally at Coast Province? How did you feel when Hon. Raila was kicked out of a Karatina hotel? Joy or pain depending on which side of the divide you stand. Why? Because of childhood lessons that make us consider people who are not from our ethnic affiliation as “other people.” For example, Luos, say “jomua” to mean non-Luo.

In this election year in Kenya, our leaders will use a tribal mix to camouflage themselves as leaders of national stature and play on tribal emotions to rule.Save for using tribalism for convenient attacks, politicians usually submerge their tribal differences and conveniently unite so that they can rule the masses. In fact, what is the fad on coalitions based on? Similar ideology?  No, on tribalism! Therefore, it is doubtful that there is any help forthcoming from our political leaders to fight tribalism.

Unfortunately, since the Kenyan voter has not come up with a cross-cutting list of priority concerns or issues that s/he would like the next government to address, I am afraid that SOMETIMES might just happen at the ballot box. Going by the past, you know how dangerous that will be.

We are all guity of the offence. Why? Because tribalism is in the NGOs, Civil Society and Churches as much as we see it in government institutions. Consider how you staff your organizations/companies; your network, allies and closest friends. If you are honest to yourself you will agree with me.

No people are inferior. We should celebrate diversity. Tribal inclination is just a mentality. When Alexander was in Rwanda before the extermination of his family in the 1994 Tutsi genocide, he was known in his home village by his clan name. In Kigali city however, he was referred to as a Southerner or a Butarean. During Habyarimanas’ regime, Southern Hutus were a subject of discrimination. Their “Hutuism” was being questioned. They were accused of having a lot of Tutsi blood. When Alexander is in an African capital such as Kampala, Nairobi, Bamako or Dakar, he is called Rwandese. Nobody knows or cares about his ethnicity. All Rwandese living in other African countries are called “ethnic Rwandese.”  In Europe, he becomes “African” and when he goes to the United States, he becomes a black.

It is better if you started looking at yourself as Kenyan first, then we can have Kenyan Luos, Luhyas and Kikuyus who vote for issues that affect the majority of Kenyans.


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