Kenya’s real problem is with itself, not some tribe(s)

2016-06-06 10:33:34 Protestors burn tyres on June 06, 2016 in Kisumu, during demonstrations led by Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD's) opposition party leader Raila Odinga, demanding the national electoral oversight body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), disband the electoral body. Kenya's opposition staged fresh anti-government protests June 6 that turned violent as police fired on demonstrators, killing at least two and fuelling more clashes in the country's third biggest city Kisumu. The opposition CORD alliance resumed demonstrations seeking a shake-up of the country's electoral commission, which it says is biased towards President Uhuru Kenyatta, in several places across the country but the crackdown in Kisumu, an opposition stronghold in the west, was the most brutal. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

By Peter Mukora

I would like to offer a rebuttal to Kenyatta Otieno’s article in the January issue, titled A Luo problem, or a problem with the Luo?

​I am a proud Kenyan who has worked hard for everything I have and own. I have many friends, from across the many tribes of Kenya, some known from high school in Kanunga, Kiambu – a school whose head back then was a Luo man from Homa Bay, for whom we demonstrated when the ministry of education attempted to transfer him from Kiambu to Baringo. Broderick Ogange was loved by all students and feared in equal measure. The villagers loved the man and accepted him fully as one of their own.

​I say this to set a background for my argument, that the current Kenyan society has retrogressed so far back in terms of tribal relations compared to the Kenya of 1980. 10% of the school population back then was Luo. These were fully accepted and integrated into both the school and village fraternity. As a matter of fact, I learned to speak dholuo back then. Having been born and brought up and received my early education in Kiambu in the 70s, I had heard but never mingled with people from other tribes. It was in Kanunga, then a well performing provincial school, that I had to share a dormitory with Luo, Luhya, Kamba, Kisii, Meru, Embu, Mijikenda, Turkana, Somali, Kalenjin and Maasai friends, and indeed people from all over Kenya and other African countries. As a matter of fact, a portion of the teaching fraternity was Ugandan, and I believe there also was one Rwandese teacher. We were happy to share cultures, and lived happily together. We ate, played and triumphed together, as we did celebrate victories and mourned losses as one.

 The politics of the day was left to politicians, and mediocrity and ignorance were not accorded space. This was during the dark era of Moi’s rule.

​What has changed since then?

Kenyans have allowed the politics of division, hatred and mediocrity; they have groomed and nurtured it. The “us-versus-them” mentality is what drives the Kenyan agenda today. Back then, people made decisions that were good for the whole as opposed to today, where decisions are made for the benefit of tribal chiefs.

This is, unfortunately, not unique to Kenya. As witnessed in the Western world, today people are choosing to vote for self-interest, not common good. Kenyans have thrown decency out the window and allowed politicians to think and decided for them what right and wrong are.

​For starters, education standards have been allowed to fall to embarrassing levels. If you doubt me, have a random graduate write you a 500-word essay, and you will see how bad things are in that arena; read a local daily and see how many grammatical errors you will spot, never mind that the final product has gone through an editorial board and all; witness how inarticulate and disorganised the thoughts and actions of our millennials are; see how scantly and indecently our girls and women dress, and we are okay with that. Look at our matatu crew and the kind of content that is shown in the matatus… And, because we are so engrossed in our “it is their problem” attitude, we give our silent approval.

​Back to my point.

I really see no connection between a stolen election, and someone burning another person’s vehicle, damaging their property and even killing them, yet the people being attacked were not on the ballot, and are hustling and hurting financially just like the other side is. All that this barbarism and archaic behaviour does is to reinforce what the other side already suspected or felt all along – that the people looting and burning cars are just lazy and destructive thugs who would rather go and demonstrate than go to work. This happens, not once, not twice, but many times in a row, which is inexcusable. From the other side, there is no other way – and there really is no better way of saying it – of looking at this issue when the same group of people from the same tribe behave this way over and over again.

Disclaimer: The Luo are NOT hooligans; the destructive mob just happens to be predominantly Luo, thus tainting the image of the tribe in total. 

​Most Luos are as decent, honest, hardworking, pragmatic, smart and intelligent as the next person. But there are some hooligans who are busy burning the image and class that normal people are known for. The problem is that it’s difficult to separate these “few”! They are still Luo and they do not represent their tribe well.

​I could go on and on, but the enduring question is, whether there is electoral injustice in Kenya or not, (NASA is comprised of Luo, Kamba, Luhya, Kisii and indeed has support from many other tribes of Kenya), why is there no violence in Kambaland, for example? Why is there no violence in the Luhyaland? Or at the Coast? Is it just that it is always motivated by “planted elements” to make the tribe look bad? Really? All the time? No. And it is time for an introspection.

​My take is, if we reset and went back to the ‘80s, where candidate selection for form one placement had quotas demanding that national and provincial schools take a percentage of populations from other parts of the country, we could once again make real attempts at de-ethnicising the country.

Devolution in itself is a good thing in many ways. It, unfortunately, is the worst setback for tribal relations and ethnicity because it justified the white man’s policy of divide and rule, and legally allowed people to revert back into their ethnic cocoons, with full tribal chiefs in the name of governors. It was a poorly thought out aspect of devolution and, unless a correction is made in a referendum, we will forever change the landscape of Kenya as we know it.

In my opinion, the provincial system, which divided Kenya into the 8 provinces, should have been retained the way it was. Kenya should have had 8 governors, not 47. This would not only have saved us a lot of money in administrative costs,  wages and inflated salaries, but would also have enhanced tribal relations, and maintained the cohesiveness of Kenya as a metropolitan and strongly diverse unit.

​So, does Kenya have a Luo problem or a problem with the Luo?

Kenya has a problem with sycophants from Luo-Nyanza, as it does with equally destructive hooligans from all the other tribes.

In larger context, Kenya has a problem with itself and with Kenyans, a problem which we must collectively work on to correct as brothers, or we will perish as fools. ^

The Nairobi Law Monthly invites readers to send in well-articulated articles to and from different tribes, to create a pool from which we can share and accept our rich cultures. Our real need for acceptance of our differences and employing them for national good can only be realised if we hold candid, frank conversations, with a view to creating tools that work FOR, not against us. The Magazine reserves the right to edit – without affecting meaning – submitted articles in a manner that does not fan the passions and fires the country needs to put out.


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