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Tribalism changed to read negative ethnicity

I would like to respond to the editorial of standardmedia (http://www.a.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000163651/tribe-to-blame-for-corruption-greed/):
Tribalism has been condemned in Kenya since the independence in 1963 by the founding fathers of the nation. Employing persons of the same tribe has been in the news day in day out during President Kenyatta’s reign. President Moi adopted the same culture and elevated it to a notch higher. President Kibaki took Kenya back in the fight against tribalism. Tribalism was replaced by negative ethnicity as a cover-up. President Uhuru is not different neither from his predecessors in fighting tribalism. But why did Kenya change from the fight against tribalism to the fight against negative ethnicity? What is the difference between the two?
The main interest in this blog is to investigate the semantic difference between tribalsm and ethnicity. These are purely too different terms and any clever person will not confuse the two. Our politicians are very cute in using one term to cover up the other. Negative ethnicity was introduced to derail the fight against tribalism in Kenya, or rather to decorate it. As much as we insist on negative ethnicity, tribalism in Kenya has been progressively growing like cancer in the body. It is now everywhere in the body and likely, it will attack the heart. Once the heart beat of the society is completely arrested, Kenya will start another song (…cardiac arrest).
However, lets try to understand the meaning of tribalism and ethnicity. Dictionaries simply define tribalism as a state or fact of being organised as a tribe; the behaviour and attitude that stem from strong loyalty to one’s tribe or linguistic group against the other. Instead, ethnicity is defined as: ethnic group, or ethnicity as a socially defined category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural or national experience. Tribalism in its definition is negative, divisive and anti-national integration and harmony. Instead, ethnicity is likewise dangerous but only describes how we are constituted socially and culturally as a people with multicultural backgrounds. While ethnicity sounds good, cultural, with decorum. Tribalism instead, sounds very negative – it is racism or discrimination in nature. It profiles others. It leads to hatred and conflicts. It leads to violence among people of different tribes (inter-tribal clashes). On this note tribalism sounds primitive, and pre-colonial – as in the traditional societies. Changing it to negative ethnicity had a lot to do with modernizing the term with decorum, and making it sound more decent, civilized and acceptable.
The truth is, unless Kenya truly fights tribalism, all efforts for development and for security will be invain. I have addressed this issue before in my book entitled: Cultural Gap and Economic Crisis in the Sub-Saharan Africa illustrating that “Tribes” are like small states, or, rather, small human organised societies. Many Kenyans still believe that they are better Kenyans only if they can define themselves in their own tribal cocoons. This attitude has spilled into our lifestyle, language, and our perception of the nation. In this manner, we live in a dichotomy of systems that operate simulteniously.
Kenya went wrong to abbandon “nation-building” and “harambee” ideologies that defined its independence zeal. The founding fathers realised the danger and insisted on nation building. Mzee Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya and many others, realised many decades ago that Kenya is heading to a doom. The monster is now here with us in terms of our election patterns, administrative system, political ideologies, and economic struggle. Kenya is a divided nation and the root causes is based on how our leaders lost focus on nation building. To make matters worse, change of the term to sound better while the ugly face of tribalism is still there, has been the misdoing.
The appropriate understanding of ethnicity is that, it is a value and our heritage that we are not ready to part with soon. It was then divided into two concepts: negative and positive. Positive ethnicity being acceptable while negative ethnicity being condemned. This has not worked neither for Kenya.
To deal with evil you better call it by its name as the English people said, call spade a spade and not a big spoon. “Tribal – States” in Kenya must be destroyed once and for all. Kenyan citizens must adopt nationhood and see themselves as children of this great nation. We may need another Mwalimu Julius Kabarage Nyerere to do this. The founder of the Tanzanian nation was not from a large and popular tribe in north of former Tanganyika. Kenya may not necessarily need someone from popular tribes to unite its people.
Saying that the majority ethnic group can hold all 30% of public offices while many others can share the rest, will not work for Kenya. Using mathematical rationing can not work neither. We are not dealing with physical science here. It is much more complicated. It is a process, a sacrifice and true dedication that must come from top. It will be break or make for such a leader in Kenya. But one has to be hold, like Nyerere. One must be bold like Mandela, in order to re-define Kenya. Whoever will save Kenya must be like a saint. (Read our story on sainthood).
I agree with the “editorial” of the Standard Media for revealing this mystery to us again. The word tribal is not forgotten in Kenya, it was just rebranded & RE-DECORATED.
Have you ever heard politicians saying: “our people or our community are targeted”? Who are our people, or our commmunity other than being Kenyans? Every politician would say this, meaning, before being a Kenyan, I belong to “a people” – my tribe. This is wrong and unethical, especially, when it comes from a leader. Nyerere would judge you harshly. You have failed to fight corruption, negative ethnicity and you are not the right person to secure Kenya.
Public appointments have proved that Kenyan governments are more tribal oriented other than nation oriented. It is the tribe that matters in Kenya and not qualification. Meritocracy is still a long way for the Kenyan bureaucracy and this explains the failure of the system.
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About Peter Onyango

Dr. Peter Onyango O. is one of our main contributors. He is a senior law lecturer, a writer, a consultant, peace ambassador, and a researcher. He assists so many professionals, legal minds, and debaters with his skills and scholarly wealth! He supports children and village community as a way of giving back to community. He edits, proof reads, and publishes various articles for our page!

One comment

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