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How To Develop One Identity For Kenyans

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

It is very interesting to watch the desperation behind the calls for community unity behind some of the aspiring Kikuyu politicians, as they insist that the Kikuyu community must first unite behind one of their own, and then engage with the other communities. Fortunately for the Kenyan Kikuyus amongst us, and for the country as a whole, those making these calls do not understand how the whole 'tribal mobilization’ thing works!

However, after over three years of inter- and intra-ethnic dialogue on tribalism I am convinced that such calls should not only be completely ignored, but should also be illegal and considered threats to national security.This is based on on our interactions with representatives from the Luo and Kalenjin communities.

What we have learnt from our forums is that a large percentage of Kenyans from the Luo community believe that all three post-independence governments have deliberately politically, economically and socially marginalized Nyanza as a region, and the Luo as a community.

A similar feeling exists amongst Kenyans from the Kalenjin community, though based on the Kenyatta and Kibaki government. Their narrative is derived from socio-economic historical injustices primarily based on land ownership in the Rift Valley.

The Luo and Kalenjin situation is but a tip of the iceberg as far as narratives of grievance are concerned. The Huko Kenya mwasemaje?’ conversations with Kenyan of Somali origin in North Eastern and the re-awakened calls for self-determination from some Kenyans from indigenous communities at the coast region come from the same place. They are what drive Kenya Asians to avoid politics, and are behind comments by members of minority communities that they are not taken seriously. Narratives of grievance are the cause of the resignation we see on the faces of Kenyans from the Turkana community, as they silently battle with the effects of drought every year, that nobody beyond their region seems to care about.

The shades are varied, based on real and/or perceived grievances, and supported by feelings of exclusion and victimhood. These narratives are built around messages of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, and result in a powerful ‘victim’ mentality. When combined with a political environment that manipulates the little available information to support individual political interests we end up in situations where communities can go to extreme levels to achieve a certain end. A key outcome is a feeling of being under siege, and a desperate need of ‘salvation’ by whatever means.

This then creates a socio-political opportunity for leaders who look like they can make things different. Such leaders then evoke deep loyalty from their respective communities because things must change, and they seem to have a plan on how. Incidentally these narratives can apply even where the commonality in the group is class, gender, age or religion.

This is what scares me, and should scare all Kenyans of goodwill. Can we imagine what would happen if each community organized around such an ideology, got a leader with such a message, and then the leader loses at an election, or gets into power and does not deliver the changes as they want them?

That is why we must all support efforts that are aimed at developing a counter narrative that would unite individuals across our various ‘differences’ by rallying them to causes that are important to Kenya as the overall identity.

The idea is to make a deliberate effort to build a supreme identity that would go beyond the ethnic, religious, gender or age differences, under a movement that would develop a common narrative of aspiration for all Kenyans, operate on the philosophy that Kenya belongs to all of us: and the attitude that whenever a single Kenyan was left behind all Kenyans lagged behind. The Kenyans for Kenya movement is what we called this idea.

Under this philosophy we have participated in the region-based ‘Katiba’ tours of July 2010, the public and media information campaign on the ICC’s abilities and limitations in December 2010, and the highly successful ‘YES to ICC, NO to Impunity’ 1 Million Signatures petition in March 2011, among other local initiatives.

This same philosophy is what led us to be the first to congratulate the private sector for providing a structure that Kenyans could use to raise money for Kenyans facing starvation in Turkana ....and we have!

However the Kenyans for Kenya philosophy calls for us to go further: in addition to supporting events we must also generate a political leadership that realizes that Kenya comes first above all else, and develop a ‘Kenyan’ identity that umbrellas all the issues of the various tribes, religions, ages and genders, etc of all those living within our borders, accommodates them, & addresses each one of them equitably. This is what Kenyans for Kenya is about, and I am a die-hard supporter and member.

Ngunjiri Wambugu is the convenor of the Change Associates Kenya forum.