Asians don't seek to be 44th tribe


The Kenyan Asian Forum, which identifies with the future of the Kenyan people as a whole rather than the primacy of any particular group, has noted with concern the visit by a group from the Asian community to State House to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 24 to pledge ‘loyalty’ to the President and support for the ruling party.

While we uphold the right of individual Kenyans to align themselves to a party of their choice, it is not acceptable to claim to represent the entire community. The delegation, while being composed of some members of the Asian community in Kenya, has no right or authority to speak on behalf of the entire community, and, worse still, commit it to a certain line of action.

The fundamental tenet of free and fair elections is that every citizen has a right to a vote. And that every citizen is free to cast that vote how-so-ever he/she wishes to and in complete confidentiality. To make this into a group exercise is not only unconstitutional and unjust, but also undermines the whole ethos of ‘election’.

We understand that the exercise was a front to seek political endorsement for a certain individual in the delegation. If this is so, it is very unfortunate.

On the aspect of asking for the Asian community to be ‘recognised’ as the 44th tribe of Kenya, we feel the following:

What are these individuals seeking to be ‘recognised’ for? Is the community marginalised in any way? The community as a whole is strong and well organised, and wields considerable influence in Kenya's economic. The Asian community is different from the ‘Makonde’ community, which was recently recognised as the 43rd tribe of Kenya. The Makonde are a group of people at the Coast who have been marginalised and discriminated against for more than 50 years. They have had very little (if any) economic or political influence. They have not been able to register as voters and did not even have access to basic healthcare through NHIF. They have finally been given identity documents and made part of the new devolution structure in the 2010 Constitution. We must thank the Kenya Human Rights Commission in spearheading this initiative.

As far as politics is concerned, one does not need to seek ‘recognition’. The Asians have been part and parcel of Kenya’s political struggle from the colonial times and have had MPs and even a Deputy Speaker of Parliament (Fitz D’Souza) in the first Kenyatta government. Makhan Singh, the founder of Kenya’s Trade Union Movement, Pio Gama Pinto, a revolutionary and Kenya’s first post-Independence martyr, and Manilal Desai are just but a few of our anti-colonial struggle heroes. In post-Independence Kenya, the community has had representatives like Krishan Gautama, Amin Walji and in the present Parliament three elected MPs, one nominated MP and several MCAs. And of course we cannot forget Prof Yash Pal Ghai, who fathered the 2010 Constitution. So what is the community seeking this special ‘recognition’ for? For a community that at best numbers 100,000, ie 0.2% of the population, we are well represented in the legislature and devolved governments. Fight for your rights as Kenyans we say – don’t seek favours and patronage.

Affirmative action is only for marginalised groups such as the Makonde and special groups such as women and the youth.

Also please note: One of the most basic characteristics of a tribe is its affiliation to its ancestral land or region and its common language and culture. The Asian community has no claim to any particular area of Kenya and, for those who may not be aware, whereas it has a racial identity it has no single ethnic identity.

In conclusion, we consider the emphasis on ‘tribe’ to be a negative and divisive factor. Tribal politics has plagued Kenya since Independence and eroded the values that bind us as Kenyans. President John Magufuli in a recent address where President Kenyatta was present, said compared to Kenya, Tanzania has 121 ethnic groups but only one national ‘tribe’ and that is the Wa Kiswahili, with their language of Kiswahili. This is what cohesion is all about and this is what we should be working towards.

Finally, we are surprised and disturbed that a partisan political event such as this one could have been staged at State House, which is supposed to be the ‘home’ of all Kenyans regardless of their affiliations, prejudices, likes or dislikes.

We wish to dis-associate ourselves from any such presentations and would like to urge all Kenyans to do the same; and to fervently defend the rights given to us in our Constitution.

Zahid Rajan, KAF Steering Committee member.

[email protected]

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star