Kenya, a state struggling to be a nation

Mission impossible:

In Summary

• One would assume that the clamour for Independence would have galvanised the masses around a shared destiny.

• Independence might have been the rallying cry, but the post-independence era presented different challenges in power transition and resource allocation. Some people felt their contribution was not recognised enough, if at all.

We must challenge ethnic mobilisation
We must challenge ethnic mobilisation

The term nationality comes from the Latin word natus, meaning 'to be born,' which traditionally implied belonging to the same racial stock.

It has, however, been eroded by globalisation, which has watered down the notion of the same racial stock within nations. The world has mixed races and thus the notion of racial purity, I dare argue, is almost inexistent.

Nationality is perceived as a psychological phenomenon where people come together to claim ownership of a certain concept, be it unity, historical, cultural, religious or economic.

The feeling of togetherness, oneness, rapprochement, closeness and all other terms denoting a sense of unity are key agents of nationality. As such, a nation is a collective of persons who are bound together by shared past and shared experiences who feel the need to unite around certain ideals.

On the other hand, the State derives from Italian term lo stato, initially said to have been coined by Niccolò Machiavelli. It described the whole of the social hierarchy that governs and rules a country.

Over time, this definition has taken different meanings: One, an institutional structure charged with exercising authority within a definable jurisdictional purview or a politically organised people of a definite territory.

However, for this state to grow into a nation, then the population must possess some degree of shared ideals, culture and the artefacts of culture. The transition from merely a people bound together by necessity of having shared boundaries, to a people united by a common past is the making of a nation.


So, is Kenya a nation or a state? 

One would assume that the clamour for Independence would have galvanised the masses around a shared destiny. However, different people view this very struggle for self-rule through different lenses.


Attaining self-rule might have been the rallying call, but the post-independence era presented different challenges in power transition and resource allocation, and some people felt their contribution was not recognised enough if at all. The elitist leadership just changed 'colour', another debate on its own.

That Kenya is a state is not the question for it has a population, territory, sovereignty and a government. But is this state a nation?

Unfortunately, the answer to this has been and continues to be approached from a political angle because Kenya is fanatically hinged on electoral cycles. For the most part, we think, eat, drink, and sleep politics because even if we want to focus on development, the very development is determined by our politics.

Thus far, Kenyan politics have been pegged on ethnic identities above everything else. Some feel that if someone from their community is in power, then they will derive direct or indirect benefits from the leadership. This results into groupings formed along ethnic identities for electoral purposes. This could be one of the reasons why the “oneness”, the “rapprochement”, the “unity,” eludes the possible Kenyan Nation.

Kenya is, therefore, a grouping of many nations within a state. This is viewed from the perspective of regionalisation which, rather than serving as a tool for closer service delivery to the people, has edged towards the creation of mini kingdoms for tribal chiefs, some of whom have opted to use the allocated finances as personal bank accounts.

These tribal chiefs would easily opt to retreat to ethnic cocoons if faced with issues of accountability in the spending of public resources. It has happened before and will continue to happen because perceived 'ethnic targeting', just like religion and other group identities, tends to draw the vilest of reactions even from the most civil in our society.

More often than not we will hear talk of the Kamba nation, the Kalenjin nation, the Luhya nation and other tribal groupings before we hear of the Kenyan nation, which occupies a secondary space in regional political discourse. Politics tends to make us more Maasai, more Kisii, more Mijikenda, more Luo than Kenyan and this presents a hurdle towards nationhood.

So how do we transition from a state to a nation? Is it even important?

It is thought that in the face of adversity, people will galvanise around a philosophy and the rallying call can be a unifying factor.

Kenya has experienced several political waves post-independence or political tsunamis as popularly tagged. These, however, have been more divisive than uniting. As long as some people feel excluded or betrayed or frustrated, whether in the past present or future, then the thought of nationhood will remain exactly that, a thought.

By no means am I suggesting manufacturing adversity for the sake of curating a nation. A good place to start in order to address this never-ending suspicion and animosity would be to find its root. Some peg Kenya’s political issues on historical injustices. These have been researched and proposals made but never really acted upon.

Addressing the injustices or changing of the perception by aggrieved parties could be a good starting point. If not, there’s also the option of awaiting a new revolution that will unite the masses to have a shared instance of 'nationhood'. We might have uncomfortable things to tell each other, we might have a past that is interpreted differently by everyone, but I doubt that the path to creating a nation is a comfortable one.

It takes a concerted effort by everyone to shun the negative nationalism that focuses on regional groupings at the expense of true 'nationalism'. 

Maybe, just maybe, we will transition from a state to a nation.