BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
Kenya is a country blessed with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds that on a sad note have been used to divide us politically. Tribe has become more of a liability than an asset for us as a people even when we shun it for common interests.
We often seem to forget that regardless of our ethnic backgrounds and heritage, we all aspire for the same things. We forget that we face the same challenges and problems despite what tribal corner we run to when we feel we want a sense of belonging.
Every Kenyan from whatever part of the country is looking for opportunities to advance their lives by making them better. And more importantly, every Kenyan wants to exploit these opportunities in a peaceful and secure environment. At times, our ethnic differences break this sense of unity creating deep mistrust among us.
Every Kenyan farmer is looking forward to waking up to a country where they are sure they will get market for their produce. The same aspiration is held by every fisherman, craftsman, miner, entrepreneur and by all in other trades.
Every day, young graduates throng interview rooms in their thousands looking for the same opportunities despite their tribes. Moreover, they even shared classes and worked on projects with the aim of excelling in their studies without looking at their backgrounds.
It is unfortunate that we always end up divided mostly along tribal lines in any period preceding or following an election. Most of this division is mythically driven by selfish leaders who wish to make their supporters believe that there is an “Us vs Them” divide.
As a result, we end up looking at others from our tribal microscope; sometimes magnifying the stereotypes associated with others and ignoring what we all have in common.
It is interesting that we always forget these differences when celebrating or mourning anything that is not politics. When the government appears to be using our taxes in a not prudent manner, we always find a common voice.
If you are at a social place when the Kenya Rugby 7s team is playing, the cheers and the groans are all united. The same happens when our athletes are on the track or when Harambee Stars is playing, despite their not so impressive performance.
We always get back behind our national teams as a united nation and want to share in the celebrations. We wear faces of displeasure when they do not perform as we would expect, forgetting our diverse tribal heritage.
We engage in business with each other without taking into account what tribes we come from. We all do so with a common goal of empowering ourselves economically.
When cultural nights are hosted in various entertainment spots in Kenya, we most of the times join our friends from that culture and celebrate. We even pool vehicles to get all of us to such events.
Imagine if we pooled the socio-economic vehicles that we need to advance as a group. We would collectively take a central role in pulling in the same direction for a more cohesive and productive society.
We all cry out as a united front when we hear of increased insecurity in a part of a country that we have never been to or will never be too. It is because we have the same aspiration – to live in a secure and crime-free society despite of where we are.
But things are always different when it comes to politics and dealing with national issues. Even when we have leadership that has been supported by a large portion of the country, we still want to make it appear as belonging to a certain tribe.
We must as a people cultivate the one thing that unites us which is being Kenyan. We must identify why we are one people facing the same challenges and work on it as a uniting factor.
There is nothing wrong in belonging to a certain tribe as just like our gender we never chose to be born that way. What is wrong is us to carry the notion that we are superior than others whether we control political or economic power.
As a country, we are celebrating 50 years of independence that was gained by our forefathers taking a united front to resist colonialism. Our forefathers were born into different tribes – more than 40 to be precise – but because of a common enemy called colonialism, they found themselves as a single unit called Kenya.
Over the years we have found an opportunity to come together on this sense of unity and deal with what we see as oppressive leadership with the example of emergence of the opposition in the early 90s.
As we head towards the Jubilee celebrations, we must take a conscious decision to make our diversity work for us. Some of our cultures have attracted tourists to this country and instead of looking at them as inferior, we must decide that we must strengthen this as an asset for all of us.
We have before us an opportunity to ensure that we develop a culture of unity to deal with our challenges. The same way we partake in a traditional meal or a drink regardless of our tribe, we must strive to unite and face the socio-economic challenges that are commonly facing us.
When we do this, we will have more that unite us other than running to our tribal cocoon when we feel threatened by the advancement of others that are not necessarily of our tribe.
Our forefathers aspired for a united country that was able to tackle every emerging issue as a unit. We will continue to erode this dream by ganging up in our tribal cocoons especially for political gain.
The big question for all of us is what makes us proud of being Kenyan and how we can use this understanding to tackle the challenges facing us individually but are common to all.
Those things that make us proud of being Kenyans can act as the magnet that pulls us together. Kenya needs individuals who will not hesitate to see their countrymen advance without trying to figure out what tribe they belong to.
It needs the current generation, which is well-read and exposed and united by languages such as sheng; arts such as local music, to overcome the reference of tribal stereotypes.
The youth in Kenya need to take up a leading role in cleaning up negative stereotypes that have been a major source of divisions.
The government may run all sorts of programmes to fight negative ethnicity but it will be up to individuals to holistically view others as Kenyans and not only when there is need to do so.
(The writer is the TNA Director of Communications. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)