Kenya is one nation of 42+ ethnic communities

Last Thursday my social media was on fire.

It all started when President Uhuru Kenyatta’s third State of The Nation Address was interrupted by heckling and whistles from Opposition Members of Parliament. Due to the decision by Parliament’s media unit to ensure the cameras did not show those behind the heckling the only way we got to know who was whistling and heckling was after Speaker Justin Muturi called them out by name.

The first five names he called out were Opiyo Wandayi (MP Ugunja), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay Woman Rep), John Mbadi (MP Suba) and TJ Kajwang (MP Ruaraka). Shortly thereafter Millie Mabona (MP Mbita) and Moses Kajwang (Senator Homa Bay) were also asked to leave Parliament.

What set my social media aflame was when I made what I assumed was an obvious observation; that all the parliamentarians who had started whistling and heckling were Luo. (To be fair, the Speaker thereafter asked Hon Simba Arati and Hon Timothy Bosire to also leave, but by the time I made my comment only the five Luo MPs had been shown the door).

Apparently my reference to these five MPs by their ethnic identity was wrong. Some reactions to my comments went as far as to suggest that I had committed the crime of hate speech; by pointing out that the first five MPs heckling the President were from one ethnic community. Others, including friends and people I respect felt that I was ‘stooping too low’ by bringing the Luo community into what was really an act of a few individual MPs.

However just last week David Ndii wrote a widely read column suggesting that the relationship between various Kenyan communities was so bad that it was time to consider breaking up the ‘Kenyan Project’ into tribal states. We did not challenge him.

We have also never challenged CORD’s narrative that the Jubilee Government is made up of only Kikuyus and Kalenjins (a narrative that is actually a lie).

So we have no problem with an Oxford-educated economist saying we are better off as tribes; or the Opposition ethnically identifying Kalenjins and Kikuyus. But it is hate-speech’ when someone correctly points out that six Luos MPs started the whistling?

What kind of hypocrisy is this?

I often admit to close friends that I started working for the former Prime Minister a ‘Kenyan’ but left a ‘Kikuyu’. I was an idealist then; who believed that it was possible to be ‘Kenyan’ without being ‘Kikuyu’. My experience working with Raila taught me that I was deluded. Raila is the quite-essential tribal leader who is Kenyan. When Raila speaks against ‘two communities’ as hoarding power he is basically telling the other 40+ that ‘support me to remove these two, and I will replace them with your own community’.

Raila’s politics is driven by a clear understanding that Kenyans organize themselves around tribe, socially and politically. This determines every political decision he makes; including who to work with or include in his ‘kitchen cabinet’. Unfortunately if his strategy is left to exist behind closed doors Kenya is looking at another 2007 post election violence scenario in 2017.

We must challenge this ethnic mobilization by mainstreaming discussions around our interethnic differences (the way Jubilee has done it with the Kikuyu and Kalenjin). This will ensure our various ethnic fears are not part of the negotiation goodies politicians use to make back-room political deals.

We must accept the reality that Kenya is one nation, made up of 42 plus ethnic communities afraid of each other.

(Wambugu is a Director of Change Associates, a Political Affairs Consultancy)

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