Last week we looked at the four generations that have existed since the formation of the Kenyan nation-state; borrowed heavily from the ‘Youth Research Compendium’ prepared by the Institute of Economic Affairs.
We learnt how each generation worked within the realities in which they found themselves, and used these realities to define the missions of their generation. How the East African Association Generation & the Mau Mau Generation worked within the reality of colonialism; one to engage it, the other to fight it; & the Lancaster House Generation and Lost Generation worked within the reality of a new nation, developing structures to govern, and resisting dictatorship, respectively.
We also learnt how all the generations above had ethnicity as their primary identity, a situation that was initially created deliberately by the colonialists to enable them govern a country where they were a minority. However ethnic-based politics gradually grew to become the basis on which socio-economic and political policies were defined, by the time Kenya achieved its independence. Tribe had become the easiest means of mobilising for national resources, and negotiating for political power.
The last four generations have brought Kenya into being a country of 42 plus ethnic communities pulling together (or apart), rather than 40 million individuals, seeking to co-exist within her borders. This situation has come about through both the deliberate machinations of our socio-political leaders, as well as the environments around which each generation came to adulthood.
It must be noted that each generation went through three of their four life phases (i.e. childhood, youth and adulthood) in an environment where education, religion and social relations were defined by their ethnic background, to the extent that even Christianity, which is an international religion, came to be locally defined through distinct ethnic slants. The lowest common denominator of interaction amongst all the previous four generations has therefore been ethnic, whether at local, regional and/or national level. In each of these four generations one was first and foremost your tribe, then everything else.
These lessons become important when we get to understanding the fifth generation; which I belong to, and which has been referred to as the Uhuru Generation (UG). This generation is the first generation of people to be born ‘Kenyan’. All previous generations were either members of their ethnic ‘nations’ or British subjects. In fact the delimitation between members of the LHG, LG and UG who are alive today is that Kenyan adults born before Kenya’s independence were previously British subjects, and only became ‘Kenyan’ after independence.
The Uhuru Generation is also made up of Kenyans who have grown up in a very different environment from even their immediate parents. For example, their education, religion and residential background is such that they have been forced to interact with members of other communities from childhood. The technology of the day is also the kind where the world is really a small village; and members of this generation are able to trade, socialize and follow religions not only across their ethnic boundaries, but beyond Kenya.
These are the realities of the UG generation that are in competition with the realities of all the other generations before them. Just like they are the first ones to be born Kenyan, they been socialized different clearly indicated by the fact that they have the highest rate of intermarriages across tribe and race. This in my opinion is the fundamental reality that distinguishes our generation from all the other generations that have come before us, and from where our mission is derived.
The Uhuru Generation comes to adulthood and socio-political pre-eminence at a time when our beloved nation is reeling under the threat of tribalism, and when the very fabric of our nation-hood is at risk. The 2007 election related violence is the defining political process of our time; clear evidence that we must change how we have done business if Kenya is to survive. As a result of the revulsion we felt to what happened in 2007 we went out and passed a new governance social contract; the new constitution. However we must do more.
Like the Mau Mau Generation that went to the forest rather than use the systems of the East African Association Generation to negotiate for independence; or the Lost Generation that took to the streets to fight off attempts by the Lancaster House Generation to stay in power, the Uhuru Generation must get the new constitution implemented as passed, if we are to move our nation from the system of tribal politics that our parents would want us to inherit from them.
This, I am convinced, is the mission of the Uhuru Generation. If you are a Kenyan adult aged below 49 years in age, your call is to get Kenya’s socio-economic and political discourse to the point beyond where it is about one tribe over the next; to where it is about what is best for Kenya. As Frantz Fanon said; ‘Each generation, out of relative obscurity, must discover its own mission; to fulfill it or betray it’.
Will we fulfill ours, or betray it?
Wambugu is the Executive Director of Change Associates Trust.