Tribalism in universities: who will stop it? - The Sauce
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Tribalism in universities: who will stop it?

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Negative tribalism has reared its ugly head again and the youth have been caught smack in the middle of the national dialogue that gets disheartening by the day. Students in universities and colleges have turned against each other especially so after the elections. The insults, diatribe and vitriol that university students have hurled at each other after the General elections is alarming.


It is shocking considering the amount of time, energy and money spent on peace campaigns mostly targeted at and driven by the youth before the elections. Yes the election was peaceful but seeds of discord are being planted by words especially on social media. What is unfolding now suggests that the concerted effort did not envisage a divided country after the elections. Was the prevailing sense of unity just a façade?


“Tribalism cannot be fought through the media or even social media,” says Professor Munyae Mulinge, Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at USIU. “It is true that tribalism is rampant in Universities and other institutions of higher learning but advocacy against it through the media is not necessarily the best option.”


Prof. Mulinge’s take is interesting because dozens of groups and pages were formed on various social media platforms avidly advocating for an end to tribalism. The groups got enormous traction and attracted thousands of ‘likes’ ‘followers’ ‘tweets’ and ‘retweets .‘  Judging from the comments and sentiments that poured in from all corners of the country, from young people of different tribes, creed and political affiliation, there was a feeling that tribalism was being pounded into pulp.


“The only way to fight tribalism is by making the ‘tribe’ irrelevant in the allocation of scarce but important national  resources, including positions in government,” states Professor Mulinge. “When we have a country where merit holds sway in appointments and in allocation of other important resources, then we will be able to safely say that we have made headway in the fight against negative ethnicity.”

For this to occur, the professor recommends strengthening governance structures and other important institutions and delinking them completely from the individuals who occupy the positions in their structures.

“The presidency should exist independent of the president. It must be an institution with a life of its own and the president should operate within the confines of the rules governing it.”

It is a fact that students in institutions of higher learning make up the biggest chunk of social media users. It is in social media that most of the tribal bashing has been occurring, perhaps because of the element of internet anonymity, interaction and immediacy.  However this has not been restricted to social media. Social places in schools and even sports fields have been scenes of unprintable exchanges.


“In my view, the tribal groups and associations that are in universities, especially public universities encourage tribalism. I don’t understand why people who come to National universities should cluster around their tribes. I think it is wrong and it should be stopped, “says a visibly irritated Paul who is a student at Kenyatta University.


The tribal associations, which Paul is referring to, exist in almost all public universities. They are fully fledged groups, with constitutions and governing bodies. These groups meet periodically to discuss their ‘welfare.’ They have faced much criticism and their true relevance has been questioned over the years.


“The tribal groups in Universities began as a noble idea and had a social origin,” articulates Professor Mulinge.  “The problem arose when the groups were infiltrated by politicians to serve their selfish ends. As a result the groups mutated from their social welfare role to become political instruments open to abuse by politicians.”


Tribalism has led to civil strife in many parts of the world. This is a bitter fact that 23 year old Tracy from Rwanda knows. Though not directly affected by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, she was traumatized and even fears going back there. She is currently a student in the United States International University in Nairobi.


“I think Kenyans do not appreciate the havoc that tribalism can wreak. The violence that happened in 2007-2008 seems to be forgotten because of politics,” She says. “What is even worse is that students in universities are major propagators of the vice. I would expect them to be at the forefront advocating against it, but sadly that is not the case.”


The irony of tribalism in Universities is that these institutions are supposed to be bastions of tolerance, morality and democracy.  It is expected that an ‘educated’ person should rise above petty and partisan politics and negative tribalism and be more accommodative of divergent views.  A critical question arises; do universities actually fulfill their Missions and Visions? Or are they just like assembly lines, churning out robotic students every year?

But a more important question, at a personal level, is what will you do about this sad state of affairs? Will you add fuel to the fire, will you stand back aloof and watch or will you do something about it?




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