Our political season always brings with it serious discourse on that age-old issue of whether we are a nation or just a collection of tribes.
I use the term “tribe” here deliberately to reinforce the primitive, savage, and atavistic connotations rather than the more genteel and fashionable “ethnic”.
Acres and acres of newsprint have been devoted to the question of whether we owe loyalties first to tribe or to Kenya.
A pattern I have noted is that those with the most rabid and inflammatory defence of narrow identity are also those who most unquestionably and mindlessly line up behind tribal kingpins — or warlords, if you wish — such as Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, William Ruto, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka, and the rest of those seeking national leadership through tribal mobilisation.
One commentary that I have recently taken note of was penned by a Twitter friend who referred me to his blog.
Now, I do not know @Chrenyan from Adam. Eve neither. I do not know whether the handle belongs to a person who is male or female; black, white, yellow or green; Borana, Kalenjin, Luo, Somali, Kikuyu, Kamba, Giriama or any of the other “nationalities” from which Kenya is woven.
What I do know is that @Chrenyan posted a view I entirely agreed with. With the Olympic Games taking place in London, the hashtag we all take pride in is #TeamKenya, and nowhere will we see #TeamMaasai or #TeamKaleoz.
We celebrate the Kalenjin when winning Kenya athletics glory in foreign capitals, yet resent the same fellow when he is our neighbour.
@Chrenyan wondered how even sophisticated and educated Kenyans can on the one hand hold a broad world view, then descend to blind loyalty to discredited ethnic chieftains and hold passionately the “our people are being finished” and “our turn to eat” beliefs.
But then I differed with @Chrenyan somewhere along the way. “Christian first. Then Kenyan”, is the self-description at the end of the blog. I wrote back suggesting that I was “Kenyan first” before the ethnic, clan, religious and other subsidiary identities.
At that time, in the back of my mind was a conversation with a group of MPs ahead of the 2010 referendum on the new Constitution.
One legislator, David Ngugi, if memory serves me right, said he would weigh the Constitution on whether it serves the needs of his community and faith.
That, on the surface, looked like a very reasonable proposition. But on further reflection, I concluded that it was a cop-out for the reactionary groups nervous about a new constitutional dispensation.
When we put on narrow ethnic, sectional, or religious blinkers, we then become captive to the narrow-minded leaders who preach “us versus them”, ethnic and religious exclusion, division rather than unity.
From there it is short step to the “our people are being finished” mobilisation when a leader is caught stealing public funds or is being carted off to stand trial for promoting warlike activities.
The “we” is what pollutes impressionable young minds to take up weapons against “them”, even as leaders of the warring groups quaff champagne together in their fortress suburbs, cut business deals, and share the loot from the theft of public resources.
Blind obedience to those who preach hatred and division is what misleads us to swallow hateful propaganda or take up violent and divisive causes as might be preached by promoters of Al-Shabaab, Mungiki, or the Mombasa Republican Council.
It matters not whether the narrower cause is tribal, religious, clan, or sectional. As long as we put it above our Kenyanness, we are on the wrong path.
The other day I heard Prime Minister Raila Odinga promise the Kisii community in Nairobi that the ODM party would reserve one city constituency for their candidate.
Democracy has surely been thrown out of the window if a leader with aspirations to national leadership can make such promises.
But then it is the silly season, and Mr Odinga’s latest comes hot on the heels of his bitter rival, Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta, promising the Turkana people that his government would reserve for them the Energy and Petroleum ministries.