I am proud to be Kenyan and embrace similarities that unite our communities
Posted Tuesday, August 21 2012 at 19:34
- Since the Human Genome Project was completed, much study and statistical analysis has been done regarding genetic variation among peoples and races
- We can confidently say that there is more genetic variation between Mr Kiriro and his nearest Gikuyu neighbour in Kikuyu town than there is between his tribe and my Caucasian tribe of Swedish/German origin
- I suggest that only by looking at our similarities rather than our differences, can our Kenyan negotiation be a success
My good friend Kiriro wa Ngugi’s article in the Daily Nation of 13 August (“Ethnic Identities Are Not Imagined”) was well reasoned and very nearly convincing.
He is a Gikuyu and not afraid to say so, nor should he be. But in appealing to his belonging to the Gikuyu tribe as based not on “original belonging to a place but on original being from a strain of DNA”, his thinking is fundamentally flawed.
Since the Human Genome Project was completed, much study and statistical analysis has been done regarding genetic variation among peoples and races. While these variations exist, it has been established that 84.4 per cent of all genetic variation occurs within populations (Barbujani et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1997).
We can confidently say that there is more genetic variation between Mr Kiriro and his nearest Gikuyu neighbour in Kikuyu town than there is between his tribe and my Caucasian tribe of Swedish/German origin, and certainly between the Gikuyu and any other tribe in Kenya.
Mr Kiriro’s statement that “claims of authenticity of tribe (or race) are not based on original belonging to a place but on original being from a strain of DNA” is especially wrong, since genetic variations among populations are actually based entirely on place.
My ancestors developed light skin to compensate for a shortage of sunshine in the northerly places to which they moved thousands of years ago. Those who did not manage to reduce the amount of melanin in their skin died out and those who developed the variation required for northerly places survived and reproduced.
Similarly, survival among people living in different parts of Kenya required adaptation to place, thus resulting in some genetic variation, most of which is poorly understood, and even largely unidentified.
But whatever genetic variations exist, they are far overwhelmed by the genetic similarities.
Further, the differences in tribe that are most obvious and influential as far as behaviour is concerned are the cultural, not genetic, differences. These are also largely related to place, not “being”.
Tribe as a way of being or perhaps more precisely, a way of living, as Mr Kiriro has correctly pointed out, is a negotiation, with the aim of optimising economic well-being.
I suggest, however, that this negotiation occurs among individual members of tribes, as well as among tribes, and that genetic diversity is irrelevant in the negotiation.
It is also irrelevant among members of different races and among members of different nations. If I move from America to Kenya, I must negotiate my place in Kenyan society and adapt culturally as required in order to thrive. This can be done regardless of genetic differences, in my case thanks to sunscreen.
Throughout my own journey from being an American to being a Kenyan, what has stood out most are not the differences, but just how similar we all are as individuals, regardless of our culturally diverse groupings.
We all want the same things — freedom, peace, security, fairness in society, and even the particulars: a good house, education for our children, health for ourselves and those we love, pictures on the wall — the list is endless.
I agree with Mr Kiriro that “unity in diversity” is inherently contradictory. Our unity must come from our similarities, not our diversity, and it is the similarities that should be highlighted in our national dialogue.
If it is true that “the tribe shall continue to be the most powerful tool for mobilising political opinion in Africa”, as Mr Kiriro says, perhaps we should start a new negotiation, the sooner the better.
We have seen what identification with tribe to the exclusion of other tribes can do, as we have seen what identification with nation to the exclusion of other nations, or with a religion to the exclusion of other religions has done in human history, and it is sometimes deadly and usually counterproductive.
I suggest that only by looking at our similarities rather than our differences, can our Kenyan negotiation be a success.