Asians are Kenyan citizens. It's up to them to integrate

Friday February 17 2017

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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This is an election year in Kenya. Typically, it is one of those years that we see Kenyans in all their shades, sizes, mental abilities and economic statuses. Most importantly we focus on that human being we refer to as a voter.

Now I am not sure that the Asian community is large enough numerically to warrant the kind of political attention they seek.

According to media reports, human rights activist Farah Mannzoor has lodged an appeal with the State Law Office and the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities. The argument she advances is that Asians do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as other Kenyan communities, but should.

Historically, anthropologists have classified 42 ethnic communities in Kenya. The Makonde community, which the government recently recognised as Kenyan citizens, is yet to receive the kind of academic attention that other communities in Kenya have enjoyed over the years, in terms of documenting the traits that qualify a community as an ethnic group or tribe.

WHAT POLITICIANS SAY

These traits are usually based on social divisions that consist of families or clans linked by blood ties, a common culture, dialect and economic or religious ties.

The Asian community in Kenya, would, from an armchair, qualify as an ethnic group based on social interaction. Asians tend to strictly stick together, in a tight social circle.

Are they willing or able to adhere to all the rules and choices, or lack thereof, that many Kenyan communities enjoy among themselves?

Again, do not mind what politicians say on podiums. In Kenya today, hardly any intermarriage between races will attract attention, whether it includes Arabs and Europeans. However, an Asian-African union still makes headlines.

Do they want to be considered a tribe under their own rules as they have lived and interacted in Kenya, or are they able to accept that they are Kenyans before being declared so on paper?

Ethnicity is purely self-determined. It cannot be purchased, coerced, sold to the highest political bidder or gained by crying foul.

There is no dominant ethnic group in Kenya, regardless of what politicians and political analysts would want us to believe. The largest ethnic community in numbers constitutes only about 20 per cent of the population. The largest seven, on the other hand, constitute close to 80 per cent of the population.

DOSE OF MELANIN

As such, the rest of the 35 groups are divided, and not equally, constituting the remaining 20 per cent. Kenyan Asians, Arabs and Europeans make up about one per cent of the population and the margin in numbers between them and the other 35 communities may not warrant the special attention that the Asian community would like to attract, especially in an election year.

Asians have, no doubt, made immense contributions to this country economically and culturally. For decades, the Asian community ran shops and manufacturing industries and many have also made a contribution to academia, politics and jurisprudence.

Recently, they hosted an exhibition at the National Museums of Kenya under the Asian African Heritage Trust, in which they highlighted this contribution to Kenya.

Asian heritage may also be highly influenced by the caste system that is found in India, where the darker the skin colour, the more socially underprivileged one is. Are they likely to think of Africans as less privileged, given our generous dose of melanin?

Their lack of integration through marriage also stands out.

The President may accept or decline their proposal. But the fact remains that the right and choice of a group to remain distinct with their own priorities is self-determining, no matter what the law says.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa