DONALD KIPKORIR: Let’s face it, we’re all tribal - Daily Nation

Let’s face it, we’re all tribal, so why not make the most of it?

Friday September 5 2008


When they demand that the managing director of the Kenya Ports Authority be a coastal, Coast Province politicians are derided, yet they have a fundamental argument.

I share their view, but with the rider that all public appointments be based on tribe and merit in that order. Here are my thoughts.

In 1969, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta visited Kisumu for the first and last time. The public who were most probably Luo, pelted the old man with stones, and records show that many people were killed.

In the same year, Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, was engulfed in bitter and bloody racial clashes.

After the clashes in Kisumu and Kuala Lumpur, Kenya and Malaysia took opposite directions in healing and reconciliation.

The people of Malaysia belong to three separate racial groups — indigenous Malays, Chinese and Indians. The British rule that used divide-and-rule tactics, created nearly three separate states in one.

Each racial group developed its own culture and economic stereotypes. There developed into popular nomenclature, the Malay farmer, the Chinese trader and the Indian estate labourer.

After the racial clashes of 1969, Malaysia made a deliberate and calculated choice to ethnicise opportunities in public employment, training and promotion.

Even politics was tribalised, with the largest coalition — Barisan National — being made up of three different parties, each representing the three different races. This racial balance is maintained in public service and politics.

The economy of Malaysia which, like Kenya, was colonised by Britain and gifted with independence nearly the same time, with a population half of Kenya’s, is 10 times ours.

The deliberate tribalisation in Malaysia has led to a common nation-state with limited racial tensions.

Dr Mahathir Mohamed, its benevolent but despotic leader from 1981 to 2003, took the Malaysian economy and nationalism to their apogee where it has remained since.

Malaysia is now a proud and Asian economic tiger. On the other hand, Mzee Kenyatta, after the Kisumu incident, made Nyanza a pariah region.

Public service was then monopolised by the Kikuyu, the President’s tribe. Other tribes were locked out.

When he took over in 1978, Mr Daniel arap Moi tried but with limited success to replace the Kikuyus with the Kalenjins.

President Kibaki is trying to bring back his tribe to complete dominance. Look at the key ministries and departments.

Whether we like it or not, the truth is that Kenya is a nation-state of 42 African-Kenyan tribes, European-Kenyans, Asian-Kenyans and Arab-Kenyans, making a total of 45 tribes.

Each of these 45 tribes is quietly and silently waiting for their turn to be at State House and replace public appointees with their own people.

Unless we resolve the issue of public employment and promotions being open tribalism, Kenya will continue being a stagnant, stable economy.

Forty five years after independence, our gross national income (previously called gross domestic product) has not reached $20 billion.

The psyche of public service is now to hoard for the tribe. Public service is service for the tribe.

But we can make public service for the good of the country if the appointments and promotions are allocated to all tribes pro rata.

We need to also cluster public service into broad, related categories — finance, energy, education, security, agriculture, transport and tourism.

In appointments, we should make sure that no one tribe dominates any category. Each tribe must be given its slot, for surely they cannot fail to get a person.

If we do not ethnicise public employment, some tribes will never catch up with the rest. And at any given time, 44 tribes will be sabotaging that tribe in power.

In recent media advertisements of short-listed drivers and cooks in public service, I never saw a single name of a Turkana, a Borana or a Pokot.

Surely, can’t we get a Turkana who went to school upto Standard Three and train him to be a driver?

Do we have to demand prior qualifications for such mundane jobs? How will we mainstream such tribes if we cannot employ them as drivers?

Kenya has been at a crossroad for 45 years and is content with real development and the absence of war. One of our biggest milestones is the failure to deal openly with the ogre of tribalism.

We practise tribalism of exclusion in the public service, politics and even the Church. You can almost tell one’s tribe by one’s political party or church.

Now is the time to allow Kenyans to be proud of their tribes by letting each to access public employment and political leadership.

When each tribe knows it has an equal and guaranteed chance in employment and leadership, sabotage will end, and love for tribe and country will begin.

We will start seeing Kenyans of Turkana, Asian, Borana, European and Arab extractions being chief executives, chairmen of parastatals — and cooks and drivers— as well as in the military and the Cabinet.