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We must remove tumour of tribalism

Friday January 6 2017

Musalia Mudavadi

Musalia Mudavadi being installed as Luhya leader in Kakamega County on December 31, 2016. We must rout tribalism. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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I was five years old when my mother and I joined my father in Eldoret, where he had been transferred from Nairobi the year before.

I was born in Nairobi, but I would spend the rest of my childhood and part of my young adulthood in Eldoret.

My first best friend was Jackson Kipchumba.

Jackson and I attended the same nursery school and we were classmates throughout primary school.

I fondly recall Tuesday evenings in the early 1990s, when we would hang out at his house watching WWF wrestling on his family’s 14-inch black-and-white television set.

We were too young to realise that we belonged to the two tribes that were supposedly avowed political enemies — the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin.

All I knew at the time was that my uncle Mugo’s family had been victims of “clashes” in Molo in 1992 and 1997.

We were also vaguely aware of a nearby small town peculiarly named Burnt Forest that was a hotspot for these mysterious “clashes”.

My other childhood friends included Otis (a Luo), Fred Masaba (a Ugandan), Wambua (Kamba), and Evans Ontori (a Kisii).


But we never identified or described ourselves by the prevailing tribal stereotypes.

All that stood out about Otis was that his father was seldom around, Fred’s family always had cassava at their house, and Ontori and Wambua were very light skinned.

Tribe never factored in our distinctions.

As I grew up and became more critically aware of my wider surroundings, I realised that the relationships between us, the children, were a far cry from those of our respective parents.

The tribal tensions between some of our parents were palpable, to the extent that some of us would be banned from visiting our friends’ houses.

The reasons were not very clear to us children.

The parents knew better, we assumed, and we obeyed without giving it much thought.

Then all hell broke loose in 2007. I was in college at the University of Nairobi and had gone home for the Christmas holidays, which coincided with that year’s General Election.

The long and short of it is that I no longer call Eldoret my home.

My family had to flee when the violence broke out following the contentious re-election of Mwai Kibaki.

Our home was looted and the decades-old trust among neighbours broken.

My mother, a widow at the time, had to hop around several towns before finally settling in Nairobi.

The tribal post-election violence of 2007/2008 had made me an IDP and forever changed my life.

That is why I watched Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli address a great gathering of Luhya community members with great apprehension.

I was greatly distressed at what was happening and frustrated that no one else seemed bothered by it.

In the TV news that evening and newspaper stories the following day, all everyone seemed concerned about was whether Musalia Mudavadi would be accepted as the true spokesman for the “mulembe nation”.

Across the great political valley, Jubilee politicians from the Luhya community distanced themselves from the gathering.

But I could not applaud their action, not for the reason they gave — because they supported President Kenyatta, and not because they opposed tribalism.

Mr Atwoli tried to justify the choice of Mr Mudavadi by showcasing the “scientific” nature of the process of choosing the spokesman.

The best some critics could do was say that the days of tribal chiefs were long gone.

However, I am more concerned about the fact that the idea of a tribal chief today, especially when that chief is also an apparently democratically and constitutionally elected leader, is a dangerous one.

I cannot possibly be the only one seeing this dangerous potential.

Perhaps I am just naive and trying to fight a losing battle. What is the role of the media in this?


Where is the voice of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission?

Or do we wait until people start fighting to realise that something is wrong? Isn’t prevention better than cure?

I believe such gatherings as the one we witnessed on the last day of 2016 should be illegal, especially when the people championing them are heading national institutions and supposedly promoting national values.

Leaders should speak against any such accolades given to them by their tribesmen (who may not know any better).

We are in an election year and the climate is getting tense as the campaigns heat up.

Kenyans should speak out against such attacks on our national values.

Mr Kariuki is a content associate at Hill & Knowlton Strategies Ltd. [email protected]