Fear has made us lose some of the best opportunities

Saturday March 11 2017

National Super Alliance co-principal Raila Odinga at Capitol Hill Towers in Nairobi on March 2, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

National Super Alliance co-principal Raila Odinga at Capitol Hill Towers in Nairobi on March 2, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Food poisoning is usually caused by unhygienic conditions in our kitchens or urban eateries. That is why, if you are Raila Amolo Odinga and the darling of an ethnic people called Luo, you have to be extraordinarily careful with your words whenever food upsets your tummy.

This is a country, after all, where such great Kenyans as Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, Thomas Joseph Mboya, Robert John Ouko and Pio Gama Pinto have been cut down at the prime of their lives as a result of profound fear by individual members of the upper classes of certain ethnic communities that certain individuals – especially if Luo – might one day occupy State House.

The mere thought of these completely senseless tragedies might have powerfully dissuaded many potentially great sons and daughters of Kenya from entering the fray. On the other hand, many a politician might have been powerfully tempted to milk political sympathy out of it by inventing a tribal conspiracy against him or her. But, upon the whole, the Luo community has paid the highest price for the strange and backward belief by Kenyans that only your tribesman can rule Kenya to your personal advantage, material or otherwise. Despite our alleged education, this mentally uneducated attitude is what prevents Kenya from taking its rightful place in the comity of nations.


Because they belong to certain tribes, some of Kenya’s best minds and most experienced hands are permanently blocked from occupying certain key posts both in the bureaucracy and even in what claims to be a private sector. Tribalism is also the cause of the tragedy that most of our best minds and hands are not only horribly misplaced but even out of work.

I am told part of the reason people in hire-and-fire positions behave like that is that it protects their own positions. The boss appears to feel safest whenever, throughout his office, a tribal language is the norm. Part of the reason, I am told, is that it is what oils the wheels of big-time rip-offs.

In most establishments – including governmental – the boss appears to feel safest only when he or she is surrounded by people who speak only his or her mother-tongue. When tribe forces the leaders of a terribly under-developed country to waste its best trained personnel in this way, whither are we going whenever we claim to be “developing”? Tribe is also what is involved whenever an individual politician claims at the top of his or her voice that “my life is in danger”. Reports abound of plots and counter-plots of this kind, not to mention public suggestions that a political adversary – most probably from an “enemy tribe” – is the one who has tried to eliminate you in this cowardly manner.


That is why Mr Odinga’s case is so interesting. It is that none of Kenya’s scores of ethnic communities is as excitable as the one that I share with Mr Odinga. What has happened to such Luo leaders as Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Thomas Joseph Mboya and Robert John Ouko leads ineluctably to one question. Even if their extreme excitability be in the blood, much of that excitability may stem from their conviction that all of Kenya’s other ethnic communities seem united in their profound fear and even hatred of the Luo as an ethnic group – a claim fuelled by the tendency of the educated Luo elite often to behave with unbecoming conceit.

But it will be the duty of the first Luo individual to occupy State House to rid that community of these myths against the Luo. That is one reason that Kenya owes Mr Odinga a shot at State House. Personally, I think the son of Jaramogi may have learned enough lesson to deter him from tyrannising Kenya should he ascend to State House.