No need to stoke ethnic animosity through sports - Daily Nation

No need to stoke ethnic animosity through sports

Sunday September 2 2018

AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia fans

AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia fans dance along Kimathi Street, Nairobi ahead of the SportPesa Premier League match between AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia at Kasarani on July 22, 2018. PHOTO | FILE |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

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Although I have always advocated freedom of the media, one question continues to dog me. In a country such as ours, where violence is always potential between ethnic groups, why do the media find it necessary to use headline words likely to rub ethnic feelings the wrong way?

For even when a football club is called Leopards, the question of whether the lads are also “kittens” need never arise in any newspaper.

For all young cats are kittens. The reason it provoked me into posing that question was a headline atop the Daily Nation’s page one masthead on August 27: “Straight from … K’Ogalo’s hip: Are they Leopards or Kittens?” Having served for many years as the Daily Nation’s chief sub-editor and managing editor, I am almost certain that the writer of that headline never meant any ethnic malice.


Yet he or she could have used his or her head a little more. The question, however, is: What is the legitimacy of the question mark in the sub-editor’s headline? I ask because I know no specific line between “leopards” and “kittens”.

There, age is the only line known to me. Moreover, on the pitch, whether or not you beat the human ones, Kenya’s soccer Leopards have always justified their name. Near the goalposts, they have always pounced like veritable cats. That is why the headline writers should allow the Leopards to pounce with their own claws.

However, that point raises a perennially important question. Why does our country continue with the colonial system of organising certain competitive games only ethnically? In a game as ethnically provocative as association football in a country where European colonialism so sharpened people’s ethnic consciousness against one another, that question continues to face the Government.


That question is extraordinarily important because, in Kenya, tribalism remains a life-and-death situation so many decades after British colonialism — its begetter — officially departed. After so many years of tragic soccer events, why has the ministry failed to organise the game in a socially more constructive way?

When the Luhya and the Luo — the two communities that produce Kenya’s most gifted soccer lads — are forced by the colonial heritage to confront each other also in the political platform, you have a situation of veritably ugly potential violence.

Yet the Bantu Luhya and the Nilotic Luo have lived next to each other, thickly intermarrying into the bargain, for centuries.

That they have usually interacted peacefully is probably why, even in such an ethnically provocative game as soccer — the two communities have usually confronted each other peacefully and with respect.


In general, though rivalry and war have often occurred between humanity’s neighbouring ethnicities the whole world over, the Luhya and the Luo have never fought any war for as long as I have lived. Thick intermarriage between them may mean that almost every Luo has relatives in Buluhya (Luhyaland) and the other way round.

Such a situation logically offers incentives for inter-ethnic co-operation and peace, a fact which our government should, at independence, have somehow exploited.

The Kikuyu are the only ethnicity known to me that has, in human terms, invested in all our other ethnic communities in Kenya. For they have allowed their women to marry in all communities.

Yet, even there, the investment remains halfhearted. In marital terms, Kikuyu men remain notably aloof to Nilotic women. But intermarriage should long ago have led to systematic long-lasting peace between the Luhya and their Luo SHEMEJI even concerning a game as ethnically provocative as association football (“soccer”).