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Local media advancing tribal politics but are living in denial

Sunday January 26 2020


ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi addressing a Building Bridges Initiative rally at Bukhungu stadium in Kakamega on January 18, 2020. Political rallies should be ethnicity-free. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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When I say media, do not look at me.

As a columnist, I have raised my concern on how the media in Kenya are playing a big role in exacerbating tribal sentiments that is synonymous with our politics.

I might sound like a scratched CD by repeating this topic, but I’m sure many will agree with me that, given the heightened toxic political rhetoric engulfing the country, it’s important to do so.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rallies going around the country are not helping matters either.

At Bukhungu, we heard of the hosts demanding that one of their own become president. The headlines informed us of the rift in the community on how to go about it.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions’s Atwoli, advocating a “Mulembe Nation”, was categorical about its coming together to take over State House.



Discussions around BBI or any other political rally should be ethnicity-free and not for every community to find what they can get out of them.

We hear of Mount Kenya being split down the middle on who should take over from President Kenyatta.

ODM is all about Raila, with most of the politicians at its highest echelon, and supporters, hailing from his backyard.

Kalonzo’s Wiper equally has its leadership and most of its supporters drawn from his home region.

Why, then, with a powerful fault line in the name of tribalism running across all four corners of the country, do we still think and report on ethnically charged rallies?

Kenya has been brought back from the brink of collapse twice — in 2008 and 2017 — and tribalism played a large part in dividing the country into tribal enclaves.

I don’t foresee the 2022 polls being any different if the tribal and violent rallies, BBI or not, continue.


In my article of January last year titled “Media must take tribe out of political discourse for peace”, I said I believe the media have a responsibility in damning down the abrasive tribal talk that is the hallmark of our politics.

The response I got is that it was difficult to report any differently because Kenyan politics is tribal.

In that case, Kenyan media has, by acknowledging the tribal nature of Kenyan politics, got its work cut out for it.

Not by joining the tribal chants, but by purging tribalism from our body politic. Otherwise, they stand accused of having a hand in the bruising and bloody politics played out by some of our politicians.

Kenyan political parties hegemonise patriarchy and tribalism and it’s the responsibility of the media to find ways and means of changing the narrative.

This can be achieved by outlawing ethnic or tribe-nuanced discussions in politics in the journalism code of conduct.

The media need to change the national psyche from one of thinking in a tribal fashion to that whose language revolves around nationhood.


Many countries that were affected by racism, such as those in the West and the United States, in particular, resorted to expunging racism by criminalising the use of words such as ‘negro’ and ‘coloured’ in order to, firstly, dignify black people and, secondly, clamp down on a racist ideology, which had a negative effect on the black population.

The move may not have eradicated racism, but it has gone a long way in changing people’s behaviour around race-related issues.

It makes no sense to broadcast or report on a political rally that is all about how one community gets together to push one of their own up so that they can get ‘their turn to eat’.

Tribal headlines feed tribalism and undermine the unity of a country.

The NCIC and Parliament may, perhaps, need to give leadership on how the media need to decant tribalism out of news content if it fails to self-regulate in order to tackle ethnocentric politics in the country.

The 2022 campaigns are in full swing, even if they come dressed in BBI suits.


With it, the smattering of violence and tribal politics are starting to bubble on the surface.

It’s likely that these will reach a bloody crescendo by the time we line up to vote, given our penchant for violent elections.

I bet the ICC and the international community are watching to see how the 2022 Kenyan election pans out. And I doubt if there will be a return of leaders from the ICC if they mess up this time.

For the 2022 polls to be peaceful, we must step up the gear and change our conduct.

That needs to start with the use of language that promotes peaceful coexistence aimed at creating nationhood rather than tribal cocoons.

The media, as the ‘Fourth Estate’, have a vital role to play in unifying the country.

* * *

BBI rallies could turn out to be the matchsticks to light political fires that will burn Kenya if the clashes between Tangatanga and the rest of the political formations continue.

It might be safer and more responsible to educate Kenyans via the media that shouting matches is not the way to inform the masses.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo