Opinions are about principles, not ethnic group

Saturday October 19 2019
Ochieng Photo

A man reads a newspaper in Chiga, Kisumu East. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


As a general rule, the most serious newspaper readers are very busy people in all walks of life other than journalism.

That is why the most important function of newspaper headline writers — a class of seasoned journalists known as sub-editors — is to guide the newspaper buyers on what to read with care and what to give priority.

For a sub-editor it is who plans a page and decides what headline story to lead the page with. For reasons that need not concern us here today, the leading page-one story and headline are known as “the splash”. Internally, however, the word “splash” is nowadays used very carelessly to refer to the leading headline-stories even on other pages.


Howbeit, a newspaper’s page-one “splash” headline is all-important because it is the issue’s chief sales gimmick. For — unless it is owned by the government or by a party that generously pours money into it — a newspaper is always a commercial venture.

In other words, the chief purpose of those who invest capital in it is to make a profit.


It is for that reason that, frequently, there is a serious clash of public principles and social priorities between the owners (investors) and a certain cadre of editorial employees.

I am keenly aware of that clash because I was a frequent victim of it throughout my career both as a commentator in and as a producer of newspapers.

Generally speaking, my personal social beliefs have frequently put me on a collision course with the powers that be in each of the East African counties of Tanzania and Uganda and especially Kenya — even though my commentaries have concerned social principles rather than the ethnic group that was ruling when I was making my comments.

For a public commentator like me, injustice always lies in the tendency by most readers to associate your purpose with those of the ethnic group in which you were born. But it depends on who is writing.

I do not remember even a single occasion on which my commentary was occasioned by the subjective interests of the ethnic group into which I was born.


Very proudly, of course, I am a Luo and, therefore, a Nilote, even though many important branches of my blood vessels can be traced to the Baganda, a large Bantu community of Uganda, and the Luhya, a Kenyan Bantu group.

None the least, in a clash between that community and other Kenyan, Tanzanian or Ugandan ethnic groups, it wouldn’t occur to me to write necessarily in favour of the Luo.

Whenever a Luo group behaves in some indefensibly arrogant manner against a neighbouring ethnic group, you can count on me to be among the first individuals to condemn the Luo behaviour.

By the same token, however, I will not keep my mouth shut whenever I think that somebody is treating the Luo community with arrogance.

To put it generally, I appeal to you never to rush to the support of your ethnic group whenever it is involved in a clash with another ethnic group.


In such a case, your duty, as an educated Kenyan, Tanzanian or Ugandan is to study the roots of every clash and seek to help solve the problem wherever you are.

I will not automatically rush to the Luo side merely because I am a Luo. For that would wholly ignore the objective history of the ethnic clashes as a result of Europe’s colonial play of those ethnic groups against each other, known as divide and rule.

My upbringing will never allow me to defend the Luo unfairly against any group.

Luckily for me, however, I am a product of both the Bantu and the Nilotes. That is why, whenever I support one side, I struggle hard to base it on the objective historical facts known to me.

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