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Myths that fuel mistrust and fears among Kenyans

Myths that fuel mistrust and fears among Kenyans

Story by KOIGI WAMWERE
Publication Date: 1/9/2008

What was an electoral dispute between presidential candidates Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga has now become an ethnic conflict that might develop into a long-drawn struggle between Kenyan communities and a humanitarian catastrophe.

As the country seeks reconciliation and peace, we realise we need dialogue, not just between Raila and Kibaki, but also between Kenyan communities.

WHEN WE ASK RAILA AND KIBAKI TO talk peace, do we ask them to do so as two Kenyans or as a Luo and a Kikuyu? Most ask them to dialogue as tribes, not as individual leaders. Consequently, when we ask leaders to seek peace, we must also ask communities. In matters of ethnic hatred, we have no guilty leaders and innocent wananchi. We are all guilty.

Today, our society is more ethnically divided than ever. Ordinarily, Kenyans conceal their ethnic biases. However, with the current killings and open expression of ethnic hate, especially in Rift Valley, the facade of oneness is no more. Many say ethnic hostilities were sparked by rigged elections. But the organisation and speed of violence and the attendant evictions suggest their pre-arrangement by certain forces. 

Nevertheless, our ethnic conflict was incubating for a long time, fed by ethnic myths and beliefs, but finally triggered by electoral disappointment to explode. Though embarrassing, we must now, with courage and frankness, expose and combat these myths that have taken us prisoner, motivated us to hate, loot, kill and may any time split our country into two. People don’t cure what they deny.

Beliefs and myths that divide us are many and varied.

At the general level, we believe our presidents can only form tribal governments. Election of presidents therefore is also a struggle for government by communities.

Another general myth is that communities eat more when a son or daughter is president and those without a president don’t eat. 

Built upon these two myths, presidential elections are not contests between individuals but communities. When we go into elections, it is to elect both our leaders and communities into power. When a particular candidate wins therefore, his community celebrates and when another loses, his community moans. Elections are fair only when our candidate and community win. 

A third general myth is that Kenyans are foreigners outside their ethnic homelands and live there at their own risk and pleasure of locals. These ‘‘foreigners’’ must conform to the wishes of locals or perish.

To Kenyans, the tribe comes before the nation. 

‘‘My tribe is always right. We are God’s special people. God will always protect us against them. We are superior because we circumcise. Uncircumcised Kenyans don’t qualify to lead us. When one of us is president, the Government is ours. We are safest led by our own. Even the poorest are rich when the president is ours. A president from another tribe will ruin us.’’ 

‘‘Others are jealous of our hard work. Ours is better than theirs.’’ 

Those who don’t toe the tribal line are traitors. This is tribalism that easily makes us hate others.

“THE OTHERS ARE ARROGANT. THEY are a greedy people. They want to dominate and rule others. They don’t accept democratic removal from power. Without one of us as president, the Government is never ours. We shall eat only when one of us is president. They have everything, we nothing. Discriminating against them is fair. They are parasites. They don’t let other Kenyans do business in their own areas. We have a duty to throw them out of our areas. It is betrayal of your community to defend them. Ultimately, the they must be cut down to size.’’ 

Stereotypical myths have made us destructive, suicidal, killed our Kenyan-ness and humanity, will never let us reconcile and make peace with one another and eventually will take away our democracy and country. We must destroy them before they destroy us.

As in Rwanda, these myths afflict us all whether we are politicians, journalists, professors, peasants, youth, security forces, teachers, business people or priests. To survive, the nation must undergo an urgent collective exorcism through a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

Mr Wamwere is a former assistant minister for Communication

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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