How politicians use tribal fallacies against you
Published on January 10, 2008, 12:00 am
By Koigi wa Wamwere
As I write, ethnic fighting is going on in certain parts of Kenya. Some say it was sparked by electoral rigging. It may have, but the root cause is fallacies that make us sick with negative ethnicity, motivating communities to fight.
Ignoring these fallacies or thinking we can lull the monster of tribalism to sleep with prayers and double-speak will not make them disappear. Mr Raila Odinga and President Kibaki may talk and agree, but fighting will continue in the future if we do not eliminate the stereotypes that pit communities against each other. What are these fallacies?
First, that people protect their interests best not as individuals, economic classes or simply Kenyans but as ethnic communities in exclusion of other Kenyans.
Communities have been told they have no business thinking because tribal chiefs will think for them. They even believe that the interests of ethnic chiefs and elites are superior to theirs. If you go to any place and ask people what their problems are, they will tell you the problems of their tribal chiefs. Even Members of Parliament are elected not to represent and speak for the people but to fight for tribal chiefs in the House.
Once imbued with such tribalism, people think whoever dares to criticise, challenge or compete with their tribal chief, from within community is a traitor and from without, an enemy to be eliminated.
It is a cardinal rule of tribalism that however able a person from another community is, he must never be our president. We even believe some of us are superior and others inferior. When it comes to our culpability for tribalism, we are innocent and only others are guilty. Equally, someone from another community is never right, only us. When they speak, we don’t listen.
As people in the West used black people and Jews as scapegoats for their problems, a person from another community is always the witch among us. He is to blame for our sins and poverty. People sometimes even believe their community will survive best not by loving and sharing with others, but by hating, robbing and killing them.
As the rest of the world forms huge blocks of economic, political and military survival, tribal chiefs tell us our future lies in fragmentation of Kenya into smaller states.
We believe the rule of our tribal chief is best because it will usher in our turn to ‘eat’. We forget exclusion of most Kenyans from eating is suicidal when our turn is over or because if they are too hungry, they will attack us.
Even when evidence tells us otherwise, we believe that if a leader from our community becomes president we are all rich or shall become so. We even refuse to see that presidents do not ‘eat’ with their communities but with elite from all communities that help them govern.
Many are even convinced that when a tribal chief is president they too are. We falsely talk of a presidency as if it were shared with us.
In this regard, we think when leaders from our communities become presidents, it is to make us rich, not serve all. Blindly we refuse to ask ourselves why while the families of our presidents are all rich, 99 per cent of their communities and constituencies remain just as poor as anyone else.
Again, despite evidence, we believe a president from our community can never hurt us. In the same measure, we believe presidents from other communities must hurt us. This is why we reject good leaders from other communities.
Although the ethnic elite know these fallacies are dangerous, they propagate them because they are politically profitable. But even a war is profitable to the elites. By instilling the fear of the devil in their people, they enslave and make them follow them to their own slaughter.
Who will save the poor who fight and rob one another but have no access to any writing or knowledge that could save them from tribalism and fallacies that fuel it?
Only a national and grassroots campaign to urgently educate people against tribalism. We must not continue to ignore the need for this campaign.
The writer is a former Member of Parliament