Seeing everything through ethnic prism is our undoing
Published on March 1, 2008, 12:00 am
By Barrack Muluka
I have been thumping through my scrapbook for last year, from a cheerless little hotel room in the Congo.
On this particular afternoon, I am in Kinshasa waiting for daybreak so that I can return home, in Nairobi.
In the morning, I found myself in a little situation with an acquaintance in Brazzaville, the capital of the other Congo, just across the great river.
He asked why I was going back to Kenya, yet there is war. Defensively, I retorted, “What is wrong with us having a few street protests in assorted towns?”
And I went on: “You people have had your rocket fire, mortar and brimstone. You’ve had your horrific wars, lasting upwards of a decade at a time. Can’t we have a few demos in our streets without the whole world gloating over ‘war in Kenya’? If you are waiting for war in Nairobi, we are going to disappoint you. We did not go to school so that we can do to our country what you have done to yours.”
But back in the solitude of this tiny hotel room, my scrapbook gives the lie to my avowals. It is my precious treasure trove and the storehouse of my thoughts at tranquillity.
I am reading where I scribbled down on February 16 last year: “We shall fry in the oil of hypocrisy, we Africans called Kenyans.” The opposite page reads: “The day the Kikuyu stop telling me that I ‘hate’ Mwai Kibaki, the Luos stop saying I have vendetta against Raila and the Luhya stop calling me a traitor, against their Mudavadi, that is the day Kenya will start the journey to the Promised Land.”
Elsewhere it reads: “A nation that is torn along ethnic lines is a nation at war with itself – March ‘07”. Finally there are these words: “I am not a prophet of doom. I am only a painstaking and honest reader of history.”
But I am now wondering whether anyone really cares for history, really. For, I am all too familiar with Africans who say of history that it is boring. Never mind that history has brought them into the pretty mess they wallow in, from Addis to Abidjan and from Cape Town to Cairo.
On Sunday evening, I was sitting on the banks of the Congo in Brazzaville, staring across as the sun set on Kinshasa. You cannot help wondering what made the two adventurers, Pierre De Brazza and Henry Morton Stanley, settle for this point as the headquarters of their plunder of the wild rubber and of the precious stones of the Congo.
I make a mental note to revisit my readings on the Congo. That aside, the sunset knocks you breathless. As twilight descends on Kinshasa, it brings alive in its wake the electric lights of the city. Kinshasa steadily transforms into a gem, an African golden jewel floating on the Congo. Across the Congo, this is the quintessence of paradise.
But can a continent that cannot audit the actions of its leaders evolve into anything paradisiacal? We audit the activities of leaders from other tribes. My eyes have seen in the two Congo republics the atrocious things ethnicity; greed and war can do to promising states.
Brazzaville boasts of grenade blasted buildings all over. The new democratic government has its job well cut out. Kinshasa is a pathetic wasteland in the heart of squalor. Mobutu messed them up properly. The crutches and wheelchairs scattered all over the streets for sale tell it all. You do not peddle wheelchairs as if they were groundnuts for evening tea.
The following day, I sit on the plane next to a Congolese gentleman heading to Malabo in Equatorial Guinea. His country is separated from Equatorial Guinea by the tiny Gabon. But to get to Malabo, he must first fly to Nairobi. From here, he will fly to Yaounde in Cameroon then fly again to Equatorial Guinea. Such are the contradictions in Mother Africa. You fly over your country four times to complete one round trip.
Perhaps Kenyans can still be saved from the need to fly to Cairo so that they can fly to Zambia to visit Maputo. Perhaps we can still save Kenya from the rocket and mortar of the Congo.
I remain cautiously optimistic after the treaty between President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga. For I know the problem is not confined to Raila and Kibaki. The problem is with all of us who see things only through the greedy ethnic prism.
Arrogant self-seekers will be jostling for space in high places in coming days. They will do everything possible to take us the Congo way, if their personal greed is not addressed. My pen has just been sharpened ahead of the things to come, in the wake of the Kibaki-Raila Agreement. Watch this space.
The writer is a publishing editor and a media consultant with Mvule Africa Publishers.