|My conscience nags me. My remarks on Martha Karua have been snide. Yet I found her contribution to Tuesday’s crucial parliamentary debate exceptionally inspiring.One statement rings in my head. It is that you cannot legislate against bitterness. You may unleash policemen on ethnic rioters and they may quell the riot. But to do so is merely to scorch the snake, not to kill it. And I know nothing more dangerous than a scorched cobra.
The point is this. If our rulers want to rule us with our consent and love — and thus enjoy themselves in power — they must first kill the puff adder which occasions hatred and opposition in the minds of so many groups.
The rulers can, of course, opt for what we used to say “the thorax.” But neither barricade nor tear gas nor AK-47 can kill political phobia in any public’s mind – and this for the simple reason that, by themselves, weapons have no way of recognising dissentience.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare reminds us that “There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” The most that a government can do to an opposition by means of brawn alone is to force the opposition underground or into exile.
But to do so is merely to embitter it some more and thus to intensify your own phantasmagoria. After the soldier has murdered King Duncan and usurped his throne, some witches appear to comment sinisterly: “Glamis doth murder sleep and, therefore, Cawdor shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more …”
Indeed, to do so is only to postpone the day of reckoning, thus making it potentially much more destructive. As Niccolo Machiavelli might advise, mental conditioning is much more effective than physical force in dealing with the mass. The public’s mind is yours for the taking if you can convince it that whatever you do is in its interests.
The only problem is that ours is not a homogeneous public. Our plethora of publics include often conflicting professional, confessional, gender, class, age-group, race, nationality and – by far the most divisive of them all – ethnic groups.
PRESIDENT KIBAKI MIGHT TESTIFY THAT, IN HIS FIVE-year tenure, tribalism has been his most painful nightmare. For tribalism is double-edged. If non-Kikuyu elites accuse only the President’s men, the accusers do it only to serve their own power ambitions predicated on tribal voters. They refuse to see that this is also tribalism.
In exchange for tribal mass support, they issue huge rain cheques to the voters. But these are all dud, and no bank whatsoever will ever honour them. That was the burning question posed to us by the catastrophe which the Samuel Kivuitu fiasco occasioned.
It is this: How can we deal effectively with negative tribalism when we allow rivalling ethnic elites — individuals interested only in removing one another from power by foul means — to be our spokesmen in the struggle to extirpate the social HIV that we call tribalism?
Even after the fortunate events triggered by Kofi Annan, we continue to face this danger. The parliamentary agreement which the President has signed into law remains a perilously delicate balance of elites – the elites merely of the big ethnic communities.
If any elite pulls out, the whole political integument will come hurtling down like the meteor that consigned the dinosaur family to extinction 64 million years ago. Of course, I support that pact. But I hope it is only a short-term measure. What we urgently need is a longer-term stratagem to make it serve perennial purposes.
By proposing a national conference on tribalism, the Prime Minister shows that he is aware of this need. But, as I said here last week, we need something much more significant, a permanent institution — a ministry or commission — of known cosmopolitan minds dedicated full-time to this problem.
Its primary assignment would be to collect information on how negative ethnic attitudes take root and become so paramount in our minds as to translate into such things as ethnic cabals intent on discrimination, corruption, parochial politics and other crimes.
It would suggest methods by which to remove ethnic and other forms of chauvinism from our minds. Such methods must be extra-legal.
For, as Ms Karua has reminded us, neither law nor policemen can remove ethnic or racial bigotry from the mind.
True, we need to ban tribalism by law, but only as the basis for punishing those who, in practice, undermine all our efforts to annihilate it. In the last analysis, however, only systematic didacticism – only powerful mental and moral sanctions from the cradle — can ultimately banish tribalism from our national foundation.
If that is Ms Karua’s message, then this is an appropriate occasion for me to seek her forgiveness.