Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On tribalism, and the art of tribalism

The day before yesterday, a facebook friend of mine posted that he ‘heard on Kameme FM that Nairobi belongs to the Kikuyu’ and that therefore the Governor should also be a Kikuyu. I have also seen chaps post that Inooro FM or other ethnic FM stations have said this and that.
On the other hand, I have seen and heard William Kabogo, the Governor of Kiambu and George Aladwa, the chairperson of ODM in Nairobi engage in cultural abuses and incitement to violence on mainstream television stations.

This made me reflect on tribalism and the art of tribalism in Kenya.

What exactly does one mean when they say that “Kameme FM said...”? At what point does a media station say? Applying the same reasoning, would it be correct if one claims that Citizen TV said that for “…Raila to become President, people must die…”? Would it also be correct to say that ODM Nairobi branch made that statement? Would it not be propaganda if I posted on facebook that “I heard on Radio Citizen that for Raila to become President, people must die”? I indeed heard it on Radio Citizen, so that is not a lie. But doesn’t it qualify as propaganda? Isn’t it skewed truth?

When Governor Kabogo spoke, it was generally taken as Governor Kabogo’s speech, irrespective of the media station that he was speaking on/aired the speech. And even though he is the Governor of Kiambu County, it was not claimed that “…Kiambu County has said…
Indeed, Kiambu County can Say/declare/oppose. ODM Nairobi branch can also say/demand/request. Kenya can join/withdraw/refuse. Anyone objectively reporting on such knows how to differentiate the body and the individual.

Even though my facebook friend could have differently posted that “he heard a Mr X (or he heard a person say) on Kameme FM say that Nairobi belongs to…..” he consciously or unconsciously failed to attribute the statement to an individual oblivious or aware of the implications given that Kameme FM broadcasts in Kikuyu language.

The Art of Tribalism
Ethnic mobilization, just like National mobilization is an art that has been perfected over the years throughout the world, and in Kenya today, the social media tribalists have helped fine tune the art (of ethnic mobilization.) This is why tribalism is seen to be on the rise as elections near, then goes on the low after elections.
Most of the rich-people’s political leaders in Kenya today would not be where they are were it not for their ability to mobilize the ethnicities that they come from. Rich-people’s politics in Kenya is not about a competition of ideas, but a competition of ethnic mobilization. Indeed, if we withdraw tribalism, then most of them would be left naked and powerless.
Rather than the TNA and ODM social media chaps attacking each other on ideological grounds so as to gain support for their pay masters(which they can’t because there is no ideological difference), the art demands that they first attack the psychology and culture of the other ethnicity. For example, ‘the Luos are not circumcised, so they are ihiis. We cannot be led by ihiis.’ They then identify a particular stereotype or bizarre issue and generalize it on a whole ethnicity. For example, ‘Kikuyus are thieves or Kikuyus have sex with animals. We cannot be led by thieves’. They then generalize personal, group or class benefits/crimes to a whole ethnicity. For example, ‘Somalis are terrorists because some Somali terrorists were seen in Westgate or were killed in Garissa University. We cannot be led by terrorists.’
They make the other appear dangerous and may even blame them for all their problems. It then becomes an Us vs Them and eventually ends up as a Do or Die.

Meanwhile, there is that naïve Kikuyu, Luo, Somali etc chap who is generally not so interested in politics, and specifically doesn't support the rich-people’s politicians. If they were to vote, they’d vote for ideas. So when they see the hate on social media or at home, they try to reason. But as the hate keeps on getting stronger, they find themselves being compelled to defend their ethnicity more and more (eg by saying that it is Cabinet Secretary X that stole and not ethnicity X)…..they also begin to wonder why that other ethnicity hates them that much. With time they find themselves also abusing ethnicity Y (and not blogger Y), then they become proud of “their own” bloggers for having the courage to stand up to ethnicity Y, and eventually they “realise” that even though presidential candidate A has better ideas than the rest, if I do not vote for candidate X of my ethnicity, then ethnicity Y will win and “they” will finish us.
At the same time, none of the tribal leaders accept that they are tribal. They will claim that their butcher man is Kikuyu, their fish mama is Luo, their driver is Kamba and so on and so forth.
(If this was the defense against tribalism, then how would a peasant living deep in West Pokot defend herself?)
At the end of it all, it is the rich tribal politicians and their paid up tribalists who benefit, while the naïve citizen imagines that s/he has benefited yet they have not. No sooner are the elections done than the realities of their poverty hits them again.

Then there are those who are confused, and they think that by becoming tribal against their own ethnicity, then they have become nationalist, or they have risen above tribalism. What they do not understand it that tribalism against one’s own ethnicity is still tribalism. Primitive reasoning and mobilisation is the basis of tribalism.

 We also have opportunists who are consciously tribal against their own ethnicity so that they can benefit from the other ethnicity. Some are paid to validate generalizations. Some know that if the other ethnicity form government, it will need a national look and they will be the first to be considered. Others are merely looking for followers on social media.

(This reminds me of a debate on why Africans should not use the world tribalism and should instead use the word ethnicism, since the word tribe connotes primitivity. My position is that whereas we should never use the word tribe while referring to an ethnicity, we should nevertheless use the word tribalism or tribalist to refer to those who perpetuate this primitive form of mobilization)

Tribalists are mentally ill. They need help
In my evolution and growth in consciousness, I have come to realize that tribalists, just like racists have a mental problem. It is therefore of no use to get angry or offended when my race or my ethnicity is abused, just in the same way that I would not get offended when a mad person abuses me. It is a mental condition that should be looked into as such. This doesn’t mean that they should be left to operate freely. They actually need help. The help needed is largely psychiatric, they should be taken to a doctor or a mental hospital, but once in a while, especially in the formative stages, it can be dealt through corrective education/bigger picture projection, or through some decent beating (not primitive or violent or that which is driven by anger, but just some good beating, like the one that you give to a child who abuses other children. Corrective beating.)

And here when I talk about tribalism, I am not only talking about the populous ethnicities but many others whose conflicts may not always be electoral. I am talking about the tribal killings that we see between the Pokot and the Turkana, the Borana and the Burji, the clan mobilization of Garre and the Degodia among many others. I am talking about the ethnicities that mobilize each other to form a block against another tribally mobilized block.

How can we overcome this?
Kenyans can only overcome tribalism, by embracing ideological politics. We should have a clear Left and a clear Right in this country. Most of the current rich-people’s political bigwigs fall in the Right wing spectrum. That is why before the 2013 elections, William Ruto could have been accepted as either Uhuru Kenyatta’s or Raila Odinga’s running mate. Musalia Mudavadi almost became a compromise candidate for the Jubilee coalition, while Kalonzo Musyoka with all his reactionary history ended up as Raila’s deputy.

Their (the rich-people’s politicians) answers to fundamental questions concerning the ownership and control of the principal means of production like land, big industry, financial systems etc ; the role of the State in directly providing basic and secondary needs like decent housing, transport, food, quality education and healthcare to the highest levels; the existence of the capitalist State itself; the question of worker control of the work places; etc will more or less be the same. This essentially means that if we were to have politics based on ideology, then all of them would belong to one Party, maximum two. Then on the other hand, we would have the Socialists whose position on everything is that the interests of the masses must come first. In Kenya today, the only home for Socialists is the Social Democratic Party of Kenya (www.sdpkenya.org)

In order for us to have such kind of politics, Kenyans must choose to disappoint these rich-people’s tribal politicians and their activists. They must chose to ignore the propaganda in the mainstream media that paints a picture that Kenyans can only chose between two capitalist formations. They must ignore the fake opinion polls that are meant engineer the voters into supporting the two capitalist options. Kenyans should embrace ethnicity and reject tribalism.

The Socialists and the progressives in general must also move and organise in the villages. Sometimes a voter in Kahuro or a voter in Mindhine will vote in a particular way not because they are tribal, but because they cannot see or hear of any other alternative. They are pumped with the same line day in, day out.

02 Feb 2016



  1. interesting piece. Kenyans must rise above their ethnic cocoons and embrace ideological politics.