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The "T" Word in Kenya Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Caroline Wao, United States Jan 20, 2008
Culture , Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Opinions


Today, Talk of the Nation on NPR (National Public Radio) featured the "T" word that is in the midst of tearing Kenya apart. Tribe.

Forgive my cynicism; but unfortunately tribalism has existed in Kenya (subtly or otherwise), for a long time now. It exists in the ways members and non members obviously exclude each other in social gatherings through language ... It becomes even more prominent and more "in your face" with Politics, so that instead of playing a uniting role by opening grounds for celebrating our rich cultural differences, tribe is used as an avenue for showcasing our social and cultural differences for the purpose of ridicule and division.

Different people have aired separate views on how the voting process took shape in the recent Kenyan elections. The Big question is: Was it defiled by tribe or elevated by class?

One thing stands true though, and that is, Kenyans were ready for change and their votes voiced that fact, clear as crystal.

The three leading presidential contenders: Mwai kibaki, Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka were each from a different ethnic group, namely kikuyu, luo and Kamba respectively. It is not surprising that each of these candidates received the highest umber of votes from their respective provinces. This is what draws the tribal line in my opinion.

A British columnist recently tendered that the elections could not have been tribal; his opinion being that not all voters in Central province voted for Kibaki (for example).
This would be true if there were only kikuyus voting from central province. However, there are a number of people from other tribes that live in central province. Is it possible that these were the votes (from central province) that eluded Kibaki?

Another important factor to consider in the matter of tribal allegiance is that Kenya is a 42 tribe nation, with three presidential front runners from just three of the 42 groups. Voters from the other 39 ethnic groups had to vote for one of the three candidates; the one that they felt affiliated to. This affiliation for the most part was consequently defined by their political representative's affiliation. For example, A large portion of the Rift Valley votes went to Raila Odinga because of his alliance with Ruto, a politial leader from the Rift Valley province. One could ask, did they vote for Raila or were they supporting Ruto?

In my view, as much as we would prefer to intellectualize what is happening in Kenya and remove the "T" word because it sounds "derogatory" in the international media, the truth is, tribalism Kenya is indeed hampering our country's progress socially, economically, culturally and politically. And it does us no good to deny it and sweep it under the ideology of class. It is possible that many Kenyans are afraid (understandably) to acknowledge tribalism for fear that it may insight more violence and tension beyond the 700 dead and 250,000 displaced victims.

Even so, ignoring a sore does not make it vanish. Let us acknowledge tribalism and the role it is playing in hampering our development at both a personal and national level. And as Kenyans, let us forge forward, towards embracing a different "T" word today. Tolerance.

Let us begin by teaching tolerance to our children; at home, in schools, in church ... and help them to become better people than we have been. Let us strive to leave them a better country, a better world. We will soon be long gone.

They should not have to pay the price for our unwillingness to recognize, respect and celebrate our ethnic differences. Diversity is wealth.



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Caroline Wao

Born and raised in Kenya. Strong believer in the strength of tolerance. I wish it for kenya.
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