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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

East Africa cannot be a tribal society

20th May 2012

With four prominent persons facing possible charges for crimes against humanity at The Hague and hundreds of internally displaced persons not yet returned to their former homes as a result of the post 2007 general election violence, one would expect that Kenyans had learnt their bitter lesson against fratricidal culture and now hate tribal politics with the intensity of contracting leprosy.

But alas, that is not the case. Reports coming out of East Africa’s strongest economy point to intensified going back to the primitive practices of tribal politics as Kenyans look to the next Presidential election on March 4, 2013. The election itself has been the result of much political haggling. Originally slotted for August this year, it was later moved to December before the High Court ruled that it be held on March 4, next year.

Recent voices speaking against the ugly head of tribal politics rearing its head again in Kenyan society have come from retired Anglican Church Bishop, David Gitari, former Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, a controversial figure in his own heyday and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Mr Njonjo was especially critical of Uhuru Kenyatta and the Kikuyu in general for harbouring the view that the President of Kenya must always come from the wombs of their mothers.

I have nothing against the Kikuyu producing Kenya’s third president as long as he or she is popularly elected by all Kenyans. What I am against is for politicians in Kenya, Gikuyus and others, to rally their followers along tribal affinities as the basis of their power base. In Kenya, it is not just the Gikuyu who are cancerously tribal but the whole country, which is actually a big disservice to the East African spirit for deeper integration, including political federation.

Of the tribal groupings, there is the Council of Luos from PM Odinga’s own Luo community, Kaya, from the Coast, Kamatusa for the Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and Samburu alliance and many others. Mr Raila warned Kenya could drift into tribal violence again following the re-emergence of tribal political parties.

In a way that has always been the nature of Kenya’s political history. The important thing is to reject that infamous past. If we look at the bigger picture, Kamatusa is merely the reincarnation (in some form not totally) of the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), which was formed as a counter force to the Kenya African National Union (KANU), that led Kenya to independence from Britain in 1963.

KADU, formed largely to advance the interests of the community of what is now Kamatusa, was always pro federalism while KANU preferred central authority. KADU has since faded from Kenya’s political landscape while KANU, no longer the ruling party, lives on only as morasses of its former glory.

During the struggle for independence KANU, under the leadership of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (Uhuru’s father) won the day but the new constitution has divided Kenya into counties that will be semi autonomous administrations under governors, away from direct central rule from the capital, Nairobi. If we look at it then, it is like some 50 years after independence, the concerns of the Kamatusa community have finally been taken on board But that is no reason for reverting to tribal leanings.

The new constitution aims at hastening development and not to foster tribal sentiments. While federalism in 1960 could have been divisive,counties in 2013 are not because Kenyans have graduated to a higher degree of nationalism. Tribes are no longer a threat to national unity

in Kenya much in the same way as Kingdoms are longer a factor for national disintegration in Uganda, which could have easily been the case in the early days of independence.

East Africa cannot afford tribal politics or to entertain tribal sentiments in any way. If Kenyans want to be a tribal community, then the best way is for them to quit the East African Community (EAC) or be shown the way out.

If anything, Rwanda is living testimony of thedangers of negative ethnicity. East Africa therefore, cannot be a tribal community.

The writer is a seasoned Tanzanian journalist currently writing for the East African News Agency. He filed this commentary from Arusha.

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