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Why Tribalism, Not Corruption, Is Kenya’s Achilles Heel

Tribalism is what has has been ailing Kenya since the first Madaraka Day. Interestingly, we’ve channeled our energy in treating symptoms while ignoring the disease.

When we’re are not spending billions fighting corruption, we are allocating billions to “unite and heal Kenya”.

The sad part is that the whole of fumbling is by design. Why? Because those who benefit from tribalism don’t want to see an end to it. They’d rather waste our very scarce resources funding diversions instead of taking tribalism head on.

Read: The War On Corruption (The Kenyan Version)

Tribalism and nothing else is what ails Kenya. It is the fertile soil upon which all our problems flourish. From corruption to poor governance, all draw their strength from the fact that Kenya is a tragically ethnicized country.

Tribalism in Kenya is by design

Tribalism in Kenya is by design. There are people who ensured negative ethnicity became our way of life. From the least schooled to the most learned, tribalism in Kenya knows no bounds. From those who lack in impoverishment to those who swim in affluence, negative ethnicity has become our national pride.

But how and why is tribalism so entrenched in Kenya? Well, a united people can achieve a lot TOGETHER. So, to ensure Kenya only had a few achievers; ones the rest had to look up to:

  1. Mzee Kenyatta planted the seed of tribalism. Instead of uniting the young nation, he intentionally ensured that Kenya became a conglomerate of tribes fighting over resources instead of a nation united by its diversity.
  2. Mzee Moi, with his misguided Fuata Nyayo Philosophy, not only took negative ethnicity to the next level, Mzee Nyayo officially launched nepotism. This too was no accident, it was by design.
  3. Mzee Kibaki, despite the fact that Kenyans from all walks of life backed him to end tribalism and nepotism, decided to legalize tribalism. Kibaki made it look like holding a public office meant infesting it with your tribesmen. During his term, negative ethnicity almost became acceptable.
  4. Uhuruto, promising to kill negative ethnicity once for all, also succumbed to the pressure from their tribesmen. Their first cabinet was nothing short of a Kikuyu-Kalenjin affair, with a few other Kenyans sprinkled here and there to create the “face of Kenya”. Granted, they tried to unite the country by doing away with several tribal political parties. Yes, they even took development to regions that were hostile. But they failed when it came to appointments.

From religion to politics to business, everything about Kenya is tribalized.

Who benefits?

Kenyans literally kill each other over power, not because of the burning desire to lead the nation into prosperity but for one of theirs to “bring back resources” to the tribe.

For instance, members of my tribe have never been shy to engage in violence against other Kenyans in the name of politics. In our minds, our Tribal Chieftain becoming president is synonymous with economic emancipation of the entire community. Is that true? Of course, not.

Read: Why Tribalism will be the death of Kenya

The beneficiaries of negative ethnicity invested time and resources in spreading the false narrative until it became accepted as the truth. Today, a typical Kenyan believe that the only way they’ll get resources (or keep what they already have) is by getting and or remaining in power.

Effects of negative ethnicity

It must be understood that Kenyans by design rarely give a damn about one’s tribe until they are reminded to by their leaders. And thanks to tribalism…

  • People entrusted with public offices can loot funds without fear or shame because their tribesmen will defend them when push comes to shove.
  • Millions of overqualified Kenyans have no jobs because mediocre characters from the right ethnic backgrounds have taken their places.
  • Nepotism is so normal that your community will bash you for failing to favor them over communities while distributing national/county resources
  • Our elections will always remain about where one comes from and what tribe(s) is backing them instead of individual brilliance and leadership ability. One only needs to get the tribal math right and they are home dry.
  • Political tensions and the blackmails that follow will continue to be part of us every electioneering period. Many will go to early graves in the name of defending their own.

Any cure to our tribalism disease?

First, we must agree that we’ve been roped into something that has kept 99. 9% of Kenyans stagnated as a few evolve into tingods. Only then can we shut our ears to the tribal gospel and honestly embrace each other.

Curing tribalism in Kenya, like cancer, needs radical steps. We must stop listening to leaders, friends and relatives who preach ethnic division. We must be ready and willing to cut them loose.

And no, bringing the strong pillars of tribalism isn’t impossible. We know Tanzania has twice as many ethnic groups but truly united still. We also understand that we may end up like Rwanda or former Yugoslavia if we don’t put an end to the tribal nonsense we have held dear for so long.

But like with everything, the decision is our. We can keep on chasing shadows (wasting billions we don’t have treating symptoms) or confront ourselves and call it quits with tribalism.

Until then, we are assured of stagnation till kingdom come.