Recently, I was copied in on a transcript of a mail-conversation whose participants included various Kenyans in a group mail setup. Some of them were members of the Diaspora, some of them were at home. Most were, and are doing well, working in Big-4 firms and other large corporations both here and outside the country.
And I was hugely disappointed.
For, without exception, it was possible to look at a fellow’s name, regardless of where or how much or how long he’d read, where he was working… and divine the line of argument he was taking from just that-his name. Fellows with names beginning with O had a proclivity for being anti-Establishment. Fellows with names indicative of a childhood spent playing on the slopes of Mount Kenya tended to be pro-Establishment. I’m sure you understand what I mean.
Is this a one-off example? Would that it were! In the run-up to last year’s referendum, colleagues in the office where I worked were polarised along the very same lines. The Bananas were largely from Mount Kenya. The Oranges were from everywhere else. These are educated people, among the crème-de-la-crème of Kenya’s education system. And yet…
Exactly WHAT is wrong with us Kenyans? What is wrong with a man, who has been in and out of classrooms, some of them Ivy League, for 80% of his life on this earth, and yet when it comes to issues of development and the direction of his country, he still thinks tribally? We have walked, and talked and lived in the groves of academe for decades, and we have managed to emerge unscathed. Education has not changed us. Exposure has not changed us. Religion has not changed us. We have received instruction, and remain unintelligent; schooled, we remain all the while unlearned, and though literate, we are as yet unlettered. We continue to be creatures of trait, rather than creatures of thought, long after the ink has dried on our most donnish qualifications. Our benighted arguments and thought patterns are still informed by the most primordial, and therefore the most savage and barbaric of our feelings. All we have learned how to do is to eloquently articulate these feelings in languages other than our mother-tongues. We have made the camp of the inerudite our permanent bivouac. We are still primal, still backward, still uncivilised, still uninformed; still undauntedly, steadfastly, unashamedly, and unapologetically human.
Nor is the problem generational. I used to think that my generation would see a change in things. Granted, there are more mixed marriages now, than before. This is a great step forward. The generation before us can largely be forgiven for their outlook on life, growing up as they did, and all. They have also seen the worst of a repressive Moi regime, in which tribalism was fostered, nay, nurtured, to the exclusion all tribes out of favour with the President. Their point of view is partly inborn, and partly a reaction to and the backlash of past, repressive regimes. But we have no excuse. We ought to be more intelligent than we seem to be on the strength of this anecdotal evidence.
These discoveries lead on to the thought that our politicians should not be blamed for being what we are. Someone once said that we deserve the leaders that we get. There is no use spewing impassioned diatribes at the political who-is-who, when we are just the same. JUST THE SAME! We are birds of a feather, peas in a pod! Politicians do not radically change upon their ascendancy to power. They are who we are, and we are who they are. Granted, they stoke the fires of tribalism so as to increase their own relevance in terms of the balance of power in the country. But this would not work, if the populace itself refused to be tribally motivated.
What can be sadder, more deplorable, more lamentable than this? What, more than this poor state of affairs, is downright reprehensible? What is the seed of the robbery perpetrated on Wanjiru (the choice of name is extremely inappropriate), by the people Wanjiru has put into power, in the form of inequitable and insensible distribution of resources? The genesis of this grand pilferage is when such narrow parochialism dictates the course of development in this country. What, I pray, is the point of tarmacked by-ways in Central Imenti, when the road to Nakuru, it would seem, is paved exclusively with good intentions? It’s enough to make a grown man weep, I tell you. That is a crime against humanity. And it has the double and not entirely undesired effect of making tribalism grow by feeding on tribalism, for it is the poisonous embryo in which such infamous sentiments as “It is now our turn to eat” fester.
I would like to be optimistic, but not to the point of naïveté. I have tried, and failed, to see hope for politics in this country. I would be the first to want to be proved wrong. I fear I shall not live to see it.