Leta Siasa

Monday, September 12, 2005

Njeri Kabeberi-Kanene on Negative Ethnicity

Know the truth, it will free you
Opinion piece originally published in the East African Standard

By Njeri Kabeberi-Kanene

I thank God that I grew up in Nairobi’s Eastlands because although born a Kikuyu, I am tribe-less.

I still get shocked when I realise how ethnically divided the country is as we continue to allow politicians to use our ethnicity for their selfish interests.

Talking to my mother’s age-mates the other day, I realised that although most of their children were brought up in that beautiful tribe-less corner of the city of Nairobi, they themselves are still caught up in the ethnic manipulation of our politicians.

At the time, we were discussing the constitution, the referendum symbols and the vote.

In the end, the debate was reduced to a Kikuyu verses Luo vote. I asked: What about the other ethnic groups?

Don’t they matter?

Where do they feature in your version of how the vote should be?

Current statistics show that of the ethnic groups in Kenya Kikuyus are 17 per cent, Luyhas 12 per cent, Luos 11 per cent, Kalenjins 10 per cent, Kambas 10 per cent, Kisiis six per cent, Meru five per cent, Mijikenda five per cent, Masaai two per cent, Turkana one per cent, others 21 per cent.

The age breakdown indicates that 50 per cent of our population is made up of 0-14-year-olds, those between 15-59 make up 46 per cent, 60 years and above make up four per cent.

The above statistics, show that 72 per cent of Kenyans are neither Kikuyus nor Luos and that the largest population from all ethnic groups is made up of the youth. I would like to think that the youth, like me, are tribe-less or would love to be if it was not for political manipulation.

Although they belong to different ethnic groups (and ought to be proud of it) the youth should be tribe-less in their thinking and actions because the values of a nation can be destroyed if we continue to fan ethnic arrogance.

We have seen within our own country, and within the Eastern and Central Africa region just how negative ethnic animosities can be.

When disaster strikes — like when there was a terrorist attack in Nairobi — all Kenyans become victims; if Hurricane Katrina or a real tsunami were to hit Kenya (God forbid!) they would not select those to affect on the basis of ethnicity.

Why do we then seek for votes on governance issues on the basis of ethnicity?

I feel that as Kenyans we are forced to make choices on the basis of fear instead of facts.

Fear rules most aspects of our lives, yet fear is selfish, because it forces us to go into our narrow cocoons and disregard everyone and everything else.

Fear tells us that leaders of other ethnic groups will mess up the lives of those not in leadership; fear makes us look only at the one thing we imagine will benefit the individual, even when the individual is not really benefiting.

Kenya at the age of 42 should be tightening windows of prejudice instead of opening floodgates of disaster.

I have not come across any ordinary Kikuyu known to me who has directly benefited from Kenyatta’s nor Kibaki’s rule!

So what’s this business of voting on ethnic lines?

Aren’t we all hustling on bad roads, with poor services and in crime-infested cities?

The Constitution belongs to everyone, with the youth standing to lose or benefit the most.

Yet the rights of the four per cent who are over 60 years should not be ignored, nor should those of the 21 per cent of other ethnic groups.

I vote for freedom from fear and that is why we should be re-opening discussion and negotiations on the Constitution to free all of us from the negative prejudices being forced down our minds.

We are looking for a constitution that provides confidence for Kenyans as it ascertains the necessary safeguards for all, including the 250-300 El Molo Gurapau on the South East shores of Lake Turkana.

Njeri Kabeberi-Kanene is a board member of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and consultant for the Netherlands-Institute for Multi-Party Democracy.