Some time back , the kenyan civilization went into a frenzy when Kiambu governor hon. William Kabogo made remarks that seemed to question the intelligence of his political opponents on the basis of circumcision.
A majority of Kenyans disapproved of Hon Kabogo’s remarks as advancing hate speech and its clearest outcome, ethnic animosity.
While such condemnation of unbecoming politicians is healthy, Kenyans in their everyday lives have mastered the skill of promoting their tribal image while cleverly framing inferior stereotypes to denigrate members of ‘other’ communities.
Nearly 90% of all Kenyan humor appears to revolve around ethnicity and the attendant stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes, thinks Chimamanda Ngozi, is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
It is for this reason that certain voices within the Kenyan society have been raised against excessive usage of ethnic humor. While delivering a speech on national cohesion in 2012, the Kenyan chief justice Dr Willy Mutunga cautions against negative ethnic profiling that is sometimes aided by parody. He calls for the purging from national discourse of pejorative commentaries present in comedy.
It is not that those who call for an end to the era of ethnic jokes are not appreciative of the role of art in our society. It is simply a sacrifice that must be made in the interest of national cohesion. Many years back the celebrated Nigerian writer made a case against ethnicity when he aptly stated that ‘Whereas irrational love can engender foolish acts of indiscretion, irrational hate can endanger the whole community.’
The phenomenon of ethnic branding seems to have taken root in our society. It rides on vernacular phrases weaved to promote a sense of superiority of one culture over the rest. It denounces the equality of all Kenyan cultures as envisaged in our constitution and relegates a majority Kenyans to the periphery of subjugation albeit psychologically.
While the politician is often subjected to harsh criticism when caught propagating irrational hate, Kenyans on a daily basis promote tribalism by pledging the superiority of their ethnic enclaves. In no other groups is this travesty more repugnant than in the educated of our society. While a once in while phrase in vernacular might be welcome, the consistent use of one’s mother tongue in public spaces such as social media is a dangerous sign of ethnic branding and bigotry.
In November 1945 an international military tribunal was opened at Nuremberg in Germany to prosecute war crimes committed by former nazi leaders. The lead judge justice Jackson in his opening remarks exposed the philosophy of pathological ethnic pride that was employed to propel Hitlers party to power. Judge Jackson says of the nazi criminals, ‘They excited the German ambition to be a “master race”, which of course implies serfdom for others. They led their people on a mad gamble for domination.’
The end result of this philosophy was cruelty, state terrorism, violence, death and the suffering of millions of peaceful citizens both within and outside Germany.
In the interest of a peaceful and prosperous society we must quickly embrace unconditional equality of all Kenyan communities by exercising nationalism all the time instead frequenting our ethnic cocoons for inspiration. We must acknowledge that nationalism and tribalism are mutually exclusive.
NB: Article first published on the facebook wall of Chitayi Murabula.