What is your tribe? Not in a million years did I ever think I will ask this question until last week when I attended and spoke to a Christian gathering. After thirty minutes of an eloquent sermon on what I believe Christian faith is all about, the audience burst into an ecstatic and thunderous applause.
Satisfied, I begged to leave as soon the presiding pastor had said the closing prayer because I had more pressing things to attend to. While quickly descending the stairs I heard someone calling after me, I hesitantly halted and turned around: A balding man, in ill-fitting, oversize black suit, whom I presumed to be in his middle age was trying to catch up with me. He was surprisingly agile, considering his age that piqued my interest.
He held out his hand with an enormous grin on his face, ‘that was a powerful sermon’, he said as my hand disappeared in his.
‘Thanks’; I answered with a comparatively lesser smile, still unsure of what he really wanted to say. Without flinching his gaze, he dropped the bombshell, ‘are you Kamba, Luo or Luhya?’ I could have answered that question in an instant but I deliberately paused to think. He had hardly looked at ease the entire duration I was preaching, I recalled retrospectively.
‘I am neither’, I decided to break the silence that had fallen between us, ‘I am a writer’, I added. Frustrated, ‘even writers belong to some tribe, don’t they?’ the smile had vanished. It might just be me but the sound of that question brings a little vomit into my mouth each time I encounter it, I did not respond thinking that, it would discourage him. It did not.
‘Where do you come from?’ he changed tack.
‘Eldoret’, I answered almost immediately.
‘I mean originally, where do you come from?’
‘Would you please excuse me if you have nothing else to say’, I cut in, ‘I have a bus to catch’.
I left him standing there like a statue, absolutely distraught, with his eyes boring into my back until I disappeared around the corner. Confused thoughts wracked my brain as I walked away, I wondered if knowing someone’s tribe is such a big issue to make someone so restless to the point of missing a whole sermon just trying to figure out? Unlike most Kenyans my name and accent doesn’t give any clue as to which ethnicity I belong to perhaps that is why the middle aged man had ran after me to satisfy his ethnic curiosity.
Here I should stress that there is nothing wrong with telling someone what ethnicity you belong to but for me and for most of us, the effect of post poll violence was profoundly personal consequently I have decided to be known by the identity I have chosen, learnt and developed over the years. It is my firmly held belief someone’s ethnicity is an intensely personal and private matter, it should be seen like that. In fact, my tribe has absolutely nothing to say about my personality.
You would assume that we would have learnt our lesson as a nation by now but events of the past few weeks give a horrifyingly different picture. The re-emergency of previously defunct tribal groupings such as GEMA and KAMATUSA is a real ground for concern. I presume by now you [editor] are inundated by letters on this matter, so I’ll keep mine brief. These groups represent the worst side of old politics that I thought to be dead and buried. Forgive me for being frank but it is my conviction that in a country as diverse and multicultural as ours, such groups are simply not acceptable. I have not been alone in thinking like this, reading all the major dailies the past one week prove that such groups are plainly rattling many.
I know I’m going to get absolutely slaughtered for this but I feel obliged to let this bearing weight off my chest, GEMA and KAMATUSA don’t represent the interests of communities they purport to but those of money men fighting for power and bankrolling them. The sad fact is, these groups are responsible for fragmenting this country along tribal lines and what is more baffling is that it is going on right under the noses of the president and the prime minster. Why would GEMA support Uhuru Kenyatta and not William Ruto? Perhaps on the grounds that this is the devil they know. It is worth bearing in mind that, when the NCIC organized the diversity conference last month, which I was privileged to attend most of these tribal chiefs gave it a wide berth. You would expect that anyone who aspires for office of presidency would be there but that is not what happened.
To sum up, I am trying very hard not to be pessimistic but to believe it is possible reclaim this country from the hands of tribal chiefs. Don’t think for one minute that this is going to be easy but we have to try because the cost of doing nothing is unbearable. We owe it to the victims of PEV who were killed in appalling atrocities, an event unparalleled in the history of this country.
We owe it to our country. This is what I believe so must you also that we can build a country where everyone hopes for the same things and treasures the same values.
Bonnke Muti is a 22-year old third year student of Community Development in Eldoret Polytechnic. Writing is his passion. He was the 2011 national winner of the Essay Competition organised by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission