In the past few weeks Kenya has snatched the baton of electoral violence. Today, she flees with that old dog, Tribalism, snapping at her heels. Escalating deaths, fractured lives and a gloomy deja vu: we have seen this race for life a dozen times before. It is a case of ‘two fighting’; except that the main pugilists will not draw their own blood, they draw the blood of pawns. Presently one combatant will blink and the other will cart away the prize. Then (relative) ‘peace and stability’ will return to allow the Venal dogs (far preferable to these blood-thirsty hounds) to return to their haunts at the Kenyan trough.
Yet, ethnic nations (tribes if you prefer) are not the core problem any more than it is a problem to be Kenyan/Tanzanian/Ugandan. It takes a leader of Hitler’s persuasion to convert German/Aryan/Jewish identities into issues of life and death, of genocide, of travesty. Across the board in Africa it is past time to criminalize recidivist leadership with the potential for genocide. Across the continent, a new fad, the ‘Blanding of Africa’ is gaining currency: the effacement of ethnic nations (Kikuyu, Nupe) in favour of nation-states (Mali, Sudanese). It would be another signal mistake in a long sequence. Rather than erase the ancient personalities, languages and cultures of our ethnic nations, I’d far rather erase the Kenyan, Nigerian, South African borders and spill their nations and peoples into their geographic envelopes.
So much for dreams.
Yet, we do have a problem when armed zombies take to the streets, seeking innocents from other tribes. Without for one moment exculpating those monsters, we need to ask who sustains, channels, manipulates, and benefits from tribalism?
Those masterminds behind the machetes are the focal enemy. It is well and good to crisis-manage Kenya by seeking which of two should rule, or how the twain may share power. But the larger issue – beyond election rigging is: which leaders are worthy of the seat of power.
In these days of geometric escalations from tribal tension to genocide, truth is, beating the tribal drum is much more inimical to the national fabric than the crime of stuffing more ballot boxes than the other chap. The first thing a national leader does, on the day after he ‘wins’ 51% of the vote, is to make a speech wooing the 49% who campaigned and voted against him. How on earth does a ‘leader’ bring on board the survivors of people he has vicariously run through with a spear?
Leaders who have blood on their hands should simply walk away. Leaders who have pounded the tribal drum should not mount the National stage. Kenya – Africa – deserves far better.
In my poem, Nightsoilman, here’s how I summed up the diseased mindset of the African incumbent: ‘the only job worthy of a retired head-of-state was head-of-state.‘ (Now we can blame the antiquated relics in our state houses on the lack of skilled career counsellors!) This is the psychotic thinking behind vote-rigging and constitution-tinkering; this is the mindset that drives incumbents who tire of the four-yearly electoral charade to take more honest titles like ‘Life Emperor’. For their part, opposition leaders, like many an incumbent, often fail the Solomon Test. (When King Solomon ordered that a disputed baby be cut in two and a bloody half given to each of the contesting mothers, one of them relinquished her claim to the baby in other to save its life. The other insisted that the baby be divided. Instantly, Solomon knew the real mother.) Too many African leaders would rather burn their countries to the ground than walk away. They would rather blow up nations with the dynamite of tribal tension than articulate the policies, and invest the truly hard work of building national consensus. We should put them out of business. It is not an act of courage to fight incumbent dictators by appealing to a tribal caucus. It is an act of moral cowardice; it is says: ‘I cannot win this nation, and I have no ideas, no clue, as to how to wrest power, so I’ll just knock over the barrow.’ The tribal rhetoric is now quite passe, the hallmark of leaders bereft of ideas.
Unfortunately, once a party plays the ethnic card it becomes quite hard for others to avoid getting sucked in. Tribalism is the ultimate slippery slope, greased with tragic history. Even today, it peppers European war and politics. We need leaders with a new language, a new vision and a new toolkit for power. Kenya should stop in its track right now, turn around, and stare down that dog, Tribalism, and its sundry demons. This circuit she is running is a loop that descends into hell itself.