Tensions are high. People are watching what they say and being ever more cautious. People are thinking a lot harder before investing in businesses. People are looking at the names of their prospective colleagues before they hire them. Things are not the same in Kenya, we are all scared or perhaps cautious. What has brought this on, you ask? The answer: The upcoming elections.
Last weekend, I came face to face with the stark reality that is tribalism. I was travelling overnight to a friend’s home to mourn with her. She had lost her sister and I simply needed to be there for her. Halfway through the journey we ran into some car trouble and had to wait for help by the side of the road. The driver was not very professional and only gave status updates to a couple of people. People were obviously infuriated by this. As it is with us humans, we form alliances based on how we feel we are being treated.
I was standing next to a couple of ladies who decided that the driver was briefing members of a certain community only. I was interested in this theory and so I moved closer to see whether these accusations were well founded. However, as I listened closer, I could not help but detect the bitterness in their conversation.
They were upset that a driver from a different tribe was driving this bus, ‘their bus’ as they called it. They went on to say that they didn’t even understand why members of this community were going to their land anyway. They should stay in their ‘part of the country’ they said. I listened in shock while trying to decide whether I should say anything or leave them be. However, when I looked at them, their demeanor and the vibe they gave off, I realized I could not keep quiet, I had to speak out. These were young ladies, just slightly older than me, ladies who clearly had, had the opportunity to interact with other people, yet still held onto this poison that is tribalism.
Ten years ago, we as Kenyans went to the polls. We made a choice which we felt was not respected. Some people took this opportunity to further their agenda. They charged us up, told us that we were not being respected. They told us we needed to prove to one another that we mattered. We took up this challenge and took up crude weapons. While they watched, we fought. A husband went out and burnt his neighbors house simply because someone mentioned he belonged to the ‘enemy tribe’. A women hurt her friend’s baby. Children cheered as they watched their classmates’ houses burn to ashes. We were pawns in their little games. We watched on the news and heard them tell us that we had to keep fighting. We refused to look next to us, we refused to see the empty chair where our friends used to sit. We refused to smell the chaos in the air. We refused to see the stink of death in the air around us. We refused to see the red carpets our instigators were walking on. We refused to see the bottled water they were drinking as we fought to put food on our tables. We believed in a cause and forgot to believe in humanity.
Fast forward, after the dust had settled, we started to look around. We started to feel the absence. We noticed we no longer had homes. We noticed our children did not have schools to attend. We looked at the youth we had handed the weapons to, to go and fight for their ‘people’. We saw that fire of violence that we had lit burning brightly in their eyes. In our hearts we knew we would be their next victims. We knew they had to channel this anger somewhere. They couldn’t channel it to the leaders who were unreachable. The people we were fighting for visited once or twice. They listened to us and promised to make things right again. They then got into their heavily tinted prados, drove off never to be seen again. They drove off into the arms of their spouses, into their intact houses and called their children who were in schools abroad. They never had to spend a night in the cold. They never had to feel the absence of a loved one whom they’d turned against. They never had to look at the effects the violence had had on their children. It’s like the moment everyone got what they wanted their lives moved on.
Ten years later, there are still people who have never returned to their homes. We still feel the absence of those we lost to the war. We still regard each other with suspicion. What about them; the instigators of all this hate? We see them wining and dining together. We see their children at parties together. We see them laughing together, it’s like it never happened.
This is to point it out to all of us. Our people are not those of the same tribe as us. They are the ones who have our backs when push comes to shove. They are the ones who come running to our doors when there is an unfamiliar noise from within. They are the ones who would risk their lives by running into our burning house to save our sleeping children. They are the ones who we go to for food when things are thick. They are the ones who wake us up with the smell of their burning eggs. They are the ones whose taste in music we detest, since we hear it over and over everyday. The big man in his black prado, that’s not your “person”. That is someone who is just out to further his/her agenda. S/he does not care about you. s/he is cutthroat and wants what he wants by hook or crook. The rest of us are just pawns in their game. The question is, how willing are you to continue in this game of hate? To read more posts by Angela, click HERE