In Kenya, the blood of the tribe is thicker than the water of education

The truth that the two poll numbers tell is that Uhuru and Raila have an equal number of supporters.

KCPE candidates at Shikokhwe Primary School in Kakamega County in western Kenya sit their Kiswahili examinations in a dilapidated structure. Education, which should equip us with the skills to differentiate between fact and fiction and to apply logic in debate, seems not to play any part. PHOTO | NMG 

IN SUMMARY

  • On television panels, top-notch lawyers or professors twist history this or that way, choose which facts to quote or leave out in order to arrive at a particular position. Maybe these professors, lawyers and MPs can help us draw up a “Tribestitution” to replace our Constitution. That way, we would have aligned our governing law to our chronic tribalism.

Let us begin by looking at a few narratives from the perspective of Jubilee and Nasa.

Jubilee argues fervently that Uhuru Kenyatta got 98 per cent of the vote in the repeat election on October 26. The Nasa people say that only a third of voters cast their votes in the repeat poll.

The opposition claims dozens of unarmed, peaceful demonstrators have been killed since the August 8 election, and accuse the government of genocide. The government says that only a few looters were shot dead.

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Jubilee supporters say opposition leader Raila Odinga has a history of violence and is a danger to the Kenyan state. As key evidence of this violent streak, they point to his alleged involvement in the 1982 coup attempt, and his subsequent confrontations with Kenyan authorities that saw him arrested and detained several times.

These narratives, like articles of faith, are deeply believed in, and are vehemently expressed at rallies, on social media and at social gatherings.

They go to show that tribalism is not just prejudice against a person of another ethnicity, which is immoral and dangerous enough, but that it conditions our brains to embellish without shame, to edit out or refuse to acknowledge unfavourable details, to mix fact and fiction, to revise history to suit our narrative, to quote half-truths as the absolute truth, to play with numbers to support our views, etc.

Tribal ideology has made us lose some basic principles or values on the basis of which we can have an intelligent and honest debate.

Where is the truth? On August 8, about 15 million out of 19 million registered voters cast their ballots. On October 26, only half of the 15 million voted as a result of the boycott of the elections by Nasa. So what Jubilee fails to say is that Uhuru got 98 per cent of 7.4 million votes.

On the other hand, Nasa measures Uhuru’s score against the number of registered voters in order to drive the narrative that Uhuru only enjoys the support of less than one-third of the Kenyan electorate.

A fairer way to assess Uhuru’s win would be to measure his numbers against the number who voted on August 8. The truth, therefore, that these numbers tell is that Uhuru and Raila have an equal number of supporters.

As to the conflicting accounts of the number killed, international and local human-rights organisations report that close to 40 people have been killed since the August 8 poll. Some of those killed were children and even infants. These deaths must be investigated and those responsible punished. But these killings, as criminal as they are, can hardly be said to constitute genocide against an ethnic group.

The Raila narrative peddled by Jubilee conveniently fails to talk about the regime that Raila was opposing. They forget to say that the regime almost brought Kenya to its knees through government-aided looting.

They also forget to say that this was a government that employed systematic torture and assassination of opponents as part of its governing strategy. So who was violent and a danger to the Kenyan nation. The Kanu state or Raila?

The thing that puzzles observers of our situation the most is that these lies from Jubilee and Nasa are repeated by both the least and most educated. Education, which should equip us with the skills to differentiate between fact and fiction and to apply logic in debate, seems not to play any part.

On television panels, top-notch lawyers or professors twist history this or that way, choose which facts to quote or leave out in order to arrive at a position supportive of the narrative pushed by their side of the tribal divide. In Kenya, the blood of the tribe is thicker than the water of education!

Of course, when on national TV, these lawyers, professors or MPs avoid crude tribal demagoguery. Vernacular radio and TV stations is where they come into their own.

In these “safe spaces” they throw off their educated demeanour and get down and dirty. They impute moral or intellectual inferiority to ethnic communities, and advocate violence as the only way to teach this or that one a lesson.

The Constitution we passed in 2010 is one of the most progressive around. But not even its drafters could anticipate that the single most serious impediment to its realisation would be tribalism.

Maybe these professors, lawyers and MPs can help us draw up a “Tribestitution” to replace our Constitution. That way, we would have aligned our governing law to our chronic tribalism.

Tee Ngugi is a social commentator. E-mail: teengugi@gmail.com

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