Loyalty to tribe shouldn’t breed conflict

There is a conspiracy to make Kenyans believe that we are fatally tribal. From the ordinary folks on the street to media and academia, we have blindly bought into this scheme.

There is no compelling study to show that tribalism is truly our problem. Instead we are seeking solutions to tribalism based on a wrong premise. To continue calling ourselves tribalists is misleading and drives us away from finding a sustainable solution.

My observations from the 2008 post-election violence demonstrates that fear is our greatest enemy and that Kenyans from different ethnic groups can live harmoniously.

First, it was not by coincidence that violence confined itself to low-income areas of major cities and in subsistence farming areas. While the vulnerable suffered, the affluent from different ethnicities joined hands to secure their neighbourhoods.

Brian Ferguson’s work at Rutgers University shows that humanity’s peaceable past contradicts the common notion that war is the result of human nature or an evolved impulse to bond with our own kind and kill members of other groups.


Ethnography further undermines this position. Of course in war there must be a division between “us” and “them” otherwise one would not know whom to shoot. But it is not group loyalty that makes the conflict. Rather it is conflict that makes group loyalties.

What we need as a country is to figure out how we can be economically, socially and politically inclusive as a basis of dealing with fear comprehensively.

I am convinced that neither the previous structural alignment or the current devolved system or what is being proposed for a referendum is sufficient to address inclusivity.

Any of the two constitutional frameworks that Kenya has experienced would work if we had the will to serve our people impartially.

Unfortunately, we tend to see things from the political prism which obscures the social and economic state of an individual. That is why we are and may always be in a state of perpetual conflict.

The question we perhaps need to ask ourselves is how did other heterogeneous communities outside of Africa create harmony among their people?

Many thinkers provided the basis of creating social order. The conflict archetype as advanced by German philosopher Karl Marx suggested that social structural conditions must be translated into dissatisfactions that in turn are then transformed into a system before a class consciousness can emerge.

Marx’s thinking centered on the relations of production or economic structure in which the means of production are collectively owned, usually by the government as the basis of social order.

On the contrary, Scottish philosopher Adam Smith’s thinking centered on the ownership of means of production by private individuals, arguing that as individuals seek to maximise their wealth, society as a whole is said to benefit.

Economic order therefore becomes an important pillar on which we should base our political views. It can therefore be argued that the 2010 constitutional reforms were more of a political strategy than raising the consciousness of the people to deal with underlying fear.

The economic pillar under Vision 2030 sought to bring change and improve the prosperity of all regions and Kenyans by achieving a 10 per cent gross domestic product growth a year for the next 20 years.

The first medium term plan targeted six priority sectors including: tourism, agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, information technology and financial services.

Under the political pillar, the objective was to move to the future as one nation and it envisioned a democratic system that is issue-based, people-centered, results-oriented and accountable to the public.

The pillar was anchored on transformation of political governance across five strategic areas: the rule of law – the 2010 Constitution, electoral and political processes, democracy and public service delivery, transparency and accountability, security, peace building and conflict management.

The objective of the social pillar was to invest in the public in order to improve the quality of life by targeting a cross-section of human and social welfare projects and programmes, specifically: education and training, health, environment, housing and urbanisation, gender, children and social development, youth and sports.

On paper we have a powerful solution to deal with inclusivity for sustainable harmony. What we need, therefore, are men and women of goodwill.

Anti-apartheid leader Joe Slovo said, “Sometimes, if you wear suits for too long, it changes your ideology.”

The writer is a senior lecturer, University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.