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Playing the Tribal Card Is Dangerous

The Nation (Nairobi), Editorial, 7 October 2000

Nairobi - Why, we ask, is the Government playing with fire? Doesn't it see that what is going on at Kangemi is a time bomb? Surely, it threatens to turn this city - probably the whole country - into a tribal holocaust.

Because we have succumbed to a most frivolous multi-party system, this country has become more ethnically explosive than any we can think of. We sit on a powder keg that could go off at any time, sending destructive debris in all directions.

The fact that members of all tribes live together in various city estates does not mean that they have been detribalised in their minds. As long as the politicians continue to declaim with such utter irresponsibility, those areas will remain as volatile, ethnically, as a simmering volcano.

Their acute ethnic consciousness is deepened by their daily frustrations. They are extremely penurious - jobless, hungry, diseased, leisureless. In fact, this is their real problem. And, if only they knew its source, this common poverty is what could unite them in the struggle to liberate themselves from exploitation by the very leaders who pit them against one another.

This is why the species called politician is for ever seeking to divert their attention from this fact by playing tribe against tribe. In his thirst for personal political support from his tribesmen and women, he claims - often only implicitly but, in Kangemi's case, quite explicitly - that one tribe is the source of his tribe's problems.

Kangemi is one of the city's largest concentrations of tribes. Likoni is nothing compared with it. Hitherto, despite their material frustrations, these people have lived peacefully. But, the other day, a politician decided to organise members of his tribe to grab public land in the vicinity and start putting up structures.

Mr. Fred Gumo, by his actions, succeeded only in alienating so many potential Government allies. Objectively, therefore, he cannot be considered an asset to the Government. It is, of course, true that - whatever the merits or demerits - some regions have generally rejected the Kanu system.

But does the Government really believe that the best response is to oppress and insult the communities concerned? There are many elements among them who still support the Government. The wisest thing is to cultivate them. If you alienate entire tribes, you are courting chaos and violence.

The politician is thus pulling the rug from under his own feet by playing tribes against tribes. Any little spark can cause a bush fire that might flare into a war of all against all in which life would be nasty, brutish and short. Thus we call upon no less a potentate than the President to tell the Kangemi dramatis personae to pack it in.

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