Ban Failed to Stop Jingoists

By Marceline Nyambala, The East African Standard (Nairobi), 30 September 2002

Sometime in the 1980s, the Government cracked the whip on tribal organisations. But did the ban achieve its intended goals? Poses writer Marceline Nyambala

Nairobi—Despite a government ban on tribal associations in 1980 in a bid to foster national unity, the negative aspects of ethnicity have continued to persist. That year in October, Parliament unanimously moved that all tribal organisations in the country be disbanded in accordance with a decision of a two-day leaders' conference earlier in July.

During the closing of the conference whose theme was Unity for Peace and Progress the leaders decided that all tribal organisations should be wound up.

The leaders hoped that such a move would develop a united and strong Kenya, where ethnic, racial, personal or other local interests would be subordinate to the national interests.

President Moi described the leaders' meeting as a great success during which unity had been achieved. He told the leaders that through unity, Kenyans could build a more cherished nation and called on them to be respectable.

In his opening address he had pinpointed that besides calling the meeting to discuss the problems facing the country, and the political situation in the East African region, there was another more important reason.

The third reason I would like to give for convening this meeting is perhaps the most important....I am going to be fully blunt, Moi had said in his statement. Frankly, I am somewhat disappointed by the performance of some of you as leaders in supporting my approach of Nyayoism in our efforts to promote nation building and development, he added.

The Head of State said the principle of Nyayo philosophy which include peace, love and unity was not being upheld.

He expressed concern that there was too much bickering in the public and private, and many hostile pronouncements were being made by leaders against others, leadership squabbles in districts and that others were using their influence for private gain.

He said he wanted to see unity, based on tolerance, discipline, and clear recognition of one's responsibilities in serving the Government. It is at this meeting that the leaders unanimously resolved that all tribal organisations be banned.

Some of the existing associations at the time included the Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association(Gema), the Luo Union of East Africa, and the New Akamba Union.

Together with the associations, clubs and other society's which were tribal based such as the Abaluhya Football Club were also banned.

Nevertheless, more than twenty years after the ban, certain groupings want the associations revived. Politicians keep invoking tribe in their speeches and market each other in terms of their tribal origins. Voting patterns are tribal and appointments to public positions take tribal considerations.

Nominated member of parliament, Prof Anyang' Nyong'o, says we need to have a situation where we have clear rules of competition and an environment where the rule of law is respected.

He says, for example, that if an individual is to be employed at the National Bank, it must be clear that he has say, a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, not tribal qualifications.

But he adds that if we had a society where there were plenty of opportunities for everyone, such tribal problems would be minimal. Nyong'o says Kenya has really never had an ethnic problem.

The problem has largely been political, where people have been using ethnicity as a vehicle for power struggle.

Nobody has a choice of race, colour or where they are born. Individuals come to the world naked and innocent, but the world gives them clothes and ideas, he says. Nyong'o says ethnicity became a problem after independence. At independence, there were plenty of opportunities and there was no competition as such.

After independence, when competition set in, people started giving ethnic favours in accessing job opportunities and power.

As it is now, everybody is fuelling the culture. For example, when the List of Shame came out, some politicians even questioned why it contained only people of a certain ethnic group.

Campbell Brewer, in his Survey of the tribes of East Africa, traces the issue of ethnicity to the colonial period. Brewer says where possible, European officials drew political boundaries to coincide with language or cultural boundaries since they assumed this would provide a natural cohesion and stability to the administrative unit.

Similarly, he says one of the most prominent influences of the colonial period on present day ethnic attitudes relates to economic and educational development. The decisions the Europeans made concerning the location of towns, plantations, the railways and roads connecting them favoured nearby ethnic groups.

This differential access to the benefits of modernisation laid the basis for competitive attitudes between ethnic groups and regional blocs which found political expression at the time of independence, he says.