Pheroze Nowrojee: Youthful Tribalists are not the Future

So, we are seeing tribal leaders again. They voice tribal deprivation and tribal injustice in a flash. There is famine in the country and drought across the land. But all they shout about is that they are being painted as 'thieves'. In place of prayers for the national problem, they call prayers for the tribal grievance. In another flash, they give up being members of the National Assembly and become hardworking members of their self-summoned tribal assembly.

This is a return to the politics of the past. Those dark days proved to be so damaging to Kenya and all its peoples that we needed the world to sit us up again. The damage is visible also to the very peoples for whose benefit governments practised tribalism over the past 20 years. For tribalism is not bad when it is practised for the benefit of one tribe, and good when for another.

Tribal politics damage every part of the nation, no matter for whose apparent benefit they have been practised. We have seen that the tribal politics of Kenyatta, Moi and the first Kibaki government divided Kenyans, created the third most unequal country in the world, and unleashed oppression, corruption and illegalities that resulted in our election chaos of 2007. That is the experience we all know. We cannot stop such politicians. But there is something we can do.

We can reject them. And deny them respect, or vote. We have to heed that experience, so we have the strength to reject the tribal appeals and 'leadership' which we find so difficult to resist even while we know they are wrong.

The politics of tribalism is the use of money and coercion to hate others, so that a few individuals keep power and enlarge their wealth. No nation can be built on such sand.

To keep tribal politicking 'attractive', fresh branding campaigns are launched from time to time.

The latest repackaging has a very bright sticker on the product: "With New Youth(ful) Leaders". This is also being put on the shelves as the Politics of Youth, so youth can buy it directly also.

The political salesmen are 'youthful'. The political product is Methuselahan. Tribal politics is not the politics of youth. It is the politics of Moi, Kenyatta and the colonial British. That is why
when the going gets tough, the young tough get going to visit certain old men.

Youthful tribalists say they are the new model of youth leadership. We all still hold up Nelson Mandela as the model for ourselves and our Continent. I have not noticed lately that he is a youth. I thought the beliefs, consistency and actions of Mandela were a better test than age. So too, we must choose our youth leaders more carefully, and on their service and consistency. Youthful tribalists are not the future.

If we follow the youth who studied in YK92 and in late-Kanu, they can lead us in no other way. They do not know any way other than tribalism. Their 'leadership' is but old wine in new bottles. There is a further reason to reject such 'leaders'.

Tribalism is dysfunctional. Tribalists cannot implement a constitution of ideas. Nor can a mix of national welfare and tribalism bring us success. There is no such theory of constitution or good government premised on ethnic domination.

Tribal primacy cannot make Kenya a functioning nation. To make Kenya develop, we need functioning laws, commerce and social justice. We need them implemented and practiced all the time, to pull Kenya back from our retrograde past.

The oaths of office these 'leaders' take are to constitutional supremacy. Their actions are for the supremacy of their own tribe. This is a basic conflict.

When MPs swear loyalty to the Constitution, they are swearing loyalty to concepts of freedom, equity and law. But when (as they are doing) they transfer their loyalty from those concepts and donate it instead to a tribe, then intellectual schizophrenia sets in.

We cannot subscribe to national ideals and simultaneously to ethnic hegemony. They are incompatible. To do so brings the nation to a standstill. Exactly as happened in 2005 and 2007.

We must learn from our history or it will keep teaching us the same painful lesson of 2007. We have to deny support to leaders who offer the easy politics of ethnicity and give support to those who work at the more difficult politics of delivery, regardless of their ethnic group.

The writer is a lawyer based in Nairobi.

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