In search of a Kenyan Identity – Part 1

Are we really proud to be Kenyan or was this just a PR exercise?

What does it mean to be a Kenyan? Why should we be patriotic? What is the concept of nationhood?

These are some of the issues I have been thinking about and issues that have come as a discussion with different groups that I interact with. We have been talking about identity and post election violence. Trying to discover what the root causes of the violence were. Was it the politicians’ words or even some media’s fanning of the tribal tensions? Was it a struggle between the halves and the have nots. Can we put a bull’s eye on the exact cause of what caused the violence?

In order to understand the present and the future we have to understand the past. Where did Kenya start getting it wrong? Once upon a time there was a kingdom called Britain that decided that they need raw materials and labour for their industrial revolution. So they sent off explorers to look for places where they could get what they needed. First they went to India and the Far East. Then they discovered Africa and decided that they want a piece of the action. But they were not the only ones who had discovered this opportunity. So had other western nations. So they came and had a scramble for Africa, never mind that Africa already had its owners.

In the years 1885-1886 Germany and Britain divided up the eastern part of Africa. Britain took up the northern part of this territory and the Germans took the south. In 1895 Kenya became a protectorate of the British and remained so until 1920. Then from 1920 Kenya became a colony until 1963. During this time land tenure legislation is introduced. People from different tribes are displaced, their land is taken without their permission, and some like the Kikuyu are put into reservations. The whites develop the ‘white highlands’ policy which restricts the ownership of the best farming land to Europeans. This occupation of the Europeans of community land was the beginning of the injustices that would send Kenya down a road of struggle for independence and the resulting unfair land practices.

Since the time when Kenya became a protectorate and until it was a colony there were deliberate attempts by the powers that be to dis-unite the people living within its borders. It began with the Divide and Rule of Fredrick Lugard and even after independence was continued by the government through the quota system in education.

People rose up to fight for independence notably the Mau Mau. But they were not the only ones fighting for independence. The Mau Mau chose the root of violence to achieve their ends. Others took up the fight through writing and others through forming associations to formally fight for their rights. But it is interesting that when history was rewritten after independence they only mention the Mau Mau as being the liberators of Kenya. I guess it is the government of the day that rewrites history to suit itself.

It did not help that after fighting for independence the Mau Mau did not get what they were fighting for, which is land. The first president rewarded himself very handsomely with land for which he paid a token amount. Most of the people that he surrounded himself with had been home guards or collaborators. Most of the Mau Mau and their families received nothing after independence. This inequality is partly what lead to the formation of the Mungiki decades later.

The government after independence did not develop Kenya equally. Some places like Nairobi, Mombasa and some towns were developed. Others like North Eastern were not. This lead to a feeling in some areas that where they live is not Kenya. Those people feel that they have been abandoned by their country. Some areas like these did not have any infrastructure built by the government. Education, agricultural implements and education, medical facilities and drugs were not offered to those people. NGO’s are the ones that have come to fill in those gaps.

Many in Kenya are poor, and have had no access to basic infrastructure and services from the government. To make matters worse for those outside Nairobi, there were no government centers to get official documents and so many had to travel to Nairobi to get administrative assistance. You had to make a long trip to Nairobi, sometimes taking days due to bad or non – existent roads. Then only to be told come back tomorrow or next week, never mind that you don’t have money to make the trip again leave alone the fact you have no money to get back home and have to rely on relatives in Nairobi to house you and give you fare back. And if you do not you have to sort yourself out.

So here we have a couple of million people forced to stay in one country because of some Europeans who decided that they want to divide Africa. These people do not have one common identity and have vastly different cultures. Many are poor partly because of historical injustices and partly because their government does not care about them. Then some of these communities are very large and seem to be taking up majority of the opportunities and some are so small, they are even dying out.

This is the Kenya that we live in. a country that has a very large gap between the poor and the rich. A country where they say the middle class is indifferent. For the last 100 years turmoil has been brewing in people’s hearts. People are angry. Mad at a country that does not care if they have basic needs or amenities yet expects them to be patriotic because they were born here. A country that expects them to be proudly Kenyan yet has done nothing for most of them.

History explains why in the past people were very tribalistic. But now our politicians use it as a weapon, a rallying call of their people. They tell them that if we get the presidency or the seat as MP things will change. A lot of people for example resent the Kikuyu. They think that the first president favored the Kikuyu. He did not. He favored his cronies. It is true that most were Kikuyu. But if you look at some of the poorest people they are also Kikuyu’s. Some of the richest as well are Kikuyu. There is this fallacy that if you get a president from your tribe then it will be your turn to eat. It will never be everybody eating. It will just be the president, his close family, and friends. And then some in his or her family may not even benefit. Did you see in the news a couple of years back that the current president’s sister was wallowing in poverty?

The thing is you cannot expect a person to feel like they belong to a country when they see that the government does not care about their wellbeing. When they see that they are have not, and are not going to get anything from the country. When somebody lives day to day searching for money to survive that day. Nationhood, patriotism, and citizenship are things that an individual or a community should aspire to have or to be. But you cannot force it. You cannot expect to make people to feel as one when they are discriminated against in terms of education, resources, jobs, security and infrastructure among other things.

So what is the way forward? Let’s discuss.

Are we really proud to be Kenyan or was this just a PR exercise?
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