Kenya: Why Tribalism and Racism are Just Two Sides of the Same Coin
By Demas Kiprono
Both racism and tribalism are toxic to society. They ensure that even if development and economic gains are made within a society, the fruits of such gains will be a preserve of a few individuals, and in the long run, a critical mass of disgruntled individuals will be left to suffer
In recent weeks, there have been reports of racial discrimination of Kenyans working for the SGR, and black shoppers at Chandarana Supermarket chain after a leaked promotional email.
Whereas the government spokesman Eric Kiraithe shrugged off the SGR allegations and called for understanding; an apparently outraged Governor Sonko decided to summarily cancel the supermarket chain's licence in protest of the allegations.
The social media outrage that ensued revealed that Kenyans cannot comprehend how black Kenyans can be subjected to racial profiling and discrimination in their own land.
They find it appalling that black Kenyans can be looked down upon by foreign Chinese workers and a Kenyan Asian Supermarket chain without consequence.
This got me thinking: Why does racism incense us so much whilst tribalism is treated like it is the way of life in Kenya? What is the difference between racism and tribalism? Are they equally and mutually appalling? Is the outrage justified or hypocritical?
Kenya has a well-documented history of tribalism. In fact, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission has several times pointed out that our public service, both at the national and county levels, have appalling hiring practices whereby employment opportunities are determined by tribe rather than merit.
Suffice it to say that our voting patterns are tribal to the core. All our political alliances use tribe rather than issues as a determinant.
If the hateful rhetoric before, during and after last year's elections is anything to go by, then we should admit that we are guilty of deeply tribal inclinations.
Be that as it may, we somehow collectively feel offended when incidences of racial discrimination are reported or alleged. I am not at all trying to justify racism. I am merely posing to compare and contrast racism and tribalism.
So, what is the difference between racism and tribalism?
Racism is prejudice, belief, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.
It presupposes that members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
Tribalism, on the other hand, refers to the loyalties that people feel towards particular social groups such as ethnic affiliations, and to the way these loyalties affect their behaviour and their attitudes towards others.
Both manifest in the inherent feeling that people considered as 'the other' are not entitled to what we as a group have or should have.
They operate in the same way, in so far as both racial and tribal groupings will want to reserve the best things in society -- such as political positions, for themselves, and actively intervene to ensure that other groups are kept at bay, without consideration of merit, qualifications or fairness. They must as such discriminate against people considered as 'the other'.
The Constitution of Kenya does not differentiate between the two concepts. In fact, Article 27 provides that every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. Article 28 proclaims that every person has inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.
Interestingly, it sets out the categories of discrimination to include race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.
Both racism and tribalism are toxic to society. They ensure that even if development and economic gains are made within a society, the fruits of such gains will be a preserve of a few individuals, and in the long run, a critical mass of disgruntled individuals will be left to suffer, thus encouraging crime, and even violence.
HATE AND MISTRUST
As we condemn and criticise the government for the SGR debacle and the Chandarana Supermarket incident, let it not be lost to us that we are guilty of similar if not worse absurdity.
How many times are we and our leaders heard saying "they have taken our land... they are all thieves... they are stupid... they are terrorists... they are not real men" among other groundless stereotypes and generalisations?
The wages of racism and tribalism is misinformed blame, hate and mistrust of perceived outsiders that is exploited by leaders who use the blame, hate and mistrust as a subterfuge from their own failure to secure development.
Demas Kiprono is Senior Legal Officer - ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa; [email protected] Twitter: @kipdemas