Identity, tribalism in African context


What you need to know:

  • “The question at hand, argues Mzee, is a class question. It is only packaged to appear tribal because that is what appeals to our base emotions. We must rise above this"

It was our turn to visit. After a three-day checkered road ride across Uganda and Kenya, we were at the peak of our adventure and exhilaration, with a maize maze hide-and-seek being the signature activity of the day. 
Nyahururu Horticultural Farm, the production subsidiary of the Mavuno Salads Group, was our host. And Mzee Mashurubu was beside himself… with all his visiting grandchildren and their cantankerous antics all over the farm. In popped the ‘tribal’ talk that had dominated the media space for some time. 

Emerging from a board strategic planning retreat at the farmhouse, Mzee joined us as we received the last pair of the hide-and-seek protagonists. ‘This talk is diversionary and smirks of interests not in our favour…diversionary from international trends, to attract focus on Africa…,’ he chipped in. 

The question at hand, argues Mzee, is a class question. It is only packaged to appear tribal because that is what appeals to our base emotions. We must rise above this.
In his characteristic humour-laced style, he pictured for us real life scenarios in his two home-countries: Uganda and Kenya. 

‘Let us dissect our Uganda...what is so different between peasant Nsiyaleeta Zimwanguyizza in Baakijjulula and Rwetwara Rwegaburira in Rwakiruuri? Is Dranda in Ombaci any better off than Osuret in Asamuk? Isn’t it a fact that Zakumumpa in Nyakinengo is under the same yoke of school fees as Kasaadha in Bupadhengo ? What about Rwakaikara in Muhokya, who shares muddy water with animals the way it is for Akol in Nyagak? And in our case here, does one ‘tribe’ being at the helm turn Mathare into Muthaiga? Hasn’t Kibera remained light years from Kileleshwa throughout the 60 years of independence? Would a different tribe ‘ruling’ turn Kawangware into Karen, or Dandora into Imara Daima? 

In our daily life of mother-in-law, Betty Mwamba will remain in a world miles apart from that of Petrofina, while in Machachari, Bahati and Almasi will only remain friends in their innocent hearts, with their realities and perhaps destinies being worlds apart. Gikombaa will not metamorphose into Westgate or Yaya Centre.

To drive his point home, Mzee took us back to the days of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. One popular tool by the liberation movement was instigating workers in the factories, mines, and even homes to occasionally withdraw their labour from their employers, who belonged to the oppressive White rulers. And so it was that on returning home to announce one such stay-away by all Black workers, Nelson Mandela received a shock he least expected.
His housemaid, upon hearing the stay-away message, announced she would not come to work the next day! Her reasoning? …she was a worker and since all workers were staying home, she was following suit. And appeals by Mandela that the stay-away was part of the anti-apartheid struggle fell on deaf ears. The lady did not turn up to work for the duration of the stay-away. ‘Class consciousness at its peak’, Mzee concludes. 

This is the level of consciousness that we need. We must actually raise it to continental level. In the current trend of global dynamics, virtually every conflict on the African continent has a foreign factor in it. Regardless of its direction of origin, or ideological orientation. The singular goal is the same. It gets even scary when it comes to these foreign factors competing. Nothing is left to chance. 

Ever-mutating, changing packaging and presentation to suit times and circumstances, the eternal mission remains unaltered from day one of Africa getting in contact with the foreign world. Lazima tuwe macho, let’s stay alert!