When I introduce myself, the question sometimes comes up, “What tribe are you?” Sometimes it is asked smartly and with a measure of culture. Sometimes it comes out brash and insensitive. Either way, I have always hesitated before answering that question, more often than not hiding behind other snippets of information. If I am fortunate, I can totally evade giving an answer. My reasons for this are because I come from a truly mixed genetic pool, so I am never sure what to say with regards to tribe. I speak Kikuyu, Swahili, English, some Kamba, some Giriama. Is that enough for you? I grew up in Mombasa, but I have relatives in Embuland, Pokomoland, Kikuyuland, Maasailand and Deutschland.
Now it is not just a matter of my genes. When you ask me what tribe I am today, I will quickly rush to say I am Kenyan. I will hope that my ‘accent’ does not slip in at an inopportune time, and that you will not look too long at my last name. I may be afraid that you will identify me with ‘them’. But more than anything, I may be wondering if the hate that exposed itself after the last elections might still be around, a machete in waiting, baying for the blood of the people I may be more closely linked to.
Now is the time we talked about my fears, your fears, our fears, my opinion, your opinion, our opinions.
Ethnicity has been one of the things that has stung Kenya and divided its people. This is the reason as to why Storymoja decided to hold live discussions on how the diverse people of Kenya can learn to live together, especially after the post-election violence early this year. One such session was held as part of our Nyamachoma Fiesta at Impala Grounds on August 10th. The High Commissioner of Nigeria, Dr. C.W. Wigwe was the Guest of Honour at the Strength in Diversity session.
Dr. Wigwe explained how Nigeria succeeded in making ethnic diversity a matter of understanding, integration and tolerance. Nigeria is home to about 140 million people with 371 identifiable tribes and 510 living languages according to the Ethnologue report. Nigeria has made only four languages official, namely English, Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. As is obvious, the many tribes, nation states and diverse cultures pose many challenges for the government and people of Nigeria. To deal with these challenges, the government of Nigeria came up with a number of measures. One was the creation of states so as to shift loyalties from tribes to states. Another was to set up a National Council of Arts and Culture with the vision of using culture as a cornerstone to build a nation where citizens see cultural diversity as a source of strength. Among other activities, the Council organizes national arts festivals to showcase the diverse cultures.
The High Commissioner also said the Nigerian government introduced the National Youth Service scheme where every graduate from the polytechnics and universities serves for one year in different states other than his or her own. This is a prerequisite for employment. Further, the country’s major languages are taught in primary and secondary schools. And there are public awareness programmes through the Ministry of Information that focus on core human values and practices.
During the discussion, it was noted that for Kenya to emulate Nigeria, we first should appreciate that there is a serious problem of ethnic strife. This is the only way to welcome change. Another member of the audience said that Kenya should come up with institutions that will acknowledge differences among the people. Another acknowledged that there is beauty in diversity. One way the Nigerians appreciate this is by wearing the traditional clothes of the various tribes, whether they belong to those ethnic groups or not.
George Kaboyashi, the Coordinator of the Peace Federation, added that Nigeria encourages intermarriage, and that Kenya should do the same.
The Nigerian High Commissioner recommended that Kenya should introduce a National Character Commission that would monitor the degree of development in every ethnic region. The audience called on the Kenyan government to develop programs to be used to teach the public about such issues as the appreciation of ethnicity. This all important discussion shows that Storymoja is doing its part. Why not you?