We live in a universe of familial emotions and loyalties. Centuries of scientific and technological advancement have not weeded out of us the breed instinct and loyalty. We are like wild beasts. Like the jungle creatures, we troop together for self-preservation.
It is a simple law of nature. A breed that does not hold together will perish. Breeds hang together for breed preservation by bringing offspring into the world. This way they resist extinction. They also stay together for security against external enemies. An animal that strays too far from the common breed will perish. Even zebras will troop together. This way, they can kick hard when they come under attack by the big cats.
Millennia of Christianity have not converted the breed from ancestor worship. Allover the world, Christians worship both God and their ancestors. In the volume Nationalism and New States in Africa, Ali Mazrui and Michael Tidy write, “Even pride in the history of one’s nation (read tribe) is a form of ancestor worship.” He comments further, “ . . . forces of biological reproduction lie behind social and political phenomena which range from ethnic consciousness to race prejudice.”
In this context, is there such a thing as Mulembe consciousness, as ODM rebel politician Ababu Namwamba has suggested? His erstwhile political hero turned adversary, Raila Odinga, quipped in Budalang’i this week, “What is this thing they are calling Mulembe consciousness? It is pumbavu (which is to say pure idiocy).” For his part Namwamba insists that Mulembe consciousness is a reality whose time has come. He invites his former boss to respect this consciousness.
It is instructive that writing in 1984 Mazrui and Tidy recognized the potency of ethnic nationalism as a platform for political mobilization. Listen to them again, “ . . . forces of biological reproduction lie behind social and political phenomena, which range from ethnic consciousness to race prejudice.” Mazrui and Tidy have an example galore of this consciousness (and prejudice, too).
Primitive forces of ethnic consciousness are at work when a black man is lynched in the United States for taking erotic interest in a white woman. It is the same thing at work when Idi Amin expels Asians from Uganda because they are socially and sexually exclusivist. When Adolf Hitler asserts the doctrine of the superiority of the Aryan race, the same forces of biological reproduction are at work.
In the end, we cannot deny familial nationhood. But we can deny familial consciousness among some families. Indeed, all nations are familial and tribal. Equally important, they are emotive. The levels of emotional response to external stimuli will vary from one nation to the other. This will depend on the extent of the community’s consciousness about itself as a nation. Hence Mulembe consciousness may be absent. But Mulembe nationhood cannot be denied. At this level, the Mulembe Nation is not any different from the Mwanyagetinge Nation in the Gusii Highlands, the Ramogi Nation in the Lake Basin, or the House of Mumbi in the Mt. Kenya region.
The fundamental difference between the Mulembe Nation on the one hand and the House of Mumbi and the Ramogi Nation on the other hand is self-awareness among the children of Mumbi and those of Ramogi. The Mulembe people lack this self-awareness. It is possible, for example, for a perceived “outsider” to go to the land of Mulembe and quip, “What is this Mulembe Nationalism? It’s pure abracadabra.” He will get away with it. The very children of Mulembe that he is addressing will even applaud him. The same cannot happen among the children of Mumbi, or those of Ramogi. They are more conscious and protective of their nationhood. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on how they protect their nationhood.
The Kenyan nation as we know it is in the end a function of artifice. For 53 years, we have been trying to build a common cohesive nation from a diversity of over 40 nations. Some ethnic nations have accepted the notion of the Kenyan nation. Others have not. The Mulembe people belong to the former category. They place Kenya before their tribe. Others place the tribe before Kenya.
Namwamba and others like him are trying to arouse ethnic self-awareness among the Mulembe people. They would like them to be conscious of their ethnicity like the rest of the populous Kenyan nations. This could be good or bad, depending on what they do with this consciousness, assuming that they can find it. For his part, Cord leader, Raila Odinga, intends to nip this Mulembe consciousness in the bud. It must not be allowed to blossom. If it does, the Mulembe people will be most difficult to do political business with. So, kill it in the embryonic stage. This explains his current mission in the Land of Mulembe.
But Odinga is not alone in this regard. Deputy President William Ruto plays in the same league. The DP has recently publicly scoffed at the insect eating habits of the Mulembe people and their leaders. They must remain in tentative space for ease of political utilization. Yet is there anything new about this? Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga introduced into Kenyan psyche the notion that there was no such thing as the Mulembe Nation. Tom Mboya had a slightly different perception. He admitted the existence of the Mulembe Nation. However, he said, the Mulembe Nation was no more than a ladder. Anyone who knew how to use it could do so with ease. Retired President Moi came quite close to Mboya in this respect. He said the Mulembe Nation was like a pot of the traditional busaa beer. Anyone with a drinking pipe could siphon from the pot at will.
The seasonal fight for the populous Mulembe Nation has only begun. It is too soon to tell who the victor will be. Will Namwamba and Co stir up the sleeping Mulembe soul? Or will external huntsmen tear it in different directions in the traditional manner?