The spectacle at Moi University on Tuesday demonstrates just how low the country’s leadership has sunk. It also shows our endless capacity to sink deeper and deeper still. Sometimes you think that we couldn’t possibly drop lower. Yet someone always proves you wrong.
In the unlikely event that you missed it, two governors and several MPs led rowdy crowds from their tribe in an ugly demo in Eldoret. They issued threats. They sounded ultimatums and brandished innuendo. The venue was the main campus of Moi University. They were protesting the appointment of Prof. Laban Ayiro as Acting Vice Chancellor of what they say is “their university.” Reason? Ayiro is not from their tribe – the tribe of the university.
The rowdy marauders, some complete in three-piece suits and others in wild regalia, threatened to disrupt the ended graduation at the university. A governor “on duty” gave the National Government twenty-four hours to replace Ayiro with his tribesman. It is instructive that this is not the first time this governor has notoriously led rowdy tribal crowds in this region.
Three years ago, he led a mob he called “his people,” in a similar fiasco at the University of Eldoret. He has also been involved in kindred drama at the Moi Teaching Hospital. And when terrorists killed our children at Garissa University, this governor thoughtlessly led mobsters in street protests against physically and psychologically traumatized survivors seeking temporary refuge at the Eldoret Campus.
It would be interesting to know the ethnic balance in the county government. While it is an open secret that all county governments are incubators of negative ethnicity, this particular county must worry us to no end. It will be recalled that it was within this county that the most ugly chapter in the post-election violence of 2007-2008 was written. I will spare you memory of the painful details.
There is nothing particularly edifying in a segment of the country distinguishing itself for excellence in aboriginal violent provocation. We now stand the risk of profiling certain communities as violence prone. This must never happen. The only way to avoid this undesirable profiling is to talk straight to the champions of ethnic hate and exclusion. They must be made to feel like the social pariahs that they are.
Kenyans must no longer be shy of talking about the growing tide of negative ethnicity. When leaders stir up their tribesmen, we have not even had the courage to name the involved tribes. We talk of “a certain community,” or “certain communities.” This is in the false belief that covering tribal fire with the palm of our hand will stop the inferno. It has not helped. Instead the merchants of tribal hate have only grown bolder and more arrogant.
The bad news is that ultimately nobody has a monopoly of vile ethnic sentiment. We each belong to some tribe. And if we were honest, we would admit to the occasional wave of negative ethnic emotion. We sometimes all share in some collective tribal grief. This is only normal. For the sentiment is sometimes justified. What matters in the end is whether we can tame the passion and find a socially healthy way to address the situation that drives the sentiment.
We are reminded of Shylock in Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice where he said, “He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at me, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what’s the reason? I am a Jew.
“Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, don’t we laugh? If you poison us, don’t we die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instructions.”
The Bard has reminded us that if we are like you in everything else, we have the capacity to resemble you in your worst conduct. And he concludes that you will be lucky if we don’t outdo you in your bad conduct. This is the reality that we all ought to be awake to, and especially they who are privileged to occupy leadership positions. Good leadership reminds itself that patience is elastic. Elasticity itself is exhaustible. This is why societies throughout time and space have destroyed themselves. Someone naively mistook other people’s humility and patience for weakness. Everybody paid the price.
Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has a tough assignment. He has to maintain sobriety in institutions that are dyed in the wool of negative ethnicity. The universities have in the main morphed into breeding grounds of the worst ethnic passions. From the administration, through the faculty, all the way to auxiliary staff and the student population, the credo is “We want our people.” Eldoret only seems to lead from the front.
Yet those in leadership must steer us towards more healthy ethnic relations. Regrettably, on going happenings in political leadership do not give us much hope. We are witnessing a hardening of negatively driven ethnic formations in politics. The recently launched Jubilee Party is nothing but a buttressing of negative ethnicity, disguised as an effort to bring Kenyans together. In fact the only thing it can achieve is solidification of the ethnic sentiment both within and without the party. In its wake, the tribes outside the new party are now busy solidifying against the Jubilee tribes ahead of a general election whose preparation looks like a checklist of the Armageddon.
Going forward, President Kenyatta and his Government must come down hard on negative ethnicity. They must begin by weighing their own conduct, actions and words. They must stay above ethnic slurs and distance themselves from reckless ethnic hate mongers. It is the only way to save the country from what sometimes looks like an imminent manmade apocalypse. For if a Jew offends a Christian, what’s the Christian’s gentle reaction?