Kenya does not suffer from tribalism but cognitive dissonance

For a long time Kenya has been troubled by tribal conflicts and hostilities. We have had many campaigns to try to solve this problem. Even after regrets of the 2007 election violence and being brought together in solidarity after several terrorist attacks we still find that it only takes a few careless words to awaken the tribal beasts in us. The beast that sleeps with weapons tucked under its pillow.

All is well when the night is calm but the slightest of noise and it draws out its guns and goes to investigate the noise fully armed and ready for battle, whether the noise was made by a burglar or just the wind blowing through the bush outside. But I came, after seeking knowledge, to understand that we have not been able to eradicate this ailment because we have been treating the wrong disease. Kenya does not really suffer from tribalism but a psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance.

I will use the example of the Kikuyu & Luo since theirs is probably the most significant case. As my name has betrayed me I am indeed a Luo, but do I say? Last year I spent my Christmas and New Years in Murang’a, Central. Everyone there is a Kikuyu just like everyone in my village is a Luo.

Then I thought of the geographical position of both Luo Land and Kikuyu Land and for the first time I realized something.

These people live so far from each other, they never meet. For friction to happen between two surfaces they have to be close together. So it’s understandable for neighbouring communities to have conflict but Kikuyus and Luos live too far from each other to have enough contact to disagree on anything.

The Kikuyus have never crossed the Rift Valley to inspect Luo penises to know that they are ‘uncircumcised fools’. For a Luo to get robbed by a Kikuyu he would also have to cross the Rift Valley to find one. All the village idiots and poverty stricken beggars in Kikuyu Land are Kikuyus, and likewise all the thugs and prostitutes in Luo Land are Luos. So how do people who don’t know each other come to hate one another?


Remember when you were young? You always used to play with your cousins until your father had a disagreement with Uncle so and so? One day your father just comes home and you’re told that you are no longer allowed to visit or interact with your cousins.

He doesn’t justify it but you are supposed to obey because he is your father. Your uncle goes and tells the same to his children, with either not divulging the details of why they are passing this decree. Your father tells you bad things about your uncle’s family and your uncle tells his kids bad things about your family.
You used to love playing with your cousins and had no problem with each other but now you grow to hate one another. You never did anything wrong to one another but now you have thousands of accusations against each other.

You were forbidden from interacting then you grow up to be adults. One day you meet in a club or family gathering, someone says one wrong statement and cousins break out into violent fights. “My father was right about you! I pray he forgives me from the grave for even attempting to think that you can be anything better than the rubbish you are,” The accusations start. But honestly your cousin was 7yrs old at the time. What unforgivable thing could he/she possibly have done at this age that your father was right about. People hate each other but both families can’t answer the golden question; What did this person do to you that you hate them so much? The best they will do is tell you what kind of a person they imagine the other to be but never the crime they did. He’s stupid, he’s a thief, he’s arrogant, she’s evil etc. These unjustified accusations are passed down generations and turn into beliefs. And that is where cognitive dissonance comes in.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. You we’re made to believe all your life someone has more money than you because he/she is thief and when you come to find out that the reality is that they are actually hardworking and have more superior business practices than yours, you then have a problem accepting that you have believed a lie your whole life.

When you’re made to believe someone is stupid all your life only for you to find out that they are actually very intelligent and one of the most brilliant people, your mind finds it uncomfortable to accept this hence the dissonance. Normally people will try to resolve this conflict and achieve consonance by reconciling their beliefs with reality in two primary ways.

The first is to change their beliefs such that it is consistent with reality eg. I no longer believe that Kamau is a thief. I now believe that Kamau is Hardworking. The second way of achieving consonance is to ignore or deny any information that conflicts with existing beliefs such that you force your beliefs to be reality.
“Professor Otieno is truly a genius. He has engineered so many innovations that are moving our country ahead… what do you think?” And Njoroge says, “It doesn’t matter, Professor Otieno still has his foreskin and is therefore an idiot.” Not only does he say this but also continually looks for reasons, no matter how small, to justify his beliefs that Otieno is an idiot.

Unfortunately the latter is the path that our country has chosen to deal with its cognitive dissonance. Rather than change the beliefs forced upon us by our fathers we decide to force them into reality either by looking for any small reasons to justify them or when we lack reason, to ignore or deny truth. Rather than be saddened by the Waiguru scandal we are happy because our beliefs that Kikuyus are thieves have been justified, it doesn’t matter how many other Kikuyus have done good.

It doesn’t matter the positive things that Raila managed to accomplish in his struggles for democracy, we can never be led by a Luo. I am not saying Waiguru Or Raila are either good or bad, just that we don’t make objective judgements. This piece is not about who the suitable leader is. It’s about how to end tribalism in our country. There is no real tribal conflict. If there is any conflict I can assure you it has nothing to do with tribe.

Kenya let us deal with our cognitive dissonance, not by living in denial but by accepting that we are wrong about one another and that our fathers lied to us. Accept to change our beliefs. You don’t have to denounce your tribe or culture. Just realize that our differences have been blown out of proportion by our fathers for their own reasons. I don’t believe in a one tribe Kenya. Our Magic is in our diversity. I want to see 42 tribes where each takes pride in their distinction without hating another, but also working together because tribal affiliation is a non-issue