Tribalism;the inconspicuous elephant in Kenya’s living room

Early in the morning, she is singing her lungs out to one of the hits by a local band whose tunes make her brave the cold water dripping on her back from the shower head. To her roommates, her squealing soprano feels like a cat clawing on iron sheets. The inevitable challenges of the day make the complaints of her friends invalid.

As she hits the peak of the catchy chorus, she feels a lump on the lateral aspect of her left breast. She pats around the circumference and unassumingly proceeds to scrub the rest of her anatomy. A morbid thought crosses her mind.

Abruptly, she stops singing. She recalls the nurse at the doctor’s office telling her about self-examinations and what to note for. A cold shiver runs down her spine. She jumps out of the shower and feels the lump again attentively. It is still present. This time she notices that the ridges are irregular. She looks in the mirror and a stream of tear drops drip down her right cheek. Her mother died of breast cancer. She is only 52 years old.

The lump on Kenya’s breast has been diagnosed as cancerous –tribalism carcinoma. The malignancy is localized around the breast tissue. The metastasis of the malignant cells is dependent on how fast she seeks treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy will not be enough. Kenya needs surgical intervention. She must lose both breasts. Time is of the essence; hesitancy to take immediate action is inversely correlated with the prognosis.

Allow me to introduce myself. First and foremost I am a child of Kenya. She is my dear mother. Her pains are mine and her victories are equally mine. The progression or regression of her health directly affects my life. Tribalism carcinoma is eating the flesh inside the anatomy of my mother.

I am exceedingly worried. I, too, will have an increased propensity of developing similar malignant cells. However, now that I know what it entails, I can implement preventative measures that will reduce my predisposition to tribalism carcinoma.

Tribalism has been present in Kenya for the better part of the last century. The genesis of tribalism is unknown and quite moot at this stage. It has not always been in Kenya’s history. Its prominence became more apparent post-independence and has progressively become more cancerous heretofore, albeit in very insidious of forms.

Having been born and brought up in Nairobi –the colon of Kenya’s anatomy, there were many cysts present; however, tribalism was not among the noticeable ganglions. In my neighborhood, the diversity of tribes was so extensive that one’s tribe had little effect in the day-to-day livelihood of neighbors. Of my seven close friends, none is of similar tribal lineage as neither my father nor mother who are of two dissimilar tribes.

Unsurprisingly, it was not uncommon for tribalism to be expressed nonchalantly or comically without a grain of malice in my neighborhood. For instance, I recall a night that my friend Tinman and I were enjoying cold barley nectar at a local nationally renowned bar ‘Super Mambo’ on Parkroad laughing loudly at the shenanigans that often happen when people are under the euphoria of inebriation. One gentleman approached our table unsolicited then exclaimed: “Ukiona Okuyu mbili kwa bar na beer wanacheka we jua iko mtu amelazwa Kenyatta!” which loosely translates to “if you see two Kikuyu men laughing, there must be a victim admitted at Kenyatta hospital.” All three of us laughed hysterically in synchrony.

The irony however, was the fact that my friend is not Kikuyu and I am only half Kikuyu. Mathematically, the man’s assertion was a mere 25% correct. After buying us a round of drinks, the man revealed that he himself was not of the tribe that my friend and I had thought he was from because the accent that we picked up from his statement.

On a different occasion, I recall when a stolen car was left outside our house. Upon finding that the only stolen parts of the car were the tires, one of the two police officers pondered: ‘kwani hao wezi walikua wakamba.” During that era, Kambas were known to be proficient at making akalas/sandals using tires.

Denotatively, tribalism entailed having strong attitudes towards one’s tribe based on loyalty. Its connotation however, has come to represent a form of evil that rarely gets rivaled by any other form of collective ignorance in Kenya. Tribalism is a form wickedness that needs to come to an end as soon as possible.

The first time that I can recall hearing about tribalism was the 1994 clashes that left many displaced, blood spilled carelessly, fellow countrymen slaughtered mercilessly and several children unnecessarily orphaned. Since then, tribalism has manifested its malevolence in ways not worth repeating.

We are at a critical juncture of our lifespan with only two options; remission or impending death from this cancer. The choice to perform the necessary operation is upon Kenya and her children. There is nothing wrong with being proud of who you are including your tribal lineage; there is everything wrong with being ignorant.