Growing up in middle class estates in Nairobi I never really encountered tribalism. We, children of different ethnic communities played together and shared everything. My best friend was a Luhya. Her name was Linda and her house was the next one to ours. We used to play at her house or my house alot and no one ever told us that we were different. We knew that we had a different mother tongue but that was it. The most different thing that we could see between us was the type of food we ate but this didn’t bother us much. We would eat what was available.
My parents never ever talked to us about tribe or about us being different from others. We were all the same. We were never told don’t play with that child, they are from another tribe. My parents had rules like don’t carry other people’s things home it didn’t matter what it was. If you were found with something that did not belong to you, you got punished. I think this was to make us be content with what we had. But my parents did not have rules for playing or interacting with other tribes.
There were all those jokes about Kikuyu’s being like this or other tribes being like that. We said them in jest but never really took them seriously. We were one people, as children of the estate or even children in school. We did everything together. I was never really conscious of tribalism as a child.
When I went to a provincial school in Nairobi was when I encountered tribalism for the first time. People of different communities would have their clique and talk in their mother tongue. I was at a disadvantage, first because I couldn’t speak Kikuyu very well. We spoke English in our house. Our parents had wanted us as children to learn to be fluent in English so we spoke in English. So I had been fluent in Kikuyu and Kiswahili until I went to kindergarten and started learning English. I hadn’t seen it as a handicap because I didn’t talk to the other kids in Kikuyu so it didn’t matter so much. We talked in English and Kiswahili. So there I was in high school I could hear Kikuyu because my parents and family spoke it but I couldn’t speak it. That was strike one against me. Second, I had been brought up to respect people of other communities so I wasn’t so eager to be wrapped in a tribal community. Strike two against me. But it didn’t bother me. It didn’t force me to want to learn Kikuyu.
My grandfather wanted us to be proud of our heritage including our language. He was very disappointed that some of us, his grandchildren could not speak Kikuyu properly. We talked to him in English, in which he was a very fluent speaker, more then I up to this day I admit. With my Cucu we talked either in English, or Kiswahili and she replied in Kiswahili or Kikuyu even though she understood and could talk in English. We spoke to my other grandparents and relatives in Kiswahili. My grandfather tried to bribe us to be fluent in kikuyu by telling us that if we wrote a letter to him in High School in Kikuyu we could get some pocket money. None of us bothered. I could and can read Kikuyu but speaking it was never of interest to me.
I actually decided to learn Kikuyu after going abroad. There English was common. I used to call home and want to hear the Kikuyu I had never paid attention to. I would wait to hear my mum on the line speaking to me in Kikuyu. I started practicing with my friends who were Kikuyu’s so that I could learn. When I came back I put effort into it. I can now speak Kikuyu, not fluently but it can pass.
I am a child of many worlds. Torn between culture and urbanization. But the one thing I am not is a tribalist. So when somebody tells me you Kikuyu people are like this or that I get offended. Or when somebody decides that because I am a Kikuyu I will automatically vote for them I wonder what planet dothey come from. Do you know me? Do you know my story? Do you know my struggles? Do you understand where I am coming from? I am bigger then my tribe, because my story is bigger then that of my tribe. My story is Kenyan, not Kikuyu.
At the time of post election we lived somewhere on Ralph Bunch Road, that’s the road that intersects between Valley Road and State House. At the time of the election we were hanging out a bunch of young guys outside on the stairs of our apartment block. As the votes were being counted we were having fun, young people of different communities and age groups doing what we always do. A friend and I had managed to go to the hurlingham AFCO to get some drinks. So we were hanging out having drinks and relaxing. By the end of the election we were barely speaking. Suddenly by actions of others we had become very uncomfortable with some of our friends. We didn’t know what to tell our friends; suddenly it was like it was us against them.
Post election was the first time I ever really felt I belonged to my community and I defended it. It was a strange time. There were stories of people being killed, Kikuyu in the rift valley. In Nairobi there were places where it was not safe to belong to a certain tribal community. In Kibera it was not safe to be a Kikuyu living there, so many of my Kikuyu friends had to move. In other slums it was the opposite. There were slums where if you were Luo you were likely to die. Armed tribal groups would patrol slums and if they meet you and you were not from their tribe or group meaning Nilotes or Bantu you would die or be hurt really badly.
That was the first time I became us against them. I am not proud of it. I think it was just survival instinct. To survive mentally I had to band together with my tribe. It was a difficult time. You were scared to switch on the TV because you didn’t know what you would see. Every time my phone rang I was prepared for the worst. But I think in the end the person I was before post election violence started came back. Some of my Luo friends were stuck in Kisumu and they couldn’t get credit. So I used to send them credit. One of my best friends from High School lived in the Huruma slum. She would tell me how they were stuck in the house and didn’t know how they would survive the night. Because there were different tribal gangs patrolling and they were looking for blood.For them and others like them all we could do was pray. We couldn’t sent food to them or supplies if we wanted to. In many places people could not leave their houses, they were scared of their neighbours of whom they had been friends for a long time.
Where we lived, we were abit safe. Because of our proximity to both State House and Uhuru Park there were armed Policemen and army personal all the way from Uhuru park to the corner of Sagret Hotel which was directly opposite our apartment. There were constant patrols around state house. So home was relatively safe. But the fact that the patrols were there didn’t make us feel so safe. it reminded us that Kenya was burning. And the proximity to State House at that time was a relief and a headache as well.
But I had to go to work, so I had to leave the warm safe cocoon that was my neighbourhood. Working in the FMCG industry you have to work to sell your goods everyday. I used to have to walk from home to Haile Selaise to catch a matatu and when we got there you weren’t even sure you could get a mat. The first days after the violence we had to stay home because there were no matatus. Then when matatus resumed work was crazy. Some sales representatives had to camp out at police stations after being threatened and almost being killed because of belonging to the wrong tribe but sometimes being saved because they could speak the language. Drivers told me in some routes you reached road blocks out of Nairobi and you had to show your ID. If you were from the wrong tribe you would be very unfortunate.
After what I have seen and heard (this is just a sample) I don’t want Kenya to go the way it went. For those who are saying that we vote for our politicians because they are from our tribes let me ask you
Where was your politician when you couldn’t come out of your house for fear of being killed?
Where was your politician when shops run out of food and you couldn’t get to town because of insecurity and no matatus?
Where was your politician when you couldn’t buy milk for your baby or go to a hospital?
Why didn’t your politician ask for the violence to stop until a deal was reached and then suddenly there was peace?
You care so much about that tribal politician. If things go bad and they did, where were they?
Did the politician come to your neighbourhood to check if you were OK?
Did the politician care whether you would still have a job after the violence?
Politicians will always be politicians. They will do what it takes to get votes. Even allow violence if it suits them getting to where they want to go. The question is, this people who you have lived with peacefully, you will turn on them and against them because of a politician? Post election violence happened because we put our tribes first. It’s time to put Kenya first, not our tribes.
Use your vote wisely. Kenya is more then 42 Tribes. Be a Kenyan first.