Thursday, August 8, 2013



P. Anyang' Nyong'o

Following my article last Sunday on ethnicity as the elephant in the room in our Kenyan society, one of my readers, Hezron Kimeli Cheruiyot, wondered why we keep on belabouring the examples of Singapore, Malaysia and S. Korea over and over again without doing something concrete about it. As far as Cheruiyot is concerned, "we will never learn anything. It seems we will need policies for everything," he asserts. "My take is this: the day the big tribe relinquishes power to others, we will have achieved the objective outlined in your article. Anything else is hot air and wishful thinking," concluded Cheruiyot.

On reading the same article Alice Nderitu of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) called me to appreciate what she read but also to draw my attention to a major policy document the Commission produced this year entitled "Kenya Ethnic and Race Relations Framework." I went through this document carefully and discovered that it deals with the issues bothering Cheruiyot while going further to propose what needs to be done urgently to promote national cohesion and integration in Kenya. In this regard multiculturalism, ethnic and racial tolerance, ethnic and racial inclusion in all spheres of national life and acceptance of diversity must be the basic principles for promoting national cohesion at the individual and societal levels. But, as Cheruiyot points out, Kenya needs a government committed to implementing the ideals of national cohesion and integration if we are to transit from mere wishes to real change in our lifetime.

By the very nature of our upbringing as former colonial subjects we have been prone to learn and practice bad manners regarding our attitudes to others who are not part of our ethnic community. Precisely because the colonialists integrated us into the colonial political economy differentially as Luhyias, Kikuyus, Luos, Majikendas, Kisiis, Njemps, Ndorobos, Kalenjins and so on, we should not have retained, reproduced and perpetuated this state of affairs way into our post-colonial life. But we did and we continue to, hence the pent up resentments that frequently burst into inter-ethnic conflicts in our society from time to time.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) therefore proposes that we must make a break with our colonial past and our post-colonial perpetuation of the inequalities, prejudices and iniquities from this past by embracing its "Framework for ethnic and race relations in Kenya." It observes from the start that the Constitution that we promulgated on August 27, 2010, provides us with a tremendous opportunity to do this since it provides a much more enlightened and progressive framework for creating a more inclusive, tolerant and multicultural nation. What are the steps to be taken in doing this?

First, the Commission itself must live up to its stated objective of "facilitating and promoting equality of opportunity, good relations, harmony and peaceful coexistence between persons of the different ethnic and racial communities in Kenya, and advising the government on all aspects thereof." But since it was established almost five years ago, one wonders whether the government has taken any advice from the Commission seriously. The investigations that have been done into the various ministries and parastatals to find out the extent to which they promote or discourage national cohesion in their employment practices do not seem to have mounted to much. Should we therefore accept Cheruiyot's pessimism and "move on" or should we keep on hammering the message home until one day it will sink into someone's ear with enough political clout to act and change things?

Second, the NCIC is of the opinion that building a positive and integrative legal framework over time is important in laying the foundation on which change will be built to promote national cohesion and integration. In this regard the constitution is a major milestone in the march forward. It is reinforced by many other international laws and conventions which we have domesticated and which no doubt compel our government and people to accept certain universal values governing individual and peoples rights and behaviour as part of the global community of civilised nations.

Thus any form of ethnic, racial, gender, age or religious discrimination should not find a place in social, economic and political life in Kenya today. Education, for example, should be accessible to all Kenyans and should aim at giving every individual the opportunity for self improvement and development. But given the fact that in the past certain communities in certain spheres of life have enjoyed undue advantage over others due to their proximity to state power, adjustments need to be consciously undertaken to eliminate the gaps created by historically conditioned discrimination adversely affecting certain communities.

Third, in order to eliminate such gaps created through our past history, facts need to be dispassionately ventilated and objectively dealt with through well knit public policies and well developed implementation strategies. Kenyans should not live in denial but should be innovative and proactive.

In summary, all sectors of the Kenyan society need to develop and implement ethnic and race relations policies in line with this Framework established by the Commission. Every year, all institutions concerned will publish reports on their own experiences and achievements that the Commission can audit before they are tabled in Parliament or in County Assemblies as the case may be. Procedures to be followed will be worked out by the Commission and approved by Parliament.