This is my personal, possibly emotional, response to Mwende Ngao’s article here.
I come from a multi-lingual multi-cultural family. My mother made sure I learnt Swahili and Kikuyu, but she also encouraged me to learn other languages and as a result I am fluent in Embu & Giriama and I can get by with Kamba and some Luhya.
The set-up of my family encourages knowledge of tribal culture and languages but discourages tribalism because after all I have a adopted brother who identifies as Kamba and another who identifies as Luhya.
It still shocks me just how much we favour tribalism over cultural pride. People ask me what tribe I am, and although answering ‘Embu’ or ‘Kikuyu’ would only be about 1/4 right I still find myself being ridiculed for replying I am Kenyan. I’ve heard comments ranging from ‘Your father’s tribe is your tribe’ to ‘This is the problem with this generation; you have no cultural identity.’
Hello! I do have a cultural identity! I am Kenyan! I am part Embu, part Kikuyu, part Maasai, part Pokomo, part this and that… Genetically, where do I even start with that? But I was born in this country. I was raised within these borders. I want to live here. I want to work here. I pay taxes here. Every time there is a threat of violence or bloodshed, I worry about the implications to the economy, to our brothers within, to our way of life. I think about how my actions, what I say and do in public and private, can threaten the future peace and prosperity of this country.
But even as I say this, I am so keenly aware that a large number of people with whom I have come into contact with remain tribalistic. Even as I strive to choose friends, even employees based on their attributes, personal or professional, I am always aware that some of the people around me are pushing to bring in people based on tribe. And then little sequestering episodes happen, ‘them’ versus ‘us’. Never mind that sometimes I fit into both the ‘them’ and the ‘us’ sections because I am a ‘half-breed’.
Someone said the the most peaceful and most prosperous of countries in the world today have at most two languages within their borders. That we are doomed to infighting and ethnic hatred because of our diversity.
But we are Kenyan. If anything we have proven ourselves quite adept at breaking records and proving the world wrong. Why can’t we bring ourselves to break the record and be the most peaceful, most prosperous country with the most number of languages and ethnic identities? Why would we let our cultural diversity be the thing that defeats us and reduces us to a nation without an identity?
Why can’t we learn Kikuyu and Luo and Luhya and Kamba and everything else same as we learn Spanish and French and German and Chinese?
Why can’t language be a medium of communication and culture be a thing to showcase and share, rather than have them be the thing that separates us?