Etiquette for Tribalised Nation by Sitawa Namwalie

We all agree tribal feelings and divisions have never run so deep in this country Kenya.  Many of my friends are walking around on tip toes, not sure what they are feeling.  Not sure what to say to their ester while bosom buddies who happen to be from different ethnic groups.  The ethnic gap between us bristles with suspicion, distrust, stereotypes, fear, anger, disappointment, hubris, all the way to all out hatred.  And yet we must live together. Some of us are in interethnic marriages whilst others are in long term friendships.  We have known each other for 5, 30, 40, 50 years.  We are estranged.  Living and loving so close, to each other, in the presence of your new enemy tribe and in a state of acute estrangement is challenging to say the least.

So we need new rules, new tribal etiquette if we are to survive this long period of ethnic chaos. We need new ways of interacting if we are to bring down the ethnic temperatures and even extinguish new found hatreds.  So here are my ten rules of etiquette for a tribalised nation.

1.      Be sensitive. Remember there are 43 tribes in Kenya, each one has its own narrative about itself, who they are, how great they are and the source of that greatness.  Some believe they are super intelligent, others see themselves as consummate business people, others have a superior culture, others have great lovers, or their beautiful women and so on.

2.      Election Narrative: Each tribe has its own narrative about what the last General Election and the results mean to them.  Did they win? Did they lose?  Or did nothing change for them.  Your meaning is not the meaning.

3.      Kenya is many experiences, listen. Related to this point learn to listen to other people and their tribal perspectives because you will learn a whole lot about their election narrative at this time in Kenya.

4.      Return to diversity.  Kenya is more than Kalenjin, Luo and Kikuyu perspectives and positions.  Regardless of how I voted, I do not have to align myself to either the Kikuyu/Kalenjin side or the Luo side.  I do not have to agree with you.  If I do not agree with you it does not mean that I am on the other side.  I could well be non-aligned.

5.      Make no assumptions.  Your tribal bogeyman or woman is not my tribal bogeyman automatically.  If you can see the horns and the fire coming out of your bogeyman’s head, I cannot.  So do not express your tribal fears and expect that I have the same tribal fears.  I have wholly different tribal bogeymen and bogeywomen and just imagine, maybe you are mine!

6.      Dealing with extreme emotion.  Some of you are angry that you “lost” others are angry because your victory is being scrutinised or questioned.  Acknowledge your anger, your pain, your fear, your feeling of helplessness, despair etc.  Start to make sense of it by sharing with someone you trust or go to a mental health professional.  Do not take it out on your neighbour or your friends, or on total strangers you encounter.  And for heaven sake do not go near a panga or other sharp or pointed implements in this time of anger.

7.      Do not become a human rights violator.  Just because you provide a service do not refuse services to people from your alleged enemy tribe.  That is stranger who has done nothing to you.  And you who use services, do not avoid those offered by your alleged enemy tribe.  That is a stranger who has done nothing to you.

8.      Heal the rift.  Go out of your way to heal the rifts that have developed between us.  Engage in random acts of kindness specifically targeting people from other ethnic groups.  They will become your ambassadors.

9.      Equalise, avoid ethnic balkanisation.  This is the hardest part.  Make room for the other.  If your tribe is dominant in a committee at work, in church, in schools, in public places, take conscious steps to include “the other”.  Avoid ethnic balkanisation like the plague.  This is challenging because many believe that they have no advantages when their tribe is in leadership positions at the national level or even within their company or community institutions.  Why then do we fight for these positions with such tenacity? Because there are advantages.  So this will require giving away some of that advantage and creating space for “the other”.  You lose a little, someone else gains a little so that we as a country can gain much more in the long run.

10.   What are your ten tribal etiquette rules?