Feb 5, 2012

Identity infiltrates institutions illegally, involving the ICC

Erin, in front of my
favorite map of Kenya
A friend of mine recently complained that outside of Africa, most people would think of him as an African, not a Kenyan.   I teased him about that and said that when I go to another country I'm usually considered an American which really isn't a lot more specific.  Since July, and the birth of a new country, Africa has 54 independent countries while the Americas have a respectable 35.

I'll admit, that's kind of misleading.  When most people say 'American' they are referring to people from the USA much to the chagrin of Canadians, Argentineans and others.  But it's also misleading on the other end because an argument could be made that most Kenyans themselves don't see themselves as Kenyans.  Despite the well intentioned efforts of many, much of this country divides on tribal lines.  This concept of tribal identity makes huge difference here, and has arguably shaped post colonial history more than anything else.

Masai in Tanzania-51
 Masai, like these performing a traditional dance
are found throughout Kenya
Consider this, as the United States gears up for another 'most divisive presidential election' in modern history, the International Criminal Court just ruled that four of Kenyas most powerful people must stand trial for crimes against humanity committed during the last election.  Because of issues drawn on tribal lines in the 2007 election well over a 1,000 people were killed by angry mobs as they burned and looted cities.  High profile politicians (and many others) fanned the flames of violence, even as the then-candidate Obama pleaded with the people for calm.  This is history, but it's in no way the past, many of the same players are positioning themselves for this years election.

This puts things into perspective, doesn't it?  In the US, many are appalled that Newt Gingrich is running for president despite being the only Speaker of the US House in history to be reprimanded for 'Ethical Wrongdoing'.  In Kenya, two current top-tier presidential candidates have been indicted for crimes against humanity by the ICC.

Depending on how you divide it, there are 40 different tribes in Kenya but just a handful have a large enough population to dominate politically.  Since the countries independence whichever tribe had power brazenly shifted the priorities to help out 'their' people as opposed to Kenyans in general.  That applies roads, schools, government contracts as well as truly shocking levels of pure graft.  The book Our turn to Eat is a fascinating, adventurous, story that lays out a lot of this by telling the true and inspiring story of one mans fight against the status quo.
History is alive in Kenya

Before any take this post to be anti-Kenyan, it's definately not.  Nearly every country in the world has struggled with issues of corruption and some form tribalism.  When the US shook the yoke of colonialism and promised freedom and democracy, it shared little of either with any who weren't in the 'tribe' of Anglo-Saxon male property owners.  It took nearly a century before a literal civil war set free the underclass, and another century before the civil rights movement made it a legal reality.  Kenya is a young country, founded in 1963 in the place of a colony where tribal rivalries were created, encouraged and amplified.  Kenya has problems, but it is straining to make the same cultural shift  that the US is doing over two hundred years into a single human lifetime.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  In many ways I'm very nervous about the elections this year, but I am in equal measure excited about it too.  Most Kenyans I speak with are not happy with how things work, despise the tribal political spoils system, and almost everyone is emphatic that things will be different this time around.  Almost two-thirds of the people approved a revolutionary new constitution in 2010 and in many ways Kenya is poised to quickly leap ahead as soon as it can put it's house in order.  One of the biggest indicators of what will happen is this coming presidential election through both how Kenya votes as well as their collective response to the results.

This is all complicated, scary, and profoundly uncertain.  This is one of those fleeting moments when humans get to decide whether their society should evolve.  It's fascinating, thrilling and I'm honored to be a witness.

No comments:

Post a Comment