Kenya is famous for picturesque landscapes, dizzying diversity of wildlife, the world’s fastest runners. Kenya is birthplace of the ancestors of the leader of the free world.
When our neighbors were embroiled in conflict former president Moi crowed about Kenya as an “island of peace”. We built schools and educated our sons and daughters as our neighbors sent their sons to war. When Idi Amin and Julius Nyerere expelled Asians, we relied on Indians to lay the foundation for a vibrant private sector a middle class.
But Kenya’s recent political and social history is depressing. Unabashed ethnic rivalry and greed define and often turn political competition into an orgy of inter-community violence. Reckless politics and ethnic discord comes at a steep price.
For example Uganda’s decision to go with Tanzania reflects Uganda’s practical and strategic concerns. Foremost are Kenya’s recent history of politically instigated ethnic violence and the complex politics over land in the Coast and the Rift Valley. With this deal, Tanzania has stamped its seriousness a regional economic player of immense significance.
The ghosts of political recklessness and catastrophic blood letting of the 2007 post-election violence still haunt us. Ethnic vitriol is alive and well. Mobilizing for electoral competition through opportunistic and fleeting ethnic coalitions diminishes hope for genuine social cohesion.
There is an old fable out west among the Luo community. It is a myth about a fierce warrior. Folklore has it that Luanda Magere possessed supernatural powers. Luanda was invincible at battle. Spears and arrows fashioned against him by Nandi warriors were bent out of shape by his rock solid torso.
The Nandi community learned at a steep cost of treasure and blood that they would never vanquish Luanda in combat. According to this myth, which is only told among the Luo community, the Nandi chose to make peace and offered a young beautiful woman to marry Luanda. But her solemn mission was to find the source of Luanda’s invincibility in battle.
The East African Institute with partners from University of Alberta, Moi University and young artists from Kisumu County is working on an initiative to take old stories and tell them for a new generation. This initiative, Old Stories in New Ways, seeks to carve out of the solid rock of the Luanda myth a grain of hope, peace and cohesion among the Nandi and Luo communities.
In the new story, the beautiful Nandi spy wife becomes pregnant and gives birth to Luanda’s only child. In her agonizing dirge she says the rock is a monument of hatred between Nandi and the Luo. The baby symbolizes a new beginning, a future of kinship and peace.
A survey of Kenyan youth conducted by the East Institute revealed that only five percent of Kenyan youth identify by their ethnicity. A future of social cohesion and inter-community understanding is possible.
We can compete for political power as fellow citizens not as enemies. We can redeem our image among our neighbors because our youth are Kenyans first.