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Monday, 18 May 2015

Kenya - tribalism and national interests

Late 2012, I became aware of an organisation called the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) through my daily conversations with the manager of the accommodation where I then stayed. According to Wikipedia, the MRC traces its secession claims to the 1895 and 1963 agreements transferring the ten-mile strip of land along the coast to the Government of Kenya from Zanzibar.

Basically, Mombasa is an island that features Kenya's second largest city with distinct Muslim (e.g., Old Town) and Christian roots (e.g., the Portuguese Fort Jesus). Besides being a well-known tourist destination, the coastal city of Mombasa also features a large port and an international airport. Unfortunately, the greater Mombasa area is now also known for its violence which is usually claimed by the Somali based islamic terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

These terrorist attacks at/near the Kenyan coast have caused a huge drop in international tourism which has hardly been compensated by an increase in domestic tourism. Consequently, hotel staff has been made redundant in a labour market which was already quite difficult. High unemployment and especially the lack of job opportunities, usually provide the basis for an increase in crime rates and allow certain people to leverage these tensions into political / religious extremism.

Basically, Kenya still has a tribal based society similar to Europe many centuries ago. It took Europe many centuries to shake off its tribalism. My tribe, the West Frisians, was ultimately bitterly defeated by the Count of Holland in 1289. This defeat was a revenge for the murder of the Dutch king in 1256. (UK linkNL link 1NL link 2) The Frisian tribe was rather notorious back then. Today, I feel West Frisian, Dutch and European depending on the topic. While my tribal roots are still important to me, national and European interests are far more important. 

In Kenya, tribalism still dominates national politics. The main politically opposing parties share the same religious views. Unfortunately, these main parties appear unable to join forces to save the country from its political / religious violence. It's in the national interest of Kenya to fight political / religious extremism and its related violence in order to boost tourism again. Tourism boosts jobs. Jobs provide income. Income prevents crime and also political / religious extremism. These simple equations work across the entire globe. 

Kenya also has another reason. Somehow I doubt that the increased MRC activities can be viewed as totally separate from the increased Somali terrorist attacks. Ultimately, both organisations share a common interest. That interest is definitely not a national Kenyan interest.

On Facebook there is quite a funny page that stereotypes Kenyan women (e.g., Kikuyu, Kamba, Coastal, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Maasai, Meru and Kisii). Yet, in each stereotype there is some core of truth. In that context, these tribal stereotypes may still be useful.

It may take many more decades to brush off tribalism in Kenya. National tragedies (e.g., the Garissa University College attack) may help to unite Kenyans. I sincerely hope so.

Nakupenda Kenya. Nakupenda sana.