Prof. Ndii, The Marriage will eventually work.


In his latest article titled: “Kenya is a cruel marriage, it’s time we talk divorce,” Economist David Ndii has examined the challenges Kenya is facing and his solution, told in the analogy of a dying marriage, postulates it is time for “Reke Tumanwo.”According to Ndii, Kenya, which is a mosaic of over 42 tribes, is better served if tribes secede into regions.  We disagree. Kenya is a marriage that is facing tumultuous times; it is a marriage suffering from the proverbial seven year itch.  But it is a marriage that should work.

That Kenya is a great nation cannot be overemphasized. When grouped and classed, we are a galaxy of stars, seen through the periscope of tribe; some are fishermen, others herdsmen. Some sedentary, others nomads. Some successful, some not so. Others are literate, some barely. Some are billionaires, others barely surviving. This diversity makes the marriage more tantalizing.

The generosity of Kenyans, and a willingness to share resources even in the midst of scarcity is something that persistently amazes me.  For a long time, Kenyans have been wounded and hurt by actions or inactions of their leaders. In spite of this, the vast majority of Kenyans never think of walking away from the union with their country. Kenyans never give up. They keep going. As a matter of fact, a 2002, a Gallup poll showed Kenyans being the most optimistic people in the world, after Kosovo. The resolve of the Kenyan people to be in the holy matrimony can be summed up by the words of Harriet Tubman:

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”

Like in every marriage, the Kenyan one has its own ups and downs. These challenges, should be summed up as conflicts. The challenges that our country has faced since independence are conflicts that go unresolved and in the end, they morph into a bigger problem and conspire against Kenyans in the long run. A case in point is the 2007 post-election violence which we are yet to address.

A conflict, simply defined, denotes an incompatibility of interests between one or two individuals or parties. As such, a conflict, as an element of society exists the moment there are two or more humans interacting with each other. The good news about conflicts is that they can be resolved. The bad news is that the path to resolving conflicts is tough. It necessitates making tough choices. It means betraying friends for the sake of overall good of society. It means parting ways with short- cuts to wealth. It means people being ready to confess their omissions and commissions. It means retributive and distributive justice. This is a path, however, that no party in this marriage want to walk. The shortcut therefore, as suggested by Prof. Ndii, is to end the marriage. But that’s laziness!

What ails our Kenya is our inability to resolve conflicts. We let them fester into gargantuan wounds that become monsters that are now consuming us.

For example, integrity demands that people should not to ‘eat’ from state coffers. However, there are those who do not hearken to this and have instead mastered the art of looting public resources. This conflicts with values and interests as held by people of goodwill. We know what happens when such cases are litigated, if at all. In the final analysis, when resources earmarked for development are stolen, the original purpose for which they were earmarked, is never realized. If the funds had been committed to sink a borehole in a village in North Eastern,  it means the people will continue wallowing in an unquenched need for water.

Needless to mention, a conflict can be the catalyst for a revolution or the basis for a meeting of the minds. This was best seen in 2002 when Kenyans rallied against an oppressive and economically stagnant regime of then president, Daniel Arap Moi, and elected the Rainbow coalition to power. It demonstrates that the power is in the people and they have the ability to make the elites do what is right and what is moral. Now, here comes another problem and which makes the call to secede such a dangerous proposition-giving power to the oppressed.

When the Rainbow coalition came to power in 2002, there was a re-emergence of hope. However, the very people who were champions of integrity and prosperity, begun to do what Moi had been accused of! Anglo Leasing and other related scandals became the order of the day.  Paul Freire in ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ warns that it can be a night of disaster when the oppressed gets power.  He argues the following:

“The oppressed, at a certain moment of their existential experience, adopt an attitude of adhesion to the oppressor. Under these circumstances they cannot consider him sufficiently clearly to objectivize him-to discover him outside themselves…. The oppressed do not want to become free. It is not to become free that they want agrarian reform, but in order to acquire land and thus become landowners, or more precisely, bosses over other workers. It is a rare peasant who once promoted to overseer, does not become more of a tyrant towards his former comrades than the owner himself. Once given power, the oppressor wants to be seen as tough and evoke fear, even more than the predecessor-the oppressor.”

As a mediator, I was once involved in a mediation of a couple who wanted to call it quits after 23 years of marriage. The wife reasoned that the husband no longer loved her. On further questioning, she explained: “My husband does not wash utensils, he leaves the dishes in the sink and I have to come home in the evening to a pile of dishes…”  In short, the wife was tying the concept of love to dish washing. I suggested to the couple to buy a dishwasher. The rest is history. I checked on the couple a few weeks ago and they are still together and going strong.

Kenya’s marriage may not need a dishwasher.

Prof. Ndii, borrowing from Benedict Anderson’s 1983 book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, noted:

“A Nation, as a social construct, denotes political communities that live in the imagination of the people who ascribe to them.

This could not have been said better about the essence of a nation-that for the idea of a nation to thrive, the imagination of the people have to be superb.  I would add and say that the idea of a nation is perpetuated by the essence of what Hegel calls dialectism; the thesis and antithesis to provide a higher insight. Physicists would say that in magnetism, unlike poles attract. Our diversity as seen in tribes, is what makes Kenya great. The warmth of the Kamba people heats up the country in cold July. The pace of the smile of the Kalenjin nation leads the country in winning gold in athletics meets. The pomposity of the Luo makes a case that Kenyans are evolved. The generosity of the Kikuyus attracts attention. The ambivalent Luhyias allows Kenyans to be attentive!

I am aware that nationalism is one of the most powerful forces of modern times. It can be beautiful, reflecting the yearnings of people to associate themselves with others, evoking compassion, love, respect for one’s past, one’s culture, even the natural environment.

French philosopher and Historian Ernest Renan noted that nationalism is a grand solidarity constituted by the sentiment of sacrifices which one has made and those that time is disposed to make again. What he is arguing, is that the existence of a nation is an everyday plebiscite. It means we keep talking about our challenges, to chart a path based on our similarities as well as our differences!

At the same time, nationalism can become malevolent, fostering chauvinism, group intolerance and violent divisions between people, which threatens to destroy the values it claims to venerate. By nationalism, George Orwel wrote:

I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that the whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ But secondly-and this is much more important-I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good or evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its own interests.

I do agree that Kenya’s national image is not what it should be. Our national image should lift Kenyans out of the narrow cage of self-centeredness or tribe-centeredness and force him to accept responsibility, in some sense, for people and events far beyond his face-to-face cognizance and immediate experience. We can overcome this challenge by inculcating cross-cultural collaboration in schools and in our conversations.

Finally, for the idea of Kenya and what makes it to thrive, the education system must be made to work for the people. As presently constituted, the system preaches hatred.  It gives perspective rather than the truth. We learn so much about the mole concept and quadratic equations, but kids are given a fuzzy outline about how Kenyan became and what it should be. We don’t sell the idea of Kenya to school going children. We don’t preach about our values because guess what, we don’t have values. We have not sat down as a county and had a conversation about what defines being a Kenyan. We have not examined our flaws. And this goes back to our penchant to side step issues.

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  1. Well, Prof. Ndii may have started a debate in the light direction, but he intellectually falsified things – Rather like the story of the 6 blind men and an elephant.
    Suppose there was a 7th sighted man.
    Were he fair, what would he have told the 6 blind ones before they started fighting?

    Mind you, they could not have turned against him because, being sighted, he could easily get away….just like Prof. Ndii, his money, connections and passport.