“What happens when we start using that part of our brain that thinks politics?” A letter from 2008 PEV survivor

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My name is George. In the early years of my career, I worked in Nairobi for about 2 years before my employer transferred me to the lakeside city of Kisumu. In Kisumu, life was not as fast as I had been used to in Nairobi; it a little laid back, relaxing, and very affordable. I started noticing business opportunities that I would explore as a side hustle. I was doing very well. Kisumu was giving me the life I had dreamed of. Then came elections in 2007 followed by the post-election chaos at the beginning of 2008. As you may expect, things changed to the worst faster than sound travelling in a vacuum. Everything I had worked became a mirage. My dreams became a nightmare. The Kisumu I had fallen in love with, and cherished with all my heart, became something else.  I would end up an internally displaced person (IDP) in my own country. Luckily, I managed to find my way to Nairobi where my friends housed me for a while as I looked to regain my footing. I am lucky that I came out of post-election violence nightmare a stronger person, more than ever. Today, I always pray that no one ever becomes and IDP in their own country. And I don’t just pray. I follow it up with my own actions. I do not spit hatred on social media. I watch what I say.  Being an IDP is not something I can wish on my worst enemy.  Therefore, when I see politicians making statements that can easily send the country into same kind of violence I witnessed a few years ago, I just shudder at that thought and hope that Kenyans will rise above any temptation to turn violent on each other Our country is more than just a collection of tribes. When I think of our ethnic heritage as a country, the more I realize how blessed we are. In the course of life there comes that time when you have to look for someone to fix a dent on your car, paint a house before you can move in or out, or request for a service from an office where work. Does it occur to you that your ethnic identity does not determine the type of service you get? All you care about is that the service is offered to your satisfaction and at a meaningful price. Some of us employ house helps to assist with house chores and so on. We entrust them with our most intrinsic “possession,”- our children, for about 12 or more hours a day. The prayer most parents say to God is for the child to be safe and well taken care of. You don’t say a prayer hoping that the “Kamba” house help will not teach your Kikuyu son or daughter Kikamba! A few years back, after the country suffered the terror attack on the American Embassy and at Westgate, the country rallied as brothers and sisters irrespective of the differences seen in tribe. When terrorists attacked Garissa University, they did not cluster who to kill based on ethnicity. They killed Kenyans. In the aftermath of these attacks, people prayed for the victims. Some queued to donate blood for the injured. I do not recall reading about blood being tested for tribal affiliation. This year, the rugby team won the Singapore 7’s tournament. People from all walks of life congratulated the team without reference to which ethnic community won. It was Kenya that won. When David Rudisha or Moses Kiptanui breaks the world record; when many other athletes make this country proud, we all celebrate the achievement and extend our appreciation to them for flying the flag of Kenya higher! When Lupita won an Oscar, it was Kenya that came to light! When Obama speaks, he is a Kenyan son and we all want to associate with the country he comes from. I honestly do not know the ethnic backgrounds of most of my neighbors. I actually know them by virtue of their kid’s name, Baba John, Mama Kyla, Aunty wa Lucy etc. Whenever I ask my 4- year old son the name of his friend, he shouts ‘Kyla of house no. 50, Lucy of house 32, John of house 15.’ In short, he knows nothing about tribes. He may know there is Kikuyu or Kalenjin or Maasai, but that does not influence who he chooses to play with!  When I get home with a pack of goodies for my kids, and I find them playing with other kids outside the house, I will hand over the goodies to them and the first thing they do is share with all their friends. Even if it’s a lollipop, they will all line up to have a lick, one kid after another regardless of who has a flu or not. There is nothing that gives me more joy than seeing these kids having fun, and helping each other grow to become people who will contribute greatly to this nation in the future. What can we do to ensure that our kids carry this togetherness into adulthood and not get influenced by the tribal vitriol that I see in our mainstream media and the social media? Towards the end of last year, we held an end of year party with my neighbors. I remember most of my neighbor voluntarily contributing towards goats, others drinks, others foodstuff, others offered their time to organize and so on. We came together to make merry as neighbors. Kids had fun in the day and adults had fun till early morning hours. It was about knowing your neighbor and enhancing networks that we all had regardless of our ethnic background. I saw Kenyans behaving like true Kenyans in my neighborhood. Flip the coin on the other side, and enter politics, and I ask myself if these are the same Kenyans that I know as my neighbors, colleagues or even fellow Christians. What happens when we start using that part of our brain that thinks politics? In 2008, people died! Others lost their livelihoods. Some have been condemned as IDPs and remain as such. If we all were to spend 30 minutes of our time every month listening to testimonies of these victims, I doubt we would be smiling when our politicians speak tribal hatred against each other. I appeal to all people of good will to be cautious about what they say. It is not a sign of weakness. You will not become less of a man if you don’t insult another tribe. You will not gain extra weight as a woman if you stop denigrating another tribe.  Let politics not mess the good relationships we have with our neighbors. I must be my brother’s keeper without discrimination. Poverty is our greatest enemy and unifying denominator and fighting it ethnically is fueling the fire that keeps the flame alive. We, the people of this country can use the main stream media and the social media to perpetuate peace amongst ourselves and positive development. Let us be proud of our heritage, our ethnic difference is our strength and we should use it to enhance the lives of all the 40 plus million people who call this great country home. Keep the positive talk going on in a matatu, at the church, mosque or temple, market place, bus stop and during meal times at home. Stand up and be counted. Prof Wangari Mathai used a tree as a symbol of peace. Use a positive word to discourage someone from causing chaos in this country.