Sunday, April 10, 2005


The Ukabila/Ukenya Dialectic in Contemporary Kenya

1.0. Marxists and the Ukabila Debate in Kenya

I have been writing on the tensions between ethnic identities, national formation and the evolution of the entity we call Kenya.

Three or four years ago, I decried the phenomenon of and micronationalism in an era of globalization. Three or four months ago, I berated what I called the of Ethnic Particularism. One day ago, I warned about the possibilities of a Digo led armed uprising in the Coast Province of Kenya.

Not that I have always been dour and sour about the consequences of devolution, decentralization and regional political autonomy.

In my essay examining the of the state in contemporary Kenya, I saw a lot of progressive payoffs to devolution of power and the potential for strengthened grass roots democracy through regional governments within the context of a unitary state.

For many years, Kenyan Marxists have resisted the lazy pat bar talk of ascribing every political problem in our country to the malady of “tribalism”. We resisted such ethnic conspiracy theorizing and spin doctoring precisely because it was simplistic, reductionist and very often devoid of actual factual content. Also, these ethnic prisms were just the local corollaries to the more insidious, outsider racist blinkers that reduced Africa to internecine and atavistic tribal duels of “black on black violence”- as if Africans exists outside world historical and contemporary currents and soared above persistent cleavages like class, gender and so on.

We always found that by locating our problems within the context of the global imperialist project we were able to fathom the internal and international dimensions of what ailed and bedeviled our beautiful country. We could see the geopolitical machinations of international finance capital as well as the class underpinnings of local comprador bourgeois reaction.

In our quest for trenchant class analysis and “tribe neutral” ideological calibrations and proclamations, we sometimes found ourselves in another quagmire of our own leftist musings. In much the same way as mainstream orthodox Marxists working in an earlier Western epoch fell into the trap of downplaying the relative autonomy and tenaciousness of race and gender irrespective of class cleavages, so did many socialists in Africa ( not just in Kenya) dismiss the stubborn reality of ethnicity.

Rwanda ’94 and its macabre genocidal reminder of deliberate ethnic cleansing served as a grave wake up call to factor in ethnicity in the traditional Marxist-Leninist framework that already included race, gender and other interlocking petals, the social determinants that helped to shape the power flower .

We have in the past decried the ideological paucity and political bankruptcy of the mainstream parties and their chieftains, pointing out their fixation with tribal arithmetic, personal shoving and shouting matches and their penchant to rush to marshal all their tribal troops whenever they perceived themselves to be under siege. We have expressed our disappointment at the failure of these self-seeking politically connected business figures to seek national solutions from a wider national vision.

So why then, this brand new essay?

It is because we see it as a contribution to a wide ranging analysis of the Kenyan condition that integrates the ethnic factor in all our class, gender, race, regional, generational components of a neocolonial malaise that threatens, almost weekly to plunge our country into the throes of a very bloody and divisive Bosnia like scenario where every war lord, defeated parliamentary candidate, jilted political sidekick attempts to shore up “regional stability” by setting up their own enclaves over which the central authorities knew nothing.

2.0. Ethnicity in Neo-Colonial Kenya; A Contribution to a Collective Analysis

We have seen “tribalism” and “ethnic based differences” emerge with amazing regularity on the Kenyan national political scene- from the Kibaki led GEMA chauvinism that has made “andu aitu” a by word for naked tribal selfishness; to the raucous Ramogi nationalism of the Luos who decry their years in the Kenyan political wilderness to land and resource based conflicts and crises afflicting and affecting the Maasai, the Somali, the Dawida, the Kalenjin, the Abaluhyia, the Swahili, the Digo and dozens of other tribes.

What has been startling for Onyango Oloo, personally over the last ten to fifteen years is to watch, thunderstruck, as Generation X and the 8-4-4 Maziwa ya Nyayo crowd abandon the urbane cosmpolitanism that was seared into the immediate post- Uhuru generation of which we are the earliest contingent to embrace the most rabid and base muck racking tribal ujinga this side of Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. Even more eerily


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