Focus on Tribalism

As we gear up for our second week of Kibera Walls for Peace, the youth have identified several topics that they would like to focus on for the murals. The first of these is tribalism, an important factor in the violence that erupted after the last presidential election. Tribalism refers to politics that focus on the division between tribes rather than ideological divisions that are more common in the West. The kids have been teaching me a lot about this fascinating topic. Kenya has 42 different ethnic groups, which they refer to as tribes, each with its own language, traditions and culture. Each tribe has certain physical traits such as skin tone, height and facial features that make it obvious to Kenyans which tribe a person belongs to. Even in a modern cosmopolitan city like Nairobi, tribal identity is strong. While tribalism often baffles Westerners, it is important to understand that there are complex historical reasons for these societal divisions. For example, when the British were the colonial power of Kenya they favored the largest of Kenya’s tribes, the Kikuyu. This led to the Kikuyus having more power in the realms of business and politics, which naturally led to animosity between them and tribes with less power, which continues until today. The youth have strongly expressed that while appreciating and celebrating one’s culture is a beautiful thing, tribalism is a destructive force in Kenyan society that has led to much violence and tragedy. Several of our murals will encourage the common ground that all Kenyans share and the rejection of the politics of ethnic hatred. “Kabila lango ni m’Kenya” – “My tribe is Kenya” – will be the slogan of our first mural. —Joel B

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