Ethnicity Tribe. Class. Politics. Socio-economic. Divide. Post-election violence. Reconciliation. Cohesion. Unity. Marginalized. International Criminal Court (ICC). Tyranny of numbers. Seems like quite an odd repertoire of words to bandy together, but these have been buzzwords in Kenya for almost 5 years now. Each word, however, when dissected on its own merit and applied in the Kenyan context, invariably has a similar narrative to all of the others, their plots and characters chillingly the same. The meta-narrative however, remains one of idyllic beaches, panoramic views, color-clad Maasai warriors, wildlife, smilingly generous locals and hakuna matata*(no worries). Welcome to Kenya.
Now, some interesting and fun facts about Kenya. There are 42 tribes, each with their own language and cultural identities. About 41 million of us live in the country, which is organized into 47 counties or districts each represented by a Governor, a Senator, one or more Member(s) of Parliament and a Women’s representative, making us easily to be the most over-represented, underserved and taxed people in the world (30% of the earnings of average Kenyans is taxed). A bit oxymoronic you say? Certainly. Kenya is achingly so. Our biggest problem, in my opinion is identity. We don’t appear to have one. And that is a much bigger oxymoron. How can we not? In 2004, the State sponsored a search for a national dress which to their chagrin, Kenyans said no thanks to. There is no Kenyan cuisine or Kenyan music. Or Kenyan art. There is however music, food and art from Kenya. And therein lies our biggest problem. We have no national identity apart from the symbology of the national anthem or flag. Or when our famous athletes break world records and our chests puff up with pride, and we hug each other indiscriminately, tears welling up, smiles lighting our weary faces up. But these moments do not last long, easily quashed when one politician from the aforementioned counties says something asinine to another from another county. Everyone retreats back into their tribal shells from where they contribute towards national discourse. Newfound social media patterns support this theory because it is easy to aggregate reactions to particular stories or issues depending on one’s tribal groups as determined by tribal names.
Can we as a country dissociate our identity from a polarizing ethnic one? Are we even aware of our identity biases? Can we generate authentic and personal narratives to displace and disrupt mainstream ones? Can we displace mainstream media as the sole source of narratives and cultivate our own, independent, specific, local, agile distribution sources and influence our local interactions? #IAmKenya, a film, photography and new media project by Community Media Trust to highlight ethnic and political differences existing in Kenya, especially among the youth, seeks to do just this. By providing an opportunity for voices of women and girls to pass through these barriers and promote peace; By catalyzing positive social action that fosters national cohesion and unity among Kenyans; By recognizing and celebrating our beautiful diversity and creating points of convergence around this diversity for nationhood to prosper; By including divergent views and voices and building a foundation of dialogue, openness and tolerance, for cohesive communities; By providing young people the means to generate their own content, to embrace their own biases and prejudices, to challenge and disrupt common narratives and displace them with a new way of thinking, acting and being, we will succeed in beginning the arduous task of dismantling this ethnic monolith that prevents us from being Kenya, the land of the great.
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