For most of my life, I was relatively removed from the problems that plagued my homeland Kenya. I was afforded a better life in the land of opportunity, a place where my education and hard work would earn me an inheritance far greater than any plot of land my father could bestow upon me. But when the tribalism that was instigated by the elections of 2008 occurred in Kenya, the distance from Washington, DC and Nairobi, Kenya became nonexistent. Kenyans in the Diaspora, hurt by the violence their families faced back home, began to echo the tribal sentiments of our politicians and fellow Kenyan citizens. Eventually the smoke cleared, and the dust settled, but election time reared its ugly head again this past march (2013). This time, I was not going to wait and loose friends over ethnic differences or political preferences. This time, I was going to do something about it. And the work has just begun.
My first move was to hold a prayer vigil for Kenyans in the Diaspora, from every race and ethnic group, to come together with a common goal: peace in Kenya. The event was hosted on the National Mall on the Lincoln Memorial steps. This event was open to everyone, but my target audience were young ladies ages 16-18. They were the focus of my activism. Why? Because woman are disproportionately affected by tribal violence. Women in interethnic marriages and relationships loose agency and security during violent election seasons. A single female is also more likely to be the victim of attack. In the US, the battle is a bit different. Instead of machetes, social media is the weapon of choice. Hateful messages are put on facebook and twitter, social gatherings are divided by tribe and party affiliation, and the Diaspora becomes an instrument to promote and perpetuate tribalism in Kenya and abroad. This prayer vigil was a call for peace that countered all those messages. And of course, I could count on the technically savy to tweet, post, blog, instagram and upload photos about this event. The best part of this activism, was sharing it with everyone.
I continued to work with eight young ladies to educate them about the affect of tribalism on women. I encouraged them to be leaders and integrate diverse ethnicities in their friend groups. I taught them multicultural sensitivity, training that I myself had to acquire for this purpose. I encouraged them to involve diverse individuals in their social lives, to be proud of the ethnic group they belong to while still celebrating the uniqueness of other groups as well. I taught them to identify the socialize tribalism that we inherit at home from older generations and gave them tools to break the cycle.
I gave them practical tips for fight against tribalism. One example, changing your facebook name so that the last name is just initials. In Kenya, a person’s last name indicates which tribe they belong to or were married into. If a person from a particular tribe hosts a Kenyan event, Kenyans in her tribe will attend but other tribes are likely to avoid it due to the fear of being excluded or outnumbered. Leading by example, I have changed my name on facebook to exclude tribal indicators. It’s one small was to open doors to multiethnic interaction. So far, I have noticed members of different ethnic groups are more willing to interact with me on social media.
I found myself talking about breaking the cycle of tribalism in my general conversations. This became a center point of my interactions. I realized, this isn’t just an activist project for a class I had to take, this was a passion that will expand far beyond my initial inception of the task. Fortunately, as an event planner for Kenyan events, I have multiple high profile platforms to speak about tribalism in a manner that is inclusive, allowing every person the opportunity to share in the burden in creating social change.
Kenya is a very young county. On June 1st, Kenya celebrates 50 years of self-governance known as Madaraka Day. (Warning, shameless plug to follow). On June 8th of this year, I will host a celebration event where Kenyans from the DC, Maryland, Virginia area will gather to celebrate Kenya and all the riches in diversity she offers. Event information can be found HERE.