I was applying for a freelance writing job online, and they needed a 200 word essay on my experiences studying in University. As I was typing the Essay, one thing led to another, and I ended up with a six hundred word essay... enjoy.
I studied Political Science in Kenya’s Maseno University from 2009. Right now, I am waiting to graduate in December. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the university, where I learnt much about political theory, public policy and political culture. The biggest impact that my university education has had on my life so far is opening my eyes on the political system and culture in Kenya.
As many may be aware, Kenya is a highly fragmented society, divided along tribal or ethnic lines. Kenya did not exist as a polity before the British made it a colony in the early years of the 20th century, as a result there is little to unite the 43 ethnic communities into one, especially when it comes to politics and general elections that determine who gets to share the “national cake” among the citizenry.
My Political Science degree gave me insight as to why Kenya’s voters are so passionate about voting for their own tribesman into the presidency, since they firmly believe that it is only through doing so that they can guarantee jobs in the public sector, enhanced businesses with the government through tenders, and even government services such as physical infrastructure, hospitals and schools will come to their home areas.
In addition, studying in Maseno University was also a life changing experience for me as a kikuyu. Virtually all of my family and tribe were in the jubilee coalition, headed by the current president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. During my time at Maseno, which is located in the Luo country that was and remains an opposition stronghold, I got to understand why many Luos and Luhyas were against another kikuyu president taking over the reins of government.
The biggest irony about my experiences in school was that when I went to visit my family in my grandparents’ home in Limuru, is that I was castigated as an ODM/CORD supporter. When I went back to school, I would become a TNA/jubilee supporter by default. At the end of the day, I ended up renouncing my hatred and disregard for Kenyans who support a political party or coalition simply because it belongs to their tribe.
I am more nuanced in how I view tribalism and ethnicity in my country as a result, although I am still appalled by ethnic violence and hate speech caused by politics. Thanks to my studies in Maseno university, I now think that ethnicity cannot be solved by uraia, Kenya Ni Mimi Na wewe sort of campaigns. Neither should it be embraced, since more often than not it leads to violence, demonization and hatred of fellow countrymen, as well as a weaker political system as a whole.
The solution lies in a stronger civil society that can fight for economic and political rights that will benefit all Kenyans regardless of tribe, stronger political parties, understanding of tribalism and the Kenyan history, and possibly closer cultural and social ties between Kenyans of all tribes and races. Even then, it will probably not be enough. Tribalism is rife in every part of the world, from the united kingdom, the Balkan regions, the Middle East and even North America.
It is more realistic to start by ensuring no one will ever die as a result of politics or belonging to the wrong tribe, as this happens in 2008 after the disputed presidential elections. A Kenya where majority of people feel more Kenyan than kikuyu, meru or taita is probably decades in the future and a pipe dream at the moment.