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Why we must build a united Kenya

Suddenly, the country was split asunder. Led by self-seeking politicians, the people of the land suddenly began viewing their neighbours with suspicion and mistrust. They had spent centuries together, and shared languages, songs, cuisines and even blood. But now, because a few people had said so, it was no longer possible to live together in one place as one nation.

Overnight, the problems began. People began casting their greedy eyes over the lands and properties of their neighbours. Some began looking on with lust at the daughters of others who had previously been inaccessible to them. Others had spent generations building farms and businesses, and tried to resist the order to pack up and go. But they paid for it with their lives. Sporadic incidents of assault, forced takeover of properties, and kidnapping of young women began to be reported on both sides of the divide. An atmosphere of fear and hate descended on the two lands that were once one.

The authorities tried to control the mayhem and organise an orderly migration of families. But it was futile. The numbers were too great. Riots broke out everywhere; madness was in the air. People began moving in convoys and caravans of hundreds; many were stopped at roadblocks and forced to hand over even what meagre belongings they had carried with them. Jewellery was traded for essential food items. Makeshift camps were hurriedly set up for the displaced. Every night, the new refugees looked up at the stars and contemplated how to start their lives all over again, with nothing.

Meanwhile the politicians, the only people who were to gain from this horrible rupture, were busy drawing and redrawing lines on maps.

What I have written above was not about Kenya; but nor is it fictional; I was referring to the bloody partition of India in 1947. How close did we come in Kenya to a similar situation? We may never know.

When the British left India, they left a country that was cleaved apart. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, who had shared words, rituals, food and songs for centuries, were suddenly known by one identity alone: religion. That identity was to define the two new nations: India and Pakistan; and eventually a third, Bangladesh.

At least half a million people died during the gory events I have described above. Nearly 15 million were forced into migration. Women, as ever, paid the greatest price. They were abducted, raped, killed or forced into marriage. My own grand-aunt, whose husband and elder son were taken away and executed, killed her two daughters by pushing them off a rooftop in order to save them from a worse fate. She jumped off the same roof herself, but did not die. She survived, along with a younger son. My mother, then a very young girl, was in one of those convoys. She survived to start a new life in India, until marriage brought her to Kenya. She passed away last month, and thankfully, did not live to see her adopted land also descend into ethnic hatred and violence.

We often hear loose and irresponsible talk that civil war or partition is a possibility for Kenya. That secessions and breakaways might have to be considered one day. Such thoughts and such talk must receive vociferous condemnation.

Last month, Kosovo became the seventh independent country to emerge from what was Yugoslavia. During the early 1990s Yugoslavia, a country that had assimilated Serbs, Croats, Macedonians, Bosnians, Solvenians, Montenegrans and Kosovars suddenly became unviable. Why? Because of a failure to accommodate its diverse peoples and a failure to deliver equitable economic development. These failures came to a head in 1990, when an IMF-led ‘shock therapy’ programme was applied at the same time as parliamentary elections were being held. Thousands of firms went bankrupt, and hundreds of thousands of workers were thrown onto the dust-heap.

The rest is history. Ethnic cleansing, genocide, large-scale slaughter. Call it what you will. Words are words, they cannot convey the horror that is civil war. They cannot convey the madness that engulfs mankind when it decides to use certain types of identity as a reason to descend into mayhem. Lives are lost, minds are scarred, economies are shattered. The screaming continues in the heads of the survivors. That is the reality of ethnic cleansing.

All those who care about this nation need to stand up against negative ethnicity. If allowed to grow unchecked, it spreads at frightening speed. We have a peace deal on the table. We have an economy that is straining to take off. We have a populace that has lived peacefully, side-by-side, for as long as we can remember. We have everything to work for.

We have no need of ethnic talk, tribal hatred, supremacism and inferiority complexes. We have to pull together and understand that we must expand together, not shrink separately. Kenya needs diverse landscapes and revenue sources. Kenya needs unity of purpose and multiplicity of opinion. There are no other options.

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