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Let’s gerrit right: ‘Face of Kenya’ is face of every Kenyan, not tribal barons

Eliud Kipchoge, The GOAT. Living legend. By dint of his extraordinary exploits, this man is right now the face of Kenya in global sport, isn’t he?

Kipchoge stands for the best in each of us, the quintessential Kenyan: pure grit, pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, never say die, the triumph of the will; an illustrious example of disciplined pursuit of purpose, stretching natural human capacity to unimaginable extents.

Eliud Kipchoge is us.

His tribe doesn’t matter, or does it? School kids cheering this editor on a morning jog in rural Kiambu last Wednesday yelled, “Kipchoge!”

He is no longer a mere human being but an idea, no, many ideas. One is what even kids know: a hero. Another is what veteran East African scribe Charles Onyango-Obbo stated: “The spectacular success of Kipchoge and other long-distance stars from Ethiopia, Uganda, Morocco and others is an allegory of the possibility of national progress and African global competitiveness” (Daily Nation, September 29, p.16).

Yet another idea The GOAT represents is that, in reality, tribe is a pointless and sick obsession. If we can celebrate Kipchoge without a care about his tribe, why not celebrate every Kenyan?

A story in the Daily Nation online bore the headline, “Governor Anyang Nyong’o faults William Ruto’s Cabinet pick as ‘lacking ethnic balance’”. His colleague in ODM, Homa Bay MP Peter Kaluma, wondered: “What happened to ethnic and regional balance also known as the face of Kenya?”

Kaluma was blunter: “Luos MUST be given a substantive ministry to head; not those computer games you have given to [ICT nominee CS Eliud] Owalo!” Mheshimiwa later deleted this tweet.

A Citizen TV story in the Kiswahili bulletin on September 28 was headlined, “Bungoma ni shangwe tupu: Raia wafurahia eneo lao kutunukiwa zawadi na Rais”.

The report said: “Wakazi wa Kaunti ya Bungoma wametoa hisia mseto kuhusu uteuzi wa mawaziri wapya uliofanywa na Rais William Ruto hapo jana, huku baadhi wakimpongeza Rais kwa kuwapa Katibu wa Mawaziri miongoni mwa mawaziri wawili. Wakazi hao wamefurahishwa zaidi kwa kuwa Kaunti ya Bungoma pia ilipata nafasi ya Spika wa Bunge La Kitaifa katika serikali hiyo ya Rais Ruto”.

The Star splash on September 28 screamed, “Mt Kenya wins big”. Kicker: “Region gets seven CS positions out of 22 in Ruto Cabinet plus plum police IG job”.

A Nation editorial hailed Ruto’s Cabinet as “a promising and balanced team” (September 28). “At a glance there is clear evidence of the face of Kenya in the team, with every region handed a key docket”.

The media incessantly and notoriously frames Kenyan politics as an ethnic competition for state power. The phrases “face of Kenya” and “regional balance” are code for appointment of tribal elites to positions of power.

Inclusivity and social justice, two national values and principles of governance listed in the Constitution, now simply mean getting tribal barons a place on the table for a piece of the “national cake”.

Alas! We must uproot from the national soul this deeply entrenched fixation with tribe, a divide-and-conquer tactic of British colonialism.

We must push public thinking higher, by ending this absolutely absurd and backward notion that the appointment of a high-ranking public official from my tribe brings me and my fellow tribesmen and women tangible benefits, happily to the exclusion of members of other tribes.

Ethnic nationalism is a stubborn reality, let’s face it. Most Kenyans – though they won’t admit it – passionately belong to their tribe first, and to the nation second – or not at all. Yet those citizens who get all giddy with excitement when “mtu wetu” has got a big state job can’t point out to you how they personally will benefit from the appointment.

How do we detribalise Kenya and build one nation, one people? Do we first think of Kenya as a collection of disparate tribes, and then attempt to create national unity by appointing into government elites from those tribes, or do we straightaway see Kenya as one people, where public roles are assigned to the most competent and dedicated among us? Do you break down the country into tribes as a framework for identity politics, or you try at once to erase ethnicity as the platform for interest aggregation and articulation?

The lesson from Eliud Kipchoge The GOAT is that tribe is a pointless and backward category in the national scheme of things. The media must be in the forefront of eliminating this divisive ideology and help build national unity.

We are all Kenyan. You can live, work, marry, buy property, get an education anywhere within the Republic. Any person appointed or elected to public office is duty-bound to serve you, regardless of where you come from.

You’re the Face of Kenya. I’m the Face of Kenya. You gerrit?

See you next week!

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