Race, Ethnicity, and Political Activism in Kenya

I have always found it interesting to watch, and sometimes to engage with, woke or we can say anti-government Kikuyu activist friends, complaining how all the plumb government appointments are going to Kikuyus. I have always thought this ranks incredibly high on the privilege meter. Complaining that a government is appointing a disproportionately high number of people from your community is a privilege other Kenyan communities can only dream of. So I ask:

If you were the dominant tribe in power and a tribalism-influenced government appointment came your way, would you take it? Or if you knew your tribe was statistically over-represented in government jobs, would you turn down an opportunity to work in government? Or you just make that argument because the political appointments at the top are more visible, and that the persistence of discrimination of other communities makes you, rather uncomfortable?

The big question: Is this activism based on altruism or solidarity with oppressed groups?

(You can replace the Kikuyu in this post, with Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba or any other community that may in the future, due to Kenya’s tribe-based political mobilization, ascend to power)

I hope this question is not very annoying: Does being a Kikuyu anti-government activist feel like being a white anti-racism activist?

Sociologist Cystal Fleming, in response to many whites admonishing Donald Trump’s racist remarks about Africa and Haiti, once remarked that “the main lesson most whites absorbed from the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t that they have a personal responsibility to fight systemic racism but rather, that they have a responsibility to maintain a public appearance of being ‘non-racist’ even as racism pervades their lives.”

Jesse A. Myerson wrote that “in this formulation, racism is not a system but an inherent quality within an individual, proof of which comes when they publicly espouse racist views or use racist language. By formally classifying Trump “a racist” (“calling him out”), well-to-do liberals are able to implicitly deem themselves “non-racists” while keeping the pervasiveness of the attitude that Africa and Haiti are shitholes where it belongs: swept well under the rug. In Trump’s case, “the problem, for many whites, isn’t white racism or dominance —the problem is a failed public performance of being ‘non-racist.’”

The problem with the public performance is that racism is not an individual quality; it is a hierarchical system of distributed power that gets mediated through people’s acts. The dominant liberal conception of white anti-racism emphasizes altruism. In this mode, white people must set aside their own self-interest in order to extend kindness to those less fortunate. Humanitarian assistance is rewarded, and those who practice it are hailed for their self-sacrifice and generosity.

“White people are encouraged to defer, shrink, and assist. It is not our fight, the white-altruism mode says, so we must strive to decenter ourselves and support black people’s “advancement” as peripheral allies, doing what kindnesses we can to compensate them for the privileges we enjoy. We must reliably articulate non-racist positions using suitably non-racist terminology, correct white people who fail to do these, and under no circumstances use racist language out in the open.”

Just like racism, tribalism is also not an individual quality, but a hierarchical system of distributed power that is mediated through people’s acts. This is the same way ethnicity works in Kenya. Kindness is extended to those ethnically oppressed. Altruism NOT solidarity. Solidarity demands collective action toward redistributing power. Altruism does not address unequal power relations, it entrenches dominance.

Is your anti-tribalism activism against the tribeX-dominated regime anchored in the goal of redistributing power or it is just to make you feel good -altruistic?

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