restricted access 8. Kiswahili: The Language of National and Regional Integration
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122 (Re)claiming Performance Space in Kenya CHAPTER EIGHT Kiswahili: The Language of National and Regional Integration Kimani Njogu The 2008 post-election violence in Kenya challenged in fundamental ways the country’s national identity. As a geographical space, the nation-state was put in jeopardy and risked fragmentation. Young people, angry and disappointed at the declaration of contested presidential results by the Electoral Commission of Kenya, suddenly rose against their neighbors who had exercised their constitutional right to vote for a candidate of their choice. The fundamental right to life was temporarily suspended in certain parts of the country in the pursuit of electoral justice. Inter-ethnic social relations in marriage, family and friendship were threatened as new alliances pegged on ethno-linguistic affiliations were sought. Individuals who had worked towards a national consciousness were challenged by the nature of the dominant tensions and some resorted to ethnic particularities and mapping. Children who were born in urban areas and those from interethnic marriages were required to redefine their identities. The post-election violence took an ethnic dimension because, among other factors, political organizing in most of Africa is driven by ethnic, clan, and personal loyalties. It may indeed be claimed that ethnic mobilization coupled with poor leadership, unequal resource allocation and poverty is a major cause of intra-state conflicts in Africa. As a structure for the definition and interaction of sub-national power groups making up the national polity, ethnicity is a potent force in Africa and when juxtaposed with socio-economic deprivation, political manipulation, unemployment among the youth, the hunger for political power among the elite, the availability of small arms and an ineffectual security system it can be extensively used to gain, consolidate and maintain power. Ethnic solidarity and a dominant discourse of ‘difference’ and ‘exclusion’ can lead to an inability to see other forms of identity within the social structure and be immensely conflictive. Perceptions of inequitable access to resources Getting Heard 123 and the fear or marginalization from power cited often as basis for conflict – are generally more pronounced among ethnic communities than across them. The “big men” in ethnic communities lead a life exceedingly dissimilar to that of their followers and have a patron-client relationship with them. To camouflage their relative advantage, however, they invoke negative ethnicity. In doing so, ethno-nationalists demand the recognition of ethnic groups, each with separate representation in the legislature and executive, territorial autonomy, personal or religious law, and proportionality in public affairs. This is contrast to the more integrative approach which recognizes ethnic diversity and the right of all to be treated equally. The approach recognizes that the separatism reinforces ethnic divisions, privilege the elite of ethnic communities and undermine the rights of individuals. Ethnic difference becomes a locus of mistrust and hate. Yet ethnicity, often manifested through language, could also be a resource; a rich convergence of diversity within the nation-state. This richness in diversity can be managed in Kenya in a useful manner through a consolidation of humanist and democratic values, pride in citizenship and the upholding of the concept of freedom of expression as enshrined in international conventions and statutes. It could also be supported in significant ways by a deliberate cultivation of a common ground defined through shared territoriality and the use of a national language, such as Kiswahili. The national language then becomes the tool for national consciousness and integration. It would reduce strong ethnic loyalties and cultivate a sense of inter-ethnic oneness and mutual respect. The supraethnic language need not lead to a devaluation of other local languages; it would be another layer of consciousness dialogically linked to other forms of national expression. It is quite evident that there are sub-national forces challenging nations and communities and are demanding to have some of the rights and cultural visibility ordinarily located in the nation-state. We ought to heed these forces even as we work towards national integration, through Kiswahili and a generation of national leaders. The national language will be the carrier of shared inter-ethnic values, such as integrity (uadilifu), respect (heshima), discipline (nidhamu) and trust (uaminifu). But for this to happen, the elevation of the national language ought to be factored deliberately into all aspects of development –political, economic, social, cultural and technological - and Kiswahili scholars should 124 (Re)claiming Performance Space in Kenya play the role of guiding the nation towards this end. Crucially, inter-ethnic tensions are exacerbated by local and national leaders...


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