Can You Give Me A Receipt – Oh and What’s Your Tribe?
Muindi is Kamba. Frank is Taita. And the two Johns are Kikuyu.
The tribal identity of my taxi drivers in Nairobi never used to matter much. It would make for an interesting diversion to discuss stereotypes on long journeys: who is the faster out of Kamba and Kalenjin, or why exactly do Kikuyus confuse their Ls and Rs? But it was never much more than that.
But in the new Kenya it has become a matter of life and death.
The two Johns will not take me into Kibera, Africa’s biggest slum. Turn the wrong corner and they risk being lynched for being supporters of President Mwai Kibaki – also a Kikuyu. Likewise the western Rift Valley where their kin have been turfed out of homes in towns such as Kericho and Eldoret.
Frank is your man for Kibera now. The Taita are one of the smaller tribes. Less likely to ruffle feathers or attract machetes.
Muindi’s position is more precarious. He took me to Kericho, scene of some the worst violence early in January. Now would be more difficult because the Kamba’s big man, Kalonzo Musyoka, has ruined his tribe’s opposition credentials by taking his Orange Democratic Movement (Kenya) into government and taking up the vice-president’s job.
Dealing with tribalism is something that many Nairobi-based reporters have struggled with during the past weeks. Most arrive armed with western, liberal notions that ethnic explanations of violence are as anachronistic as a pith helmet. But when you are forced to pick a driver according to his tribal background, or you meet the brother of a man hacked to death because he had not been circumcised – marking him out as an opposition-supporting Luo – then suddenly it becomes a part of Kenya’s story.
My pal, Somewhere in Africa, also has a nice illustration.