Tribalism, racism and nepotism are not just morally bankrupt worldviews, they can also bankrupt an economy. The less tribalism thrives in Kenya, the more our economy will flourish. The more your last name stops contributing to the opportunities that come your way, the more empowered you will be to contribute more productively to the economy.
The same is true for racism in the US. It is projected that between 2019 and 2028, the wealth gap between African Americans and American whites will cost the economy between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion in lost consumption and investment. It’s no wonder then that in the US, white job seekers are twice as likely to secure employment during a consecutive four-week period as are black job seekers.
Just as is the case in the US racism in France is also bleeding the country’s economy. A 2016 research discovered that a reduction of racial gaps in France would improve the country’s GDP by 1.5 percent. In Kenya, we don’t even need empirical evidence to prove that tribalism is destroying our economy. Many Kenyans have lost job or business opportunities because of their tribes.
As researchers from the African Governance and Development Institute noted, monetary tribalism which entails circulating money within a tribe, ends up reducing innovation and inhibiting financial development.
Come to think of it, if you will be granted a tender or a job purely because of your tribe, why should you bother to innovate and compete in the marketplace to the best of your ability? In the same vein, if your tribe will rob you of a job or business opportunity, why should you bother to innovate and compete in the marketplace? Due to such tribal dynamics, our country is awash with incompetent people who are running businesses or performing jobs that they are not qualified for at the expense of those who are qualified. This ends up undermining our economy in grave ways that contribute to unemployment.
On the political front, tribalism affects our voting patterns and in so doing directly determines the quality of our elected leaders. These same leaders end up infecting legislation with the tribal virus which potentially affects the quality of the laws that they pass. Indeed, studies have found that tribalism feeds government ineffectiveness. As such, the more tribal a country, the more ineffective its government will be, which will undermine its ability to enact and enforce job-friendly policies.
It is virtually impossible for the economy to thrive in such a pervasive climate of tribalism. This argument has been made severally by researchers like Abhijit Banerjee, the 2019 Nobel Prize winner in economics.
However, our tribalism is not inborn but is largely fueled by politics. As Walter Rodney, the great Guyanese Historian once wrote, ‘Ethnic differences exist. They are not necessarily political differences, however. They don’t necessarily cause people to kill each other. They become so-called ‘tribalism’ when they are politicized in a particular framework. And in post-independence Africa they have been politicized largely by sections of the so-called African elite.’ If you read our history books with greater scrutiny, you will not find a single place where tribalism reigned supreme in traditional Kenya. You will not find Luos and Kikuyus or Luhyas and Kambas, or any of the other tribes, fighting great wars purely on account of their different tribes. In pre-independent Kenya, no single tribe abstained from fighting for independence because they didn’t like another tribe. They all united in the common fight of freeing Kenya from the shackles of colonialism.
This is the non-tribal spirit that we need to adopt today. Seventy five percent of Kenyans are young people aged 35 and below. They can be the generation that will finally turn a blind eye on their last names and focus on their shared nationhood. After all, where in The Bible do you read of anyone referred to with a surname? Nowhere! If they do so, not only shall we have a more cohesive and united nation, but that nation will also be more prosperous with more jobs since there will be fair competition in the career and business marketplace. This is particularly critical during this Covid-19 period when more than one million Kenyans have been rendered jobless by the pandemic.
We must fight tribalism, racism and nepotism not just because it is tearing apart our national fabric, but because doing so will create a fair playing field for every Kenyan to either secure or create a job on the basis of their diligence and competence.