Published on The Green Belt Movement, by Wangari Maathai, (Source: Washington Post), February 8, 2008.
It’s make-or-break time for Kenya. After weeks of standoff, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, who both claim to have won the Dec. 27 presidential election, are engaged in negotiations. Each side in the talks, presided over by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, has agreed to a peace plan …
… Most Africans didn’t understand the new nation-state and remained largely loyal, and attached, to their micro-nationalities. The ruling elites, in turn, remained aloof and distant. Often they spoke a foreign language, adopted a foreign culture, and frustrated or dashed the hopes they’d raised before independence.
Even today, for ordinary Africans, a threat to their micro-nationality or those they consider their leaders resonates more than a threat to the nation. Tribal clashes are also fueled by poverty, corruption and a perception that national resources are not equitably distributed. Micro-nationalities yearn for one of their own to become president so the community will have its “time to eat.”
To create a more cohesive nation-state, ruling elites must devote time, energy and resources to ensuring universal freedom, security and an equitable distribution of resources. And far from trying to destroy the micro-nationalities, Africans should embrace their distinct cultures, languages and values. By bringing the best of their micro-nationality to the nation, they would enrich all.
Consider: Micro-nationalities would begin to see the benefits of unity in diversity. There would be no need for anyone to organize tribal clashes against their neighbors. Leaders would be elected for their ability and commitment rather than by how many votes they garner from their ethnic tribe. They wouldn’t be blindly supported because of their hard-line stance on behalf of their own community. In this way, Africans might be able to rise above petty politics and embrace not only their countries but even the African Union’s dream of a United Africa.
All of this takes leadership – not just from elites but from all of us. This is the only path toward a solution to Kenya’s current crisis and a lasting peace. (full text).