Try non-elit­ist ap­proaches like sports to achieve na­tional unity

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR -

The March 9 hand­shake be­tween Pres­i­dent Uhuru Kenyatta and his erst­while archri­val, op­po­si­tion chief Raila Odinga, was meant to be a na­tion­heal­ing event aimed at solv­ing the peren­nial prob­lem of high-oc­tane pol­i­tics and re­lated vi­o­lence.

But that is only if we take it as we have been told. We can as­sume that the two are out to cre­ate a na­tional “su­per-fam­ily” to solve eth­nic en­mity, which has be­come a per­ma­nent stain on our pol­i­tics.

How­ever, we should not forget that this is not the first “hand­shake”; failed no­table hand­shake-like pacts in­clude (Jomo) Kenyatta I(jaramogi Oginga) Odinga I, Odinga II-MOI and Kibaki-odinga II.

The prin­ci­ple has not worked as it is seen in some quar­ters as elit­ist and only unit­ing by ex­clud­ing part of the cit­i­zenry. The Uhuru-raila truce is al­ready caus­ing jit­ters in the Rift Val­ley.

We need to cre­ate na­tional unity through rou­tine ac­tiv­i­ties of or­di­nary peo­ple — the “ev­ery­day na­tion­hood” — such as sports and pride in our game parks, uni­ver­si­ties, schools, mu­sic and even food, to make us re­alise our same­ness.

To use a real-life anal­ogy, na­tional unity through rou­tine ac­tiv­i­ties is like courtship while the Uhuru-raila hand­shake unity is sim­i­lar to an ar­ranged mar­riage.

Rou­tine ac­tiv­i­ties that unite or­di­nary peo­ple are what Michael Bil­lig, a Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, calls ba­nal na­tion­al­ism — the con­cealed efforts to build na­tional unity that is in con­trast with elit­ist ap­proaches such as the hand­shakes.

Take the case of sports. Sup­port of na­tional sports events has been known to bring peo­ple to­gether and pro­vide joy and pride in the na­tion. Yet we don’t use this tool for na­tional co­he­sion de­spite our be­ing a pow­er­house in sports.

It is cricket for Indians, ice hockey for Cana­di­ans, skat­ing for the Dutch, cy­cling for the French, field hockey for Pak­ista­nis and base­ball for Amer­i­cans. Pa­tri­o­tism in these coun­tries is silently cre­ated by their na­tional sports.

Eth­nic an­i­mos­ity arises be­cause each group is proud of its own eth­nic lead­ers with equal ha­tred for those from other eth­nic groups.

But that is not the case in sports: We are all proud of our na­tion’s sports cham­pi­ons.

Sports can, there­fore, be used to forge na­tional unity by pro­duc­ing and ac­ti­vat­ing na­tional sto­ries of ‘Kenyan­ness’. Pride in suc­cess of our ath­letes ac­ti­vates pa­tri­otic feel­ings, mak­ing us to re­alise that we are the same.

Kenyans are in con­stant search of what can make them proud of their coun­try, but the ma­jor­ity of po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions have very lit­tle to be proud of. Go­ing by reg­u­lar com­ments in so­cial me­dia, it seems Kenyans are not proud of even the lead­ers they elected, but hold sports teams and per­son­al­i­ties in high es­teem.

We need to make sports ev­er­p­re­sent: In­vest more in the na­tional teams, re­ward our play­ers bet­ter, build more sta­di­ums, en­cour­age broad­cast­ing of lo­cal sports, teach sports in school and adopt other sports-for-all strate­gies.

These quo­tid­ian ac­tiv­i­ties are in con­trast to pas­sion­ate efforts such as the much-touted hand­shake.



Kenyan fans cheer Haram­bee Star­lets dur­ing their 2018 Africa Women’s Cup of Na­tions qual­i­fy­ing match at Kenyatta Sta­dium, Machakos, on April 5.

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