By Immanuel Lokwei,
I write this article with pain. Not as an individual who fully understands and embodies the ideas proposed in this article. But I’m writing as an individual trying to move out, away from my comfort zone, from the temporal security ensured by my tribal identity and belongingness to a more global perspective that nevertheless aims to address a local, centuries-old predicament. To ask my Turkana people, especially those victimized by the inter-tribal violence, to be the initiators and purveyors of this liberation is both painful and almost is an act of betrayal.
Why should the Turkanas be involved, not only in their own progress and liberation, but also in the empowerment of a group of people whose history and reputation in relation to the Turkanas has been punctuated by uncountable incidences of terror and ill will? Furthermore, the Turkanas themselves are not themselves more liberated or in any favorable economical trajectory compared to the Pokots. Forget about the recent oil discoveries made in Turkana for a minute. So why should they (the Turkanas) act charitably and in this way add more issues to their already over-flowing cup of struggles? Why should the Turkanas, in as much as they are in need of liberation, be themselves the liberators? This call to action seems at best sarcastic and foolhardy.
But the Turkanas should be the banner bearers of this liberation. To reiterate once again: Turkana should liberate the Pokots.
Turkanas have no choice but to liberate the Pokots. To leave the Pokots behind in the liberation and empowerment process is to keep part of the root of ethnic violence, embedded in T and P cultures (Turkana and Pokots), alive. Turkanas can ascent to the godly realm of freedom and prosperity but if their neighbors’, the Pokots, perspectives about their inter-relationships remain unchanged over time, if they continue to see Turkanas as old-time enemies and rivals, Turkanas lives won’t be so peaceful regardless of their esteemed status. No status is invincible, and no rank is formidable. No growth renders one immune and independent of the influences from other environs. The complex relation between the United States and “terrorism” is a stark example before us.
But we do not want to liberate the Pokots for our futuristic ambitions to secure our safety. We have moral responsibility to liberate the Pokots; we are not doing them a favor. Besides, liberation is an existential necessity not only for the Turkana but for the Pokots too. Let us clarify first why we have moral obligation to liberate the Pokots.
Right now I am wrestling with my biased tendencies that would like to chip in and unsparingly place the whole blame on the Pokots for the continued acts of violence. They might have an upper hand in terms of unleashing frequent and deadly terror on us. We might have incurred an extremely disproportional vengeful blow. But we all the same do not stand untainted; forgive the pun, we are not as clean as cotton (pamba).
They are surely to be blamed but we are surely to be blamed too. Not for exposing our vulnerability and falling victim but for the little or numerous acts of violence we have meted out to the Pokots. The nature, and not the count or extent, of our acts should be our primary concern. We are all disposed towards violence, and we have been violent to each other before.
Pokots will vehemently deny that they are the aggressors in this system of ethnic violence just as much as we believe that we are not. We all live in this kind of denial. But in a real sense, both the Pokots and Turkana live in an oppressor-oppressed duality.
Though it is so vivid in my mind how the Turkanas are the oppressed, this claim that the Pokots too are oppressed sounds out rightly scandalous. We the Turkanas can allow, though with heavy murmuring in the background, that to some extend our actions have been harmful and oppressive to the Pokots. Yet the Turkanas are not the only oppressors of the majority of the Pokot people.
The Pokots had an early gateway into Kenya’s political arena during President Moi’s regime compared to the Turkanas. Of Pokots and Turkanas, the former have “enjoyed” relatively long political hegemony in the northwest corridor. But the benefactors of this earlier breakthrough have not been the ordinary Pokots but the self-serving political representatives and their connections. There are many Pokots still living in squalid conditions, heavily dependent on pastoralism, suffering the same kind of diseases and dreaming similar dream of a better future just like the Turkanas.
These ordinary Pokots have been domesticated in the sense that they are not attuned to their true growth but have bought into and idolized the propagandas and agendas of their leaders. They have been domesticated to focus mainly on their immediate needs (guns, land and cattle ownership, etc…) instead of visionary projects like education of their children.
As a result of this domestication and dehumanization, the ordinary Pokots have failed to transcend their oppressive and manipulative system. Most of them, like most Turkanas, have cherished this system since they have been blinded to see the possibility of life without the support of this system.
The first step of liberation however, is understanding and accepting that we, the Pokots and Turkanas, live in the oppressor-oppressed duality. It is taking moral responsibility for the many, any and all actions, no matter how minute, that we have orchestrated against one another. Many people have suffered a lot but placing blame on one another only fuels anger and frustration and the problem at hand.
The second step is educating or de-domesticating our people (Turkanas and Pokots). We cannot liberate and empower the Turkanas without doing the same for the Pokots. The ethnic violence is a relational predicament and therefore, any attempt to address this issue has to integrate views, lives and cultures of all parties and individuals involved. Turkana liberation cannot be sowed in isolation. It ought to happen instantaneously to Pokots liberation.
One of the very simple approaches to initiating this process of de-domestication is by involving as many people as possible from both sides of the ethnical divide in our day-to-day dialogue. Turkana students can start Facebook groups, the likes of TUNSA and Friends of Turkana that directly invite Pokot students and aims at creating a form of connection even if it is virtual at first.
Our basic assumption must be that if others are oppressed, we cannot expect our own liberation. In the words of Paul Freire, “authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory isolation, but only in communication.” In a speech that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling delivered at the 2008 Harvard Commencement, she said the following:” If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change.” In our interconnected world, it is impossible to free ourselves without freeing those we have in the past considered our enemies.
We the Turkanas should start with the basic message that, if others, the Pokots, are oppressed, we cannot expect our liberation.