Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Taking on the Tribalism Monster: My leadership journey so far

By Eunice Kilonzo

Tribalism and negative ethnicity are at the heart of my activism. Having been labeled as being a young woman from a “wrong” tribe following the 2007-2008 disputed elections, I knew I had to speak out about this. What I had at the time at my disposal was a mobile phone and so I created a blog and started putting up blogs on issues of tribalism. I read widely on tribalism, genocide, racism, and negative ethnicity. I had to understand why I would be branded a Kamba which at the time hinted at people who were supposedly undecided yet I was not at all defined by these sentiments. I am Eunice and my strengths and weaknesses are entirely in isolation from what had been defined as a characteristic of all Kambas.

Thus from 2008, I was very vocal about issues of tribalism and came up with I AM NOT MY TRIBE…I AM KENYAN which at the time as a blog would be an avenue to push for a country without tribalism. Ambitious? Yes I was and still am, I want to change my society and in the words of Thomas Sankara, sometimes leadership requires some craziness.

I joined YWLI in 2010 but it was not until 2012 that I got actively involved in its activities. I applied to the YWLI Biannual Feminist Leadership Institute. My main reason for applying was to understand what feminism was and secondly, how I would make a better leader. Therefore, I was hoping that the Institute would build my capacity in leadership skills that would push my peace initiative to a new level. I knew there was something I needed to do but at the time, I was not sure what. Fortunately, I got accepted into the Institute which was one of my best events in 2012. I learnt about feminism and its various strands. What particularly stood out for me was creating action plans about our projects. The action plans which a definite timeline for an activity to be achieved, this challenged me. YWLI continued to mentor and support me after the first training workshop.

In my action plan I had set out to launch the initiative and have projects in my campus .Armed with the leadership skills and support from the Institute, I got to pick a working group of nine other passionate young people to assist me in the Initiative. On the 22nd of January 2013, we launched I AM NOT MY TRIBE…I AM KENYAN at the University of Nairobi Main Campus. Earlier in the day, we were interviewed by K24 television station on the Peace Initiative. Over 100 students attended the launch and there was a CNN reporter in attendance! Our ball had started rolling at good speed.

I AM NOT MY TRIBE is now a brand at the University of Nairobi and plans are underway to conduct a research on the extent of tribalism in its various campuses. While it has been fruitful so far, it has not been an entirely smooth ride as there is much more to learn about leadership and running projects. However, one thing I know is that my vision of a tribalism-free society is achievable.

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

*Eunice is a political science student at the University of Nairobi and a blogger on YWLI’s website. She is the founder of I AM NOT MY TRIBE…I AM KENYAN, an initiative that fights tribalism in Kenya.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.