Accepting and Moving On in Post-racial and Post-tribal Societies

06/02/2015 11:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016

I have lived in America my entire adult life, and on a personal level I can attest to experiences that belie the core principles upon which this great country was founded:

That all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As evidenced by recent events in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York and elsewhere, America still has difficulties living up to the ideals enshrined in its Declaration of Independence. The end result is that the country has left itself open to valid charges of hypocrisy from friends and foes alike.

(To be clear, I can also attest to the America that then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama eloquently talked about at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.)

Few minorities can deny that racism and abuse of civil rights is a painful reality against which they live their lives in these United States. With the recent deaths of several black men at the hands of law enforcement, talk of America's hypocrisy on matters of race and racism is again center stage.

Without absolving or equivocating on America's hypocrisy on matters of race, racism and abuse of civil rights, it is ironic and equally hypocritical that Africans, who have little compunction about hacking one another to death because of differences, physical or perceived, are some of the loudest decriers of racism and bigotry in America.

The people waxing eloquent about "human rights for Trayvon ... and the hypocrisy of America" will smugly tell those who disagree with them on pertinent issues of the day to accept and move on or remain curiously quiet when the International Criminal Court (ICC) is being excoriated for doggedly pursuing people accused of organizing and violating the human rights of thousands of Trayvon Martins. These are the same people who glibly rationalize the unresolved deaths -- that is, violations of the human rights -- of countrymen such Pio G. Pinto, Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Robert Ouko, and countless other Kenyans.

Much like the notoriously religious voters in America's "Bible belt" who could not countenance voting for America's first non-white president because he is "a Muslim who was born in Kenya," Kenyans, who are prone to being "born-again" and are religious participants of "prayer rallies," could not deign to vote for "Kamwana" or "Raira" for reasons other than their respective campaign platforms: Uhuru is Kikuyu and Raila is Luo! The very tribalism was exported stateside and witnessed during the 2008 U.S. presidential elections. Kenyans who were naturalized American citizens reportedly refused to vote for Mr. Obama because he "had Luo blood in him" courtesy of his father, Barack Obama Sr. -- the very definition of judging someone by the color of their skin (or their tribe), not the content of their character. These are the same people who will hypocritically tell those who accuse Uhuru Kenyatta of being the beneficiary of ill-gotten gains courtesy of his father Jomo "not to blame the son for the sins of the father."

The dichotomous views Americans and Africans (Kenyans) have on matters of race/racism and tribe/tribalism represent Rorschach tests on either society's views on race, racism, tribe, tribalism, and justice for their respective citizens.

To paraphrase a line from the July 19, 2013, New York Times editorial on the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case:

The Florida jury's verdict crystallized the dissonance regarding race and racism in America just as presidential politics does on matters of tribe and tribalism in Kenya. Back in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama made a compelling case for how far America had come given its sordid history on relationships between the races. Even though the tangible/physical remnants of racism and racial discrimination are still visible in the daily lives of most Americans, I would argue that the incidents are few and far between, and when they occur, the institutions specifically designed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority move in -- to wit, the Justice Department investigated and issued a ruling on Ferguson and Cleveland, respectively.

Similarly, and depending on one's vantage point, an argument can be made that long gone is the overt and blatant tribal chauvinism originated by Kenya's first president after independence in the early '60s, chauvinism that included oath-taking after the 1969 assassination of Tom Mboya to ensure that itigakira Chania -- that is, the motorcycle outriders (that form the presidential motorcade) -- will never cross Chania River.

One key difference between Kenya and America is the role the various governmental institutions play in protecting the minority: The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has never been more involved in matters of racial injustice than it was under Eric Holder. Conversely, Kenya's Judiciary has long been suspected of being an extension of its executive, as evidenced by Attorney-General Githu Muigai's role in the recently suspended ICC crimes-against-humanity case against his boss.

Given the Rorschach test-like reactions to racism and tribalism in America and Kenya, respectively, Maryland Republican Congressman Andy Harris may as well have been addressing either society with his "get over it" remark uttered in response to the jury acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman. Mr. Harris' remark, a variant of the "accept and move on" line popularized in Kenya after the Supreme Court ruling on the 2013 presidential elections, was equally applicable to the hastily convened swearing in (and prelude to the horrors of post-election violence) of President Kibaki in 2007 and the murky circumstances surrounding the recent deaths of African-American men.

Unfortunately, and as America continues to be painfully reminded, admonishing others to "get over it" or to "accept and move on" does not address or resolve the underlying causes of racism and discrimination. It only sweeps them under the rug, increases mistrust and ups the tensions between Americans until the next flashpoint: Ferguson, Cleveland, and Baltimore, etc.

Rather than cast aspersions at America, Africa should learn from her mistakes -- past and present -- as she seeks to address the many -isms of which tribalism is but one. Kenya in particular should do so before its -isms explode into violence, as they did in 2007/2008 and are wont to do again -- and again.

Just ask Americans, who are still struggling with their own -ism -- 239 years after independence.