Kenya's government is making a determined effort to stamp out tribalism, which it regards as an obstacle to genuine Kenyan unity. The move, spearheaded by President Daniel arap Moi, is a revolutionary political and social action, without precedent in East Africa. Kenya, after all , is a nation of many large tribes and dozens of sub-tribes, arranged for the most part in a regional pattern.
But tribalism in Kenya is beginning to be regarded as a brake on the country's development. It extends into every corner of political, economic, and social life. A man's tribal background can get him a job, get him turned out of one, or prevent him from getting one. His tribal background determines his acceptability -- or lack of it.
Nobody expects President Moi to break up such major Kenyan tribes as the Kikuyu, the Luo, the Kamba, the Abaluhya, the Masai, and scatter them to the winds overnight. It would be impossible, anyway. Each has its own language and customs, its geographic centers, and its leaders. Trying to eliminate them would be like telling the Scots or the Welsh to stop being Scots or Welsh.
What Mr. Moi wants to do is break up the various tribal power bases -- the big protection organizations that have been built up to extend tribal political and economic influence.
Mr. Moi's mandate comes from a Kenyan leaders' conference last July that was attended by politicians civil servants, Cabinet ministers, department heads, Army and police officers, and others in the government establishment. All, somewhat surprisingly, decided that tribalism must go.
Armed with this mandate, the President and his ministers have put heavy pressure on formal tribal associations to disband themselves voluntarily. And this they now are actually doing, with surprisingly little opposition and grumbling.