Ethno politics in Kenya. What can be done to transform ethnic conflicts in Kenya?

Term Paper, 2016

15 Pages, Grade: A









What can be done to transform ethnic conflicts in Kenya?




The rising Ethnic politics in Kenya have been in the rise are instigated by politicians as was the case in the PEV 2008. These conflicts tend to transcend the state borders to regional and international levels thus the involvement in resolution by the external bodies like the UN, AU, EAC, IGAD among others. These negotiations and mediations may seek to understand the underlying issues, dynamics and effects experienced in the conflicts.

This essay will thus seek to address the social, economic, political, religion and security as mobilizing factors of ethno politics, the consequences, and challenges of the 2008/9 post- election violence and how to transform ethnic conflicts in Kenya.

The problems resulting from the 2008/9 PEV are highlighted as well as proposals with regard to institutional, legislative, social policies and reforms to better handle the necessary transformation.

Keywords: ethnicity, ethno politics, instrumentalism, primordialism, one- party rule, multi-party

The theory of ethnicity is based on primordial and instrumentalist approaches. Kenya witnessed ethnicity and political conflicts in 1992, 1997/8, 2007/8, all of which came after the coming of multi-party politics, which exacerbated ethnic competition for power and resources.

Domestic conflicts are believed to ‘‘involve deep issues of ethnic and cultural identity, of recognition, and of participation that are usually denied to ethnic minorities, in addition to . . . other values that are not negotiable.’’ Compromise is more difficult under these conditions because groups often cannot find common ground (Burton, 1987).

Kenyan politics is strongly divided along ethnic lines. Parties are found to draw their support from distinct and separated ethnic groups. President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) was mainly supported by the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru ethnic group. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which combined several opposition groups headed by Raila Odinga, was supported by Luo, Luhya and Kalenjin ethnic group. As a consequence, more Kenyans value ethnicity above political ideology and policy. The perception that the party offers the best hope for a person within the ‘ascribed’ tribe to assume power and consequently share state resources with tribal members (Mutua M., 2008). The result of this view has historically been tribalism or prejudice across tribes, and favoritism within the tribe. An analysis of the 2007 general election in Kenya describes the voting pattern as a mere ‘ethnic census’ (Bratton & Kimenyi, 2008).

The scramble and partition of Africa was conceived during the peace of Westphalia in 1648 the western states were each pursuing their own interests i.e. raw materials for their economic advancement. This was achieved through colonialism, at the Berlin conference of 1884-5; African countries were artificially carved into regions without regard for ethnic identity or consultation(Mwagiru, 2006). Ethnic communities were partitioned across two or three different countries and were thus forced to live within other groups who were previously considered enemies(Tepfenhart, 2013). They used the divide and rule[1] principle which hindered cooperation between communities that once lived in unity. After colonialists handed over power to Jomo Kenyatta, tribalism kick-started. Then Kenyans were blind by the fact that most of its leaders were of Kikuyu origin. They lingered so much on having a stable government and national unity. Little did they know that this fact would come back to trouble them. With a one-party state in 1969 Kenyatta ruled the country with a clique around him mainly from his ethnic Kikuyu, who eventually alienated other groups in Kenya from the political and economic order for his entire reign (1963-1978). Although Kenyatta did not instigate ethnic clashes, he targeted eminent persons from ethnic groups that he felt were a threat to his leadership e.g. Tom Mboya (Luo), Pio Gama Pinto (Kenyan Indian among others(Opondo, 2014). He banned the Kenya People’s Union ( led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga- Luo) party from taking part in the elections conducted in 1969 and 1974 giving him two successful ruling terms which during his subsequent he assigned executive, judiciary appointments to his supporters. During his presidential rule, the ‘leaders’ as well as the President had more discretion in amassing wealth. All gained through land grabbing, corruption, nepotism, favouritism while side-lining communities like the Luhya, Luo among other ethnic groups from running the government. On Kenyatta’s death and succession of the vice president Moi, Kenyans expected that he would at least change the ruling style the now late president had, but all these hopes ran dry. His cabinet appointments favoured the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, and any other person who was loyal to him while also alienating other ethnic groups. He ruled autocratically; arresting and detaining anyone who opposed his ruling style among them Raila Odinga, Professor Anyang’ Nyongo etc. As was before, nepotism, corruption, greed, favouritism among other vices worsened and more Kenyans started realising the effects of one- party rule.

During his rule, Moi faced an attempted coup d'état to oust him by a lower-level Air Force personnel led by Senior Private Grade-I Ochuka and backed by university students. The national radio, the Voice of Kenya, announced that the military coup was because of among other reasons, the economy being in tatters. Thus a “...curfew has been declared and people are advised to stay indoors... all borders have been closed... all MPs to hide inside their homes for their own safety.” This plot failed miserably on the same day.[2] In the next decade, the most dramatic Luo-Kikuyu unity occurred in the 2002 Presidential elections. In order to remove Moi from power Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, two leading politicians, put aside their ethnic differences in 2002. For the first time since multi-party politics began, Kenyan politicians united against KANU democratically defeating it as Kibaki who led National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) into victory took over as the new President in 2003. In these elections, KANU represented the so called marginalised ethnic groups known as Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and Samburu (KAMATUSA).This Raila- Kibaki unity was fundamental because in 1992 and 1997 ethnic rivalries between Kikuyu and Luo had given Moi an easy victory. It was clear that ethnic unity could change the political situation in the country. On ascending to power, however, president Kibaki, unfortunately, dishonoured the Memorandum of Understanding between him and Raila leading to more acrimonious relations between the Luo and the Kikuyu (Oloo, 2007). He decided to follow the nyayo of both Jomo Kenyatta and Moi in appointment of senior government officials and monopolizing of power to the chagrin of their coalition partner, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Raila. The differences between coalition parties, LDP and National Alliance Party (NAK) further escalated the division between the parties, leading to the Referendum loss in 2005.


In the period 2002­ to 2007, Kenya’s economic growth was robust with a GDP average of 5.8% in 2005, GDP average of 6.4% in 2005 In 2007 the real GDP reached 7.1%.[3] “The service sector, led by the tourism and telecommunications industry, was one of the main drivers of growth, indicating increased employment.”[4] “The economic growth momentum that started in 2003 was restrained by a number of both internal and external factors in 2009. These factors included the 2008 post-election violence, the global financial crisis, the high fuel and food prices among others. Though the post-election violence was experienced only in the first quarter of 2008, its spill-over effects were manifest throughout 2008 resulting to substantial declines in growths of most of the sectors of the economy.”[5] Despite the fact that Kenya’s economy was doing fairly well in the region, the wealth distribution amongst the populace was unevenly distributed, income distributions were heavily skewed, education unevenly distributed, and medical services were existent in some districts and for some groups only. Kenya’s challenges since independence, (Kaimenyi & Ndungu, 2005) stated that ethnic groups are also used as economic interest groups to compete in the market for wealth transfer and they employ violence to take control of the government to redistribute benefits to their members. The violence involved youth who had little opportunity for employment despite Kibaki’s 2002 election promise of job creation.[6]


[1] Working Paper Anke Weber by the Centre for Comparative and Interactive Studies The Causes of Politicization of Ethnicity: A Comparative Case Study of Kenya and Tanzania p. 11

[2] Jacob Owiti, 2012.31.07. We lived to tell 1982 coup story, says pilot who flew bomb plane. Daily Nation, Retrieved from

[3] Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), 2008 Kenya Facts and Figures, 2008.Trend in GDP growth rate, p. 13

[4] Dr. Kiti Reginah M.K Kitiabi (PhD) (2012) Elections Dispatch No. 6: The Impact of Election (2007/2008) Violence on Kenya’s Economy: Lessons Learned? African Research Resource Forum (ARRF) Retrieved from on October 7th, 2016

[5] Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), 2009 Economic Survey 2009 Retrieved from on October 7th, 2016

[6] Mara J. Roberts September, 2009. Conflict Analysis of the 2007 Post-election Violence in Kenya. New Dominion Philanthropy Metrics

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Ethno politics in Kenya. What can be done to transform ethnic conflicts in Kenya?
University of Nairobi  (Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies)
MA International Conflict Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
638 KB
Kenya, Conflicts, Security, Religion, Politics, socio-economic, ethno politics, transform
Quote paper
BSc. BIT MA (ICM) Nangira Namano (Author), 2016, Ethno politics in Kenya. What can be done to transform ethnic conflicts in Kenya?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Ethno politics in Kenya. What can be done to transform ethnic conflicts in Kenya?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free