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A Mark of Intense Tribal Politics In Kenya?

The objective of Africa’s development has been seriously undermined by tribalism, which provides one of the hunting grounds to prey on Africa’s development processes. People’s behaviour and attitude that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group above others is tribalism. Most often than not, they are brought about by cognizance of historical legacies and the urge to prolong the anachronistic paradigm.

Tribalism is a manifestation of conflict. The conflict at the micro level emerges out of the dynamics of contradictions that are inherent in all beliefs, ideas, traditional thoughts, etc. which are naturally resolved by synthesis. At the macro level, differences in ethnicity, social stratifications, organizations and movements cultivate a corollary friction resulting in social antagonisms.

In the words of the late Nigerian prominent writer, the Chinua Achebe, in his book “The Trouble with Nigeria”, in chapter 2, titled: Tribalism, he quipped: “Nothing in Nigeria’s political history captures her problem of national integration more graphically than the chequered fortune of the word tribe in her vocabulary. Tribe has been accepted at one time as a friend, rejected as an enemy at another, and finally smuggled in through the back-door as an accomplice.”

Like the situation in Nigeria, general elections in Kenyan have been characterized by ethnic tensions which has been lingering since independence in 1963. But it was not until 2007 that the demons of tribalism really flared up after the hotly disputed national elections left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands others internally displaced. The clashes mainly between the larger ethnic tribes, the Kikuyus, Luos and Kalenjins, erupted after Mwai Kibaki from the Kikuyu community was declared the winner amidst accusations of rigging and electoral manipulation. Arguably, ethnicity per se has never been the problem. The dilemma arises when politicians use ethnicity for their personal gain and create a device for accessing power and play victim when they lose.

Tribalism in Kenya was exploited by colonial rule. Kenya was under the rule of the British, from 1920 to 1963, who used the divide and conquer method of “indirect rule” to govern. For years they pint one community against another, in particular, the Kikuyus and Luos whom they considered a major threat owing to their larger populations. The first two political parties before and during independence Kenya – the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) – impelled current tribal politics in the country.

An alliance between the Kikuyus and the Luos brought forth KANU while KADU was comprised of other small tribes who wanted to quell the fear and domination by KANU. KADU was founded by Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjin.

From the period of independence, President Jomo Kenyatta (father of incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta) was accused of sidelining the Luos, in particular Jaramongi Odinga (father of current opposition leader Raila Odinga) in favor of Moi who succeeded him in 1978 as the second president of Kenya. Certainly, one of the legacies of colonial administration in Kenya had been the ongoing froward political stalemate underpinned by tribal conflicts.

The effects of the bad legacy

Following the recent presidential election which was held in 2017, a petition was sought by Mr Raila Odinga and his Party (Orange Democratic Movement) to the Kenyan Supreme Court and it was declared that the presidential election was invalid. And in that outcome the Parliament also passed a controversial amendment that if one candidate withdraws from a repeat presidential election, the other one would automatically win, after Mr. Odinga withdrew from the re-election.

Mr Uhuru Kenyatta was officially re-elected with 98% of the vote on 26 October 2017 but just under 39% of voters turned out. He was inaugurated in November 2017. His victory was not recognised by Mr Odinga, who argued that Mr Kenyatta was elected by a small section of the country. Mr Odinga was on Tuesday 31st January 2018 sworn in as the “People’s President of the Republic of Kenya”.

The appalling sentiment, perhaps, by Mr Odinga and his predominantly Luo Party supporters is that it is time one of us also mount the seat of the Presidency, since we have been denied that ‘right’ since independence.

In the election period, Party leaders appeal to people of their own tribes when they want support, they also use their tribes as leverage when they bargain for positions and favors in government. According to Kenya’s National Bureau of Statistics, the largest native ethnic groups are the Kikuyu (6,622,576), the Luhya (5,338,666), the Kalenjin (4,967,328), the Luo (4,044,440) and the Kamba (3,893,157). It presupposes that these tribes have influences as to who is elected president, by virtue of their numerical advantages. To the larger extent, it infers also infers the appointment of government officers to favor certain ethnic lines – breeding the canker of social inequality and disunity.

What is the way forward?

It was said by an Italian politician and statesman, Giulio Andreotti that power wears out those who don’t have it. Thus, with great power comes great responsibility; not for the truculent and insecured.

From the analysis, the dynamism of the human societal development is not in doubt. At a certain point, the desire to survive and live becomes incumbent on humans to set up structures, form and reform alliances depending upon the circumstances in order to survive. Sometimes, some of these ephemeral processes become comfort zones in which people do not want to abandon but nature naturally abhor it – it is stagnation. Man must always move forward in spite of himself.

The seeking of refuge in the past structures is one of the features of tribalism. This is succinctly captured in the Bible, when Jesus said that you cannot put new wine in old wine’s skins. It will burst and the wine will leak off. You have to put new wine in new wine’s skins.

Tribalism can no longer hide. The paradigm has changed and society is in travail, painfully going through the process of rebirth to create new structures for new society which is now emerging for our survival. This is the lesson Kenya must learn, if not the whole of Africa.

By: Michael Sumaila Nlasia

Research Fellow

Centre for Data Processing and Geo-Spatial Analysis


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