Kenya General Election Series: Ethnicization of Kenyan Politics

Kenyans have for a long time been described as an ethnic minded people. Proponents of this notion often point to our political culture as proof. They say Kenyans become more polarized along ethnic lines when politics is involved and usually during elections. But I think that they may be missing the bigger picture while focusing on the pixels. I hereinafter state my reasons for this proposition.

When talking about any country in Africa, analysts (both African and non-African) use colonial history as the starting point for their analyses. The Kenyan situation, I believe, is no different. The colonial history of this country is based inter alia on discrimination and separation of the African folk; a policy known as divide and rule. As long as the Africans were divided, there would be no meaningful opposition to the establishment.

Division brought with it marginalization which a predominant theme in Kenyan political history. The divide and rule policies of the British Empire planted the seeds of discord among Kenyans as some regions were favoured more than others. However successive governments put the fertilizer and provided the necessary conditions for the so-called negative ethnicity seeds to flourish and take root based on how resources were distributed.

Throughout Kenya’s political history, one community has been pitted against another at one point in time. For instance, the perceived animosity between the Luo and the Kikuyu is as a result of the former perceiving the latter as megalomaniacs. From the assassination of Tom Mboya and the tribulations of the erstwhile vice-president turned opposition leader to the bungled elections of 2007, events have further conspired to fan these perceptions.

Whereas I cannot deny with a clean conscious that there were no schemers of such machinations, I cannot in the same breath say that ALL Kikuyu’s are megalomaniacs. This is just one example of the many complex political conflicts that exist in the country. Surprisingly, if one looks hard enough he/she is bound to find the distribution of resources as the bedrock. I therefore agree with one Murkomen, who on an interview aired on Aljazeera English (Inside Story) on Wednesday 16th January at 2030hrs (local time) stated that political violence on Kenya can be traced to marginalization and distribution of resources.

In addition to the foregoing, there’s a fact that often skips the minds of many. In 2002 Kenyans voted side by side without any issues. At this point we all wanted a change from the KANU (Kenya National African Union) rhetoric since independence. Tribes that were erstwhile mortal political enemies supported a common candidate. In these elections, two tribes that were engaged in acrimonious violence are together again or so it seems. In my view, these events do not depict a people that are inherently ethnic.

What is my point? Scarce resources, growing population, inequitable distribution of resources are among the issues that drive Kenyans into ethnic shelves with slogans such as ‘it’s our time to eat’. Leaders often have used these issues to create tribal bases wherefrom they can negotiate with the powers that be for a slice of the national cake. But in true Machiavellian fashion, they betray the expectations of their people once they get into positions of power.

Therefore, one of the principal reasons for decentralization was equity in distribution of resources. Looking at the counties created, one can almost trace tribal boundaries although the law does still provide for ethnic balance in each county government. By this, I hope, people will be keener on their governor than their president. Consequently, Kenyans will not be easily divided into ethnic shelves by presidential aspirants seeking to sweep into power. However, I am not sure I can say the same for the gubernatorial office.

In conclusion, bad governance is the reasons Kenyans behave as they do. Frustrated that the independence of the nation was hijacked by a few excited chaps, Kenyans came up with a defense mechanism. That defense mechanism was ethnicity wherein through regional balancing they could at least get a slice of the cake. Perhaps a study on the same would vindicate my position on the role of ethnicity in Kenyan Politics but until then, it remains an opinion.

 

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