What Ails Kenya?


Ethnic Conflict Analysis

1st August 2008

By Nicholas Kariuki Githuku

University of Nairobi

For Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Chulalongkorn University-Bangkok, Thailand

June 24th –September 17th Session




a) Political/Ethnic Elite and Political Parties
b) Ethnic Groups: Behaviour and Interests
c) Ethnic Militia
d) International Community
e) Civil Society/the Media



To the Political Elite/Government of Kenya
1. Consociational Democracy
a) Grand Coalition Government
b) Decentralization/Regionalism
2. Constitutional and legal reforms
3. National land Reforms and employment
4. Banning, dismantling and prosecution of illegal ethnic militia
5. Government Sponsored National Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission
6. Public Civic Peace Education
To Civil Society/the Media
To the International Community (U.S, the E.U and Member States, Canada and South Africa)


A. Map of Kenya
B. Ethnic Group Distribution and Conflict, 1991-1998
C. Composition of the Cabinet by Ethnic Groups during the Kenyatta Regime (1963-1978)
D. Configuration of State Patronage and the Distribution of National Resources/ National Finance Grid (NFG)
E. Presidential Elections Voting Patterns




The post-election violence that broke out after the hotly contested 27th December elections and the subsequently disputed results is, arguably, what most people know about Kenya in terms of conflict. Indeed, for a long time, the country has been thought of as an island of peace in a sea of political turmoil. Beyond this recent flare-up of violence relayed to major world capitals around the world by the electronic and print media, little else is known about the root causes and nature of ethnic conflict in Kenya, which are structural and embedded in Kenya’s history.


It is this “beyond” the immediate 2007/2008 post-election violence then that one must look for an in-depth understanding of the nature of conflict in Kenya. Post-election violence that rocked the country, and shocked the rest of the world, should be cast against the historical context that bred it. Put differently, political instability in Kenya came to the fore last year but it has always lurked behind the thin veneer of relative peace. [1]


Over the years, this conflict has been characterized by, and can be highlighted with reference to, political turmoil as defined by Stevenson and Morrison (1971). That is, civil strife as measured using indices such as political disturbances/behaviour, for example, mutinies, coups, inter-ethnic violence, secession, general break-down of law and order, election violence, violent political protests and political assassinations. Since independence, conflict has manifested itself through such indicators of political instability. It has always, therefore, been latent. That is, existing as a structural weakness underlying, and defining ethnic relations in Kenya, and characterized by ethnic groups’ competition for State power and resources (read, the distribution of economic and social benefits such as land, health and education facilities and senior government positions among other public goods.





The birth of an independent Kenyan State in 1964 was marked by intense ethno-regional suspicions and rivalry evidenced by the tumultuous constitution-making process between 1960 and 1963. Behind the façade of nascent African party politics was a hotly contested power and resource struggle between big and small ethnic groups at the Constitutional talks held at Lancaster House, London. The latter formed the Kenya African Democratic Union (K.A.D.U) and enjoyed the support of the white (British) settlers while the former were in the Kenya African National Union (K.A.N.U). Leaders from the minor ethnic groups among them the Maasai, Kalenjin, Turkana, Somali, Mijikenda and Luhya communities feared a possible politico-economic domination by the two major ethnic groups, the Luo and Kikuyu after independence.


At the centre of this fetal ethnic struggle that would later come to define most of the county’s future was the demand for regional distribution of power and resources. That is, decentralization and deconcentration of power and common goods from the seat of power –the capital city, Nairobi- to the eight former colonial administrative provinces, otherwise called Majimboism.[2] This, to a great extent also, impinged on land, and not just political power among the ethnic elite that would run the country after independence.


This issue went beyond the political and constitution-writing debate, when ethnic sentiments were whipped up by leaders from the Somali, Kalenjin and Mijikenda communities eventually leading to talk about secession. The political atmosphere before and after was, therefore, tense and there was palpable fear of the outbreak of civil war. The Guardian of London wrote:

In an exceedingly tense atmosphere, which caused Mr. Duncan Sandys to alter his plans of going to Blackpool, there was grim talk among delegates on both sides of the political fence about possibility of civil war breaking out in Kenya….[3]


Bloodshed was, however, averted in the immediate post-independence period but the seed of discord sown at the time would haunt the country throughout the rest of the post-colonial era as the recent violence that grabbed international headlines all over the world between December 27th 2007 and 28th February 2008 attests. Indeed, the ups and downs of Kenya’s political history seem to justify De Tocqueville’s observation that “as in the lives of men, the circumstances of birth of nations deeply affect their development.”


Kenya’s road to its challenging future since independence has been precarious and has been calibrated by political events that have threatened a delicate peace. The country has faced and survived formidable impediments to national unity such as the Shifta war;[4] the army mutiny (1964); the assassinations of popular nationalist politicians such Pio Gama Pinto (1965), Tom Mboya (1969, Ronald Ngala (1972), J.M Kariuki (1975) and Robert Ouko (in the early 1990s); the aborted coup of 1970-71; the heated Kenyatta succession between 1970-1978; the attempted and complex two-pronged coup of 1982, which was followed by eleven-day skirmishes in the capital city, Nairobi; the years of political disquiet characterized by ethnic dissent and politics, detention without trial; resurgence of ethnic politics with the reinstatement of Section 2A of the constitution allowing multipartyism in 1992 and its concordant violent majimbo ideology marked by low-level ethnic cleansing sponsored by politicians in Rift Valley, Eastern, North Eastern, Coast and Nyanza Provinces    (1992-1998); the succession debate (1997-2002); and, finally, the recent 2007 post-election violence.


It is, therefore, obvious that Kenya has neither, as is widely believed, been an island of peace in a sea of political turmoil nor is the conflict recent as often imagined. To the contrary, the country has weathered political storms over the years and a question, equally important to what ails Kenya, is why and how it has managed to do so without sliding into absolute chaos and civil war as neighboring countries such as Uganda, Sudan, Somali and Rwanda have.






a). Political/Ethnic Elite and Political Parties

This is the nucleus/core of ethnic conflict in Kenya since independence. [5]Ethnic conflict in Kenya conceals the struggle for the capture of state power by small sections of the political class who form shifting ethno-political alliances in their bid to capture State power and the control and distribution of resources. A short overview of their role at independence has been described above.


Presently, politico-ethnic elite in Kenya can be categorized into three distinct groups, which are composed of different political parties and are characterized by ethnic alliances.[6] Major and small ethnic groups have been marshaled by their ethnic leaders into the following political parties:


  1. Party of National Unity (P.N.U): This comprises of many small political parties including NARC-Kenya,[7] Democratic Party (of Kenya), Kenya National African Union (KANU), FORD-Kenya and FORD-People[8] among others. The ethnic groups in this political alliance are the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru who live in Central and Eastern Provinces, respectively (and who have formed a lasting informal union referred to as GEMA-that is, Kikuyu, Embu and Meru Association- because these three groups have similar languages and culture-geographical history); Kisii from Nyanza Province; Luhya (Western Province especially the Bukusu dialect); small ethnic support from North Eastern (N.E.P) and Coast Provinces (C.P) inhabited by the Gabra, Borana and Somali-N.E.P and Mijikenda-C.P.

The key political elite in this alliance are President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, whose disputed election led to widespread violence between 30th December 2007 and 28th February 2008; Uhuru Kenyatta (Kikuyu); Martha Karua (Kirinyaga, a dialect of Embu); Njenga Karume (Kikuyu); John Michuki (Kikuyu); David Mwiraria (Meru); Kiraitu Murungi (Meru); Simeon Nyachae and George Nyamweya (Kisii); Moody Awori, Musikari Kombo, Mukhisa Kituyi and Moses Wetangula (Luhya); George Saitoti (Maasai/Kikuyu); Chirau Ali Makwere (Giriama); Nicholas Biwott (RVP); Gideon Moi (Kalenjin) and his father, former President Daniel Arap Moi (Kalenjin) who, however, since retirement does not have a lot of influence in Rift Valley Province.      


  1. Orange Democratic Party (ODM): This is an ethnic alliance of the Luo (Nyanza Province); Luhya (Western Province) and Kalenjin (Rift Valley Province); Kamba in parts of Eastern Province; arguably, ODM also drew more support than PNU in North Eastern Province, largely muslim Coast Province and shared Nairobi Province with it in Nairobi Province (Nairobi is adjacent to Central Province where the Kikuyu hail hence their strong representation there).


Prominent political personalities in this ethnic alliance, otherwise popularly referred to as the Pentagon, are Raila Amolo Odinga (Luo) who ran for the presidency with Musalia Mudavadi (Luhya) as his running mate; William Ruto (the emerging kingpin from Rift Valley Province-RVP); Joseph Nyaga (Eastern Province); Najib Balala (an Arab descendant and a muslim from) Coast Province. The five (Pentagon) would, towards the elections be joined by Charity Ngilu, a Kamba leader from Eastern Province. Others include Franklin Bett and Henry Kosgey both from RVP.

  • Orange Democratic Party-Kenya (ODM-K): This was a splinter of ODM led by Kalonzo Musyoka and other Kamba leaders from Eastern Province, the principal and perhaps the only major ethnic base of the party. The political elite in the party are Mutula Kilonzo (Kamba); David Musila (Kamba); Samuel Poghisio (Samburu, RVP).

b). Ethnic Groups: Behaviour and Interests[9]

There are over forty-two ethnic groups in Kenya distributed across the eight administrative Provinces that were formed during colonial times (See Appendix B). Nyanza Province is traditional homeland to the Luo; Rift Valley Province native to the Kalenjin groups among them the Kipsigis, Nandi and Keiyo among others-it also has a considerable Kikuyu Diaspora; Coast Province, Mijikenda (Digo, Giriama and Duruma among others) and Taita; Nairobi Province, which is multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan but has a huge Kikuyu population; Central Province, which is Kikuyu); Western Province occupied by the Luhya; North Eastern Province consisting of the Borana, Rendille, Somali, Gabra, Degodia among others; the Kamba, Embu and Meru in Eastern Province.


Apart from their political role of supporting their respective ethnic elites, there are historical issues, for example, the distribution of land between the ethnic groups that poses a security threat. Land ownership has, since independence, been an emotive issue especially in Rift Valley and Coast Provinces, which have big ethnic components from other regions of the country. RVP, for instance has a huge Kikuyu presence as well as other groups namely Kisii, Luhya and Luo. These groups are viewed as “foreign” in the region that historically belongs to the Kalenjin. As such, non-natives are viewed with suspicion, fear and distrust. Noting this observation, The International Crisis Group Report (February 2008) observes of the post-2007 election violence: –


The violence in the North Rift region, though sparked by the disputed elections, has its roots in deeply entrenched, long-festering anti-Kikuyu sentiment within certain segments of the Kalenjin, particularly the Nandi and Kipsigis communities. They continue to feel aggrieved by the settlement of Kikuyus in their home areas after independence and often view Kikuyu communities as unscrupulous and greedy land-grabbers, who have historically manipulated the political system to ensure their dominance in commerce and politics.[10] (The emphasis in italics is mine).


In an ethnically charged political atmosphere ethnicity is a political ideology, which is a reference point in the distribution cabinet portfolios[11] and national resources such as regional budgetary allocations for building of schools, health facilities, roads, rural electrification, and provision of piped water among other pork-barreled social and economic projects.[12] It is for this reason that ethnic groups see the occupancy of State House (the Presidency)[13] as a source of personal and corporate fortune or the lack of it.


A good example of ethno-politicization of development was in the early years of independence when the first Luo-Kikuyu alliance broke after ideological and political differences between Oginga Odinga and President Jomo Kenyatta. The Luo were shut out of political power and State development projects in Nyanza province stopped. For example, the idea of the Kenya-Uganda highway passing through Nyanza Province was shelved as were plans to build the Yala hydroelectric plant, which were put on hold. Both the Kenyatta and Moi regimes were notorious for using development projects as a reward or punishment individual politicians or ethnic groups who were real or perceived enemies/opposition. The two could, therefore, “withhold development or even famine relief aid from constituencies with MPs who dare champion the true interests of their voters” (See Appendix D-graphic representation of distribution of state resources in the Kenyatta and Moi eras).


As such, the distribution of development and welfare services in Kenya is perceived by ethnic communities not to be according to need but as per the wishes of those who control state apparatus and institutions. Development thus perceived ceases to be a right of the people but a gift from the President. Over the years, therefore, ethnic groups have come to view each other as arch rivals in national politics especially the race for the presidency (see Appendix E-presidential voting patterns). This, in turn, explains why political leaders elicit almost fanatic following from their ethnic constituencies. This is the historical powder keg that exploded into spiraling violence in different parts of the country when the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential elections in December 2007.


c). Ethnic Militia


Unscrupulous politicians desperate to have a successful political career organize ethnic militias that operate as private armies. Under the volatile political atmosphere characterized by ethnic distrust, animosity and suspicions, and with monetary and other incentives, hoards of young men are eager to be recruited as body guards and “warriors.” Although they are only active during electioneering periods and have unsophisticated crude weapons, they tend to develop into criminal gangs and pose a serious threat to state security.


  • Kalenjin Militia: An example of such militia is the Kalenjin youth militia that attacked Kikuyu settlements in the Rift Valley Province within minutes after the declaration of the incumbent as the winner of the December 2007 polls. According to various sources[14] both local and international, these youth were under the payroll and organization of Kalenjin political and business elite for their well-orchestrated operations.[15]


  • Mungiki: This is a Kikuyu organization that was originally formed in the early 1990s for noble ends[16] but, which at the end of that decade had gained political notoriety when it was drawn into election politics especially in Central, Nairobi and Rift Valley Provinces. It also developed as a criminal cartel that extorted money from operators of public transport and also acting as neighbourhood vigilante protecting residents and small business premises. At its height in 2007 went on rampage when the Ministry of Internal Security moved to clamp it down after business people, especially those in the transportation sector lodged formal and public complains against extortion.[17] In the wake of post-election violence, the Mungiki youth regrouped to retaliate against violence meted on the Kikuyu in Rift Valley. This was in late January and early February 2008 in parts of Nairobi, for example Kikuyu and Rongai townships in the outskirts of Nairobi City; Thika; Ruiru; and Naivasha where the sect and Kikuyu vigilante torched at least sixteen people; and Nakuru and Molo where they organized retaliatory and defense bands against the Kalenjin.
  • The Sabaot Land Defence Force: This highly organized and sophisticated[18] militia preceded the post-election violence and had been engaged in a violent land-related struggle around Mt. Elgon in Western Province.   This militia was formed after the Sabaots felt shortchanged by a government-sponsored land resettlement scheme implemented by the NARC after it came to power in 2002. This scheme was perceived to have benefited Luhya and other non-indigenous ethnic groups among them the Kikuyu whom the sought to eject from the fertile agricultural land around the Mt. Elgon forest. With time, this group has further defined its struggle to include the ethno-political and geographic agenda of redrawing the regional administrative boundary such that Trans Nzoia falls under the Rift Valley and not Western Kenya, as it is presently.[19]
  • Others: Other militia that are known to exist or to have existed at one point include criminal cum political gangs such as: Jeshi la Mzee (that operated in Nairobi suburbs); Kamjesh (Nairobi); Taliban (Nairobi); and Chinkororo (Kisii, Nyanza Province) that was involved in a pre-election skirmishes.

d). International Community

Kenya’s political survival and salvage from impending civil war was in no small measure due to the role that the international community played. The U. S reacted by sending Jendayi Frazer, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and would later send no less a government personage than the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice on 18th February. The U.K and the European Union sent clear signals that hardliners in both PNU and ODM had to get their act together and reach a political settlement. Through their envoys in Nairobi, these countries warned political leaders not to expect that there would be “business as usual” until an unacceptable decision restoring law and order was reached. Both the E.U and the U.S threatened to cut aid.[20] Such international pressure went a long way to force the contending parties to enter dialogue and end violence in the country. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also strongly condemned the violence and would later visit Nairobi to deliver the message in person. The African Union (AU), through its outgoing Chair, President John Kufuor played a great role in bringing the two parties to the negotiation table. President Kufuor’s visit would later be followed by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, who led the A.U mediation Panel of Eminent African Personalities.[21] Under this framework, both PNU and ODM mediation teams committed to the immediate cessation of violence in most parts of the country and restoration of fundamental rights and liberties; taking steps to address the humanitarian crisis, healing and reconciliation; and how to surmount the political crisis, the top three agenda in the talks. By 28th February 2008, the two key Principals signed the National Accord and Reconciliation Agreement that was witnessed by Mr. Annan and the new AU Chairman and President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete. At centre of this Agreement was a power sharing deal between the two rival political parties, PNU and ODM under a coalition government. President Mwai Kibaki (PNU) would remain in that position while Mr. Raila Amolo Odinga (ODM) would assume the newly-created office of Prime Minister.

e). Civil Society/the Media


Actors in civil society include the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK); the Supreme Kenya Muslims Council (SUPKEM); the Fourth Estate, which includes three major print and electronic media houses namely Nation Media Group, The Standard Group and Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (State Media) and an assortment vernacular FM radio stations. The jury is still out on the role that mainstream print and electronic media played in the post-election crisis although the media self-governing body, the public and the government believe that they did not handle it objectively and in a professional manner.[22] The Church and the Muslim clergy, known to have broken the silence on poor governance, high corruption and political oppression in the past were, in the period preceding the elections and after, notably not only quiet, but both implicitly and explicitly, declared support and identified with one or other of the three contending parties. Human rights organizations (for example, the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), professional bodies, for example, Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) and the national universities staff union (UASU) were not forceful or were muffled before, during and after the crisis.



Behaviour [23]

  1. Political elite: Propaganda and ethnic-hatred speeches.
  2. Ethnic group relations: Characterized by suspicion, hatred and distrust; perpetuation of ethnic stereotypes and slurs.
  3. Ethnic militia: Violence especially targeting vulnerable groups such as women and children.
  4. Civil Society/Media: Playing into sensational and subjective reporting; politicization; playing-up political differences; and at times whipping-up ethnic chauvinism.[24]


  • Political elite/Political parties:
  1. Political power/power hunger.
  2. Control of State resources.
  3. Individual political ambitions and greed.
  4. Political disagreements over key issues such as decentralization of power, deconcentration of central government responsibilities and distribution of national resources (the so-called majimbo debate), and constitutional and electoral process reforms.
  • Ethnic groups: Would like to see their political elites in high political office-Presidency, ministerial and other plum civil service positions; would like historical rivalry and injustices to be addressed especially land redistribution/reforms; a bigger share of the national cake (more schools, public universities, health facilities, better roads, piped water, employment and electrification in their regions of residence); a new constitution/democracy.


Compatibilities (all actors and/or national)


  1. All parties-political class, ethnic groups and civil society- want national unity/peace. (Shared feeling that the cost of violent conflict far outweighs the benefits).[25] In addition since independence, national symbols and traditions such as the national flag, creed and anthem that call for peace and unity have been internalized.
  2. Shared political history, which includes colonialism and anti-colonial struggle epitomized by Kenya African nationalism.
  3. Religion: Most people in the country are either Muslims or Christians (and the conflict is not polarized along religious divisions).
  4. Inter-ethnic marriages especially among the young population under forty-five years of age to whom ethnic difference is not an issue.
  5. The education system and especially tertiary institutions that bring young people together to interact constructively.
  6. National sports such as athletics that Kenyans derive a high sense of national pride and for which the country is known internationally.




The question that lingers and troubles most people among them politicians, regards what the future holds as the country pulls away from the precipice of violent conflict. The future bears no guarantees for all the actors involved. The future of the country is dependent on whether or not the coalition partners-PNU and ODM, who have now since formed a joint cabinet, will carry this “baby” to term, that is, 2012 when the country next holds parliamentary and presidential elections. In this regard, there are three possible political scenarios as follows:


1. Success of the Coalition Government (to 2012): This would have the following implications:


  • The writing of a new Constitution within one year since the signing of the February 28th


  • A national referendum voting Yes/No to the new Constitution (under the new Constitution, there is likely to be provisions such as decentralization of power and deconcentration of the authority of Central Government to the regions).


  • The formation of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Committee to restore trust between ethnic groups.


  • In addition to the above, historical injustices especially land distribution through reforms are addressed.


  • High economic growth rate and general satisfaction of the public enjoying new employment opportunities.


  • Physical resettlement of all Internally Displaced Persons to their various homes in Provinces affected by the violence.[26]


  • Guaranteed smooth transition in 2012, which will mark President Kibaki’s second (five) year term that is provided under the Constitution.

2. Status quo characterized by quiet competition between the Coalition partners and shaped by succession politics: This has the following implications:

  • Erosion of public confidence in the political elite.


  • Two competing centers of power: Existence of a parallel cabinet loyal to one or the other Principal, President Kibaki or Prime Minister Raila Odinga. (Cabinet discord and political bickering/mudslinging).


  • Unprecedented high level corruption by senior government officials (ministers and Permanent Secretaries).[27]


  • No Constitution in one year (that is, by February 28th 2009).


  • Uncoordinated cabinet will affect the implementation of policy at various levels of government further frustrating high expectations (relative deprivation) of citizenry.


  • The structural/underlying causes of the prevailing social tensions, instability and the cycle of violence such as the distribution of national resources, especially land and other historical injustices will go unaddressed.


  • Hampering of the return and settlement of IDPs.


  • Dashing of hopes for truth, justice, healing and reconciliation of the various ethnic groups.


  • Elite blame-game will take on ethnic dimensions leading to fresh and rising tensions.


  • Reversion to the charged political atmosphere preceding the 2007 polls.


  • Out-break of low-level ethnic violence and general break down of law and order around the country (including rising crime rates) and consequent humanitarian crisis.


  • Break-up of the coalition.



3. Break up of the Coalition Before 2012: [28] This might lead to the following:

  • Trading political barbs and propaganda: Accusations and counter-accusations between politicians on either side of the divide.


  • Early parliamentary and presidential elections and relapse to winner-take-it-all politics that preceded the formation of the coalition.


  • Squandering of political gains and progress made since the signing of the National Accord and Reconciliation Agreement.
  • Accelerated and accentuated polarization of ethnic groups leading to violence similar to that witnessed in December 2007-February 2008.


  • Heightened ethnic tensions, fear and distrust- fueled by stereotypes and slurs- followed by ethnic cleansing campaigns (loss of human life and property).


  • Descent into the historical ethnic relations characterized by animosity and perpetuation of injustices and the creation/commission of new ones.



In view of the fact that Kenya still has a long way to build national unity between its peoples ensuring political stability of, not only the country but the region by extension, economic prosperity and harmonious co-existence, the following are some policy proposals to this end:

To the Political Elite/Government of Kenya


  1. Consociational Democracy[29]: The centrifugal and divisive tendencies inherent in Kenya’s multi-ethnic society should be countered through co-operative attitudes and behaviour of leaders of the different ethnic segments. Indeed, it should not be lost on politicians that no single political party or limited ethnic alliance can marshal enough electoral support to form government while ignoring other alliances or ethnic segments. As such, the rules of the game ought to change from winner-takes-it-all to coalition-building. A crucial component of this is the shift from politicization of ethnic identity [30] to creating a grassroots political awareness that while harnessing ethnic group support, rallies people behind issues, ideas, values and beliefs that are national in outlook, whether they are consensual or not.[31] The following are vital elements of consociational democracy some of which are being implemented or being considered under the constitutional and legal reform agenda:
  2. Grand Coalition Government: The formation of government collations not just for purposes of resolving the 2007 election crisis, but as a viable long-term political set up to avoid winner-takes-it-all election contests that sharply divide the country. This would ensure the inclusion, in government, of political leaders from all significant     politico-ethnic elements, which means the inclusion and representation of most, if not all, ethnic groups in Kenya.
  3. Decentralization/Regionalism:[32] A high degree of regional autonomy in the provision of social services and development initiatives (healthcare, education, community development and infrastructure).
  4. Constitutional and legal reforms: This should aim at curbing/limiting presidential power by creating new centers of power, for example, the position of Prime Minister; the formulation of laws establishing institutions that will fortify the state against leaders motivated by self-aggrandizement; overhaul of the electoral framework[33]; constitutional limitation of government (checks against fiscal or general economic and social discrimination or perversion of official policy and minimizes opportunism and rent seeking through institutionalization).[34]
  5. National land Reforms and employment for the youth in public work projects.
  6. Banning, dismantling and prosecution of illegal ethnic militia and their specific members involved in the post-election violence especially those involved in crimes against humanity (rapes and mass murder).
  7. Government Sponsored National Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to bring about healing, forgiveness and to address historical injustices.
  8. Public Civic Peace Education (both as part of the primary, secondary and tertiary level curriculum, and at the community/village level).





To Civil Society


Since 2002, political space has been open accommodating greater participation in the political process. However, most of the players in this sector were co-opted in government and, civil society, to some extent exhibited signs of dalliance with the politicians in government. This attitude needs to change and politicians need to be taken to task especially with regard to (1) and (2) above-that is, constitutional and legal reforms as well as power-sharing formulas.


To the International Community (U.S, the E.U and Member States, Canada and South Africa)


Pressure and attention on the political class should be sustained by calling them to take up political accountability and responsibility. Reckless politicians who incite violence or are involved in grand corruption should have their foreign visas revoked (travel bans) and their financial assets abroad frozen.[35]




Beneath the political calm in Kenya lurk structural tensions that need to be addressed. There is political will to do so and this is desirable to all the relevant parties concerned. Some of these are common knowledge, and while there is need for more open national dialogue, the coalition government should waste no time to ensure that this is acted upon. There should be a systematic and planned process of defusing the underlying causes of tensions and instability. Upon the bedrock of constitutional and institutional reforms, cooperative ethnic relations and equable distribution of public goods lies a stable future for Kenya. The right steps are being taken but it should not be seen to fumble. Only then can the country be said to be a regional hub for democracy, stability and progress in the region.




Physical Map of Kenya


Ethnic Group Distribution and Conflict, 1991-1998




Nakuru Molo Kipsigis, Ogiek vs. Kikuyu and Kisii
Njoro Kisii, Kipsigis, Ogiek vs. Kikuyu
Olenguruone Kipsigis, Ogiek vs. Kikuyu and Kisii
Kericho Londiani Kipsigis vs. Kikuyu, Kisii Luo, Kamba and Luhya
Fort Tenan Kipsigis vs. Kikuyu, Kisii, Luhya, Kamba and Luo.
Kipkelion Kipsigis vs. Kikuyu, Kisii, Luo Kamba and Luhya
Thessalia Kipsigis vs. Luo
Kunyak Kipsigis vs. Luo
Sondu Kipsigis vs. Luo
Narok Enoosupukia Maasai vs. Kikuyu
Laikipia Ol Moran Samburu, Turkana, Pokot vs. Kikuyu.
Nandi Mireitei Nandi vs. Kikuyu, Luhya and Kisii
Kamasai Nandi vs. Luhya
Owiro Nandi vs. Luo
Songhor Nandi vs. Luo
Uasin Gishu Burnt Forest Nandi vs. Kikuyu
Turbo Nandi vs. Luhya
Trans Nzoia Saboti Sabaot vs. Bukusu, Pokot vs. Luhya
Trans Mara Nyangusu Kisii vs. Maasai
Kisumu Sondu Kipsigis vs. Luo
Ochodororo Kisii vs. Luo
Nyangusu Kisii vs. Maasai
Bungoma Mt. Elgon Sabaot vs. Bukusu, Teso and Kikuyu
Mombasa Likoni Digo vs. Luo, Kikuyu and other upcountry people.
Matuga Digo vs. Luo, Kikuyu and other upcountry people
Tana River Bangale Degodia vs. Orma
Garsen Orma vs. Galjael
Itola-Garsen Wardei vs. Pokomo


Ogaden vs. Monyoyaya
Nandi Degodia vs. Orma
Boka Degodia vs. Ogaden
Garissa Benane Ogaden vs. Borana
Saka Ogaden vs. Monyoyaya
Masalani Ogaden vs. Pokomo
Grufti Degodia vs. Ajuran
Hadado Degodia vs. Ajuran
Bute Degodia vs. Ajuran
Habeswrin Degodia vs. Ogaden
Mandera Bagalla Degodia vs. Borana and Gabra
Kotulo Garre vs. Degodia
Korofa Harer Garre vs. Degodia
Mansa Garre vs. Degodia


Isiolo Garbatulla Borana vs. Degodia
Benane Borana vs. Ogaden
Budhudha Borana vs. Degodia
Moyale Moyale Town Borana vs. Degodia
Marsabit Archers Post Borana vs. Degodia

Source: The Akiwumi Report (1999)



Composition of the Cabinet by Ethnic Groups during the Kenyatta Regime (1963-1978)

Ethnic Group 1966 1967 1968 1970 1978
Kikuyu 6   28.57% 6   28.57% 8   31.57% 6   28.72% 6   28.57%
Luhya 2   9.52% 2   9.52% 1   5.26% 2   9.52% 1   4.76%
Luo 3   14.28% 3   14.28% 3   15.78% 2   9.52% 3   14.28%
Kalenjin 1   4.72% 1   4.76% 1   5.26% 2   9.52% 1   4.76%
Kamba 1   4.76% 2   9.52% 2   10.52% 2   9.52% 2   9.52%
Kisii 2   9.2% 2   9.52% 1   5.26% 2   9.52% 2   9.52%
Meru 1   4.76% 1   4.76% 1   5.26% 1   4.76% 1   4.76%
Mijikenda 2   9.25% 2   9.52% 2   10.52% 2   9.52% 3   14.28%
Other 3   14.28% 2   9.52% 1   10.52% 2   9.52% 2   9.52%


Ministerial Representation of Ethnic Groups in the Moi Era (1979 – 2001)

Ethnic Group 1979 1982 1985 1987 1994 1998 2001
Kikuyu 8 (30%) 7 (25%) 5 (20%) 4 (14.2%) 1   (4.16%) 1   (4%) 1   (4%)
Luhya 3 (11%) 3 (11%) 2   (8%) 3 (10.7%) 4   (17%) 5 (19%) 4 (14%)
Luo 3 (11%) 3 (11%) 4 (16%) 5 (17.8%) 1 (4.16%) 0 (0) 2   (7%)
Kalenjin 3 (11%) 3 (11%) 3 (12%) 2 (7.1%) 4 (17%) 6 (22%) 5 (17%)
Kamba 2 (7.6%) 2 (7.4%) 2 (8%) 3 (10.7%) 4 (17%) 4(14.8%) 4(14.28%)
Kisii 2 (7.6%) 2 (7.4%) 1 (4%) 2 (7.1%) 2 (8.3%) 2 (7.4%) 2 (7.14%)
Meru 1 (3.8%) 2 (7.4%) 1 (40%) 1   (3.5%) 2 (8.3%) 1 (3.7%) 1 (3.57%)
Mijikenda 2 (7.6%) 2 (7.4%) 2 (8%) 2 (7.1%) 2 (8.3%) 2(7.4%) 2 (7.14%)
Other 2 (7.6%) 3 (11%) 5 (20%) 6 (21.2%) 4 (17%) 6 (22 %) 7 (25%)

Source: Kanyinga and Munguti (2003)




Figure I: The Kikuyu-centric Kenyatta State, 1963-1978

The Kikuyu-centric Kenyatta State, 1963-1978

Figure II: The Kalenjin-centric Moi state, 1978-2002

The Kalenjin-centric Moi state, 1978-2002

Code: X Indicates ethnic groups for whom the state is irrelevant due to its remoteness, superficiality and lack of penetration in their ethno-regions of habitation.




Results of Presidential Elections by Region/Administrative Provinces 1992 (The Ethnic Group of candidates in brackets)

                          VOTE OF CANDIDATE BY % (PER CENT)
Province Moi




Oginga Odinga (Luo) Matiba


Nairobi 17 19 20 44 0.5
Central 2 35 1 62 0.7
Eastern 38 50 1.6 11 0.8
Rift Valley 68 8 6 19 0.2
Coast 64 11 17 8 0.8
Western 40 3 18 39 0.3
Nyanza 14 6 75 3.3 1.7
North Eastern 78 4 7 10 1.0

1997 (The Ethnic Group of candidates in brackets)

Province Moi




Raila Odinga






Nairobi 21 44 17 6 11 0.7
Central 6 90 0.7 0.3 3 0.7
Eastern 35 27 0.8 0.8 37 0.6
Rift Valley 72 20 1.6 6 0.7 0.3
Coast 63 14 8 3 11 0.5
Western 45 1.3 2 50 0.5 1.2
Nyanza 24 16 55 2 1.7 1.3
North Eastern 7873 19 0.3 7 0.6 0.2

Presidential Election Results-Absolute Figures- (1992) by Province and Candidate

Province Moi (Kalenjin) Matiba (Kikuyu) Kibaki


Oginga Odinga


Total vote
Nairobi 62,401 (16.6%) 165,533 (44.1%) 69,715 (18.6%) 75,898 (20.2%) 375,574
Central 21,882 (2.1%) 621,368 (60.1%) 372,937 (36.1%) 10,765 (1.0%) 1,034,016
Eastern 290,494 (36.8%) 80,515 (10.2%) 398,727   (50.5%) 13,064 (1.7%) 789,233
North Eastern 57,400 (78.1%) 7,440 (10.1%) 3,297   (4.5%) 5,237   (7.1%) 73,460
Coast 200,596 (64.1%) 35,598 (11.4%) 23,766   (7.6%) 50,516 (16.1%) 312,993
Rift Valley 994,844 (67.8%) 274,011 (18.7%) 111,098   (7.6%) 83,945 (5.7%) 1,467,503
Western 217,375 (40.9%) 192,859 (36.3%) 19,115   (3.6%) 94,851 (17.9%) 531,159
Nyanza 111,873 (14.4%) 26,922   (3.3%) 51,962 (6.4%) 609,921   (74.7%) 816,387
Total 1,962,866 1,404,266 1,050,617 944,197 5,400,324

Source: Daily Nation, 5th January (1993)



[1] The serious and obvious election rigging especially in the presidential polls was only a trigger factor that sparked the historical structural root causes such as fomented ethno-regional relations. This serves to illustrate that the predominantly military view of peace as the inexistence or absence of physical combat or the absence of war is significantly flawed.

[2] The word Majimbo is from the Swahili word jimbo, which literally means region it gained currency at the time and effectively became an ethnic ideology (ethnic nationalism) that has dictated who gets what, when and where from independence to the present. For more see Githuku N.K., Ethnic Conflict and its Implications for Social and Economic Development in Kenya, 1963-2004, M.A Thesis, Armed Conflict & Peace Studies, Department of History and Archaeology, University of Nairobi (2004); and the International Crisis Group Africa Report N°137– 21 February 2008 entitled, “Kenya in Crisis,” p. 4- which points out that Majimbo (devolution) is “negatively associated in the collective memory with the support for federalism and against the unitary state expressed by minority communities at independence.”

[3] The Guardian, 11th October 1963, p.2 as quoted by Okwemba in Githuku N.K., Ibid, p.5.

[4] Shifta is a colloquialization of the English words shifter and shifting, which was the name used to refer to the guerilla tactics of Somali ethnic group in North Eastern part of Kenya who attempted to secede to merge with a Greater Somalia carved out of parts of Kenya and Ethiopia in the late 1960s. It could also refer to their nomadic lifestyle as pastoralists moving around in their semi-arid environment in search of pasture and water for their livestock.

[5] Politics in Kenya mainly revolve around political figures and personalities as opposed to strict loyalty to ideology or political parties. To launch onto the national arena and political clout, politicians play the ethnic card and drum support from these primary political constituencies.

[6] History shows that most of these ethnic alliances under the umbrella of political parties are, for the most part, political marriages of convenience and, therefore, for purposes of political expedience as opposed to any significant ideological differences.

[7] That is National Rainbow Coalition a relic of the widely popular and multi-ethnic political alliance that ran out the former President Daniel Arap Moi out of Nairobi by defeating his self-appointed successor, Uhuru Kenyatta (who happens to be the son of the first president of the country, Jomo Kenyatta).

[8] That is Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Kenya) which is yet another outfit that has its origins in the clamour for multi-party politics in the early 1990s. It is one of the splinter-parties that would emerge with the break up of the original multi-ethnic and widely popular Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD)-this was a formidable party composed of the major ethnic groups among them the Luo, Kikuyu, Luhya and the Kamba. The other factions are; National Democratic Party (the precursor of the Liberal Democratic Party that spearheaded the Orange Democratic Movement-O.D.M, a major player in the December 2007 presidential elections); and FORD-Asili. The original FORD broke up into FORD-Kenya and FORD-Asili before the 1992 elections. In the intervening period, the former would break into two rival factions: FORD-K and N.D.P, the former comprising of the Luhya ethnic group of Western Kenya and the latter of the Luo of Nyanza Province. FORD-Asili would soon follow suit and break up into FORD-A and FORD-People.

[9] For purposes of this analysis, the discussion of ethnic groups as actors by extension will include their behaviour and prevalent attitudes as well as the major sources of discontent/interests. This is because allusion to their behaviour and interest is largely unavoidable at this juncture. Indeed, the definition and description of ethnic groups as actors, and ethnic competition, is inextricably linked to their behaviour and interests, both present and past. However, these-contractions/interests and compatibilities as well as behaviour are outlined below.

[10] The International Crisis Group Africa Report, Ibid, p.11.

[11] See Appendix C on the distribution of cabinet positions during the Kenyatta (1963-1978) and Moi (1979-2001) eras.

[12] This is consistent with the “politics of the belly” paradigm advanced by Bayart (1993) which argues that societies like Kenya where there is competition for State spoils, individuals politicians, groups and administrations “pursue the struggle for influence in order to maintain themselves in positions of responsibility” installing themselves, and hoarding power for purposed of assured long-term benefit or self-aggrandizement . See Githuku, N.K.,

[13] As Githuku, N.K, p.162-163 notes, the development prerogative in post-colonial Kenya rests on the President and the clique around him, drawn from his/her immediate ethnic group and elite in the ethnic alliance in power. For a long time development in the country has been in the form of Presidential favours bestowed on the basis of loyalty to the seat of power, and opposition the willingness to forego it.

[14] See The International Crisis Group Report, Ibid, pp.11-12 for more information.

[15] The International Crisis Group Report Ibid, p.11. Ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley Province was systematic with the warriors being ferried by lorries as this Report notes. These militia was behind the burning to death at least thirty people, most of them children, after locking them up in a church in Eldoret on 1st January 2008. (It worth noting that while this has historically been the trend-that is, bankrolling of such outfits such as the dreaded Mungiki, Kamjesh, Jeshi la Mzee and Taliban by political and business leaders, this particular information, which was first made published in this Report caused a national stir when it suggested that international athletes that the region is famous for, were also funding this illicit gangs. It must be categorically stated here that reference to this particular source, made herein, by no means, explicitly or implicitly, endorses or acknowledges such information to be true or allude/suggest that there was any such involvement. This is the domain of the rightful and relevant authorities to which end, partly, the Government of Kenya has established an investigative commission).

[16] This social movement was formed by young Kikuyu men in Rift Valley Province with the vision of bringing about an awakening of Kikuyu traditional values and beliefs as well as making them self-reliant by enlisting them into community labour on land owned collectively (an attempt to revival the Kikuyu traditional land tenure system). Indeed, Mungiki means, loosely, community or a coming together of people. As such, it was a religious sect cum economic movement.

[17] It targeted individual Public Service Vehicle owners and operators whom were beheaded in the most inhumane manner. Most of the victims of this violence were fellow Kikuyu from Central and Nairobi Provinces. See the ICG Report, Ibid, Pp.13-15.

[18] They are known to mete out violence against unarmed civilian using not only crude weapons but also guns and grenades.

[19] See the International Crisis Group Report, p. 12.

[20] ICG Report, Ibid, p. 28. The EU was planning €383 million for the period 2008-2013, but in response to events, the European Parliament voted to suspend this aid pending a satisfactory resolution of the crisis. The U.S. signed a statement with fourteen bilateral donors warning that there will be no “business as usual” until a political settlement is reached

[21] This included the former Presidents Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania and Graca Machel that arrived in Nairobi on 22nd January 2008.

[22] Both the media practitioners (journalist body) and the government have since embarked on two exclusive enquiries into the role the media played in fueling the violence. For more on this see ICG Report p.13.

[23] See Section III (Present Day Actors and Attitudes), Part (b) Ethnic groups: Behaviour and Interests for more of this. [Compare footnote 21 with footnote 9 above].

[24] See ICG Report, Ibid, p.13.

[25] Note that this is not based on empirical evidence or data but is a personal observation of the author.

[26] A process that has been ongoing since February 2008.

[27] The Minister of Finance, Mr. Amos Kimunya, a Kikuyu and an ally of the President, has recently-8th July 2008- resigned amid alleged involvement in corruption.

[28] The country is not yet quite out of the political woods!

[29] As espoused by Lijphart A., in Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration, Yale University, Popular Prakashan (1982) pp. 1-24.

[30] That is, the sacrifice of national unity and inter-ethnic harmony at the altar of personal political ambition and power by playing the ethnic card.

[31] Also see Githuku, N.K., Ibid, Pp. 179-180. According to Lijphart (1982) consociational democracy is a device for achieving both national unity and democracy and not ethnic representation.

[32] Disaggregating central power by adopting a form of federalism that allows a free hand for the running of regional internal affairs. See Githuku N.K, Ibid, p.180 for a more elaborate discussion of the above including views from seasoned Kenyan scholars such as Ogot B.A and Michael Chege.

[33] See Githuku N.K, Ibid, p.182 for more on this.

[34] In other words, limit the authority of the state to power assigned to it as elaborated by the constitution. This is effected either by assigning the Supreme Court of the land the duty of acting as a counteracting agency enforcing compliance and maintaining the social contract. Other mechanisms/strategies exist, for example, having a constitution that is self-enforcing, which would have effect. See Mbaku (1999) and Githuku N.K, Ibid, p.182.

[35] Indeed, this tactic worked very well to demonstrate to politicians that they could not afford to breakdown the country thinking that they could always flee when things got too hot: Travel bans and the threat of freezing foreign accounts was a catalyst in resolving the political crisis and a useful ingredient for the political settlement reached.


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Nicholas Githuku

Assistant Professor, African History at York College, CUNY
Nicholas Githuku is a Ph.D. holder in African Studies. His research interests include: War & Peace Studies in general; Conflict and Security and mediation in general and trends in the Great Lakes the Horn Regions of Africa; Memorialization of War; Development studies (Sub-Saharan Africa): Postcolonial/Contemporary Kenyan Politics; European History (1648 to 1900); First and Second World Wars; and Post-1989 Eastern Europe (Balkans) History.