Why the ethnic factor may be losing its power

Ethnic patriotism has generally pushed a wedge amongst Kenyans

As Kenya gears up for a standard election on 9 August, the BBC’s Dickens Olewe writes that ethnic divisions have lengthy bedevilled the nation’s politics – while there are signals this may now be switching.

On a chilly early morning on 20 January 1994 I walked into the classroom to taunts.

I never don’t forget a great deal of what was stated but 1 stayed with me.

“Your god is lifeless,” a classmate shouted.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s initial vice-president who later grew to become a doyen of opposition politics, had died.

Even with only becoming in most important college, we ended up all properly versed about our country’s ethnic-centered politics, so my classmate comprehended what a substantial political loss the death was to the Luo local community.

Ethnic taunting was not unusual in college playgrounds and even in school rooms, in which some teachers utilized stereotypes to praise or criticise pupils’ behaviour.

This was, and nevertheless is, largely noticed as harmless humour, but occasionally it turns destructive.

One more hanging instant came eight yrs afterwards when a confident 4-year-outdated lady walked up to me on my to start with working day volunteering at a charity supporting weak family members in Nairobi, and asked a pointed issue in Swahili: “Wewe ni kabila gani?” – in English: “What is actually your tribe?

She wasn’t happy with my mealy-mouthed reply, in particular since I later learnt that my ethnicity experienced been portion of an intensive debate with her friends – their interest likely inspired by the heady political conversations of the time.

The childhood curiosity was lovable, but I felt unpleasant. Social mores had taught me to abhor this kind of queries, particularly when place so bluntly. I also concerned what my response would necessarily mean to her.

Kenya’s politics has been dominated by level of competition between its more than 40 ethnic teams, but it truly is especially intense between the greater kinds.

Protesters chant slogans while marching during a protest to demand peaceful elections and justice for victims of post-election violence in Nairobi, Kenya on June 23, 2022

Kenya gained its independence from the British isles in 1963

Politicians normally exploit historic grudges and cultural discrepancies to incite violence so they can gain elections.

This cynical technique is as old as time and its tragic penalties go on to be skilled the environment about.

In Kenya, ethnic identity has been made use of to grant privileges – often it is really the only qualification thought of for a work, a vote in the election, or even in accessing mundane favours from an individual in a posture of authority.

It has been weaponised to humiliate and frustrate others – a problem that breeds a siege mentality in all those bearing the brunt, and a sense of entitlement among the those people benefiting from it.

Politics consequently becomes a zero-sum recreation, at the expenditure of addressing urgent issues that could much better people’s life.

Kenya observed horrific ethnic-based mostly violence right after the disputed 2007 election, when a lot more than 1,500 people today had been killed, hundreds more ended up hurt and 600,000 had been compelled to flee their households.

The violence was possibly Kenya’s lowest second considering that independence.

A country that had largely been tranquil, and experienced made available sanctuary to hundreds of hundreds of refugees from across the continent, experienced turned on itself. The trauma of that time still lingers.

A woman walks past a destroyed butcher's shop at Burnt Forest on January 6, 2008 near Eldoret, Kenya.

Many men and women are nevertheless demanding justice for the violence that took area right after the 2007 election

During this election, some households approach to quickly move to regions where by their ethnic team is the greater part to stay clear of getting victimised, whilst mixed-ethnicity couples normally encounter the most important obstacle as they compute exactly where it would be most secure.

“Kenya has a unfortunate historical past of unresolved grievances, stretching 50 many years, that typically bring about violence, and politicians have become adept at producing fear among communities,” Sam Kona, a commissioner at the state’s Nationwide Cohesion and Integration Fee (NCIC), explained to the BBC.

“Individuals are blind to the actuality that this is just a contestation of electricity among the elite, and after it is more than, the elite get with each other no matter if they gained or not,” he included.

Mr Kona reported tensions among communities in the six counties which NCIC has labelled as probable hotspots in the future election have been for the reason that of “skipped chances to reconcile”.

He pointed out that Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010, making 47 counties – with their have governors – to conclusion a winner-requires-all mentality.

It promised that all counties would be addressed equally, and would get a honest share of the nationwide budget to plan their have enhancement to avoid the will need for diverse groups to contend for sources.

“Unfortunately most Kenyans nonetheless see the presidency as the most important supply of electricity – a scenario that causes pressure,” Mr Kona stated, including that the NCIC experienced intensified efforts to promote peace in likely flashpoints.

Governance skilled John Githongo had to flee the country in 2005 simply because he was considered a traitor by some associates of his Kikuyu neighborhood following he uncovered a huge corruption scandal in the administration of then-President Mwai Kibaki, a fellow Kikuyu.

He told the BBC ethnic mobilisation was fewer overt in this election campaign, largely because Deputy President William Ruto has shaped it as a contest concerning “dynastic people” and “hustlers”.

He lumps his key challenger, Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition politician and the son of Kenya’s initial vice-president, in the former category, together with President Uhuru Kenyatta,the son of the initial president. Even though he portrays himself as the winner of “hustlers” – a reference to poor Kenyans.

Mr Odinga has criticised the framing as an try to divide Kenyans together class traces, and has focussed his marketing campaign on a concept of unity.


The two major presidential candidates have often had shifting alliances

But in a major modify from past campaigns, the two front-runners have typically traded barbs over their economic and social policies.

This is not shocking as the election arrives in the midst of a price tag-of-dwelling disaster, worsened by superior unemployment and a enormous nationwide personal debt.

In a key intervention just months ahead of the election, President Kenyatta’s federal government introduced that maize flour – used to make the country’s staple food items, ugali – will be subsidised to deliver down its price tag.

Mr Ruto noticed the timing as an endeavor to bolster Mr Odinga’s possibilities in the election.

Mr Kenyatta is backing Mr Odinga in the election, even even though Mr Ruto is his deputy.

It is a indicator of the shifting nature of alliances in just Kenya’s ethnically-influenced political elite. In 2007 Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto teamed up against Mr Kibaki, who Mr Kenyatta was supporting.

Some of the worst violence after the 2007 election pitted customers of Mr Ruto’s Kalenjin local community from Kikuyus like Mr Kenyatta, with people killed on the foundation of their ethnic background.

Nonetheless, in 2013 and 2017 Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto joined forces towards Mr Odinga, a Luo, only for Mr Kenyatta to now toss his fat guiding Mr Odinga.

“Kenyans have grown worn out of all the byzantine alliances they have been seeing amongst the elite,” mentioned Murithi Mutiga, Africa programme director at the Intercontinental Crisis Group.

“I feel this has built Kenyans much far more indifferent, considerably less inflamed, much extra probable to see that the elite are basically just enjoying their possess sport,” he extra.

Mr Githongo reported that claimed that whilst ethnic tensions increase for the duration of elections, “people today are marrying each individual other promptly afterwards”.

“Among the the youth it’s considerably much less of a trouble but the politicians mobilise together ethnic lines,” he included.

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