The Role of Politics in Fuelling Ethnicity & Ethnic Conflict in Kenya

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1584 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Jan 21, 2020

Words: 1584|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Jan 21, 2020

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Ethnicity
  3. 2013 General Elections
  4. Analysis
  5. Conclusion


Kenya is a multi-ethnic society with currently forty four tribes, the Makonde people and the Hindu having been recognized as ethnic communities. The most dominant tribes being the Agikuyu, Kalenjin, Abagusii, Akamba, Abaluhya and the Luos. In its history, it has experienced numerous episodes of political violence. This is usually associated with ethnic clashes that occurs during, and after the electioneering period.Historical background of ethnic conflictEthnic conflict dates back during the scramble and partition of Africa. In Kenya, the British used the indirect rule: divide and conquer method to gain territories.

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Through this, various communities in Kenya resisted the British while others collaborated. This brought enmity between those that collaborated and those that resisted-landmark of ethnic conflict.As early as in 1942, there were political parties based on each ethnic group. For example the Young Kavirondo Association for the Akamba, the Luhya union for the Abaluhya and so forth. Each political party had their main objective to protect the rights of their people.After independence, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta regime was to abolish ethnicity and uphold nationalism spirit by making Kiswahili the national language. Although, the regime put effort in ensuring nationalism through the national language and the celebration of public holiday, this failed as it was through the ethnicity that Mzee Jomo maintained power.


It’s described as one’s culture, or where one comes from: one’s ancestry rootsPaul Brass proposes that people mistakenly believe that certain social categories such as ethnicity are natural, inevitable, and unchanging facts about the social world. They believe that particular social categories are fixed by human nature rather than by social convention and practice. He argues that the reality is that social categories and the meaning of those social categories have changed over time.

Ethnic Conflic

Can be defined as a conflict between two or more ethnic groups for example the samburu and Maasai over cattle. Kimani Njogu et al argue that political violence results from the ability to exploit ethnic affiliations in societies to the extent that awareness is heightened about perceived inequalities in the distribution of power and resources. They argue that once mobilized, politicized violence that has an ethnic dimension tends to escalate quickly. Most significantly, they assert that ethnicity in itself is not a problem, but it is the exploitation of it that brings about civil strife.

Negative Ethnicity

Koigi Wamwere defines negative ethnicity as an ideology of defining ourselves with stereotypes that claims more humanity, superiority brain, beauty and entitlement for us in his book.

Legal Framework

The constitutional framework The constitution of Kenya 2010, tends to eliminate ethnicity in all aspects as provided for under the following provisions;We the people of Kenya are proud of our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, and determined to sustain it or the benefit of future generation. The state shall promote and protect the diversity of language of the people of Kenya. Idea behind formation of the political parties is that it should promote and uphold national unity and shall not be formed on religious, racial, gender and ethnic or seek to engage in advocacy of hatred on any such basis. Every person has a right to own property in any part of Kenya. There is no limitation as to where one can hold or not hold land or property, thus any person who resides within the country is able to acquire and maintain property at any given place at any given time.

The Freedom Of Movement And Residence

The constitution provides that any citizen is free to move and have a residence anywhere around the Kenyan soil. Multi-party state in KenyaEthnicity has always been mistaken to be termed or crucified as the main cause of ethnic conflicts. This has been argued by scholars that “whilst the prevalence of diverse ethnic groups in a state may not by itself lead to violent conflicts”. During the December 1992 elections, the people of Kenya were fighting for Kenya to be a multiparty state but the then regime KANU of the former president Daniel Arap Moi was opposing the movement and went as far as influencing ethnic violence in the Rift Valley region.

According to Osamba , the motives for the violence were in three folds: to prove the government always stated assertion that political pluralism was synonymous with ethnic chaos, to terrorize ethnic groups allegedly supporting the opposition and to intimidate non-indigenous people of Rift valley. A lot of people were killed as others became internally displaced.2007-2008 post-election ViolenceThis was the darkest period in the history of Kenya. There was blood shed and all over the country that led to the internally displaced people. This was after the announcement of the win of the former president Mwai Kibaki as the winner.

The government then established the Waki Commission to investigate the clashes following the disputed Kenyan presidential election. The Commission in its examination of the ways in which political violence manifested itself in Kenya resolved that the victims and perpetrators of the violence were determined on the basis of ethnicity. The Waki Commission saw the ethnic violence escalate and reinforce ethnic cleavages in the society.

2013 General Elections

In 2013, Mutahi Ngunyi made the following predictions in the general elections on Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory as president and was inevitable due to Jubilee Coalition’s “bankable” ethnic vote of 6.2 million (or 43.2% of the total vote). This number is basically a total of the registered GEMA (Gikuyu, Embu and Meru) and the Kalenjin voters. On that same logic of ethnicity, he reckoned that CORD Coalition started off with about 19.2% of the vote or 2.74 million votes.

The close competition then required targeting smaller communities and those who were in mixed-areas that were more cosmopolitan. This concept was used to determine the votes based on ethnicity that determined the presidential votes in the 2013 general elections in Kenya indicates that Kenyan voters base their support along ethnic lines. This not only amount to negative ethnicity bit also ethnic conflict among the different ethnic groups.

Comparison with RwandaJust like Kenya ethnic conflict is not an alien to Rwanda. There has always been some tension and disagreements between the Tutsis who are the minority and the majority Hutus since the colonial period. The Belgians colonists identified the Tutsis to be more superior to the Hutus hence got employed and had educational opportunities as compared to the Hutus. This contributed to the killing of close to twenty thousand Tutsis in 1959.Even after independence, the resentment between the two communities was still there.

The Tutsis who were refugees in Uganda formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front with the aim of overthrowing the president Habyarimana so as to regain their right to return to their homeland. Between April and June 1994 after the death of the Habyarimana when his plane was shot down above the Kigali Airport, it sparked the genocide that led to the death of an estimated eight hundred thousand people within a period of a hundred days.


Kenya through its past it seems to have a problem which is deep rooted called ethnicity since the colonial period up to now there is no change as to how one community treats another.It is evident enough that the constitution is the supreme law of the land in Kenya but it is only there theoretically but in essence there is ethnic wars between different ethnic diversity. For example it would be hard for Mwangi to own a piece of land near the lakeside where Otieno resides and vice versa.

The political parties and the political leaders have played a major role in fuelling ethnic conflict in Kenya through hate speech in every rally they attend in a different location for example when in Nyanza region they talk about Agikuyus being thieves.The constitution is crisp clear that we as the people of Kenya are proud of our ethnic diversity but this is not so and it is even difficult since each ethnic group is situated in different regions of the is even harder to correlate due to devolution as provided under chapter eleven of the constitution.Politics has since back in time played a part in ethnicity and ethnic conflict among the people of Kenya.

According to the constitution the political parties are not to be founded on ethnic nor engage in advocacy of hatred: this contrary as to what is witnessed in the day to day life. For example of the Jubilee Party; majorly its leaders are from the Nandis and the Agikuyus and some residues from the Abagusii community. This is actually contrary to what the constitution provides. It seems inevitable since all political parties seems to be based on a certain region comprising of certain communities.

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The act of politicizing ethnic identities has a major impact in ethnic conflict in Kenya. Political leaders have since time immemorial used ethnic diversity and affiliations for their on gain and interest forgetting about the common “mwananchi” thus turning the people against each other.It’s a high time that Kenyans should stop viewing ethnicity as a plaque and rather view it as an opportunity in general.The best way to eradicate ethnicity and ethnic conflict it’s through a slogan like ‘it starts with me’ in as much as ethnic conflict and ethnicity is fuelled by politics it would not hurt if each and every citizen refuses to be victimized by the politicians.

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The Role Of Politics In Fuelling Ethnicity & Ethnic Conflict In Kenya. (2020, January 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 13, 2024, from
“The Role Of Politics In Fuelling Ethnicity & Ethnic Conflict In Kenya.” GradesFixer, 15 Jan. 2020,
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