Skip to Content

How Politicians Promote and Lie about Tribalism in Kenya

  • Author Gĩthĩnji
  • Updated on:

Most people blame tribalism in Kenya for the country’s failure to progress. Other factors include corruption and bad leadership.

Tribalism in Kenya arises when one or more ethnic communities exalt themselves above other communities. This results from tribal consciousness and loyalty of the members who then exalt their tribe above the other groups. Tribalism in Kenya also emphasizes strong loyalty within the groups.

This loyalty to one’s tribe breeds strong negative feelings for people outside the group. This is the common characteristic of tribalism in Kenya. It intertwines with negative ethnicity.

Tribalism is sometimes a form of identity for people in a particular social group. However, tribalism in Kenya has many corrupting influences.

Table of ContentsShow/Hide

The colonial government institutionalized tribalism in Kenya

The segregationist policies of the colonial administration promoted tribalism in Kenya. They restricted Africans into native reserves. The ethnic communities in these reserves viewed the reserves as their exclusive domains.

When communities from other parts came into these reserves, the locals viewed them as intruders. This created a form of ethnic nationalism, often centred on land issues. The ‘intruders’ had to be sent away by force at all costs.

The British used tribalism in Kenya to divide and rule the local communities and suppress their unity.

The British colonialists viewed the different tribes as a means to use the ‘divide and rule’ system against them. They discouraged the promotion of a common language of understanding (like Kiswahili) and used collaborating communities to suppress the resisting ones. This created hatred among the resisting communities for the collaborating ones.

The post-colonial administrations further institutionalized tribalism in Kenya. We thought that they could unite us and rub out the legally sanctioned tribalism at the time. They did not. They were preoccupied with looting public resources under the guise of their tribes. In fact, tribalism in Kenya became worse after the colonialists left and the elite black neo-colonialists took over.

Political Elite Sanction Tribalism in Kenya

Tribalism is the centre of governance and politics in Kenya. The 2013 presidential debate showed this fact clearly. All the presidential candidates at the time agreed that it emanates primarily from poor and weak governance and leadership. Almost all of them agreed that the elite propagated tribalism and ethnicity.

For example, presidential aspirant Mohammed Dida placed the origin of tribalism in Kenya from the 5% who form the oligarchy in Kenya. Other causes of tribalism in Kenya that the candidates stated include corruption, poverty, inequitable resource distribution, and marginalization.

The candidates gave various solutions to address tribalism in Kenya. They include:

  • socio-economic empowerment;
  • enacting and implementing the constitution;
  • reforming leadership and governance;
  • promoting equality in resource distribution; and
  • publicly auditing the public service on ethnic distribution.

The moderators of the debate put to task Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta for utilizing tribalism in their campaigns.

Uhuru defended the Jubilee Alliance claiming it was a ‘platform of issues and unity’. He admitted that politicians used tribalism in Kenya in their campaigns, but denied Jubilee was tribal. Uhuru defended remarks he made in Meru at the time that people ‘should not subdivide the vote’. He claimed that he meant that people in different platforms supporting one candidate should ‘consolidate their votes’ (Really???).

The moderators grilled Raila on using tribalism in Kenya in 2002, 2007 and the 2013 election campaigns. He defended himself by claiming that CORD was a ‘coalition of regions’. Raila said he brought Kikuyu-Luo unity in the 2002 elections to support Kibaki. He added that the ‘42 tribes against 1′ was a media creation and blamed his opponents as the originators of tribalism in the campaigns.

Kenyan politicians lie about tribalism in Kenya

However, it is obvious that Uhuru and Raila lied to Kenyans. Only elite members from a few ethnic groups dominated their political parties. They also drew major support from their ethnic groups.

For Jubilee, the Kikuyu and Kalenjin political elites dominated the party. The Kamba, Luhya, and Luo political elites dominated the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD). They then used scapegoat propaganda and tribalism to fool their ethnic communities to support their political cause.

For Musalia Mudavadi and his concentration on the Western block, he denied being tribal. He talked of having supported Uhuru and Raila for the presidency in 2002 and 2007 respectively.“Tribalism is not in my blood,” he claimed. Paul Muite, ole Kiyapi and Dida also advised for an end to tribalism in Kenya.

Peter Kenneth said that politicians were economical with the truth. He said the internally displaced persons (IDPs) showed the effects of tribal emotions since 1992. Martha Karua said the other candidates lied to Kenyans that there is no tribalism. She said Kenyans that share the same needs but politicians divide them using tribalism.

No politician can accept to peddling tribalism.

Martha Karua

Martha Karua further said that no politician could accept peddling tribalism. She promised accountability under the new laws for every leader for tribal deeds or speeches once elected. Her message to Kenyans was"Do not allow us (politicians) to mislead you.”

Same forest, different monkeys

Nothing changed in the political lineup to the 2017 general elections. The politicians and their political parties were still tribal. As it was in 2013, they still relied on political support from their ethnic backyards.

This is a phenomenon that will continue to unfold in future elections, unfortunately, unless changes occur.

This proves that Kenyan politicians continue to peddle and sanction tribalism and negative ethnicity across the country.

Related Articles