But hired thugs have been perpetually on the scene, drawn from an underclass with nothing to lose and no jobs. In the 1990s they burned down Gikomba to get the land for developers/corrupt government officials. Kenyan elections have been notoriously corrupt and have involved, to a greater or lesser extent, attacks by thugs on voters in every election. Toward the end of his regime Moi used them as well as the police to attack opposition leaders in the yearly protests in favor of multi-party government on Saba-Saba, July 7th.

Kenya's 2006 Nobel Peace Prizewinner, Dr. Wangari Maathai, was the victim of one of these attacks while leading a protest and so spent time in hospital as well as in jail, while Ngugi wa Thiong'o and his wife were beaten by thugs during a brief visit to Kenya more recently. Banditry and other forms of robbery have been common in and around Nairobi in particular, but also in some rural areas. A friend who was kidnapped and robbed in Nairobi christened it "Nairobbery".

Such violence and corruption also should not surprise us. Kenya's colonial regime relied on violence, especially during the 1950s Emergency. The British declared the Emergency when urban and rural guerrilla warfare began in central Kenya in 1952. Anti-colonial Kenyan nationalists (dominantly but not exclusively Kikuyu) attempted to achieve independence, calling themselves the Land and Freedom army, but called (and vilified) by the British as "Mau Mau." Those deemed to be Mau Mau fighters, or terrorists, along with many civilians, were interned in concentration camps and murdered by the thousands (fewer than a hundred whites were killed in the uprising).

These casualties are still a subject of denial and controversy in Kenya. One of the true ironies of Kenyan history is that after independence President Kenyatta, suspected by the British of being a Mau Mau leader and jailed as a result, declared that former Mau Mau freedom fighters were not to get land redistributed in reform efforts.

Understanding Kenya

So when we consider the massive problems in Kenya, then, "tribalism" is not the kind of explanation that a thoughtful public should accept. It may be useful as an easily digestible, simple explanation, and one that has the virtue of deploying the African "primitive" stereotype to play to American misconceptions about Africa. It is also useful for Kenyan government officials seeking to maximize their authority through manipulation of public loyalties and distraction from economic issues. Instead we need to understand the current crisis in Kenya as rooted in patterns of Kenyan history, not the least of which is the way governments have manipulated the idea of "tribe" to strengthen their hold on power, just as the British did during the colonial era.

Only when Kenya has achieved the kind of accountability and transparency in government proceedings that is one demand of the opposition—a form of politics that creates the possibility of achieving grassroots prosperity for the vast majority in the form of adequate infrastructure and promotion of small enterprises—will true political stability be possible and Kenyans' great collective energy devoted to communal advancement.

Kenya People

Mwai Kibaki [back to article]
Born 15 November 1931, "Kikuyu"

Holds a B.Sc. with distinction in Public Finance from London School of Economics

Kibaki was elected President in 2002. On November 23, 2005 Kibaki dismissed his entire cabinet in the middle of his administration's first term.. The only members of the cabinet office to be spared a midterm exit were the Vice President and Minister of Home Affairs, Moody Awori, and the Attorney General whose position is constitutionally protected. The Cabinet was thereafter appointed, but some MPs who were offered ministerial positions declined to take up posts in the New Cabinet

Kibaki unveiled Vision 2030, a scheme to raise annual GDP by 10% on October 30, 2006. Kibaki's administration has seen continued GDP growth for 4 straight years, from a low 0.6% in 2002 to 6% in 2006.

Kibaki belongs to the Roman Catholic Church and attends the Holy Family Basilica Church.

Famous Quotes-
"[there is] no room for communists in Kenya"


Raila Odinga [back to article]
7 January 1945 "Luo"

On December 30, 2007, the chairman of the Kenyan election commission controversially declared Raila's opponent, incumbent president Kibaki, the winner of the presidential election by a margin of about 230,000 votes. Raila challenged the results, alleging fraud by the election commission but has refused a recount. Independent international observers have since stated that the poll was marred by irregularities, especially at the final vote tallying stages.

Raila lists himself as a social democrat.

Oginga Odinga [back to article]

1911-20 January 1994 "Luo"

Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga became a prominent figure in Kenya's struggle for independence. He later served as Kenya's first vice-president after being defeated in that first election by Kenyatta, and thereafter as opposition leader.

Odinga started the Luo Thrift and Trading Corporation in1947.


Jomo Kenyatta [back to article]
20 October1894? – 22 August 1978 "Kikuyu"
Kenyatta served as the first Prime Minister (1963–1964) and President (1964–1978) of Kenya. He is considered the founding father of the Kenyan nation.
Kenyatta was born Kamau wa Ngengi in the village of Ngenda, Gatundu, in British East Africa (now Kenya)

Kenyatta briefly studied economics in Moscow at the Comintern school, KUTVU (University of the Toilers of the East). In 1934 he enrolled at University College London and from 1935 studied social anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. He published his revised thesis as "Facing Mount Kenya" in 1938 under his new name Jomo Kenyatta.

Famous Quotes-
"When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the Land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible."
"Some people try deliberately to exploit the colonial hangover for their own purpose, to serve an external force. To us, Communism is as bad as imperialism."

Ngugi wa Thiong'o [back to article]
5 January 1938 "Kikuyu"

Kenyan author of novels, plays, short stories. After exile from Kenya, became a professor at Yale and NYU

President Daniel arap Moi [back to article]
2 September 1924 "Kalenjin"

Daniel Toroitich arap Moi (born September 2, 1924) was the President of Kenya from 1978 until 2002.

Thus when Kenyatta died on August 22, 1978, Moi became president and took the oath of office. The Kikuyu elite referred to him as "a passing cloud" and a "limping sheep that could not lead other sheep to the pasture", the implication being that he would be pushed aside in a short while to allow them back into power.

Moi took the opportunity after a failed coup to dismiss political opponents and consolidate his power. He reduced the influence of Kenyatta's men in the cabinet through a long running judicial enquiry that resulted in the identification of key Kenyatta men as traitors. Moi pardoned them but not before establishing their traitor status in the public view. The main conspirators in the coup, including Ochuka were sentenced to death, marking the last judicial executions in Kenya. He appointed supporters to key roles and changed the constitution to establish a de jure single-party state.

Moi won elections in 1992 and 1997, which were marred by political killings on both sides. Moi skillfully exploited Kenya's mix of ethnic tensions in these contests, with the ever present fear of the smaller tribes being dominated by the larger tribes. In the absence of an effective and organized opposition Moi had no difficulty in winning. Although it is also suspected that electoral fraud may have occurred, the key to his victory in both elections was a divided opposition.

Dr. Wangari Maathai [back to article]
1 April 1940 "Kikuyu"

Environmentalist, global green party advocate and Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Holds a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine.

Kenya Ethnicities

Bantu Groups

Kikuyu [back to article]
The Kikuyu primarily live around Mount Kenya, they migrated into the area from East and North East Africa during the 16th century. For the Kikuyu, land ownership is the most important social, political, religious, and economic factor. They have a complex system of land ownership that revolves around close kin, The importance of land brought them into conflict with the colonial government when white settlers and farmers occupied their traditional lands. Today, Kikuyu farmers produce most of the fresh produce consumed in Nairobi, as well as coffee and tea for export.

The Luyha live around Kakamega in western Kenya.

Akamba (or Ukambani)
The Akamba migrated into their present homeland, which is east of Nairobi towards Tsavo national park, around 1800. Known as accomplished traders across Eastern Africa, they also traded for food with their neighbors the Maasai and the Kikuyu.

The Meru is a blanket ethnicity that includes eight different groups. They migrated to the North East side of Mount Kenya from the Eastern coast of Africa.

Nilotic Groups

Luo [back to article]
The Luo settled on the shores of Lake Victoria, migrating there from the Sudan around 500 years ago. The Luo have played an important role in the middle of the 20th century during the independence struggle.

Kalenjin [back to article]
The Kalenjin migrated to the Rift Valley from the Sudan around 2000 years ago. Kalenjin is a blanket ethnicity that comprises the Kalenjin are the Kipsigis, Nandi, Tugen, and Elyogo. Kenya's current president, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, is a Tugen. Because of his political power, the Kalenjin have become politically powerful.

Maasai (Masai) [back to article]
The Maasai migrated to Kenya from the Sudan about 1,000 years ago and They are famed outside of Kenya as stoic and brave lion hunters and warriors. In spite of pressure from the Kenyan government to modernize, the Maasai have maintained much of their traditional cultural practices.

The Turkana live in Northern Kenya, near Lake Turkana on arid land.
They are related to the Maasai and the Samburu, and also have a reputation as fierce warriors and cattle herding.

The Samburu live around Maralal in Northern Central Kenya. They are still nomadic people and when pasture becomes scarce in this semi-arid land, they pack up their manyattas (small settlements) on camels and move with their cattle.