January 09, 2008
Kenya: Playing the Tribe Card
BY Edwin Okong'o
Kenyan-born journalist, Edwin Okong'o.
Editor's Note: In the wake of the ongoing ethnic violence that has erupted in Kenya following the disputed outcome of the December 27 presidential election, FRONTLINE/World journalist Edwin Okong'o, a Kenyan, explains the tribal rift in his country and how it has been exploited by rival politicians.
Already, more than 500 people, mainly women and children, have been killed in the slums of the capital, Nairobi, and in the western region. African and U.S. mediators are trying to avert an escalating conflict in a country that has, till now, been one of the more stable in Africa.
Most Kenyans are not tribal fundamentalists, as they have been portrayed in foreign media coverage of the ethnic violence that broke out after the December 27th presidential election. Since independence from Britain in 1963, Kenyans from different tribes have lived together in peace. Intercultural marriages and relationships, once taboo in many tribes, have become increasingly common. In Kenyan cities, people do not live in segregated neighborhoods. Most people in Kenya respect each other. There are no groups anywhere in Kenya publicly claiming tribal supremacy.
During election years, politicians work night and day to make sure that Kenyans replace their religious faith and political beliefs with tribal extremism.
What Kenya does suffer from are some politicians who use the poor for political gain, including the two men on top of the current political gridlock. Raila Odinga, a Luo and the man who says the presidency was stolen from him, is a loudmouth tribalist not afraid to utter ethnically divisive remarks to advance his career. The other, a Kikuyu, Mwai Kibaki, the man who is said to have rigged his victory to a second term as president, is a soft-spoken tribal chieftain, but who is just as lethal.
The seasonality of ethnic violence in Kenya is evidence that politicians have a lot to do with it. During election years, they work night and day to make sure that Kenyans replace their religious faith and political beliefs with tribal extremism. This helps them disguise their ineffectiveness by blaming the tribe that holds the presidency. Before Kibaki came to power in 2002, the scapegoat was then president Daniel Arap Moi's tribe, the Kalenjin, to whom he gave top jobs when he succeeded Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president.
Sadly, the disenfranchised, especially those living in rural areas and slums, do not have access to information that would contradict their leaders. For example, one of the reasons Kenyans were so disgusted by the last Parliament was the fact that the members gave themselves enormous raises and allowances that made them among the highest paid in the world, while the wages of the poor remained unchanged. A majority of MPs from all tribes, including Odinga, voted for the salary increases and Kibaki approved them. Yet when the 2007 election year came, Odinga led a countrywide crusade against the Kikuyu, calling them "the enemy" and accusing them of enriching themselves.
A Brief History of Tribal Politics
Odinga and Kibaki are generals in a continuous tribal conflict between the Kikuyu and the Luo that is as old as the country itself. In 1963, when the British handed power to Kenyatta, Odinga's father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, became the vice president. But the two had conflicting political ideologies. Odinga was a socialist, and Kenyatta a capitalist. Their strong differences led to Odinga's resignation from the vice-presidency. He also quit the ruling Kenya African National Union and formed his own party, Kenya People's Union, supported mainly by the Luo, who considered him their hero.
Raila Odinga, a Luo, says the presidency was stolen from him. Image: Frederick Onyango [Creative Commons]:
In 1969, the row between Luos and Kikuyus deepened. A prominent Luo politician and Cabinet minister named Tom Mboya was assassinated in Nairobi. His death angered the Luo, who saw the killing as a continuation of Kenyatta's efforts to eliminate their leaders and marginalize their minority tribe. Later that year, Odinga and Kenyatta exchanged harsh words at a public function in Kisumu, Odinga's stronghold in western Kenya and one of the cities most affected by the current violence. The incident led to the stoning of Kenyatta's motorcade by a Luo mob already angered by Mboya's death. Seven people were killed when the president's guard opened fire at the mob. Two days later, Kenyatta ordered Odinga arrested and sent him to detention, where he spent two years. Odinga would remain politically inactive until Kenyatta's death in 1978.
With his formidable challengers out of the way, Kenyatta continued to fill top government jobs with Kikuyus and a few other related tribes from the Mt. Kenya area. He is said to have told his tribesmen to steal as much as they could as long as they didn't get caught. This is believed to be the beginning of the rise of the Kikuyu oligarch and the rest of the country's resentment of them.
The fact that Luos consider Odinga's family regal makes it almost blasphemy to doubt or criticize him. They tend to believe everything he says.
Unfortunately, opposition politicians continue to use the fact that most members of Kenya's business elite are Kikuyus to rally their own tribesmen against the majority Kikuyu. Politicians like Odinga ignore the fact that millions of Kikuyus live in extreme poverty.
The fact that Luos consider Odinga's family regal makes it almost blasphemy to doubt or criticize him. They tend to believe everything he says. For example, in 2005, a newspaper reported that politicians told residents of a Luo town not to bother reading a new government-sponsored constitution before voting on it because Odinga had read it for them. When such loyalists hear Odinga say, as he did many times during his campaign, that Luos and other tribes are poor because of Kikuyus, they do not question him. No one dares bring up the fact that in the 15 years he has been in Parliament, this self-proclaimed champion of the poor has done very little to end the plight of nearly a million residents of Kibera, Africa's largest slum, located in the heart of his constituency, and scene of some of the worst recent rioting.
President Mwai Kibaki,a Kikuyu, is accused of rigging the recent election. Image: Frederick Onyango [Creative Commons]
Kikuyu politicians also play the same game. Even though, like Odinga, they have done very little to end the miseries of their poor tribesmen, they often use tribe to stay in power. They propagate fear by claiming that everyone is out to persecute Kikuyus and that the only way to avert danger is to vote for a Kikuyu president. Such fear mongering might explain why nearly all people from the Kikuyu areas voted for Kibaki. There are also rumors that Kikuyu politicians have taken traditional oaths similar to those of the Mau Mau during the fight for independence, vowing to do everything possible to make sure the presidency stays within the Kikuyu tribe.
Whether such rumors are true or not, they help increase the country's hatred of Kikuyus and make it easier for people like Odinga to reach out beyond Luoland to other ethnic minorities, in their quest for power. A good example is in the Rift Valley, where Kalenjins, whose leaders entered into a coalition with Odinga, have been killing Kikuyus and setting their property on fire.
So far, the civil strife has not involved the Muslim population, which is about 10 percent of the country's 37 million people, and is concentrated along the Indian Ocean coast and the port city, Mombasa. An estimated 70 percent of Kenyan Muslims voted against Kibaki. That was primarily because they see him as a close ally of the United States. Kibaki has allowed deportation of Kenyan Muslims to Ethiopia, where they have been interrogated by Ethiopian security forces and U.S. anti-terror agents. The coast province is also poverty-stricken and Muslims believe that they have been ignored by Kibaki's government.
Tribal Chiefs as Messiahs
The perception of chieftains as messiahs is based on the false belief that their reign would rescue entire tribes from poverty. Most Kenyans think they would do better economically if a leader from their tribe were in power. That's why Luos, who come from one of poorest regions in Kenya, feel that Kibaki's apparent rigging of the elections robbed them of a ticket to prosperity.
Most Kenyans think they would do better economically if a leader from their tribe were in power. That's why Luos feel that Kibaki's apparent rigging of the elections robbed them of a ticket to prosperity.
Unfortunately, their rage is directed at people who are just as poor as they are. They have also attacked people of tribes that did not vote as a block for Odinga, increasing chances of civil war. I have spoken to police officers in Kisumu, who say that the Gusii, my tribesmen who share a border with the Luo, have also been chased out of the city. The animosity toward Gusiis arises from the fact that although a majority of them voted for Odinga, more than 200,000 of them preferred Kibaki. As a result, the Gusii, who have generally lived in peace with Luos since Kenya became a republic, are threatening to withhold the food they produce in their fertile highlands. A relative I spoke to recently told me that they were ready for a bloody confrontation with the Luos.
"We are sharpening our weapons to chop them up and throw them in the lake [Lake Victoria]," he told me.
The violence in Kenya, however, is not purely tribal. More than half of the country lives in abject poverty. The unemployment rate is a staggering 50 percent. As the widespread looting this past week showed, there are poor people who see the chaos as a rare chance to take advantage of the few people who are better off. That suggests that the end of the current violence will not mean that the problem is solved.
In the current jockeying for power, Odinga is unlikely to agree to the long-term coalition government Kibaki's side is suggesting. This is because Kibaki has already proven that he is not a man of his word. He broke the gentleman's agreement known as the Memorandum of Understanding, which his party made with Odinga and other opposition leaders to share power if they backed him as the sole opposition candidate in 2002. Kibaki also promised to have a new constitution within his first 100 days in office. Kenyans are still waiting. Kenyans from outside his tribe, who saw the memo as the only way to distribute the country's wealth fairly, do not trust him.
The much-referenced average annual economic growth of 5 percent will not help Kibaki justify his clinging to power. Kenyans know that mainly the rich benefited from the boom and there is ample evidence to prove it.
In the summer of 2006, I returned to Kenya after nearly 12 years in the United States. When I arrived in Nairobi, I was impressed by how clean and orderly the city center was. All the good things I had been hearing about Kenya changing were true, I thought. But going outside the downtown financial center, I saw another reality. Most of Kenya's people were poorer than when I left. The roads had deteriorated, forcing vehicles to drive off road to avoid the canyons that had replaced asphalt.
Just two days after arriving home, I experienced firsthand the result of the crime surge. While at a bar with my brothers, we were attacked and locked in a room, as the owner, an elected official, called people to lynch us.
Seeing Kebirigo, a town where my mother comes from, made me want to cry. The once booming town had been reduced to a slum ridden with crime and prostitution. Many buildings had been abandoned. Just two days after arriving home, I experienced firsthand the result of the crime surge. While at a bar with my brothers, we were attacked and locked in a room, as the owner, an elected official who was in on the plan, called people to lynch us, claiming we were criminals. We broke out of the room and fled, but were arrested on the following day and charged with "malicious damage to property" in our escape. My mother had to bribe the police with more than $500 to secure our release. Other detainees, who were arrested for offences as minor as being drunk in public, spent days in the crowded police cell until their relatives borrowed enough money to bribe the police.
In Nairobi, while visiting friends at a police training college, I met a man who had come to seek a relatives help to gain admission. The man had about $1,000 for a bribe, but did not make the cut because the asking price for the favor had gone up two fold.
When Two Elephants Fight
Odinga and Kibaki are now locked in a political struggle that could tear the country apart. Odinga is under pressure to deliver on behalf of his associates who may not be willing to wait another five-year term before they come to power.
Kibaki, on the other hand, has his rich advisors, who fear that an Odinga presidency would put their wealth at risk. They have reason to be afraid. During Odinga's short term as Kibaki's public works and housing minister, he demolished the houses of people who had illegally built on land grabbed from road reserves. That is bound to make Kibaki's inner circle fight hard to make sure he doesn't agree to anything that would give Odinga power to start cracking down on them.
Regrettably, as a popular Kiswahili saying goes, when two elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers. Whatever showdown emerges will involve tribal sentiments. My fear is that if both sides fail to agree to share power, they will summon their tribal armies of poor people to do their dirty work for them.
A 2007 graduate of the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Edwin Okong'o is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of Mshale, a newspaper and Web site aimed at the African community living in the United States.
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Great article Edwin! I think that apart from the young and middle class, the other tribes should stand up and not be used to further the hatred between the Kikuyu, Kalenjins and Luo tribes. I also see a psychological aspect to the whole problems with the two tribes suffering from two extremes.The Kikuyu suffer from superiority complex which makes it very easy to hate them while the Luo on the other hand suffer from inferiority complex which makes it very hard to work/ associate with them. The other Kenyans should not suffer just because these tribes have their issues.
Edwin, although the article is mostly correct, there are some facts that need to be highlighted. That there are many poor people living in Kenya is a fact, but the percentage has been dropping from a high of 56% in 2002 to 46% currently. The economy has been growing, with the last quater of last year achieving an average growth of 7%. It is true that most of this growth has not permeated to the most needy, but due to increased tax revenue there has been improved services from the gorvenment, including free primary education and affordable health. 93% of the budget is financed by tax collection locally. It is not possible for the economy that had been totally destroyed to recover within a short period. Let's give credit where it is due, and although a lot more could have been achieved, I believe Kibaki did a great job in turning round the economy and expanding the democratic space and if we can maintain the momentum, Kenya will surely be a great nation in another ten years. But we must put our differences aside and work together as brothers and sisters.
Mambo Mapya - Baltimore, MD
A fairly good article in an age when it is hard for Kenyans in general to remain objective in their opinions about the post election crisis. I agree with many respondents that Kenya needs a new breed of leadership. Unfortunately, such leadership will not come from Kenya's elite since they have so much at stake. Instead, it needs to come from the Kenya middle class who are well educated, highly capable and actually have more to loose than the elite or the very poor. This is a section of the society that has remained reticent as poor youth take to the streets, flanked by their so called champions and as thousands spend nights at IDP camps. Perhaps, it is time that we the Kenyan middle class stood up for our country and lived above tribal politics. It starts by us shunning divisive politics and embracing common values like restoration of much needed peace and healing for our country. My hopes during this whole predicament is that the Kenyan middle class will discover it's voice in new leaders who bring people together for development rather than divide them for selfish gains. My fear is that as each day passes and we continue to see ugly scenes of people suffering, the middle class is becoming further polarized, reducing the chances that people will come together to rally behind saving their country. Voices of reason certainly have to prevail.
It is true that tribal lines exist, but we can all agree that violence amongst tribes comes during elections, when our power hungry politicians take it to the streets. It is true that the poorer are getting poorer, which saddens us. The only way out of this situation is to rise above the recycled politicians. They have been in power and around power too long, and they have a sense of entitlement. This makes them poor leaders. It is true generation "X ers" don't have fanatical ties to tribalism, and that is the generation that will need to be in government to get us out of this stupid mess.
wamuyu - Arlington, Va
Thanks Edwin for the insight. We needed to read something that was not one sided. I agree with many of the responses you are getting, what we need is young blood, of course not the sort we have elected currently, as one stated, they are all corrupt and will do no good for Kenya. Yeah, neither of the men, Kibaki or Raila, is good for Kenya. On the same note, Kenyans need to be informed. We need to know where all this animosity is coming from, dig deeper to the root cause. May we have peace in Kenya.
Caswell Vukeya - Pretoria, South Africa
It is very sad what impact tribalism has on Kenyan political life and national security. I am not qualified to comment on which is the problem tribe in Kenya, since I am a South African, and have never been in Kenya. It is however apparent from what I read that tribalism defines political life in Kenya, and has done so since Kenya's independence. An election should make the public study the policies of various political parties and decide whether they reflect on their beliefs, aspirations and future outlook. Going to polls to vote on a tribal ticket is very dangerous. What makes democracy in my country, Souith Africa, an envy of many countries around the world, is that policy, political ideology, economic implications and a sense of nationalism determine the way people vote. Not colour, tribe and social class. As young a democracy as we are, South Africa has really matured a lot. I hope that Kenya will one day learn from our experience.
Bay Area, CA
Thanks for a well balanced piece. I think it's also worth mentioning that Raila is a multi-millionaire. He claims to be a champion for the poor but like you rightly pointed out, his main goal has been attaining Kenya's highest seat. He has been my MP for 15 years and Lang'ata is worse off under his leadership. It seems like he has spent the last 15 years campaigning for presidency rather than advocating for his constituents. It's a shame that these 2 career politicians have turned their personal feud into a national catastrophe.
Armstrong O'Brian Ongera,Jnr. - Nairobi, Kenya
The Moment of Truth: The time to adress Kenyas problems is now. Let us be open that the violence that followed the December election was being waged on tribal lines becuse the entire campaign of both leading parties was premised on tribalism. We must put our act together and reason together. Power sharing is not the long term solution for Kenya but a short term solution. Coalitions will never stand for long. We must sit down and talk like brothers and discover where we went wrong. We must address three things: inequality, ethnicity and a New Constitution. We the youth have stated, under The Round-table Discussion Forum, to caucus about where we went wrong? Let the world join us!
Armstrong O'Brian Ongera, Jnr.
Capital Youth Caucus Association(CYCA)
tel. 254 20 212 9281
cell. 254 720 594503
Hi Edwin, Have been visiting Kenya for many years and am horrified at developments there. I have difficulty in understanding how such cultured and educated people can react with such violence towards one another, especially their children. I have many friends in Kenya and I cannot believe they would show such barbarism towards fellow Kenyans. However, I also believe that things will get worse in order to get better, and many sacrifices will be made, God help the Kenyan people, and may he cause much pain on those responsible for this corruption and troubles. Regards John
Molly Smith - Oakland, California
Hi Edwin, most of the reporting was interesting and informative. Some of it was most obviously your opinion swathed as factual reporting.
Please know that your words are being read by many, so you have a great responsibility in presenting a full perspective... As well, it would be great if you could do more reporting on the elements not being covered. What kind of poverty makes people rise up?
Your analysis is really presenting a balanced picture of Kenya.
Through you I would like to appreciate the advise given by Generali Ulimwengu on BBC to Kenyans. He reminded people about the Bible where it said about King Solomon in front of two women in dispute about a stolen child. The real mother agreed to give up the child alive to the woman who had stolen her child because she really loved her child and she prefered her child to continue to live even with that woman who stole her child. She didn't want to see the child divided in two pieces because the child would have been killed.To push people in the streets when you have dead bodies all over the country is not really a wise decision from a real leader of the people.The country needs to mourn the people killed. The displaced people don't need rallies nor new elections in the near future. Leaders have to sit down and see how to handle the situation of stopping violence, burying the dead bodies. Leaders have to assist displaced people. When the situation will be quiet and calm, then the elected MPs have to come together and look for a constructive long term solution to the problems.
Aura Greig - Alameda, California
A point to ponder: Kibaki has attained as much money in 5 years as did Moi during his lengthy term in power. This is telling and makes it evident that Kibaki is only interested in power and it has little to do with adding a superfluous amount of cash in his seemingly immeasurable pockets. His move to appoint a cabinet and remain apathetic about the impending demonstrations exemplifies his apathy for his people's larger concern: a sense of security. Maybe a lesson is to be learned from those in Singapore? Their government officials are paid the most in the world with the idea that it will stop corruption. It works, Singaporeans have been deemed among the happiest people in the world. Why? They can predict what will happen within every level of government, albeit a strict one, which gives them an overall sense of security. This same security Kenyans and other colonized countries have not been able to envision for any length of time since their independence only a few decades ago. If only the English colonizers (long since deceased, I know) could predict, or perhaps even care, about the lasting repercussions of their actions over a century ago as they arbitrarily chopped up their piece of African pie. Instead, current Westerners watch from afar, with many unwilling to see how history still affects a continent. I believe it's easier for many to point fingers at "those tribes going crazy again" and remain emotionally detached. Thanks for giving the deeper, more human view. It's a nice balance from the superficial stories coming across briefly in mainstream media.Sadly, Kenyans are unable to fully appreciate what Obama is doing across the globe in making his father's country proud. Instead of dancing among the villages as they would likely do, blood is being shed. Okongo's article published last year in the San Francisco Chronicle on Barak is another example of his ability to bring a compassionate, provocative, and personal touch to fair news reporting. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/25/INGM1OIRNG24.DTL&hw=edwin okong'o&sn=001&sc=1000
Catherine A - Kampala, Uganda
Hi, Edwin, lets not call your piece an article. It is an opinion written with a lot of insight, but also emotion...If there is anyone to blame for the clashes it is Kibaki , for hijacking the election. Even though Kenya comes from a history of tribalism, it was obviously no cause for what happened this time... I think Raila is the best thing for Kenya today and East Africa. Uganda is suffering with a more wicked leader who wants to rule the whole of East Africa and with tired men like Kibaki and unexciting ones like Kikwete we shall get a real dose of bad leadership. You need to understand that Raila is good for this region otherwise the status quo will remain. Even though Raila could be tribalist, this time the case is about rigging and not tribalim... I agree that it is the poor who suffer across Africa, but with Kenya's case this time it is a plain case of Kibaki shattering their dreams by rigging the elections. Parts of Western Kenya are the most poor not because resources are not available...
Bruce Winegar - Union City, CA
I don't understand why you characterize Raila Odinga as a loudmouth. Having met and spoken at length with Raila while he was an MP for Langata, I can attest to the fact that you have severely mischaracterized him. I think the real issue here is that Kenyans have been disenfranchised of their inherent right to govern their own country. Both the United States and European election observers have noted severe flaws in the Kenyan election. Kibaki got himself sworn in within hours after ECK named him the victor, then he banned live coverage of opposition protests. Kenya is no longer a democracy but is now a dictatorship.
Thanks for your post.It is well balanced.Am not sure whether you have seen the O.D.M poll strategy.This spells out the doom Kenyans are going through now.Why would one play tribal politcs to get votes? I watched Charity ngilu on B.B.C and she squarely blamed Raila for genocide and she recommended he should be tried for the same.We are sick of these tribal bigots out to kill for their own gains.
Great article. I definitely agree with the second reason why people are taking to violence - Poverty. A lot of what I have read confirms our thoughts and experiences.
Edwin, great article, but I wish to differ with you and many other people: the issue in Kenya is not Raila or Kibaki or tribalism. The issue Kenyans are fighting for is change, and the ones fighting for it the most are the youth.I just returned from Kenya, my family's home in Kericho was burned down by Kipsigis hooligans who have been attacking Kisiis working and living in Kericho. What most of us in the Diaspora didn't see were the thousands of youth across the country who have been used by selfish politicians to wreck havoc on once peaceful communities. The question to you and those of us in the Diaspora and Kenya in general is, what do we do with the thousands of idle Kenyan youth? In speaking to some, they were bold enough to tell me that "why care when we have no future to look forward to."That is a strong message for any sensible leader, and until and unless we address the issue of unemployment and youth in Kenya, we will continue seeing this hooliganism continue.My heart cries for Mother Kenya, it cries more when we who should know better have become the devil's advocate instead of being messengers of change. Kenya needs each and every sane Kenyan to stand up and help bring the change needed there. The politicians are not the answer. Long live Kenya!
Author Edwin Okong'o replies...To Ochieng Mireri:
I did mention Moi in my article. He did a lot of damage to the country but Kenyans forgave him because he knew when to leave. (How Kenyans reacted when he got into a car accident in 2006 is evidence).
To Ohio, Ohio:
On November 27, 2005, during the Orange victory party at Uhuru Park after the constitutional referendum, Raila was reported as having congratulated Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr. Joseph Kamotho as being "the only good ones from among the enemies".The "enemies" were the people from Central Province who had voted overwhelmingly for the draft constitution proposed by the Government.Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Kamotho had stood out from the rest of the leaders and the people from the province in leading a campaign and voting against the draft constitution. Raila is quoted as having termed the referendum as "a victory over the enemy".
Stanley Makuwe - Auckland, New Zealand
Edwin, I read the sad story you wrote about Kenya's politics. You see, brother, this is no surprise that those hungry to eat a piece of Kenya's wealth are using such tactics like tribalism to win votes.That's typical of African politics...They seem to look for
something to use instead of saying, let's change the lives of every national.You see, in Zimbabwe, our dear Mugabe is using land as an excuse, blaming our
problems on Britain and America instead of addressing those problems.There is always someone to blame for our politicians. They continue to steal with one hand
while the other is shutting our eyes so we don't see.For how long shall these eyes be shut? Wole Soyinka said,"I don't care the colour of the foot pressing me down, all I need is to remove it."Oppression is oppression, man, and we want it to go.Yes, tribal differences will always be there no matter how peaceful together people may try to live, just as husband and wife will always quarrel even though the very same night they go to bed together, but does someone have to come and add firewood to the already uncontrollable fire or they should come and create peace? If those who think they can't rule because this or that tribe doesn't like them, why not bring the tribes even closer together so that you rule a united people?Man, I could go on and on, but the bottom line is, this is sad. Take care, brotherman.
The writer is offering nothing new, only perpetuating myths and hate speech from the two sides by giving them an international platform. He seems bent on creating a name for himself by constant negative reporting about Kenya and particularly Mr. Odinga and ODM.I've not heard of this Luo Kisii war story.It should be noted that some Kisiis were also attacked by Kalenjin tribes.In the whole of the Western Kenyan circuit its only in the Kisii districts and the Bukusu (Bungoma) where [President] Kibaki managed decent runs. The vote was split almost equally with Odinga.Most urbane Kisiis and Bukusus were very pro ODM especially the youth. The old and rural folk were bent towards Kibaki because of misinformation and peculiar cultural prejudices against the Luo - Odinga's tribe - all perpetrated by pro establishment politicians.Other tribes (Luo, Kalenjin and other Luhya subtribes) might have considered this lukewarm support a betrayal considering their voting almost to a man for Odinga and ODM.However, this does not justify the animosity towards Kisiis. The Bukusu might have escaped this backlash to some extent because it is generally difficult to pinpoint the specific Luhya subtribes unlike the Kisii who are quite distinct. It should also be noted that there have been clashes in Kisii and Bungoma between ODM and PNU supporters.The betrayal feelings might stem from the fact that, comparatively,the GEMA (Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and subtribes which as a block is the majority in Kenya and which is Kibaki's bedrock) tribe did not waste any significant votes to Kibaki's chief rival.This just goes to show the polarised nature of Kenyan tribal politics. However, it is important to get the correct impression which I believe is truly lacking in this writers article.
Great explanatory journalism---this gave me more insight than anything else I have read on the political crisis in Kenya.
CHARLES MANYARA - RADFORD, VA
Okong'o. If only 'tribal fundamentalism' can be elaborated! Let us call a spade a spade: tribal prejudices and tribal apparent distinctions exist in Kenya. While your story acknowledge this fact it also contradicts it over and over. Leaders are exploiting the underlying apparent tribal differences. Further, the ongoing friction and fighting in Kenya as we speak is not between Luos and Kikuyus, it is loosely between those who voted for Raila vs those perceived to support Kibaki and more importantly, the real battle is Kalenjin verses Kikuyu (and by extension the Kisii because they 'voted' for Kibaki) in Rift Valley. I know it is not politically correct to state this, but if you really remove the lid, it is not so much vote-rigging but land and jobs alienation by the Kikuyu. Raila being locked out is only, as the late Jaramogi said in Not Yet Uhuru, 'breaking the kalabash and letting the big snake out'. Now the nation is dealing with this monster that co-exited with it. Maybe Raila will be the instrument for change as we start to address what we have ignored for too long - the cultural differences that exist among the different peoples.
Mark Musilu - Hayward, CA
Great article and to the point. "Rather tell the Truth that Hurts and Heals than tell a Lie that Comforts and Kills". Kenyans need to shun tribalism and stereotyping of other tribes, and our elected leaders must stop playing tribal cards for their own selfish gains.
Kimani Wanyoike - Minneapolis, MN
Thanks for your story. It's hard for most Kenyans to report without taking sides. It's about time Kenyans realise that all what's happening is because of lack of LEADERSHIP and looking for short -term fixes to problems. Neither Kibaki nor Raila should lead Kenya. We have come a long way and this is not the way to end it. Kenya's prospects are still very very bright. Let's come together and reject tribal leaders who are only selfish power hungry fellas who want to continue protecting their ill-acquired wealth and friends. I bet you Kibaki doesn't think about the small farmer or the family whose house was burnt because the owner voted for him. I can bet you Raila is not fighting to be president so that he can end the slum in Kibera, or fix our pathetic healthcare and roads. Most of the Kenya politicians are only after the big salaries and all that the positions come with. I do not know how all this will end but our country needs to find a true leader one who will unify the country, one who will fight corruption, one who will not sacrifice his friends if they are caught on the other side of the law, one who is development conscious and does not play politics with people's lives, one who respects the law of the land and finally one who respects human life.The new leader must be YOUNG. All these older guys have all drank from the same cup left by the imperialists (British), just watch their tactics, most are the same ones the colonialists used (Divide and rule, violence, brain-washing etc) . Their time is up and its time for a NEW SCHOOL breed of leaders.Peace.
Ochieng Mireri - Fridley, MN
Okongo, As a journalist from a University of repute,I would have loved to read something better from you.Is it that you have lived abroad for too long ? The Kenyan Tribal factor cannot be summed up as a Kikuyu Luo issue,& you know that it is more than that.You deliberately refused to bring in the Moi regime & it's tribal animosity.
It literally pains me when you write to the whole World & telling them that Raila is a Loud mouth tribalist.You chose not to tell the World the role Odinga family did & still play in the democratisation of Kenya & that is deliberate on your part may be for the revenge against the Luos.You acuse Raila of doing nothing to Kibera for 15 Years. Let me remind you that Kibera has a population of one million,a whole 1/3 of Nairobi population.Can you tell us how much the Government allocated for the Constituency development ? Is it up to Raila to build roads & toilets in Kibera or the Gorvenment ?Your article is inacurate & just borrowed from what I see many journalists in the West are using to discredit us.Kenya can do better & Kibaki is our stumbling block & kindly begin responsible journalism.
An excellent piece, that really takes us behind the headlines, and reminds us that foreign reporters who fly into a complicated situation like this for a few days miss so much that's important. Thank you, Edwin!
Michael Swigert - Washington, DC
While I don't agree with everything you say, Edwin, your article brings up a vital point in describing the economic injustice and staggering inequalities that are at the core of the explanation for why the political crisis and standoff between these two men and their parties has led to such violence. This excellent article from the IRIN, the news arm of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, goes into more detail about the class foundations of the situation http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=76159Readers interested in further pushing exploring the discourse on African ethnic identities in order to better understand "tribal" dynamics in Kenya should also check out the article "Talking About Tribe," from the Africa Policy Information Center. http://www.africaaction.org/bp/ethall.htmThis article is from 1997, but still totally relevant today.
Ciku Michael - San Francisco, California
Edwin, thank you for your lucid article and the professionalism evident in your analysis. I hope and pray that as many Kenyans, Africans, and other Nationals reading this will take time to reflect on the pain tribalism, racism, ethnicity, or any other divide does to "A People". It is sad that these heinous ideologies are upheld by a fraction of some power hungry individuals across the Globe at the expense of their own. It is time we "The People" awake and care for the "Human Soul"! History always repeats itself. Divide and Conquer is the RULE of the Game! Look around, see the madness across nations: Blacks and Arabs in Sudan, Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, the Sunnis and Shia in Iraq, the Southern and Northern Koreans, the Blacks and Whites in America, Kikuyus and Luos in Kenya and the list goes on. The madness is all over the World and is promulgated by certain individuals throughout the Nations. Surely those who craft these incredible strategies have ACED on their agenda each time! May the Lord have mercy upon the human race.
For Kenyan leaders to stoke the tribal fires to fuel their rise to power is a mockery of our independence and of us as a nation. We need leaders who can unite people. I grew up living and going to school with people from different tribes and tribe was never an issue. Kenyans should not have to pay the price for our politicians narcissistic ambitions!
Could you cite examples of when Odinga said that "Luos and other tribes are poor because of Kikuyus?"I've heard people allude to or say this, but haven't been given any concrete evidence. Since you are telling me not to trust Odinga on his say so--to question him--I think it is only fair that I hold you to the same standard.
Very good and well written piece, my friend Edwin. I commend you for your objective analysis. I hope many Africans and especially our sisters and brothers from Kenya take time to read this. I would however make one suggestion on point about Kibaki's "rich advisors". I don't think they have good reason to be afraid of Odinga taking over just because, "he demolished the houses of people who had illegally built on land grabbed from road reserves." I don't see any wrong doing in this decision.
Swallehe Msuya - Mpls, MN
Edwin!Your analysis is illuminating and takes account of historical facts. My own take on this delicate matter is that the Kenyata/MauMau legacy that liberated the country is being used as a licence for the Kikuyus to perpetuate leadership positions. Kenyata and Moi did little to harmonize tribal relations as evidenced by the assasinations that followed under the very watch of these leaders. Neither Kibaki nor Odinga are the right agents of change to introduce a level-playing field that will be all-inclusive for Kenya's 40 ( ) tribes! A new breed of politicians that is not bent on revenge may/should emerge to take Kenyan politics to a higher moral and equitable ground. Nyerere did this for Tanzania and although we [in Tanzania] have over 120 tribes, our Kiswahili and Nyerere's anti-tribalistic stance from day one has held us together.We hope a new breed of Kenyan leaders will emerge out of the present chaos to streer the country into calmer waters!Blesssings!
Ellen Dunbar - Washington, DC
I have watched in dismay as one of Africa's success stories gets rattled and tarnished. I hope the impact on Kenya's economy does not endure. As a Liberian, I am painfully aware of the far-reaching effects of tribalism. To all Africans reading this, I say that problems in one African country belong to nationals from every country if our continent is to ever reach its full potential.
Camilla Barungi - New York, NewYork
Edwin, my dearest friend. Thank you for unveiling this truth to us. It's important that people realize that the African poor usually have no voice and their story is never told. It seems that you are telling their story. Keep it up!! Great article.