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The Luos are usually counted as Kenya's second largest ethnic group, after the Kikuyu. They probably number about the same as the Luhya, at about 14% of the population, but, unlike the Luhya, the Luo speak one language and behave as a single, unified community. Like the Luhya, they have significant numbers in Uganda. Anti-Luo cultural prejudices are widespread among the Bantu in general and especially intense among the Kikuyu.

The Luos are known as intellectuals, with the stereotype being that they are more thinkers than doers. The Luo place a high value on owning livestock, but they are settled farmers, not pastoralist nomads like their plains nilote cousins. The Luo are among the few groups in Kenya that do not practice male circumcision as a rite of passage into adulthood. This is a major hurdle for Luo politicians seeking the Presidency, as other Kenyans do not hesitate to express the view that the country cannot be led by an uncircumcised "boy." While foreigners may consider this matter irrelevant to the question of national leadership, Kenyans cite the issue quite often.

The Luos are a highly homogenous group (as distinct from such heterogeneous groups as the Luhyas, Kalenjins and Mijikendas) with a strong identity and cultural features that distinguish them from the rest of Kenya. They see themselves as chronically oppressed underdogs whose leaders are assassinated (Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko) or chased from power (Jaramogi Odinga, Raila's father). Anti-Luo sentiments are nearly as common as anti-Kikuyu sentiments.

Political alignments among the various ethnic groups have been important factors at the national level since before independence. KANU was originally made up primarily of the Kikuyu, Luo, and Kamba groups. KADU, which merged with KANU in 1964, was a coalition of smaller ethnic groups preeminently from the pastoral and coastal regions, seeking to combine their strengths against domination by the Kikuyu and the Luo. Kenya's only other postindependence party, the socialist-oriented KPU, was essentially a Luo-based cleavage from KANU during its brief existence between 1966 and 1969.

Nyanza (i.e. the home of the Luo ethnic group) suffered severe repression and neglect, more that any other province for trying to challenge and question the unjust enrichment of one region on what was a `national cake'. In 1966, Oginga Odinga, the undoubted Luo leader, who had hitherto been the vice president of the nation, and the ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU), lost both posts at the famous Limuru Party Conference. The message was clear but milder at this point in time. Odinga responded by forming his political party - The Kenya Peoples Union (KPU). The accusations and counter-accusations between Odinga and Kenyatta over KPU was largely emotive and it succeeded in heightening Luo-Kikuyu ethnic animosities that sometimes degenerated into open confrontations.

The assassinations of Joseph Tom Mboya (i.e. a Luo) for motives never fully ascertained on July 9, 1969, a few months after the mysterious death of Argwings Kodhek, another prominent Luo politician intensified the ethnic animosity between the Luo and the Kikuyu. The banning of KPU in October 1969 and the detention of Odinga and other leaders without trial sent wrong signals to the Luo ethnic group.

Raila Odinga is the uncrowned King of the Luos. He has committed and nearly universal backing from his community. Like his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the main opposition leader in the 1960s and 1970s, Raila Odinga is a Marxist. He graduated from East Germany's Magdeburg University in 1970 on a scholarship provided by the East German government. He named his oldest son after Fidel Castro. Raila Odinga was implicated in the bloody coup attempt in 1982 against then-President Daniel Arap Moi, a close ally of the United States.

Raila presented himself as a national leader with a vaguely social democratic agenda, ready to fight the traditional elite on behalf of ordinary Kenyans. He is linked to the failed '82 coup attempt against Moi. He played an important role in the fight for multiparty democracy in Kenya and is closely associated with the high hopes and expectations for dramatic reforms that characterized the Kenyan public after the 2002 election. However, he is also viewed as an untrustworthy political opportunist. He has a strong motivation to play on anti-Kikuyu resentments, especially among the Kalenjin, the coastal communities and among his own Luos.

They were politically divided between Tom Mboya and Oginga Odinga during the immediate post-independence period. Following Mboya's assassination (often attributed by Luos to GEMA agents), the Luos strongly followed Oginga and his political heir, his son Raila Odinga. They are firmly in the opposition camp. Foreign Minister Rafael Tuju, a Luo who abandoned Raila Odinga to side with the Kibaki government, was widely considered unelectable "traitor" in his home constituency.

When it seemed that Raila Odinga, the populist presidential candidate whose campaign was full of anti-Kikuyu innuendo, was winning the race in late 2007, the old guard around Kibaki set about fiddling the result, prompting riots and ethnic massacres around the country in which some 1,500 perished and at least 300,000 were displaced. After two months of turmoil and political paralysis, a shabby and unwieldy compromise was reached under the aegis of the UNs former secretary-general, Kofi Annan, whereby Kibaki held on to the presidency while Mr Odinga became prime minister.

The Luo, Kenyas third-most-populous group, fiercely considered that it was its turn to eat. It had grievously missed out under two Kikuyu-dominated administrations and under Mr Mois Kalenjin one.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:29:31 ZULU