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Kenya - Politics

Jomo Kenyatta12 Dec 196422 Aug 1978 KANU
Daniel Toroitich arap Moi22 Aug 197830 Dec 2002KANU
Emilio Mwai Kibaki30 Dec 200209 Apr 2013 DP+NRC;2007 PNU
Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta 09 Apr 2013 TNA

While Kenyan civil society leaders warn Kenyan voters of the ills from ethnic bloc voting, the reality is that Kenyan politics continues to revolve around ethic identity rather than issues or the probity of political leaders. By "ethnic rhetoric" is meant both appeals to group solidarity to promote the political influence of a community and hence the flow of state resources to that community and rhetoric that stokes traditional inter-ethnic resentments for political mobilization purposes. This message presents widespread subjective perceptions and outright prejudices about ethnicity that, unfortunately, inform the choices of many Kenyan voters. Some of these attitudes have a basis in historical and ethno-linguistic facts, but others do not.

Different communities continue to consciously or unconsciously rely on ethnicity to perpetuate their dominance and hegemony in an atmosphere characterized by scarce resources, fear and prejudice. The proliferation of ethnic conflicts in this country is so widespread that there is hardly any region where the problem has not reared it's ugly head. In the political sphere, leaders appeal to people of their own tribes when they want support, they also use their tribes as leverage when they bargain for positions and favors in government.

It is a historical fact that the indirect rule administered by the British colonialists later turned out to be the `divide and rule' strategy which polarized the various ethnic groups in Kenya. This in turn contributed to the subsequent incompatibility of these ethnic groups as actors on one nation-state called Kenya. It was unfortunate that the early political parties in Kenya that championed the nationalist struggle against colonial establishments were basically `distinct ethnic unions'.

The 'big five tribes have influenced who is elected, owing to their numerical advantage. According to Kenya's National Bureau of Statistics, the largest native ethnic groups are the Kikuyu (6,622,576), the Luhya (5,338,666), the Kalenjin (4,967,328), the Luo (4,044,440) and the Kamba (3,893,157).

By 2017 the majority of Luos supported opposition leader Raila Odinga, the Kambas are behind Kalonzo Musyoka. The Kalenjins backed Deputy President William Ruto, while the Kikuyus supported President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The Jubilee alliance of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto was backed by the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins. The opposition National Alliance (NASA) was no different. It was a union of tribes led by Raila Odinga (a Luo from western Kenya), Moses Wetangula (a Luhya from western Kenya) and Kalonzo Musyoka from the Kamba tribe.

The Kikuyu and their close socio/linguistic/political allies and Mount Kenya neighbors, the Meru and the Embu, together make up about one-third of registered voters. The next largest group of registered voters is the Kalenjins, at only 13 percent of registered voters. Kikuyu interests are 1) retain control of the government, 2) maintain social peace (good for business and necessary to protect Kikuyu minorities living throughout Kenya), and 3) improve the business climate (through better government services and infrastructure).

In some areas of the country, such as the coastal strip and parts of Rift Valley Province, there is intense resentment of resident Kikuyus for supposedly gaining extensive properties through nefarious means, while many of the indigenous population are landless. In some of these vote-rich districts, Kikuyu "settlers" are resented by "locals," such as Kalenjin areas of Rift Valley Province.

The Kisii and Kuria (the two minority communities in Luo-dominated Nyanza province) together account for 5 percent of the national electorate. They usually vote in opposition to the Luo. The Mijikenda, a collection of nine coastal ethnic communities, also account for 5 percent of the electorate. They are only a semi-cohesive voting bloc. The Maasai and their Samburu cousins account for 3 percent of the electorate. They tend to vote in opposition to the Kikuyu due to land competition concerns. The Somalis account for 2 percent of the electorate, but nearly all of the population of Northeastern Province. They tend to support the government of the day.

The Borana (Oromo; northern half of Eastern province), Taita (Coast province on Tanzania border), Pokomos (Tana River, Coast Province) and Swahili/Arab/Bajuns (Coast Province) are each under 1 percent of the electorate, but dominate certain constituencies and so generally have representation in parliament.

Until potentially destabilizing, widespread violence erupted following the disputed December 2007 presidential elections, Kenya had, since independence, maintained considerable stability despite changes in its political system, localized violence surrounding elections, and crises in neighboring countries. This had been particularly true since the re-emergence of multiparty democracy and the accompanying increase in freedom (including freedom of speech, the press, and assembly).

What made the violence this time around different seemed to be the amount of anger and mutual resentment exposed by the election between the two main tribes, the Kikuyu and the Luo, as well as the rise of Nandi ethnic nationalism in the Rift Valley. This alarming increase in anti-Kikuyu and anti-Luo feelings and Nandi determination to reclaim their land and leadership in the Rift Valley, could eventually precipitate further ethnic clashes unless urgent measures are taken to address the root causes.

Jomo Kenyatta seriously considered the possibility of coup attempts in Kenya, and took necessary measures to subordinate the military to civil authorities. In Kenya, where there have been no successful coups, there have been at least four instances of military intervention in the political process. These include the 1964 army mutiny, the 1971 conspiracy against Kenyattas government, the 1978 conspiracy to kill President Moi and several of his close collaborators, and the Air Force coup attempt of 1982.

The first direct elections for Africans to the Legislative Council took place in 1957. Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963, and the next year joined the Commonwealth. Jomo Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became Kenya's first President. The minority party, Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), representing a coalition of small ethnic groups that had feared dominance by larger ones, dissolved itself in 1964 and joined KANU.

A small but significant leftist opposition party, the Kenya People's Union (KPU), was formed in 1966, led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice President and Luo elder. The KPU was banned shortly thereafter, however, and its leader detained. KANU became Kenya's sole political party. At Kenyatta's death in August 1978, Vice President Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin from Rift Valley province, became interim President. By October of that year, Moi became President formally after he was elected head of KANU and designated its sole nominee for the presidential election.

In June 1982, the National Assembly amended the constitution, making Kenya officially a one-party state. Two months later, young military officers in league with some opposition elements attempted to overthrow the government in a violent but ultimately unsuccessful coup.

In response to street protests and donor pressure, parliament repealed the one-party section of the constitution in December 1991.

In 2005 conflict came into the open when the government put its draft constitution to a public referendum--key government ministers organized the opposition to the draft constitution, which was defeated soundly. The government lost a referendum over its draft constitution in November 2005. This vote too was widely accepted as free, fair, and credible.

In a peaceful referendum on August 4, 2010, 67 percent of voters approved a new constitution, which provides for a bill of rights and reforms the electoral system, administration of land, and judiciary. The new constitution provides parliamentary representation for women, youth, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and marginalized communities. Implementation of constitutional reforms continued during the year, including the creation of a senate, the realization of new parliamentary representative positions, and the establishment of 47 county governments and legislatures, as well as devolution of certain authorities to these county governments after the March 4 election.

Full implementation of constitutional reforms, however, was expected to take years. In some instances the government removed or altered key provisions of draft implementing legislation prepared by the Commission for Implementation of the Constitution, rendering the reforms mandated by the constitution less effective. For example, the government proposed amendments that would increase restrictions on media freedom in two key bills, which critics said would increase governments ability to restrict the media. In 2012 the government removed key provisions from the 2012 Leadership and Integrity Act, weakening protections against official corruption.

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Page last modified: 23-04-2017 14:31:51 ZULU