This book is about Kenya as a country and as a nation. It is also a work of comparative
analysis in the African context. It also focuses on the nation as an entity with its own personality and national character.
Kenya is one of the most well-known countries in Africa for several
reasons. It is one of the major tourist destinations in the world. It is, by African standards, one of the most developed
countries on the continent. It also occupies a special place in the history of Africa because of the role it played in the
struggle for independence.
It was in Kenya where Mau Mau, a mass uprising on an unprecedented
scale against colonial injustices, was fought. Mau Mau was one of the bloodiest and most successful wars in colonial history,
and it thrust Kenya into the international spotlight.
It also earned the Mau Mau freedom fighters distinction as some
of the most outstanding champions of freedom for Africans and as some of the most revered fighters in the struggle for African
liberation from imperial rule. They are still remembered today not only as gallant fighters but as some of the most inspiring
pioneers of the African independence movement.
Jomo Kenyatta himself, who was accused of leading Mau Mau and
who later became the first president of Kenya, was one of the most respected African leaders and was revered across the continent
as the Grand Old Man of the African independence movement. Also cordially known as “The Burning Spear,” he cast
a long shadow over Kenya and the rest of the continent and his formidable personality and legendary role as the leader of
the independence movement also played a major role in thrusting his country on the international scene.
Kenya is also the economic powerhouse of East Africa. It has the
most developed and the strongest economy among all the countries which constitute the East African Community (EAC). They are
Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. It is, in fact, the most developed country in the entire region of Eastern Africa
which includes the countries in the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti.
This work is a general introduction to Kenya as a country and
as a nation. Subjects covered include a short history of the country, its geography including administrative provinces and
various ethnic groups in those provinces; Mau Mau and the struggle for independence; the early years of independence; political
developments through the decades; the cultures of different ethnic groups; the country's natural resources and much more.
Also addressed in the book is the country's ethnic diversity and
the impact it has had on Kenya's stability as a country and as a nation composed of different ethnic and racial groups.
The work also looks at Kenya's national character from my background
as an East African myself from neighbouring Tanzania in a study of comparative analysis between Kenya and Tanzania as political
entities with different national characters to demonstrate that nations do, indeed, have different national characters.
Kenya: An Overview
KENYA is one of the most well-known countries in Africa. It is also one of the
most prosperous, although it does not have an abundance of natural resources like neighbouring Tanzania.
It is bordered by Uganda on the West, Sudan on the northwest, Ethiopia on the north
and northeast, Somalia on the east, and by Tanzania on the south.
Although the country's economy depends largely on agriculture, only about
12 per cent of the land is suitable for cultivation. Six per cent is used for grazing.
Like all the countries on the continent, Kenya is primarily an agricultural
country with only a few major cities and towns. They are Nairobi, the capital; Mombasa, the country's main port and outlet
to the sea; Kisumu; and Nakuru, the capital of the Rift Valley Province in west-central Kenya which was founded in the early
20th century as a centre of European settlement.
Nakuru is Kenya's fourth largest city and a growing commercial and industrial centre
whose manufactures include textiles, processed foods and pyrethrum extract. Nearby is Lake Nakuru, a small soda water lake.
The surrounding area has been developed as a national park known for its flamingo haunts.
The third largest city, after Nairobi and Mombasa, is Kisumu which is also the
capital of Nyanza Province in southwestern Kenya. It is located on Kavirondo Gulf, an arm of Lake Victoria, and is the principal
lake port of Kenya. It is also the commercial centre of a prosperous farm region. Its manufactures include refined sugar,
frozen fish, textiles, beer, and processed sisal. An ethanol plant was built in the 1980s.
Kisumu, formerly known as Port Florence, is also a major tourist centre with attractions
of Lake Victoria and nearby wildlife. The railway from Mombasa reached Kisumu in 1901 and was one of the major engineering
achievements in the history of colonial Africa.
The other major towns of Kenya are Thika, Machakos, Eldoret, and Naivasha.
Kenya also has a number of universities, including the University of Nairobi, Jomo
Kenyatta University of Science and Technology, Egerton University, and Moi University.
The vast majority of Kenyans are engaged in farming, largely of the subsistence
type. Coffee, tea, maize, wheat and pyrethrum are grown in the highlands, mainly on small African-owned farms; while coconuts,
pineapples, cashew nuts, cotton, sugar cane and sisal are grown in low-lying areas including the coastal region.
Kenya's major exports are coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables and flowers. About 75
per cent of the people depend on agriculture.
Much of the country is savanna where large numbers of cattle are pastured. Kenya
also produces significant quantities of dairy goods, pork, poultry, and eggs.
The country's leading manufactures include consumer goods such as textiles, plastics,
furniture, cigarettes, leather goods, refined petroleum, processed food, cement, and metal products. The country's chief minerals
are limestone, soda ash, gold, salt, flouspar, and titanium.
The country straddles the equator and has four main regions: the narrow fertile
coastal strip with rain forests and mangrove swamps; the vast dry scrub-land pastures crossed by the country's main rivers,
the Tana and the Athi; the highlands, cut by the Great Rift Valley, where Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon stand and where the
rich volcanic soil, moderate temperatures and ample rainfall sustain most farm crops; and the western (Nyanza) plateau stretching
to Lake Victoria, which is an area of farmlands, forests and grasslands.
About 98 per cent of the population is black African, mostly of Bantu stock, comprising
42 major ethnic groups or tribes. The biggest are the Kikuyu, the Luhya, the Luo, the Kamba, the Kisii, and the Meru.
There are also Indian, Arab and European communities who constitute about 2 per
cent of the population.
A disproportionately large number of people live in the
southwest, mainly in the fertile highlands where Nairobi, the capital and largest city, is located.
The majority of Kenyans are Christian. But there is a significant number of Muslims
mainly in the coastal area. Many Kenyans are also followers of traditional religions and practise their faiths the same way
their ancestors did before the introduction of Christianity and Islam.
Besides agriculture, the other important sectors of the economy are manufacturing,
mainly involving processing farm products, production of consumer goods including import-substitution items, and oil refining;
forestry and lumbering; and mining, although the country does not have a lot minerals. Kenya's agricultural sector is also
known for its livestock and dairy products including poultry.
Kenya is known worldwide for its national parks and game reserves. And, together
with neighbouring Tanzania, it is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world.
Its major attractions include the Great Rift Valley - Lake Turkana, once known
as Lake Rudolph, and the country's largest lake, is located in this valley.
Other major attractions are Mount Kenya; Tsavo National Park which was made famous
by its man-eating lions during the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway starting from Mombasa; Nairobi, Aberdare and Lake
Nakuru national parks; Masai Mara, Amboseli and Samburu game reserves; and the Nairobi national museum.
The tourism industry is the biggest foreign exchange earner. Hundreds of thousands
of tourists visit Kenya every year. The nation's leading tourist attractions are the national park sanctuaries for lions,
elephants, leopards, giraffes, zebras, gazelles and other wild animals.
The area which came to be known as Kenya has a long history. Together with Tanzania
and Ethiopia, it is considered to be the cradle of mankind. The three East African countries collectively constitute the scientists'
Garden of Eden.
Some of its earliest contacts with the outside world were between the coastal tribes
and the Arabs from the Arabian peninsula. Trade between the two regions was brisk by 100 A.D. Arabs built settlements along
the coast and built city-states including Mombasa, Malindi and Pate. And throughout the Middle Ages, the region also attracted
traders from India and other parts of Asia including the Middle East.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in the region. They arrived in
1498 and established trading posts along the coast. They controlled much of it but their dominance ended when they were driven
out by the Arabs in 1729. From 1740 Arabs ruled the Kenyan coast from Zanzibar which was the capital of the Sultanate dominating
the East African coast.
The coast remained under Arab control until 1887 when the British East Africa Company
leased the Kenyan coast from the sultan of Zanzibar. Kenya became a British protectorate in 1895, and a crown colony in 1920.
The British opened the interior with imported Indian labour and encouraged European
settlement. It was these Indians who mostly built the Kenya-Uganda Railway (1895 – 1901) from Mombasa to Kisumu on the
shores of Lake Victoria in order to facilitate trade with the interior and with Uganda, and consolidate imperial rule.
In 1903 the first settlers, mostly British including members of the aristocracy,
established themselves as large-scale farmers in the highlands of central Kenya by taking land from the indigenous Kikuyu,
the Embu, the Maasai and others. It was also during the same period that Indian merchants moved inland from the coast.
From the 1920s to the 1940s, white settlers not only controlled the government
but owned extensive farmlands to the detriment of the indigenous people. And while Indians owned small businesses especially
shops in towns and also worked in the government as lower-level employees, Africans worked mostly on farms as subsistence
farmers and grew coffee and cotton on a small scale. Africans also worked as low-paid labourers in towns especially in Nairobi,
In the 1920s, Africans began to protest against racial injustice and their inferior
status in the hierarchy of the races established by the white settlers. Political awakening among Africans, fuelled by expropriation
of their land especially in the central highlands occupied by the Kikuyu, led to demands for justice from the colonial rulers.
But their demands were ignored.
In 1928, Jomo Kenyatta who was secretary of a Kikuyu political association began
campaigning for land reform and political rights for Africans. His campaign was also ignored. The result was Mau Mau, one
of the bloodiest uprisings in colonial history.
Casualty figures vary. Estimates of Africans killed range from 20,000 to 100,000,
and even up to 300,000. Only a few whites, not more than 150, were killed by the Mau Mau fighters.
Demographer John Blacker, in his article The Demography of Mau Mau published in African Affairs in 2007, says about 50,000 Africans were killed
during Mau Mau, half of whom were children under 10.
By the time the Emergency came to an end in 1960, at least
1,000 Mau Mau fighters and sympathisers had been hanged.
Many of them were hanged for simply possessing an “illegal”
firearm or for other offences less than murder and for which capital punishment could not be justified.
Kenyatta was accused of leading Mau Mau and was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.
He was released from prison in July 1961 and placed in detention in Gatundu near Nairobi until August 21st when all restrictions
imposed on him were lifted. Mau Mau lasted until 1960.
On 12 December 1963, Kenya won independence from Britain and Kenyatta became prime
minister. Exactly one year later, Kenya became a republic and Kenyatta its first president.
The Kenya African National Union (KANU) which spearheaded the struggle for independence
under Kenyatta's leadership was the dominant political party. But its dominance was challenged shortly after independence
when Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga broke with Kenyatta and formed an opposition party in March 1966. The party was
named the Kenya People's Union (KPU) and proclaimed that Kenya was not yet free.
But it did not last long. On 27 October 1966, Odinga was put under house arrest
after an anti-government demonstration by the KPU. Three days later, the KPU was banned, leaving KANU the only legal political
party in the country.
Less than two years later, the government began a campaign in March 1968 to “Africanise”
the country. In the next six years, thousands of Asian shopkeepers, mostly Indians and Pakistanis, were forced to leave the
country. The majority had British passports and were therefore British citizens.
But many Kenyans of Asian origin were also forced to leave because of the hostile
political climate, although it did not reach the level of virulence it did in neighbouring Uganda where only a few years later
Idi Amin expelled Asians from the country in 1972. Ugandan citizens of Asian origin were also kicked out.
Although a significant number of Asians left Kenya because of political conditions
as a result of “Africanisation,” many others left voluntarily. So did Europeans who numbered about 55,000 in 1962,
the year before independence.
When Kenya won independence, it was the most developed country in East Africa in
terms of infrastructural development, commerce, health facilities and other areas. And it still is today.
Although Kenya has enjoyed relative peace and stability since independence, it
has also faced a number of political crises through the years including ethnic cleavages between the country's largest ethnic
groups, especially the Kikuyu and the Luo. And in the seventies, it had to contend with Idi Amin's unpredictable behaviour
when the Ugandan dictator threatened the country.
In July 1976, Amin threatened to bomb Kenya. His threats were in response to what
the Kenyan government had done to Uganda, according to Amin. Kenyatta's government had allowed Israel's planes to land for
refuelling after the daring raid on Uganda on 4 July 1976 to rescue hostages held by Arab hijackers. The Kenyan government
asked its citizens to leave Uganda as the two countries came to the brink of war. But Idi Amin calmed down and friendly relations
were re-established in August the same year.
There was also tension between the two countries because of a territorial dispute
and Amin's claim that Kenya's western province was part of Uganda.
Kenya also faced an uncertain future during that period because of Kenyatta's age.
He was in his eighties and concern arose in the 1970s as to what would happen to the country after he died.
When politicians attempted to hold public meetings on the subject of a successor
for Kenyatta, they were warned by the attorney general, Charles Njonjo, in October 1976 that it was a crime punishable by
death even to imagine Kenyatta's death.
It was also during the same period that Tanzania closed its border with Kenya.
The border was closed in February 1977 following a dispute over the shutting down of an airline – the East African Airways
(EAA) – that had been jointly owned and operated by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Kenyan officials said it was an effort
by Tanzanian leaders to prevent the people of socialist Tanzania from coming to Kenya to see the economic prosperity enjoyed
by Kenyans under free enterprise.
About 10 years later, Tanzania abandoned socialism following the collapse of the
Soviet Union which marked the end of communism and socialist regimes around the world.
The closing of the border also had to with a dispute Tanzania had with Kenya because
the Kenyan government allowed many supporters of Idi Amin to live in Kenya after Tanzania kicked Amin out of Uganda in April
1979. There was no chance then that Tanzania would re-open the border.
Kenya also had a border dispute with Somalia in the sixties involving the Northern
Frontier District, now known as Northeastern Province, which was claimed by Somalia. The Somali constitute the dominant ethnic
group in this province.
The dispute led to sporadic fighting between the two sides from 1963 to 1968, and
the matter has not been entirely resolved. Many Somalis on both sides of the border want the region to be part of Greater
Kenya has always been a tourist haven, attracting visitors and hunters from different
parts of the world for decades, even as far back as the 1930s. And the seventies witnessed one of the major changes by the
Kenyan government in the tourism sector. In an effort to preserve the country's wildlife, the government announced in May
1977 a ban on the killing of elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, zebras, and other wild animals.
The move was applauded by conservationists in Kenya and other countries but was
deplored by Kenya's 300 or more professional hunters who were told to convert hunting trips for tourists into photographic
safaris. Unfortunately, the ban did not stop poaching despite government attempts to do so.
The seventies also witnessed a major transition in Kenya's national life when President
Jomo Kenyatta died in his sleep on 22 August 1978. He was believed to be about 89 but had no record of his birth. What is
known is that he was born before Kenya was colonised and lived long enough to rule Kenya himself after winning the struggle
His death was a milestone in Kenya's history and hundreds of thousands of Kenyans
lined the route of his funeral procession. Daniel arap Moi, who had served as vice president under Kenyatta, became president
A former school headmaster, President Moi made one of his first decrees the abolition
of school fees. He also ordered free milk served at schools and promised to increase the number of teachers and other school
personnel. And to emphasise his claim that he strongly believed in human rights, he released all 16 political prisoners who
had been imprisoned by Kenyatta. Yet he himself went on to rule Kenya with an iron fist, sometimes surpassing Kenyatta in
political repression and did not relinquish power until more than two decades later.
Kenya officially became a one-party state in June 1982 when parliament unanimously
approved the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) as the only legal party.
In August 1982, an attempt was made to overthrow the government but it was suppressed.
About 145 persons were killed. Also, many people were wounded. Kenya's 2,100 air force was disbanded and those suspected of
taking part in the abortive coup were imprisoned. Universities were also closed because of student support for the coup attempt.
Throughout the 1980s, President Moi consolidated his position and rejected demands
for democratisation. He continued to maintain a tight lid on the opposition and conducted periodic purges of his government
to weed out suspected opponents. The economy also deteriorated under his rule.
In 1988, riots erupted in Nairobi and other parts of the country after a number
of his political opponents who were demanding democracy were arrested. Their arrest led to increased opposition and criticism
of his government in other countries, forcing him to legalise multi-party democracy.
Moi stayed in office until 2002 when he could no longer run for office because
of a constitutional amendment which prevented him from doing so. He was succeed by his former vice president, Mwai Kibaki,
who was the leader of the biggest opposition party, the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which ended 40 years of political
dominance by KANU.
In 2004, an issue which may partly determine the future of Kenya in terms of race
relations and political stability got national attention when a number of people from the Maasai tribe began to protest over
land which they said was unjustly taken away from them by the British colonial rulers. They said the lease signed 99 years
ago by the British had expired.
There were rumblings from other groups in Kenya who felt that they also had been
dispossessed of their land by the British colonial rulers. The long-term leases, some more than 900 years long, had been forced
on them by the British without the slightest concern for the well-being of the indigenous people.
The land question has bedeviled other African countries which have a significant
number of people of European descent who acquired land at the expense of the indigenous people. And it continues to be one
of the most contentious issues in race relations in those countries especially in southern Africa. Zimbabwe is a prime example....
The Decade Before Independence
THE decade before independence was dominated by the campaign for freedom more than
anything else. And one of the most important events in this nationalist campaign was the Mau Mau insurgency.
The quest for freedom was a two-pronged attack on colonial rule. It was pursued
along constitutional lines, with leaders like Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya (when Jomo Kenyatta was in prison) addressing mass
rallies demanding independence; and on the battle field in a low-intensity guerrilla warfare waged by the Mau Mau freedom
fighters to compel the British to relinquish control of the country in order for Africans to rule themselves.
The conditions were intolerable for Africans, especially the Kikuyu.
As George Padmore, a political activist and Pan-Africanist from Trinidad who knew and worked closely with Jomo Kenyatta and
Kwame Nkrumah in Britain in the 1940s, and who later became adviser to Prime Minister and thereafter President Nkrumah, stated
in his book first published in 1956, Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa:
the name has never been satisfactorily defined, as no such word as 'Mau Mau' exists in the Kikuyu language, its socio-economic
causes are easier to explain.
Mau Mau is not an organized political movement with a regular
membership, officers and constitution like the Kenya African Union. It is a spontaneous revolt of a declassed section of the
African rural population, uprooted from its tribal lands and driven into urban slum life without any hope of gainful employment....
All the pseudo-anthropological assertions about Mau Mau being
a 'religion,' is sheer nonsense. Mau Mau hymn singing and oath taking are merely psychological devices borrowed by desperate
young men from freemasonry and missionary sources to bind their adherents to their cause.
In trying to elevate Mau Mau into a 'religion' and ascribing
obscene practices to them, the whites hope to shift all responsibility for what has happened upon the Africans and explain
it all away as a sudden reversion to savagery, which demands their continued presence in Kenya to bring the Africans back
on the path to civilization....
Like the slave revolts of Ancient Rome,
the supporters of Mau Mau are fighting for land, without which they prefer death. - (George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? The
Coming Struggle for Africa (London: Dennis Dobson, 1956), pp. 247, and 248).
The Kikuyu were joined by the Embu and the Meru, whose land
had also been taken away by the white settlers although on a smaller scale, and the uprising had the potential to spread to
other parts of Kenya which had white settlements.
Yet, all the Africans in Kenya shared basically the same grievances
the Kikuyu and other people in the Central Province had towards the colonial rulers. They were all victims of colonial injustices
which were racial and racist in character.
From 1945, following the end of World War II and just five
years before the beginning of the pivotal decade, the fifties, Africans petitioned the colonial government in Kenya and the
Colonial Office in London, making it clear that they wanted their grievances to be addressed by the colonial rulers. They
The campaign was led by Jomo Kenyatta who was the leader of
the Kenya African Union (KAU), a party which had support among the people of different tribes across the country.
Compounding the problem was the demand by the British settlers
themselves for the establishment of a white nation, and for independence under white minority rule. They saw Kenya as another
South Africa, Australia or New Zealand where white settlers established independent states, excluding the indigenous people
from the government.
Because of the intransigence of the colonial authorities, many
Africans felt that an armed struggle was the only option they had left to try and compel the British settlers to relinquish
power in what was predominantly a black African country.
In 1946, a Kikuyu group known as Anake a Forty (warriors of
1940) articulated its position forcefully, stating explicitly that only war against the white settlers would enable the Kikuyu
and other Africans to regain their land.
They appealed to their compatriots – of all tribes –
to fight for their rights by any means available to them, including the use of violence.
By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyus were confined to only 2,000 square
miles. The area to which they were restricted was not only small; it was also unsuitable for agriculture. By remarkable contrast,
30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles and almost all the best agricultural land was under their ownership.
To make things worse, tens of thousands of Kikuyus, no fewer
than 120,000, became tenant farmers on white-owned land where they were allowed to farm on small plots in exchange for their
labour. And this was the land that had been takes away from them by whites. Now they found themselves to be strangers, and
virtual slaves for whites, on their own land.
And between 1938 and 1946, whites demanded even more days of
labour from the Kikuyu and imposed further restrictions on them, denying them access to land they had previously been able
The year 1947 was a turning point in this struggle, for, it
was then that many members of the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Kamba tribes began administering and taking oaths, swearing that
they were ready to fight and die for their rights as Africans who had been dispossessed of their land and subjected to other
injustices by the white settlers who lived at their expense.
In fact, by 1953, almost half of all the Kikuyus had no land
rights at all. Deprived of land, they sank deeper into poverty, faced starvation and other problems including unemployment,
and overpopulation in areas to which they were restricted.
The colonial authorities made things even worse when earlier
in 1947 police shot and killed three Africans during a strike by African workers at Uplands Bacon Factory; an attack Africans
saw as a flagrant violation of their rights including the sanctity of life the colonial rulers felt they were not bound to
respect as long as lives lost were African, not white.
All that contributed to the birth of Mau Mau. As an organisation
of disgruntled Africans bound by common suffering, Mau Mau is believed to have been started in 1950.
In 1951, the Kenya African Union – which later evolved
into KANU and led Kenya to independence – sent a delegation to London to present its demands on behalf of Africans in
Kenya but its demands were rejected by the British government.
It was obvious that all avenues towards peaceful resolution
of the crisis were closed. And the crisis had reached boiling point.
In August 1951, people including government officials started
hearing reports that secret meetings were being held in the forests, including the Aberdares, by Kikuyus and that they were
taking oaths to kick out the white man and regain their land.
Before then in the late 1940s, the leaders of the banned Kenya
Central Association (KCA), once led by Harry Thuku, began planning a campaign of civil obedience in which all Kikuyus would
be urged to participate to protest land expropriation by whites. Those who agreed to participate vowed to take oaths, a common
practice among the Kikuyu and the other tribes, the Embu and the Meru, also involved in this conflict with whites.
The oath rituals were for civil disobedience but later became
much more serious, requiring participants to fight whites who had taken the land away from them.
The seeds had been planted. And it was from all this that Mau
Mau finally emerged and became a potent force in the fifties during the struggle for independence as a military expression
of political and economic aspirations of dispossessed Africans, one of the most successful uprisings in the history of colonial
Initially, the members of this secret organisation were almost
exclusively Kikuyus but later embraced the Embu and the Meru who are also closely related to the Kikuyu; the Kikuyu's real
name, in their own language, is Gikuyu. But they are popularly known as Kikuyu.
Besides these three related tribes, the Kamba and Maasai also
joined the revolt although on a smaller scale. But their involvement showed that the uprising had spread beyond the White
Highlands and involved other Africans, most of whom sympathised with the plight of the Kikuyu as well as the Embu and the
Meru as victims of colonial injustices which also affected them, only in varying degrees especially in terms of land ownership
In August 1952, the colonial government imposed a curfew on
three areas around Nairobi where some people, believed to be members of Mau Mau, burned down some houses belonging to Africans
– mostly Kikuyu – who refused to take an oath to join Mau Mau.
In October 1952, Senior Chief Waruhiu was killed in broad daylight.
He was speared to death on a main road on the outskirts of Nairobi. He had recently spoken out against Mau Mau and criticised
those who were opposed to the government. He was a known supporter of the British colonial rulers and settlers and was hated
by many of his own people, fellow Kikuyus, and other Africans who saw him as a traitor.
The new governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, had a swift response
to the killing of an African sympathiser of colonial rule and to reports that the Kikiyu and their compatriots were attacking
whites on their farms. He declared a state of emergency on 20 October 1952. The declaration of a state of emergency also amounted
to a declaration of war on Mau Mau by the colonial government.
Just the day before, on October 19th, the British government
announced that it was sending troops to Kenya to fight Mau Mau. And soon thereafter, Kenyatta and his colleagues were arrested,
thus virtually decapitating the Kenya African Union (KAU) – but it was not defeated:
dawn on October 21st, 1952, Jomo Kenyatta, the president (of KAU), and twenty-five other officers were arrested. From then
on, mass arrests of members of the Union have taken place daily during the past four years. - (George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism, ibid.,
Others arrested included Achieng Oneko, KAU's secretary-general;
Fred Kubai, chairman of the Nairobi branch; Bildad Kaggia, secretary of the Nairobi branch; Kung'u Karumba. and Paul Ngei.
They were all leaders of national stature and were charged with leading Mau Mau which was banned in 1950.
Altogether, about 100 leaders were arrested on the same day.
And up to 8,000 people were rounded up and detained during the first 25 days of the Emergency. Also, many white settlers took
the law into their own hands to deal with suspected Mau Mau fighters and sympathisers, imposing harsh and cruel punishment
The trial of Jomo Kenyatta and his compatriots lasted 59 days
and was the longest and most sensational in British colonial history. They were all convicted and sentenced to seven years'
imprisonment with hard labour. They were sent to prison at Kapenguria in an arid region in northern Kenya.
Just the day after the trial ended and the sentence was given
on 8 April 1953, the Kenyan colonial government placed under police protection the magistrate who had presided over the trial
and delivered the judgment. His name was Thacker, and he was flown out of the country and given “asylum” in England.
Although KAU leaders were now in prison, the colonial government
still allowed the African political organisation to exist, but not for long. On 8 June 1953, Governor Baring issued a statement,
which was read by Chief Native Commissioner E. H. Windley in a radio broadcast, declaring:
is no doubt that there are members of the Kenya African Union who have no connection with violent movements; but action has
been taken because the Government has satisfied itself that there is ample evidence to show that the Kenya African Union has
often been used as a cover by the Mau Mau terrorist organization, and that, both before and after the emergency was declared,
there has been connection between many members of the Kenya African Union and Mau Mau terrorists. -
( Quoted, ibid., p. 253).
Yet, there was no evidence linking Kenyatta and many of his
colleagues to Mau Mau.
The war against Mau Mau was the biggest colonial war in Africa
since the Boer War. More 30,000 British troops were involved, together with the local police force, the Kenya Regiment which
recruited exclusively from among the European male population, the Kikuyu Home Guards, and the King's African Rifles (KAR)
which was Kenya's national army.
Africans called Mau Mau, the Kikuyu Land Liberation Army or
the Land and Freedom Armies, and saw it as the appropriate response to racial injustices being perpetrated against them by
the white settlers.
The forces fighting Mau Mau were reinforced by soldiers of
the King's African Rifles from neighbouring Uganda and Tanganyika, both of which were also British colonies like Kenya. A
total of 55,000 troops were involved during the course of the conflict. But they did not exceed 10,000 at any one time during
the operation against Mau Mau.
Colonel Ewart Grogan, a member of the Kenya Legislative Council
who had immigrated to Kenya from South Africa and who was the doyen of the settler community in Kenya, had this to say about
the whole situation:
Europeans have to go on ruling this country and rule it with iron discipline....Teach the whole Kikuyu tribe a lesson by providing
a 'psychic shock'....If the whole of the Kikuyu land unit is reverted to the Crown, then every Kikuyu would know that our
little queen was a great Bwana. - (Ewart Grogan, quoted by George Padmore, Pan-African or Communism?, pp.
255, and 256).
the Kenya African Union (KAU) was banned in 1953 – so were all the other African national political parties –
it was clear to many Africans that Mau Mau was the only answer to their problems with the white settlers. Fighting escalated
soon after the parties were banned, and more people joined Mau Mau.
Most of the fighting took place in the Central Province, the
Aberdares (Nyandarua), around Mount Kenya, and in Nakuru District. The main and most well-known leader of the Mau Mau fighters
was Dedan Kimathi.
There were two others: Waruhiu Itote, also known as General
China, who was the leader the Mau Mau in the forests around Mount Kenya, and Stanley Mathenge. Kimathi led the Mau Mau in
the Aberdare forest.
Kimathi was finally captured by the Kikuyu Tribal Police on
21 October 1956 in Nyeri. They were led by one of the colonial police officers, Ian Henderson.
Henderson even wrote a book about his
exploits, The Hunt for Kimathi published in 1958, and became a hero to the white settlers. But soon after Kenya won independence, he was deported. He was highly
notorious for his brutal tactics and for torturing Mau Mau suspects and sympathisers.
Dedan Kimathi was hanged in Nyeri on 17
February 1957 and his execution marked the beginning of the end of the Mau Mau uprising.
The Emergency lasted until January 1960
but some Mau Mau fighters remained in the forest until 1963, the year Kenya won independence.
was a bitter and protracted conflict. Whites were attacked on their farms;
also government buildings and police stations were attacked by the Mau Mau fighters. Africans, including chiefs and headmen,
who were seen as sympathisers of the colonial rulers were also targeted. Many of them were killed.
Most of the fighting took place in the forests which was the
main sanctuary and stronghold for Mau Mau and where British soldiers and their African troops went in search of the fighters.
As the fighting went on, the colonial government took draconian
measures to try and disrupt Mau Mau by forcing tens of thousands of Kikuyus into concentration camps including villages which
were euphemistically called – by the authorities – “protected” villages; nothing but a form of prison.
These villages were in the Kikuyu reserves which were the main
concentration camps into which the Kikuyu had been forced in a desperate attempt by the colonial authorities to contain and
neutralise Mau Mau.
By 1955, the British had gained the upper hand in their war
against Mau Mau. And by October that year, more than 1.5 million Kikuyus had been placed in concentration camps, so-called
protected villages. Altogether, there were 854 such “villages” for that large number of people. And life was hell
in those camps.
The British saw themselves winning the war. But even with their
superior weapons including the Royal Air Force dropping bombs on Mau Mau hideouts in the Aberdares and elsewhere, the fighting
The Mau Mau fighters were not defeated. They refused to surrender.
Government forces were led by General Sir George Erskine, former
commander of the British army in the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt. He was assisted by Major-General W.R.N. Hinde who served as
director of operations.
On 20 October 1963, to mark the first anniversary of the declaration
of emergency, Governor Evelyn Baring announced that there was an imperative need to expand the armed forces and intensify
the military campaign against Mau Mau.
Ironically, it was a view that was not shared by the commanding
officer. On the day after the governor announced the new measures, General Erskine, in what amounted to a prophetic statement,
said there was no military solution to the problems of Kenya. And went to say:
problem was) purely political – how Europeans, Africans and Asians can live in harmony on a long-term basis. If the
people of Kenya could address themselves to this problem and find a solution they would have achieved far more than I could
do with security forces. - (General George Erskine,quoted by George Padmore, Pan-African or Communism?, p.
The British knew this was a war of attrition which they could
probably not win outright and, by 1959, they started making some concessions to Africans, including land ownership in many
areas and whose denial was at the core of the conflict.
And on the political front, African leaders stepped up their
campaign for independence. The most prominent during that period were Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya, coincidentally,
both members of what then - and for many years thereafter - the second-largest ethnic group in Kenya, the Luo, next to the
Kikuyu who constituted the biggest fighting force of Mau Mau.
In the absence of KAU as a legal political party for Africans,
Mboya formed the National People's Convention Party (NPCP) in 1957 and was elected a member of the Legislative Council (Legco),
which was the national legislature for the colony. The Legislative Council was “evenly” divided. It had 14 Africans
representing the entire African population of 6 million, and 14 members representing 60,000 whites.
Mboya worked with other Africans in Legco and elsewhere to
demand equal representation in the colonial legislature and to campaign for independence.
When the colonial government eased its restrictions on political
activities by Africans, Mboya and other African leaders revived the Kenya African Union (KAU) and transformed it into the
Kenya African National Union (KANU) in May 1960. He was elected KANU's secretary-general.
James Gichuru, a Kikuyu, was elected KANU's president and held
that post until after Kenyatta was freed. Gichuru became one of the first cabinet members in Kenyatta's government soon after
KANU was essentially a union of KAU, NPCP led by Mboya, and
the Kenya Independence Movement (KIM) led by Dr. Gikonyo Kiano, a Kikuyu, who also became a cabinet member under Kenyatta
after Kenya won independence.
Oginga Odinga – who could have become the first president
of Kenya – was Kenya's most prominent leader, besides Tom Mboya, when Kenyatta was in prison. After Kenyatta was released
from prison, Odinga stepped aside and let Kenyatta take over the leadership of the party which finally led the country to
independence on 12 December 1963.
Kenyatta became Kenya's first prime minister, then president
one year after independence. Oginga Odinga served as vice president, and Tom Mboya was appointed minister of justice and constitutional
affairs in the independence cabinet. In 1964, Mboya became minister of economic planning, a post he held until his assassination
on 5 July 1969 at the age of 39.
Mboya was Kenyatta's heir apparent. After he was assassinated,
it was said he was the best president Kenya never had.
And together with Oginga Odinga, he will be remembered as a
leader who skillfully led the struggle for independence in the 1950s when Jomo Kenyatta was in prison....
Ethnic Conflicts in Kenya:
A Nation Divided
ALTHOUGH Kenya has been spared the agony Rwanda went through
during the 1994 genocide which amounted to ethnic cleansing, and even what neighbouring Uganda experienced through the years
especially in the northern part of the country which was devastated by violence that was partly caused by ethnic rivalries,
there is no question that it also has had its share of bloodshed caused by ethnic conflicts.
In fact, Kenya has witnessed some of the worst forms of violence
in East Africa in contemporary times.
The bloodiest conflicts took place in the 1990s between different
ethnic groups and, in many cases, the violence was politically motivated, ignited and fuelled by unscrupulous politicians.
But the violence was also sparked by pure hatred and xenophobic
fear among some people, especially in the Coast and Rift Valley Provinces, who resented members of other tribes from other
parts of Kenya who had moved into and settled in those regions.
Many of the “outsiders” or “foreigners”
who were attacked had lived there for years. And a very large number of them were also born in those provinces, the only place
they knew as home.
They also, of course, had the right to live there as Kenyans
themselves. But that is not how the indigenous people saw them. They saw them as “strangers,” “foreigners,”
“outsiders,” and as “invaders” who had gone there to displace the “rightful” owners of
the land and were not welcome. Anything that could be done to expel them - had to be done. And that included killing them.
It became an orgy of killings.
It was one of the most tragic chapters in Kenya's history.
And what happened then continues to haunt the nation today, as it continues its precarious existence simply because the leaders
themselves - not all but a significant number of them - show that they are no more concerned about ending tribal rivalries
than an ordinary person is; a person who is motivated by ethnic hatred towards fellow Kenyans for no other reason than that
they don't belong to his or her tribe.
A large number of leaders are tribalist, favouring members
of their own tribes. And they exploit ethnic and regional differences and rivalries in their quest for power and to perpetuate
themselves in office. That is what happened in the 1990s. And it could happened again.
Back in the early 1990s, the ruling party KANU dominated by
the Kalenjin from the Rift Valley Province – under the leadership of President Danie arap Moi who was a Kalenjin himself
– played a major role in igniting the violence between different ethnic groups which almost tore the country apart in
order to consolidate its position and stay in power. The result was bloodshed the country had never seen since Mau Mau.
At least 3,000 people were killed or severely wounded in the
Rift Valley Province alone in 1992.
The primary target were the Kikuyu and other “foreigners”
- Kenyans from other provinces - who had settled in the Rift Valley Province. The Kikuyu, who had moved and settled there
in large numbers, suffered the most.
The attacks were carried out by the Kalenjin, members of President
Moi's ethnic group which is dominant in the region. And nothing was done to the perpetrators of this violence.
Only a few years later before the presidential election in
1997, the Coast Province was the scene of the same kind of violence. The people who were killed were mostly “outsiders”
who came from other parts of Kenya and settled in the Coast Province.
Leaflets written in Kiswahili were
distributed in the region urging the indigenous people to drive out the “invaders” from other provinces. According
to the International Herald Tribune, 18 August 1997, some of the leaflets
stated: “The time has come for us original inhabitants of the coast to claim what is rightfully ours. We must remove
these invaders from our land.”
The people who were attacked came from
the interior. They were mostly Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kamba and others who had settled in the Coast Province. One witness in
Mombasa, Edmund Kwena, was quoted by the International Herald Tribune saying
a filling station was attacked and a pump set on fire.
He also said he saw scores of buildings torched on 17 August
1997, four days after the violence erupted in the Coast Province. He went on to say: “I personally counted up to 100
kiosks completely burned down. Dozens of houses were also set on fire in the Diani area, a popular tourist area south of Mombasa.”
The preceding statements are cited
in Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria (pp. 120 - 121), a
The ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) under President
Moi - which was dominated by the Kalenjin and their allies who were also mainly members of smaller tribes like the Kalenjin
themselves - was accused of instigating the violence. The main target were members of tribes opposed to Moi's despotic rule.
These were mostly Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kamba and others.
The attacks were reminiscent of what had taken place in other
African counties where members of tribes who were not considered to be original inhabitants of the regions they had migrated
to were killed or expelled from those regions where many of them had lived for decades.
The attacks in the Rift
Valley and Coast Provinces in Kenya and the inflammatory language used by the instigators of this kind of violence to inflame
passions among the indigenous people in those provinces had striking similarities to what happened in Nigeria in the sixties
and in Zaire in the early nineties:
language had striking parallels to what Northern Nigerian leaders said about the Igbos who had settled in their region. As
Representative Mallam Mukhtar Bello stated in the Northern House of Assembly during the February-March 1964 session just two
years before the massacre of the Igbos in that region:
'I would like to say something very important that the Minister
should take my appeal to the Federal Government (controlled by Northerners) about the Igbos....I wish the number of these
Igbos be reduced....There are too many of them in the North. They are just like sardines and I think they are just too dangerous
to the Region.'
The rest of the representatives in the Northern Regional Assembly
expressed the same sentiment, including the Northern Premier himself, Sir Ahmadu Bello.
This hostility exploded into violence almost exactly two years
later against the Igbos who had settled in the Northern Region. Most of them had lived there for decades.
And almost exactly 30 years later, the same thing happened
in the Coast Province of Kenya against the people who came from the interior; and in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of
Congo) in 1993 when President Mobutu Sese Seko employed the same tactic against his opponents, igniting tribal violence which
led to the massacre of thousands of people from Kasai Province who had settled in Shaba Province (formerly Katanga Province).
They also had lived there for decades, and their home province,
Kasai, was also the home region of Mobutu's most powerful and influential rival, Etienne Tshisekedi.
Like the Igbos in Northern Nigeria,
and the Kikuyu, the Luo, the Luhya, the Kamba and members of other tribes from inland who had settled in Kenya's Coast Province,
the people from Kasai Province were also expelled en masse from Shaba Province.
And in all three cases, murder was
the primary weapon used to facilitate the expulsion of these 'outsiders' and 'invaders.' - (Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria (Huntington,
New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.,), p. 120; the expulsion of Igbos from Northern Nigeria also cited in Africa Contemporary Record (London,
1969), p. 664).
Kenyan newspapers were quick to report the violence in the
Coast Province and stated that the attacks in that region appeared to be similar to those which took place in the Rift Valley
Province before and after the general election in 1992.
There was unmistakable evidence of ethnic hostility which ignited
and fuelled the violence. At least 1,500 Kikuyus and members of other tribes – but mostly Kikuyus - who had settled
in the Rift Valley province were killed. Their property was also destroyed. As Gibson Kuria, a renowned human rights lawyer
who was active in the movement for constitutional reforms, stated:
looks too much like 1992. The violence is aimed at certain ethnic communities, the government response has been lukewarm,
and the violence we're seeing has had the same kind of brutality. - (Quoted by Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, ibid.,
p. 121; also, cited by G. Mwakikagile, “Explosion of Violence in Kenya Stirs Fears of Electoral Mayhem,” in the
Herald Tribune, 21 August 1997, p. 6).
the attacks were launched, no one knew what the outcome would be. There were tens of thousands of Kikuyus, Luos, Kambas, Merus,
Luhyas and members of other inland tribes who had lived in the Coast Province for decades and knew no other place as home.
They were well-established in the region and no one would have expected them to pack up and leave just like that. And it seemed
that the majority of them were going to stay. But that is not what happened in many cases.
Marauding gangs of between 200 and 500 indigenous people, native
to the Coast, attacked these “foreigners” and “invaders” indiscriminately, determined to force them
to go back where they came from. And they succeeded in driving them out of many areas.
They used all kinds of weapons including
guns, clubs with nails, machetes, and bows and arrows. They also used arson as a major weapon. According to the International Herald Tribune:
burned homes and businesses and hacked off people's limbs....Signs of tension are everywhere. Trucks bounce along, stuffed
with fleeing families' belongings (going back upcountry). - (cited by Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, p.
government denied involvement but there was incontrovertible evidence showing that it was indeed behind the violence.
In fact, some of the irrefutable evidence came from the government
itself and its ruling party officials based on what they said in public on different occasions before this politically motivated
ethnic violence - fuelled by xenophobia - erupted. Even the police, to fool and impress the public, arrested one KANU activist
involved in the violence – yet did nothing to stop it:
far, police have arrested at least one KANU activist in connection with the unrest....
In recent months several ruling party
politicians have exhorted indigenous Mombasans to force outside groups back up country. - (International Herald Tribune, and
Godfrey Mwakikagile, ibid.).
The fears opponents of Moi's regime had expressed were now
justified. They accused the ruling party, KANU, of using violence to consolidate the president's position just before the
general election and burnish his image in the Coast Province by expelling from the region members of ethnic groups such as
the Kikuyu and Luo opposed to his tribalistic and autocratic rule. As Richard Leakey, a Kenyan of British origin born in Kenya
who was one of Moi's most vocal critics, bluntly stated:
is no doubt that there is a political agenda in scaring the hell out of the upcountry people. - (Quoted by the International Herald Tribune, 21
August 1997, p. 6, and by Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, op.
cit, p. 122).
And the violence continued. At the Likoni Catholic Church,
about 3,000 people from upcountry who were members of the Kikuyu, Kamba, Luo and other tribes, filled the compound. They brought
with them all their possessions or whatever they could carry or get the chance to take, with their enemies in hot pursuit.
It was a gruesome sight. They had been slashed with machetes,
shot or severely beaten by some of the members of the Coastal tribes.
One of the victims was Jeremiah Mwindi Muli, 38 years old,
and he had a harrowing tale of what happened to him.
He was returning home one morning from a nearby shop when he
was attacked. About 20 young men armed with guns, clubs and machetes confronted him in an alley. They asked him for some money.
Then they asked him what tribe he was. He told them he was a Kamba. And they attacked him.
He ran but they caught up with him and slashed him on both
shoulders and on his upper right arm. His arm was paralysed from the attack.
After he returned to his house, everything was gone. He and
his wife, Kanini, had two sons, one 5 years old, and the other one, only 18 months. Now they had nothing, not even clothes
except the ones they had on:
even took our spoons. I'm poor and displaced, and I've lost all my possessions. I don't know how I'll start again. - (Quoted,
The violence triggered an exodus never witnessed in the country's
history on such a scale:
estimated that at least 40,000 of the total population of 60,000 had left the Kwale district since the start of ethnic attacks
by gangs on August 13.
Throughout the night, men, women and
children clutching a few belongings left homes and walked to bus and railway stations. - (International Herald Tribune, 30
August 1997, cited by Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, ibid.,
That was from one area alone. People from the hinterland had
settled all over the Coast Province, and there was no place in the region where they felt safe.
Tens of thousands of other upcountry people fled from all over
the Coast province within the same week of the attacks and in subsequent days, vowing never to return. It was one of the saddest
chapters in the nation's history.
The exodus was reminiscent of what happened to the Igbos when
they fled from Northern Nigeria and returned to their home region in Eastern Nigeria after they were attacked and tens of
thousands of their compatriots were massacred in the North in 1966. At least 50,000 were killed in a few weeks.
Kenya in the 1990s was divided along ethnic lines as much as
Nigeria was in the late sixties in terms of violence; the difference was in the magnitude of the violence – it was worse
in Nigeria, and more people were killed there. But the hostility was the same, nonetheless. And the same problem exists in
both countries today as much as it does in most African countries.
In Kenya, the outcome of the December 1997 presidential election
was not surprising. Moi won by playing the ethnic card. As one western diplomat said about Moi's victory and support for his
ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) by small tribes:
not surprising when you consider that KANU is an alliance of small tribes whose main priority is preventing the Luos or the
Kikuyus from taking power. - (Quoted by The Christian Science Monitor, 6
January 1998, p. 6, and Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, ibid.,
Before Moi became president and filled the ruling party with
members of his tribe, the Kalenjin, and of other small tribes allied with the Kalenjin, KANU was dominated by the Kikuyu under
the leadership of their patriarch Jomo Kenyatta.
Other tribes resented that and were determined it would never
happen again. It may not have, but the problem remained the same: power concentrated in the hands of one or a few ethnic groups,
this time the Kalenjin and their allies, to the exclusion of the rest.
And even after the 1997 general election, the violence continued.
The Kalenjin and their allies including the Maasai had won again, and consolidated their position, and felt that they could
do anything they wanted to do at the expense of others – the Kikuyu, the Luo, the Luhya, the Kamba – without fear
of retribution or legal sanctions since they were in power. They dominated and controlled the government under Moi, the most
prominent and most powerful Kalenjin in the history of that tribe in modern times.
And they turned their home region, the Rift Valley Province,
into a combat zone for ethnic cleansing.
The fighting, and killings, had already been going on in the
Rift Valley Province even before the election and during the same time the violence was also going on in the Coast Province
against non-indigenes. In fact, it happened even earlier.
Thousands of people who were displaced in 1991 during the ethnic
attacks against the Kikuyu and others had neither returned nor received any help from Moi's government.
The Rift Valley Province was forbidden territory for them,
although it been their home before the violence in the early 1990s. The violence perpetrated against them was justified –
by the Kalenjins and their allies – solely on the grounds that they were not Kalenjin or native to the region, and did
not support President Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin.
Three weeks after Moi was sworn in as president in January
1998, the violence continued to take its toll:
armed with automatic rifles, bows and arrows, and spears have killed 22 more people in central Kenya, police said yesterday
(January 27, 1998), raising the death toll in politically motivated violence this month to 77.
The latest violence broke out near the farming town of Njoro,
where assailants have killed 22 people since Sunday (January 25), police spokesman Peter Kimathi said. 23 people were wounded....
The attacks apparently are aimed at driving Kenya's biggest
tribe, the Kikuyu, off their land in the Rift Valley Province because they voted against President Daniel arap Moi's Kenya
African National Union party in the December 29 – 30 elections.
Earlier this month, two of Moi's cabinet ministers openly threatened
Kikuyu residents of the province in speeches at a rally of the Kenya African National Union party to celebrate their electoral
Observers of the latest attack say
the assailants were members of the Kalenjin group of tribes, which generally support Moi. - (The Boston Globe, 28
January 1998, and Godfrey Mwakikagile, Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria, ibid.,
In 1992 and 1993, similar violence in the Rift Valley Province
wreaked havoc on an unprecedented scale. About 2,000 people were killed, and 300,000 displaced. Most of them were Kikuyus.
What happened then is not just history. It is a perennial problem
in terms of ethnic relations.
Different tribes still don't trust each other. They don't even
like each other. Some do, some don't, as individuals. But as ethnic groups, the chasm runs deep. And nothing has been done
to close it.
The ethnic violence in Kenya in the 1990s may be a thing of
the past, but it is very much a part of the present. Ethnic tensions are an enduring phenomenon in Kenyan national life. And
they erupted into violence a decade ago.
It happened then, and it could happen again. It is up to the
people and the leaders to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
Tanzania is the only country in the region, if not on the entire
continent, that has virtually conquered tribalism and racism. Even many foreigners who have been to Tanzania and other African
countries have noticed that.
One of them was Keith B. Richburg,
a black American journalist who was the bureau chief of The Washington Post in
Nairobi for three years. As he states in his book – whose candour has inflamed passions among many people, especially
black Americans and Africans – Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa:
became more thorough in his consolidation of power, placing loyal tribesmen in key government posts and cracking down hard
on his perceived enemies within....
Even in a relatively modern state like Kenya, tribal animosities
bubble just an inch beneath the surface.
The Kikuyu are the largest tribe and until Moi took over, had
been at the forefront of the country's independence struggles and its early postcolonial politics. Jomo Kenyatta was a Kikuyu,
and he was by all accounts a particularly harsh autocrat, a tribal chieftain of the first order who believed it was the Kikuyu's
natural right to rule.
Many Kenyans, non-Kikuyu, are deathly fearful of another Kikuyu
presidency (although they later voted for Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, to succeed Moi), and Moi has managed to tap into that fear
and present himself as the only alternative. Moi has likewise been willing to allow more than a few tribal eruptions to make
his point to Kenya and the world – that he alone represents stability for Kenya, that without him the country becomes
just another African tribal killing zone....
If there was one thing I learned traveling around Africa, it
was that the tribe remains the defining feature of almost every African society. Old tribal mistrusts and stereotypes linger,
and the potential for a violent implosion is never very far from the surface.
Even in the supposedly more sophisticated or developed countries
like Kenya, thirty years of independence and “nation building” had still failed to create any real sense of national
identity that could transcend the tribe.
In Kenya, the Kikuyu still think the Luo are inferior and that
they, the Kikuyu, have the right to rule. The Luo don't trust the Kikuyu, who they think look down on them. And both tribes
look down on the Luhya. It goes on and on.
In Kenya, I also saw the devastating effects of what can happen
when politicians, like Danie arap Moi and his cronies, are willing to play the “tribal card” and stoke the flames
of ethnic animosity for political advantage.
I walked through the burned-out town of Enosupukio, after it
was raided by Masai warriors driving out (the) Kikuyu who they believed had settled on traditional Masai grazing land. It
looked like a war zone after a major battle, which, in a way, I suppose it was.
Not a single house or shop was left standing. Even two churches
were stripped of everything except a few pews. And when I spoke to the Kikuyu refugees who had fled the town, they told me
how the Masai who had once been their neighbors suddenly swooped down on the town with guns and machetes and spears.
One woman named Loyce Majiru told me how she had to flee with
her nine children, and how she looked back and saw the body of a neighbor on the side of the road, naked, with his head chopped
And this was Kenya, a major tourist destination and a country
long considered one of the more “stable” in Africa.
These things, though, are not too popular
to discuss outside of Africa, particularly among the Africanists and Western academics for whom the very term “tribe”
is anathema. The preferred term is “ethnic group” because it's considered less racially laden. But Africans themselves
talk of their “tribes,” and they warn of the potential for tribal explosion....” - (Keith B. Richburg, Out of America: A Black Man Confronts
Africa (New York: Basic Books), pp. 25 – 26, 104 -105).
Richburg goes on to talk about his experience in Kenya and
other African countries and about the devastating impact of tribalism:
first arriving in Kenya and going to see one of those old colonial Brits, a man named Douglas – I never knew his first
name – who worked in a cramped, dingy, smoke-stained office above the souvenir shop, surrounded by stacks and stacks
of paper files in blue and pink and yellow cardboard folders.
He was a large man with white hair and a thick white mustache,
and his suspenders pulled his pants so high up his waist they looked like they were touching his armpits. He was the real
estate agent for the house I was renting, and I had to go to his office to drop off my check.
And I remember him sitting back imperiously with his hands
over his wide stomach and appraising me, the newcomer to Africa, and then announcing, “You Americans don't know anything
about the African. It's all tribes – tribes! And you don't understand that.” And I recall thinking at the time,
how pompous this old man was, how utterly full of himself, bandying about that old worn cliche, tribalism, to explain Africa's
I set out to prove old Douglas wrong. One of my earliest visits
was to Tanzania, and there I found a country that had actually managed to purge itself of the evil of tribalism.
Under Julius Nyerere and his ruling socialists, the government
was able to imbue a true sense of nationalism that transcended the country's natural ethnic divisions, among other things
by vigorous campaigns to upgrade education and to make Swahili a truly national language.
Swahili today is widely spoken everywhere and has become the
medium of instruction at Tanzanian universities, where I met a professor of Swahili studies who was busy translating the latest
American computer program into Swahili.
Tanzania is one place that has succeeded in removing the linguistic
barrier that separates so many of Africa's warring factions.
But after three years traveling the continent, I've found that
Tanzania is the exception, not the rule. In Africa, as old man Douglas said, it is all about tribes.
Tribalism is what prompted tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutus
to pick up machetes and hoes and panga knives and farming tools to bash in the skulls and sever the limbs of their Tutsi neighbors.
Tribalism is why entire swaths of Kenya's scenic Rift Valley lie in scorched ruins, why Zulu gunmen in ski masks mow down
Xhosa workers outside a factory gate in South Africa, and why thousands of hungry displaced Kasai huddle under plastic sheeting
at a remote train station in eastern Zaire.
And it's tribalism under another name – clans, subclans,
factions – that caused young men in Mogadishu to shell the city to oblivion and loot what was left of the rubble. -
(K.B. Richburg, ibd., pp. 240 - 241).
There may even be a few other African countries, in fact very
few if there are indeed any other, that are free from the scourge of tribalism and racism - in virulent form - like Tanzania
Botswana is one of them but probably because it is composed
almost entirely of members of one ethnic group, the Tswana, besides the so-called Bushmen of the Kalahari desert many of whom
may have an entirely different story to tell about their treatment at the hands of the dominant ethnic group.
In fact, there are many complaints
which have been reported through the years – by “Bushmen” and their supporters – about the mistreatment
of these indigenous people by the Tswana-dominated government. According to one report, “Rights Group Likens Bushmen
Plight to Slavery,” by Voice of America (VOA) Africa News, 23 August 2007:
human rights group Survival International released a new report Thursday (23 August 2007) comparing the situation of Botswana's
Bushmen to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The report is being issued to mark the UN Day for the Remembrance
of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
The report says the same arguments used to defend slavery “bear a striking
similarity” to those used to justify the eviction of the Bushmen from their ancestral lands.
The Gana and Gwi Bushmen were relocated from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve
in 2002. Last December, they won a court case to return to their lands.
However, the government says only those named in the lawsuit, several hundred, should be allowed to return. Those who
have returned accuse the government of preventing them from hunting, bringing in goats or using a nearby borehole for water.
Survival International Director Stephen Corry says there’s a worldwide prejudice
against “tribal and indigenous people.”
“It’s very clear that there’s an attitude that they are somehow
inferior, that they need to catch up, that they are uncivilized. They need to be civilized. And this is exactly the same thing
which was said about the slave trade 200 years ago. I mean I think it is very easy to forget that the slave trade had a lot
of defenders. People who were arguing that it benefited and helped civilize Africans. And that’s a direct quote from
somebody in 1774,” he says.
Corry says that the government is using old arguments in its relocation of the
“The Botswanan government thinks their way of life is inferior. It sees
them as hunter-gatherers, who should stop being hunter-gatherers and should, as it were, join the mainstream of society,”
The Botswanan government has said the Bushmen would benefit by leaving game reserve
by having better access to water, social and educational services.
A government document says a fund has been set up to provide training and help for Bushmen who want to start small
The government also says it wants to raise their standard of living and avoid land-use conflicts in the Central Kalahari
Game Reserve as a result of agriculture and livestock.
Corry says the quality of life and health of the relocated Bushmen has deteriorated
sharply. He says that you cannot use force to relocate indigenous people “without damaging them very severely.”
“Wherever there are tribal peoples still living in a way which they wish
to live, the dominant societies often regard it as inferior and want to stop it, not least and generally because they want
their land. That’s what it usually boils down to,” he says.
The Botswanan government, however, is quoted as saying it wants to bring the Bushmen
into “the mainstream society without any detriment to their unique culture and tradition."
The country’s foreign minister was quoted in 2001 as saying, “It would be grossly irresponsible if we didn’t
expose them to modern day culture.”
If the “Bushmen” are indeed discriminated against
and are seen as inferior to the Tswana, then that