Ethnicity has been manifested in political party formation and voting behaviour since the eve and after Kenya’s independence. The formation of KANU and KADU in 1960 was done along ethnic lines. KANU was dominated by the Luos and Kikuyus while KADU was dominated by coastal, pastoral, and to some extent Luhyia tribes.
The political struggles in Kenya after KADU joined KANU in 1964 was also assumed ethnic dimension. The political struggles in Kenya in the 1960s as was mentioned earlier witnessed the fallout between Odinga and Kenyatta both of whom were from different ethnic groups. As a result of the struggles, Odinga resigned from the government from the government on 14 April 1966 and formed KPU.
This led directly to the re-establishment of a parliamentary opposition and with it a two-party system was restored. Suffice to mention KANU was predominantly supported by the Kikuyus simply because Kenyatta who was heading the party was a Kikuyu. KPU was predominantly supported by the Luos because of similar reason.
The new opposition party members of parliament were allowed in the House for only one day. On the same day that the defectors took their seats on the opposition benches, the government introduced a new constitutional amendment as a result of which they were forced to resign and seek a re-election. The little general elections followed in June 1967.
This general election, apart from reflecting personal and ideological differences, was also characterized by ethnic considerations. The choice before the voters was thus not only between Kenyatta and Odinga, but also in part between Kikuyu and Luo.
Political campaigns in readiness for the Little General elections were dominated by ethnic considerations. For instance, the attitude assumed by Kenyatta and the KANU power elite was that of trying to alienate whoever in any way associated with KPU. The case of Kaggia was typical.
Kenyatta openly campaigned against Kaggia, portraying him as a worthless person, unable to avail himself of the opportunities offered by independence for self-improvement and a renegade who had deserted his own people’s party to join the Luos. To Kenyatta KPU was a Luo party and to this effect, Kaggia was defeated in the elections. Mention should also be made that after the elections, KPU won nine parliamentary seats, six of the nine seats from central Nyanza, two from Machakos and one from Busia.
The reintroduction of multiparty political system witnessed rampant ethnic rivalries in Kenya’s politics. Political party formation and voting patterns clearly indicated ethnic considerations. FORD that had transformed itself from a political pressure to a political party was seen as re-emergence of a Kikuyu-Luo alliance. KANU remained predominantly the Kalenjin and the party of other pastoralists.
However after the official restoration of multiparty politics in the country, a sharp rift emerged in the opposition, with FORD, splitting into two groups, one led by Oginga Odinga and Paul Muite and another by Martin Shikuku.
On 5 December 1991, the two opposing groups addressed two separate press conferences at the press centre at Chester House, Nairobi. Mr.Oginga Odinga denounced the Shikuku group as ‘self-seekers’ who do not believe in the democratic process. Although the wrangle began on personal ambitions it soon assumed an ethnic dimension.
The wrangle within FORD intensified with the coming back of Kenneth Matiba and his declaration that he would contest for presidency on a FORD ticket. This intention directly conflicted with Oginga Odinga’s intention of vying for the same seat on the same ticket. To this effect, ethnic claims to leadership became more important than Kenya’s struggle for greater democratization.
The Luo-Kikuyu feud during Kenyatta era became imminent again. The Luos in FORD, who rallied behind Oginga Odinga, thought that this was their chance to offer a president. Their Kikuyu counterparts who supported Matiba believed that the forthcoming multiparty general elections would provide a chance to return the leadership of Kenya back to the House of Mumbi.
In the ensuing struggles within FORD, in August 1992, Odinga and Matiba consented to the registration of two FORD political parties under their respective leadership, that is, FORD-Kenya (FORD-K) under Oginga Odinga and FORD-Asili (FORD-A) under Kenneth Matiba. To say most of the political parties in Kenya just before the 1992 general elections were based on tribal sentiments is a tenable argument.
Let us take the “big four” – KANU, FORD-A, FORD-K and DP – as examples. Each of them had tacitly allotted itself some geographical regions that its members often referred to as “our zone.” It was not by coincidence that the predominant ethnic group in those zones had their tribesmen at the higher echelons of the respective parties.
Where the Kikuyu are dominant, the DP and FORD-A had strong backing there for the simple reason that the two parties were led by Kikuyu – Mr. Mwai Kibaki and Kenneth Matiba respectively; where the Luos are dominant FORD-K had the strongest support since its chairman Mr. Odinga is a Luo. Tribes that had no leaders in any of the opposition parties chose to stick with KANU and form alliances with the Kalenjin. These other political parties tried to woe them during the political campaigns.
In that way, Luoland gave Mr. Odinga about 90% of its votes, Kikuyus distributed 96% of their votes between Matiba and Mwai Kibaki while the Kalenjins gave President Moi about 90% of their vote. With the candidates having formed a base with votes from their own tribes they recorded varying performances among other communities in different parts of the country. Ethnic voting patterns were also experienced in the subsequent elections in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2013 in Kenya.
Government Public Appointments
Every regime in Kenya has been characterized by skewed government public appointments in favour of one ethnic group especially the ethnic group or the region that the president comes from. Skewed government appointments in favour of one ethnic group have been seen as a way of consolidating political power. It began immediately after Kenya attained independence with the Kenyatta regime.
Appointments to key ministries and strategic parastatals were reserved to people from the Kikuyu community. This king of pattern was refelected in the Moi regime. Moi began to pursue a policy of ‘tribal and regional balance in government appointments.’ To him this policy was meant to remove the Kikuyus from strategic appointments and replacing them with members from the Kalenjin ethnic group. The Kibaki regime that began after the 2002 elections also continued with the policy of ethnic favouritism in government appointments that is discussed extensively below.
One of the things about government appointments during the Kibaki regime as noted above is that they tended to favour one region of the country: the Mount Kenya region. This is the region occupied by the Meru and Kikuyu communities. The appointments thus gave the impression of ethnic favouritism.
This became a source of instability in the NARC administration as this gave the impression that the administration had resorted once again to ethnicity as a major factor in Kenya’s politics. In the pre-election campaigns, NARC had promised to bury ethnicity.
The public believed the promise and overwhelmingly voted for Kibaki. The re-emergence of ethnicity thus was seen as a betrayal. Ethnic favouritism has also been seen in the Jubilee administration as most of the appointments tended to favour the Kalenjins and the Kikuyus who are seen as the major supporters of the alliance.
Ethnic suspicion and Violence
Ethnic suspicion also began to be experienced in Kenya from the eve of independence. Ethnic suspicion was a major factor that characterized the formation of KADU and KANU in 1960. The fear among the minor tribes in Kenya that they might be dominated by the Kikuyus and the Luos if they joined KANU led them to form KADU.
KADU began to advocate for the federal system of government (majimboism) to protect the interests of these minor ethnic groups. Ethni suspicion continued during the Kenyatta regime but became more rampant in Kenya after the reintroduction of multiparty political system in 1991. The reintroduction of multiparty political system threatened the government and especially the Kalenjin politicians of Rift Valley.
The most important political organization that threatened the government and so the Rift Valley politicians who were strong KANU supporters was FORD. Some Kalenjin politicians from Rift Valley also began to advocate for Majimboism to protect their ethnic interests.
They feared that KANU under President Moi may lose power to FORD. To be able to protect their ethnic interests, Majimbo system was seen as a political shield. Some Rift Valley politicians even said that after the introduction of majimbo every person will be required to go back to his motherland. Debates majimbo quickly picked up, highlighting sharp divisions even among pro-establishment figures, but stopped when President Moi rejected the suggestion.
For instance, the MP for Molo Mr. John N. Mungai accused the Rift Valley politicians who were advocating for majimbo of engaging in a conspiracy to rob the Kikuyu community of their land.
Regarding multiparty politics, President Moi argued that it would divide the country along ethnic lines. In service of this self-fulfilling prophecy, highly inflammatory speeches were made by senior government and KANU officials in stage-managed meetings, urging the various resident “foreign communities” not to abuse the hospitality of the indigenous communities and suggesting that the latter might have to defend themselves.
The result of these inciting statements was ethnic clashes in Rift Valley where the perceived “foreign communities”, the Kikuyu became the victims. The worst ethnic violence in Kenya was witnessed after the disputed general elections in 2007 that resulted in a number of internally displaced persons and left scores dead and injured.