Understanding Tribalism in Kenya

At the heart of tribalism in Kenya are two evils; victim mentality and Self Aggrandizement. If there should be any national cohesion minded president or commission in Kenya, these are the issues to work on. These issues are somehow discussed in my book “the spirit of understanding” but for those who may never have the liberty to read my book, here are my opinions on tribalism in Kenya.

Self- Aggrandizement
We all belong to an ethnic group and naturally we are inclined towards self aggrandizement. This basically means we are inclined towards feeling we are great or better than others. Tribalism in Kenya is accentuated by a certain primitive feeling; remember every child thinks his father or mother is better than all the other fathers or mothers. There are many of us in Kenya who have not accomplished much hence our only sense of pride are primitive attachments to family names, tribal legends or the tribe at large. I have no doubt in my mind, many unexposed Bukusus feel a bukusu man or woman is superior to all other men of other tribes or races. A kikuyu in Kenya feels he or she is better than the other just because he or she is kikuyu.
How lucky I was during those days in primary school, I was introduced to legends in Kenya. We used to learn about Luanda Magere, Kotalel Arap Samoei, Mekatilili, Oloibon Laban, Dedan Kimathi, Martin Shikuku, Elijah wa Nameme etc. Unfortunately, the story of Kenyan heroes has been skewed and it might appear that other narratives have been replaced with only one; MAU MAU. Maybe a cohesion commission that helps us celebrate the rich heritage of different communities, their heroes and their contribution to nation building will help us go beyond self-aggrandizement to acknowledging our nationhood.

Victim Mentality
The other ill that is most vitriol and threatens our nationhood is victim mentality. There is no better way of indoctrinating and inciting others than making them feel like victims suffering a heavy injustice. In our good country, talk of historical injustice has been used to justify hate against others. Without looking at the facts conclusively, we all believe Kenya is unfair to our lot.
The people of North Eastern Kenya are victims; they believe subsequent governments have often intentionally refused to take development to them. Luo Nyanza is one of the poorest areas in Kenya; save for a few pockets of affluence in urban areas. The Luos believe they are victims given the subsequent governments that have been sidelined them and marginalized them due to political reasons. The Luhya in Kenya feel the government has not been interested in the welfare of the region. They point to poor road infrastructure, failing industries and limited appointments into government and cry foul. The Kalenjins recount how the first president settled or his regime facilitated settling of the Kikuyu community on their ancestral land. The people of coast see lack of development in their region as caused by skewed regimes and unfair allocation of resources.  This kind of thinking cemented the 41 against 1 strategy by ODM in the 2007 elections and the results were a massacre that we all regret.
This narrative is championed by leaders from those areas; most of whom have been in power i.e. serving government for many years. Question is; why haven’t local leaders done anything for their people? Does this narrative take into account the development path and dynamics of the nation? Are these leaders privy to the development narrative of Kenya as a player in the international system? Do they know of how Mzee Kenyatta did well not to antagonize the whites upon independence leading Kenya to a developmental path that made it the strategic country in Africa; a status that we enjoy today? Are these leaders privy to the dynamics of the aftermath of the world oil crisis in the early 1980s? Do these leaders know that the whole of Kenya was not growing and our economic growth rate was negative until Kibaki took over in 2003? Do these leaders know that the Kikuyu just like any Kenyans were in Opposition for the entire time Moi was in power? Now with devolution, are these leaders keen to ensure that every penny going to their counties is being used for the good of the common mwananchi? What a tragedy it is that while we are crying foul about the national government, we have left wolves to plunder resources meant for alleviation of poverty at the grassroots. How do you explain a county government using 5.8 billion on projects that are not tangible and that have not put a penny in the hands of any poor local man or woman in a financial year? But no, our leaders especially those in the opposition only want us to believe we are victims of bad national regimes.
A new narrative is emerging where those deemed to have enjoyed regime support are now victims crying foul. Do you know that our Kikuyu brothers and sisters have faced much negative profiling by the rest of the nation? We all believe Kikuyu are thieves, they are selfish and they only eat with Mundu Wa Nyumba. We believe they are selfish because they have never voted for another presidential candidate who is not Kikuyu. We believe that the elite Kikuyu with theire economic interests are currently holding this country at ransom and using the ordinary Kikuyu as a shield. The ordinary Kikuyu is dismayed at this narrative. They like any Kenyan are struggling to make ends meet. Some of the Kikuyu are somehow lucky to have owned chunks of the white highlands and through tea and coffee they have built some wealth. The proximity of the like of Kabete and Dagoretti to Nairobi CBD advantaged some Kikuyu. The proximity to city advantaged some of them to get into the urban hustle; they are the majority landlords for Nairobians. Some of them are children of Land Lords and seem to lead privileged lives in Nairobi. But why would anyone feel bad towards them just for being priviledged?

There is the ordinary Kikuyu who suffers and has suffered the throes of poverty like any other Kenyan. The colonialist unsettled many of them and the Kikuyu elites took over the shambas of the colonialists without considering original owners. Since independence, the land less Kikuyu had to find somewhere to settle. Wherever, they settled they have had to work hard and build a future for loved ones. Despite the genuine efforts, they walk around and feel like people with a mark on their foreheads. Many feel animosity started when Kibaki consolidated power around the so called Mount Kenya Mafia. However, what followed was victimization of every Kikuyu just because some elite somewhere was deemed unfair. In all this, the young Kikuyu hustling on the streets of Nairobi wonders how he is the problem to Kenya. Elites as usual want to exploit this scenario. Words like Kenyan Jews are easily used to incite the Kikuyu nation and emphasize the point that they are a targeted community. In order to survive as a community, they have to defend the status quo or regimes like the current one with their blood. They are haunted by the victim mentality and truly believe that if Raila were to be elected president of this nation, we are finished as a community. They have demonized the likes of Raila and believe Raila and Jaruos are very unruly people. They are lazy bums who want to reap where they have not sown. To survive, such hyenas should be anywhere but not near the seat of power.
As all these dynamics play out successfully, the opposition tosses with glee; they are keeping the government ruffled and have maintained their tribal constituencies intact. On the other side, the state and its leadership feel very angry given the opposition is disturbing their peace and interfering with what they are entitled to. Their sense of entitlement make them do whatever they want e.g. appointing senior officers of government from only two tribes. Some will want to quickly rebut this but that is petty denial; think of any senior position in government that was filled recently and tell me if it was not a Kikuyu or Kalenjin given the position. The impunity of “we are in government so shut up and wait for your turn” tears into the hearts that feel the last two elections were marred in electoral fraud. It also cements the feeling that unless our own is in power, we have to shut up and wait for morsels falling from the dining table.

Yes, we need a sober national dialogue. But beyond that dialogue, we need sober action from our leaders. If our leaders stop the victim narratives, Kenyan will begin to focus on issues affecting us as national issues and not tribal issues. If our leaders deliberately demonstrate they are keen to see an equitable Kenya, Kenyans will follow suit. If the rhetoric of our leaders will be in line with building our great Kenya, devoid of impunity, threats, gerrymandering and arrogance, Kenyans will be proud and a sense of national pride will grow. Slowly, self aggrandizement and related tribalism will be replaced with patriotism and ultimately humanism. As patriots we shall be proud of all Kenyans and as humanists we shall have compassion towards all humans and creation in general.


  1. Murice murefu Lubisia.21 July 2014 at 20:51

    This was a good research Mr. Gideon. Tribalism is the cause of all the harms we are experiencing in Kenya like: Insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and corruption. Our wide stomachs will come to kill Kenya one day. Because we are only filling our stomachs through dubious means. Lord Help Kenya! and Bless this young author!

  2. Thank you Maurice Murefu Lubisia. God Bless You Too


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