Articles

Two Parts of Kenya

Phoebe Gor is pursuing her M.A in Statecraft and International Affairs at IWP. She is passionate about public diplomacy and history.

Arbitrary borders set up by colonial powers in the 19th century continue to afflict Africa. They were delineated without any consideration for either history or the people they divided. That makes the borders partly responsible for colonial and post-colonial violence. Perhaps a good way to illustrate this is with a discussion of two regions of Kenya.

The boundary lines in East Africa were created primarily in settlements between Britain and Germany, the two chief rivals in that region. Zanzibar and the future Tanganyika were divided in the Anglo-German treaty of 1890. Britain went ahead to obtain future Uganda, as its paramount interest was in Zanzibar and Pemba. (View a map of East Africa in 1941.)

Britain began to build an East African railroad to the coast, establishing the East African Protectorate, which was later Kenya, over the area where the railroad was to be built. [1]

In British Africa, decolonization progressed more slowly, but London began to accept this as an outcome. In Kenya, the British government refused to grant the 20,000 European settlers in the “white highlands” any direct political power over the mass of tribal Blacks who made up the colony’s overwhelming majority.

The division of Sub-Saharan Africa took place at two levels:

  • On paper—in deals made among colonial powers who were seeking colonies partly for the sake of the colonies themselves and partly as pawns in the power play of European nations struggling for world dominance.
  • On the field—in wars of conquest against African states and communities through military confrontations among the rival powers themselves.

Over and above the ravages of colonialism, this process produced a wasp’s nest of problems that was to plague African nations long after they achieved independence. Boundary lines between colonies were often drawn arbitrarily, with little or no attention to ethnic unity, regional economic ties, tribal migratory patterns, or even natural boundaries.[2]

The concept of the division was thus replicated and implanted into the Kenyan system of governance. On December 12th, 1963, Kenya attained her independence, and, a year later, it became a republic. The ruling class of this new republic was based on who had the nearest proximity to the colonizers while they were in power, and the division within the country was to continue broadening.

The Kikuyu community, which is found in the central part of the country, where the “white highlands” were located, could secure most of the resources and power. This community was subjected to direct contact with the British: its members lost their fertile land, were heavily taxed, and were further segregated by clans. The leaders who chose to collaborate with the colonial government were rewarded with post assignments. Most of the time, they would be the ones going around collecting taxes.[3]

The Kikuyu’s resentment grew as the years went by – and came to a head in 1952 when the Mau Mau fighters began their fight for independence. Their guerilla tactics and surprise attacks gave them the edge that they needed to terrorize the colonial government successfully. The British reacted to this uprising by declaring a state of emergency and sending reinforcements into the country. The rebellion lasted for eight years – and within those eight years, the British created a brutal and oppressive regime within Central Kenya.

They put up concentration camps where they tortured, raped, and killed those whom they believed to be Mau Mau or those who aided them (who were mostly women). They reinforced the “kipande” system – which required people to carry around identification cards hanging on their necks like leashes.[4]

As the rebellion grew, the collaborators who were successfully colonized and assimilated were being molded into the local leaders to whom the British would later leave the country. The Lancaster House conferences of 1960, 1962, and 1963 became the setting for the negotiations for these individuals to take over. The most prominent of these individuals was the late Johnstone Kamau Ngengi, later known as Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Mzee Kenyatta was the first prime minister and later the first president of the Republic of Kenya. A London School of Economics alumnus, Mzee Kenyatta’s social standing was already higher than most – thus, when he joined the independence struggle, the country’s claims were legitimized. He aligned himself with the Pan-African movement. His literary works highlighted and encouraged self-determination within his community as it was written in his native tongue.

Through his efforts to fight British imperialism, he ended up getting arrested, alongside other nationalist leaders. The Kapenguria Six was the name given to these nationalist leaders after they were arrested and imprisoned from 1952-1959. As the journey to independence raged on, Mzee Kenyatta sought to unify the entire nation by seeking out majority leaders in other ethnic groups. Within this group, the Kikuyu, Luo, Kamba, and Meru were uniquely represented. Thus, their followers banded behind the Mau Mau freedom fighters.[5]

Map of Kenyan Ethnic Groups

After attaining independence, the short-lived unity started to crumble. Mzee Kenyatta and his Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had lost sight of their unity, and so did their followers. The disunity was brought about through the adoption of a one-party system in the country. The government, therefore, had no opposition or any alternate ideologies that were allowed. Thus, when V.P. Odinga turned to socialism, the division was etched in stone for generations to come.

While the one-party system mimicked the Soviet Union’s system of government, the new citizens of Kenya believed that they were getting the best or better than the system under the British. Members of the Kikuyu community were in all, if not most, top governmental positions. They had consolidated wealth within several clans, now known as the “Mount Kenya Mafia,” all while ensuring that most of the development funds and aid were being used either in the capital city – or going straight to their bank accounts.[6]

The funds would trickle down into neighboring ethnic communities which had representatives within the ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU).

V.P. Odinga was detained for opposing the government or trying to create an opposition party. His party, Kenya People’s Union (KPU), was banned, and he was kicked out of the ruling party. The aftereffect was that all the former Luo people who had pledged allegiance to the ruling party also left. He went back to Nyanza Province and established himself as a popular leader. [7]

Given that he favored communism – this was his stand from the beginning, as the Cold War was going on – he readily accepted aid from the Soviets. In turn, the Soviets funded a few hospital projects, and they convinced mostly medical and engineering students to pursue their post-graduate education in Moscow. A substantial number of students pursued this opportunity and set themselves up with what they believed was a better life. With this, the line had been drawn as to how the political fabric in the country lay.

Mzee Kenyatta passed away in 1978, and he was succeeded by Daniel Moi, who carried on the same principles – but he was more ruthless than his predecessor. Daniel Moi created a dictatorship that favored his ethnic group – the Kalenjin – and kicked out most of the Kikuyu who were in the previous administration. He consolidated power and banned all other political parties. He took on V.P. Odinga as an enemy, although they had the same ideologies, and stopped funding going into his home province.[8]

Out of the forty-two communities present in Kenya, these three “big men” had managed to focus on their groups, successfully neglecting the rest of the country’s regions. The Kikuyu, Kalenjin, and Luo dominated the political scene as each group vied for power. All three groups had the populace to do so but, the lack of integration within the urban and rural citizens played against them. Thus, the tensions between these groups continued.

In 1992, the Moi regime saw the shift to a multi-party government system after immense pressure from the international community and the Clinton Administration’s Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). The switch to multi-partyism gave the country’s political body a push towards exploring all kinds of political ideas. Concurrently, the parties were formed along ethnic lines, which grossly undermined the parties themselves. Some groups even went as far as using their clan lineage to create a party.[9]

This period revived and gave rise to a whopping one hundred and sixty political parties – including the Communist Party of Kenya (CPK). Unfortunately, they were not as popular as they thought they would become. The over-saturation of political parties, paired with a clear alliance with the U.S. government, undercut their ideologies.

In line with the SAPs and the international community’s stipulations, Kenya adhered to its new laws regarding the multi-party system and continues to uphold it. It holds its Presidential elections every five years. Although the results are always tampered with, a sense of normalcy around the elections is maintained. The government has drastically moved away from socialist ideologies, although there are still pockets of communist/socialist thinkers present within the political fabric.[10]

Kenyan citizens are free to continue to form political parties that they believe stand for the beliefs of the country’s founders. Since the early 2000s, about 20 more political parties have been created – still founded along the same ethnic and clan lines. This seems like a compromise that has a better outcome than a dictatorial government, which would force vastly different people into one homogenous group in the name of Nationalism.

In conclusion, the two sides of Kenya’s political fabric were shaped by the First World’s actions as well as the majority consensus of the international community. Kenya does not want to be an outsider, as it has seen firsthand how detrimental it is  to be an outsider (Uganda and Tanzania) in the developing world.

Endnotes

[1] “Kenya – The East Africa Protectorate.” 2020. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Kenya/The-East-Africa-Protectorate#ref419083.

[2] “Kenya – The East Africa Protectorate.” 2020. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Kenya/The-East-Africa-Protectorate#ref419083.

[3] “Mau Mau Uprising: Bloody History of Kenya Conflict.” 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12997138.
Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged. London: Phoenix. 2006.

[4] “Mau Mau Uprising: Bloody History of Kenya Conflict.” 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12997138.
Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged. London: Phoenix. 2006.

[5] Angelo, Anaïs. 2017. “Jomo Kenyatta And The Repression Of The ‘Last’ Mau Mau Leaders, 1961–1965.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 11 (3): 442-459. doi:10.1080/17531055.2017.1354521.
Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: A History the Continent since Independence. New York: Public Affairs, 2011.

[6] Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: A History the Continent since Independence. New York: Public Affairs, 2011.

[7] “Oginga Odinga | Vice President of Kenya.” 2020. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oginga-Odinga.

[8] “Africa: Kenya — The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency.” 2020. Cia.Gov. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/print_ke.html.

[9] “President Clinton’s Address to the Nigerian Joint Assembly.” Clinton Digital Library. Accessed December 2, 2020. https://clinton.presidentiallibraries.us/items/show/16106.
“Africa: Kenya — The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency.” 2020. Cia.Gov. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/print_ke.html.

[10] “President Clinton’s Address to the Nigerian Joint Assembly.” Clinton Digital Library. Accessed December 2, 2020. https://clinton.presidentiallibraries.us/items/show/16106.

References

Angelo, Anaïs. 2017. “Jomo Kenyatta And The Repression Of The ‘Last’ Mau Mau Leaders, 1961–1965.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 11 (3): 442-459. doi:10.1080/17531055.2017.1354521.

Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged. London: Phoenix. 2006.

“Africa: Kenya — The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency.” 2020. Cia.Gov. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/print_ke.html.

“Kenya – The East Africa Protectorate.” 2020. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Kenya/The-East-Africa-Protectorate#ref419083.

“Mau Mau Uprising: Bloody History of Kenya Conflict.” 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12997138.

Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: A History the Continent since Independence. New York: Public Affairs, 2011.

“Oginga Odinga | Vice President of Kenya.” 2020. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oginga-Odinga.

“President Clinton’s Address to the Nigerian Joint Assembly.” Clinton Digital Library. Accessed December 2, 2020. https://clinton.presidentiallibraries.us/items/show/16106.