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Tribalism in Kenya


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Tribalism in Kenya

Tribalism in Kenya arises when one or more communities that are ethnic exalt themselves above other communities. This results from tribal consciousness and loyalty of the members who then exalt their tribe above the other groups.  Tribalism in Kenya also emphasizes strong loyalty within the groups. This loyalty to one’s tribe breeds strong negative feelings for people outside the group. This is the common characteristic of tribalism. In Kenya, it intertwines with negative ethnicity. Tribalism is sometimes a form of identity for people in a particular social group. However, tribalism in Kenya has corrupting influences.

History of Tribalism in Kenya

Tribalism in Kenya is not inborn; it cannot be traced to ancient hatreds or warfare from cultures clashing over the ages. The major opposing groups like Luo, Luhya and Kisii  of Western Kenya and the GEMA (Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people) from the Mount Kenya area, had little contact with one another before the coming of the colonialists. Kenya’s tribalism is therefore a relatively new phenomenon. It is a product of modern times arising from colonialism, urbanization and the political culture that sprung up in independent Kenya.

When the British came, they brought with them the principle of divide and rule. They magnified differences amongst the various communities and tribes, instigating clashes whereby each community distrusted and fought the other. This served as the breeding ground for negative tribal stereotypes which then became embedded in popular belief. The Kikuyu for example were given the impression that the fish-eating Luo’s were lazy and unreliable while the Luhya’s were made to view the GEMA communities as schemers, untrustworthy, arrogant and so forth. This situation of suspicion persisted till the time when independence was realized in 1963, at which point tribal suspicions shot up as the two major parties KADU (Kenya African Democratic Union) and KANU (Kenya African National Union) began squabbling over power. KANU was a party largely dominated by two tribes, the Kikuyu and the Luo. KADU on the other hand was a coalition of all the other small Kenyan tribes that feared being dominated by KANU.

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Tribalism in Kenya and Democracy

Tribalism in Kenya has been a major stumbling block to democracy as well as socio-economic development. It affects every sphere of development, from social economic, political to educational spheres. In political spheres, tribalism persists since it provides an avenue via which state goodies and favours trickle down from those in power to their tribesmen. Therefore, loyalty to tribe is given ever greater relevance than loyalty to the country.

Tribalism in Kenya and Development

In every sector of development, tribalism has also been rampant. Employment has been skewed, with members of certain community being  given certain positions. Public institutions in Kenya present a case where the members of staff are rendered tribal. Effective performance of duty therefore becomes a big issue since tribalism affects work ethics. Ethical practice of the members of staff is called for in order to safe the situation. The government has mandate to apply the provisions of public officers’ ethical provisions owing to the very ills of tribalism.

Tribalism in Kenya responsible for a lot of Ills

Tribalism is responsible for a lot of ills in Kenya including underdevelopment, corruption, rigging of elections and violence/civil war. In terms of employment, people are given jobs based on tribe regardless of having low qualifications. Hence the inefficient use of available skills. Thus, the very rationale of being educated lacks meaning. Bad governance and lack of accountability has also been linked to tribalism as people do not question a government run by their tribesmen. Delivery of services is also hindered as the culture of impunity is also inculcated. Delivery of services in both public and private institution where tribalism is rampant is also highly affected by tribal affiliations and politics.

Tribalism in Kenya

Tribalism in Kenya

Given this state of affairs about the negative effects of tribalism in Kenya, there is a need to make a deliberate effort towards gaining national consciousness rather that tribal one. Human beings will ever be stratified along certain social stratification domains. However, development into national consciousness calls for retaining self consciousness and at the same time working towards the attainment of universal-consciousness which is not limited to ones tribe. Being ‘a Kenyan’ or ‘a Global Citizen’ should be the people’s tribe or race.



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