For many years, the worldwide impression of Kenya was one of animals on the Serengeti Plain and tall, slender Masaai tribesmen dressed in red robes. That has changed as reports, pictures and video of ongoing riots and destruction have emerged in the last ten days. What happened?
The national boundaries of Kenya were established by England in the first half of the twentieth century. Little concern was given to who actually lived there. Kenya included a wide variety of tribes (peoples) who had a checkered history of relationships with each other.
Kenya became independent in 1963. The people of the Kikuyu tribe, the largest individual tribe in Kenya, led the movement to independence. Most other tribes were a part of the movement towards independence. The first president of Kenya was Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu.
Estimates of tribal populations vary as does estimates of total population in Kenya. The Kikuyu in the center of the country form the largest group. The next two largest groups are the Luhya and the Luo who dwell principally in the west of the country. Together, these three groups comprise around forty percent of the population.
Since independence, there have been ongoing complaints of Kikuyu domination and political marginalization of other tribes. Government positions, key roles in business, the judiciary, and military leadership, all seemed to be dominated by Kikuyu.
The history of Kenya since independence gives some indication that whenever a national leader emerges from the Luo, things happen. Jomo Kenyatta’s prime assistant was Tom Mboya, a Luo. Tom Mboya was assassinated in 1969.
Oginga Odinga, another Luo leader, became vice-president under Jomo Kenyatta and later formed an opposition political party. He was twice imprisoned for opposing the Kikuyu led government. Oginga Odinga died in 1994.
Robert Ouko was another Luo leader who became Kenya’s foreign minister. He was widely respected in Kenya and in the world. Expected to challenge for the presidency, he was assassinated in 1990. Raila Odinga is the son of Oginga Odinga. Even Raila was imprisoned for a time as he led opposition to the Kikuyu dominated government.
Raila Odinga is the presidential candidate of the Orange Democratic Movement. The ODM is a political party initially formed to oppose acceptance of the Kikuyu authored new constitution of 2005. This new constitution would have institutionalized Kikuyu dominance of Kenya. In the election of 2005, fifty-eight per cent of the voting Kenyans declined to accept the new constitution. Those who supported the new constitution, led by President Mwai Kibaki, were called the “bananas”; their color was yellow. Their opponents who prevailed in the election, were called the “’oranges”; their color was orange. This was the first national election defeat for the Kikuyu.
Now, Kenya is in upheaval. The 2007 presidential election between the incumbent Kikuyu, Mwai Kibaki, and the Luo candidate, Raila Odinga, has been hotly contested. It is uncertain of who actually won. Charges of illegal acts come from both sides. The people riot. Looters take advantage of the situation. The country has teetered on the brink of rebellion.
This is not surprising. History has brought the land to this point. I have been to Kenya five times, generally spending at least a month in country each time. I worked with the Luo. Every man, woman and child who is Luo is aware of what has happened every time a Luo challenges for national leadership. The Luo expected problems in this presidential election.
Kenya is bleeding. People are dying. This can become a breeding ground for more blood and more death. Places I have been to, are now destroyed. People I love, hide in fear for their lives.
I ask for your prayers.
Pray first for a cessation of violence. In recent days, some peace has come to Kenya and we are relieved. God is hearing our prayers and an uneasy calm is being restored.
Pray also for the discovery of a national process in Kenya to achieve peace, truth and justice.
Fr. Francis Wardega MSJ