Published On: Mon, Jun 4th, 2012

Kenya’s Second Largest Tribe Was Close to Being Ugandans

Kenya is a country of over 40 tribes. Before the British showed up and called them all Kenyans, these tribes were their own communities, kingdoms and fiefdoms. Those along the coast are different from those near Lake Turkana who are different from those in the Rift Valley who are different from those near Lake Victoria who are all different from the nomadic Maasai. Then one day, they’re all Kenyans.

The European powers, in what’s called the “scramble for Africa,” split up the continent amongst themselves then drew lines on paper to determine these new nations. And whoever fell within the same lines were now considered the same. Nigeria has over 200 unique people grouped together.

The 40+ tribes of Kenya are not the same people, though they’re all Kenyans. In general there are Bantu peoples, Nilotic peoples and Cushitic peoples. And each of these groups breaks down further and further. Kenyan politics is virtually paralyzed because of the tribal differences. When a Kikuyu is in office, the Luo, Kalenjin and other tribes work against them. When Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin, was leading the government, he was the enemy to the Kikuyu. What are the odds of an Akamba becoming president? How long before the Luo demand the presidency?

President Barack Obama’s dad was a Luo, but I guess half the American presidency isn’t going to be enough.

The Kikuyu and Luo can be considered the two main and most powerful tribes in Kenyan politics. But there was a moment in time when those dynamics wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a simple decision made by the British 100 some years ago.

Originally when drawing the western boundary of the Eastern Africa Protectorate, to separate what would become Uganda and what would become Kenya, the line was drawn at Naivasha, a city about 200 miles deeper into Kenya right in the heart of Luo country. If the boundary had remained there, the Luos would’ve mostly been Ugandans instead of Kenya’s second largest tribe.

Elections are coming up soon. Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, is running for president while also being charged by the ICC for alleged crimes committed during the violence of the 2007 elections. The violence was a result of tribal conflicts, understood because the Luo felt it was, as they like to say, “their turn to eat.”

I’m not a historian, definitely not an expert in African politics or social studies, but I have a feeling these tribal conflicts will continue for a couple more generations until a future generation begins to see themselves as Kenyans first then their tribe regardless of who drew the lines to determine their nationality.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.


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