Time to slay the dragon that divides Luos, Kikuyus

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NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

Since independence, Kenya’s political scene has been defined by the real and perceived socio-political conflict between the Luo and Kikuyu communities, to a large extent. These differences started with the Kenyatta/Jaramogi political rivalry, but they have gone down at least two generations, to be embodied in the challenges of the Coalition Government of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

My first encounter with the Kikuyu/Luo divide was in 2008 during our first inter-ethnic discussion forum. Young primarily middle-class Kenyans drawn from the Luo, Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities had been convened to discuss the effect that tribalism has on Kenya’s nation-hood, in light of the Post Election Violence, and I had been asked to moderate the morning session of the first day of discussions.

I started by asking participants to introduce themselves and give a little background of who they are. The participants would then stand up and do so. We then got to this massive Luo guy who without moving from his seat, said; ‘Normally I would stand up, but I will not stand up for a Kikuyu.” I would love to say he was joking; but he was not. This was just but a beginning and despite the fact that the Kalenjin/Kikuyu conflict had been the one where lives had been lost, the Luo/Kikuyu issues drove most of the discussions in all subsequent forums.

At some point participants nearly came to blows when a Luo emotionally asserted that Kikuyu governments deliberately marginalized Nyanza such that roads were non-existent, only for a Kikuyu to retort ‘you Luos need to understand that roads are meant to lead somewhere!

Fortunately our group had the opportunity of discussing these issues to the end; to the point where we realised that a lot of what we ‘knew’ of each other was based not on facts, but on perceptions, myths and stereotypes that did not hold when put under careful scrutiny. The result was that today, the big Luo guy is one of my closest friends, as are many of the other Kenyans from different communities and race that I met in what ended up being over 20 forums.

However the Luo/Kikuyu is still with us nationally, to the extent that I am convinced that this is what is driving the ongoing ‘peace’ rallies by Uhuru, Ruto and their friends. Jomo Kenyatta’s son is trying to tap into this very powerful though very negative force, to build his and his allies’ political bases, as they counter the ICC charges. What this group is doing can only be termed as breeding negative energy back into our national, regional and local political competitions, despite the fact that most of us actually want to co-exist.

However last week, as Uhuru and Co attended yet another rally, and the President and Prime Minister were in Kisumu opening the upgraded Kisumu airport, something happened that gave me reason to smile. On the sidelines of this event the Luo Council of Elders invited President Kibaki to become a Luo Elder; an invitation that Kibaki accepted.

In Kenya it is common for political leaders from one community to be installed as elders of another community. However it is always done by leaders who want a particular community’s votes. Kibaki does not need the Luo (or any other community) to vote for him, anymore. It was therefore not necessary to install Kibaki as president as he is retiring from office. In fact, I am convinced it was done deliberately, as a counter to what Uhuru and team are doing.

There are those who will continue to milk the Luo/Kikuyu divide for personal interests. The far it generates especially amongst the Kikuyus is an easy strategy towards deterring them from supporting a Raila presidential bid. This strategy is built on the theme that the Luo view Kikuyus as having benefitted disproportionately from the Central government, and therefore if Raila were to become President the first thing he would do under ‘equitable re-distribution of resources’ would be to forcefully reverse any such benefits the Kikuyu have.

Kibaki has done what he can in his circumstances, by ensuring that Nyanza has certain economic flagship projects to counter the perception that a Kikuyu-led government will marginalize the region. Raila, as Kibaki’s opposite number on the Luo/Kikuyu issue, has taken upon himself the task of explaining to the Kikuyus, even as he talks to other communities, that no-one, irrespective of tribe or race or religion, will suffer loss of life or property under his watch. He is also promising in his government, all Kenyans will benefit.

Siasa Mpya demands we continuously challenge whatever threatens to split us as Kenyans. All Kenyans, especially those directly affected by the Luo/Kikuyu divide, must step up and slay this dragon. We must choose to do the unusual; take the road less travelled; do that which is harder. We must also see the human beyond the ethnic tag and accept that our cultural differences do not take away from our humanity. Kibaki did it, when he sat on a three-legged stool.

Wambugu is the Executive Director, Change Associates Trust

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  • Anonymous

    Garbage in, Garbage out.

  • Memba67

    I agree with this article half heartedly especially the comments you’ve reiterated concerning Kibaki. I respect him as the president of Kenya but during his tenure he never valued other tribes in sharing the National cake right away fro the moment he took power. All major branches in government were headed by people from central infact statitically he flooded top government jobs with folks from Central province. Just recently there has been an outcry in the Attoney Generals office where every sinior post is helfd by a kikuyu and on and on———should kenya vote in another central individual as president?

  • Biasharabilasiasa

    Like your positive tone and call for unity.  However, there is no such thing as Kikuyu-Luo divide and do not use those words again.  What there is, is fierce competition between the 2 groups and other Kenyan groups for political power.  As a result the leaders of these communities use their self-interests to misrepresent what the other community stands for and blame each other for their perceived misfortunes.  The Kenyatta/Odinga tussle is a tussle for political power that drags the entire communities into their duel.

    In reality most Kenyans have many friends who are Kikuyu, Luo, Kale, Kamba whatever.  I personally employ Kenyans from all parts of Kenya and some of my best workers are from minority communities that do not even compete for political power.  There are on my speed dial whenever I have a job that requires their skills.  I do not first ask myself– are they not from ….

  • Ombati5623

    I agree with Biasharabilasiasa that you slay the tribal dragon each time you employ a Kenyan not from your community, date or marry a person from another community or have friendships that go beyond your tribe.  I visited the US last year and was surprised when I attended a party where no other Kenyan was from a different community! How could that be you cannot invite a Luhya to your party or a Kisii and they are all over the same town?  So hii dragon is not just Kikuyu-Luo and it hs crossed the Atlantic and will be found in the so called diaspora.

  • William

    I totally agree with the article. However I also think the devide goes beyond the Luo/Kikuyu. It involves all major ethnic groups essentially because all the major groups have presidential candidates and the candidates wish to improve their chances by forming ethnic alliances. Ethnic alliances can only prosper by use of negative ethnicity. Negative ethnicity is a major problem in this country and the matter needs to addressed effectively at central government level. For instance there is no good reason why vernacular languages have not been banned in government offices and in public places. I believe this is one small way to improve cohesion.

    The government should go further and facilitate the formation of a forum for all Kenyans to give their proposals on how to fight negative ethnicity and build one strong Kenya for all Kenyans. Kibaki tried by sitting on the 3 legged stool but he can do much more. He needs to have more advisers from other ethnic groups. When we voted for him in 2002 we so him as a Kenyan first and foremost, The same applies to all other leading politicians.

    To Mr Wambugu; Good work. Please keep it.

  • Mwangijurist

    Tell it to the fish an stop pretending you can cash on perceived differences by individuals by blowing them to look community issues, it stinks that such a abominable an low article would come from one who claims to have gone to school,

  • Anonymous

    A good article Ngunjiri. Although I still have my doubts as to whether
    Kibaki is GENUINELY bridging the Luo-Kikuyu devide. I still see and feel
    CONTEMPT flowing from the guy – just read his body language, you’ll see
    it.

    However you were spot on and 100% right by stating the following:

    “The
    Luo/Kikuyu devide is still with us nationally, to the extent that I am
    convinced that this is what is driving the ongoing ‘peace’ rallies by
    Uhuru, Ruto & their friends. Jomo Kenyatta’s son is trying to tap
    into this very powerful though very negative force, to build his &
    his allies political bases, as they counter the ICC charges. What this
    group is doing can only be termed as breeding negative energy back into
    our national, regional & local political competitions, despite the
    fact that most of us actually want to co-exist… There are those who
    will continue to milk the Luo-Kikuyu divide for personal interests. The
    fear it generates especially amongst the Kikuyus is an easy strategy
    towards deterring them from supporting a Raila presidential bid.”

    Another
    thing that the Uhuru and Ruto gang should remember is that Gods name
    should not be used in vain. When you do so, you annoy God and his
    punishment can be deadly. They held these “prayers” before the charges
    were confirmed but God ignored them and their charges were confirmed.
    They should not pretend to be holding “peace” rallies where “prayers”
    constitute 7 minutes of the rally and then for the next 2 hours they
    concentrate in shouting hate filled messages while frequently – at short
    intervals – sending hate and lies filled “verbal missiles” in the
    direction their favorite object of HATE.

  • I disagree with the writer of this article! Kenya is much bigger than 2 communities for him to assume that once they work together, everything else goes right and everyone is happy! The fear of domination by these two communities largely contributed to the formation of KADU in our independence year. I honestly think that if destiny dictates that they belong to different political ideologies, the better for everyone. in the US a Republican will never pretend to be a Democrat, same as Conservatives and Labour guys in the UK.

    And one other thing; when H.E Hon Mwai Kibaki was installed an Elder, the attire looked remarkably different from the one worn by Hon Ruto and it seemed like one of them was duped! 

  • Tim_orwah

    kibaki has done very little to bridge the gap btwn kiuks and luos, Nyanza has been marginalised since independence so lie to us about economic flagships initiated by kibaki government.

  • Mzalendokamili

    Myths and innuendos have over the years become gospel truth to many from both sides of the Kikuyu/Luo divide thus fueling this ridiculous pseudo-conflict.

    Unfortunately, this cancer has also spread to other communities in Kenya today so that they are now being played one against the rest depending on who is pouring vitriol and spreading what propaganda against the other side.

     Raila is obviously the target at present given that the other “strong” tribal presidential candidates seem to have ganged up against him hoping that their tirades will work in their favor and one of them will go home with the spoils.

    In politics, nothing is quite like it appears to be and tomorrow you never know whose loyalties may be seen as suspect and therefore become the focus of the derision and bad manners being exhibited against Raila today.

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