ElectoralCompetition Provides the Potential for the Politicisation of Ethnicity andEthnicised Conflict-The Kenyan CaseAbstract:Thisessay examines into the theoretical understanding of how the electoralcompetition triggers the politicisation of ethnicity and ethnicised conflict inKenya. It critically explores thebehaviours how the political elites use the ethnicity as a tool of mobilisingthe electorates to achieve political and economic objectives. Furthermore, theessay scrutinises how Kenya’s democratic elections have given momentum of thepoliticisation of ethnicity and how it has created a sense of mistrust and nationaldivision among the diverse ethnic communities in Kenya and its aftermath duringthe 2007 post-election crisis. Key word: Electoral competition, Politicisedethnicity, Ethnicised Conflict, KenyaWordcount: 4000IntroductionRecentstudies suggest that ethnic identities are influential motivators of thebehaviour of the political elites as well as electorates in Africa. The factthat racial identities become systematically more important to people at thetime that competitive elections are being held suggests that ethnicity plays arole in the struggle for political power (Eifert, 2010). However, Miguel(2004) argues that it is not ethnicity per se but the role of ethnicity in thepolitical process, i.e.
, the politicisation of ethnicity, which explains socialconflict and democratic breakdowns. Withoutunderstanding the African ethnic communities’ make-up, it is hard to study thebehaviour of the political elites who justify their excessive use of ethnicity(or tribalism) as a means to reach their political ends. The usage of ethnicityin a political and social life is chief reason that contributed to the demiseand dissolution of many African states since independence. Theheart of this essay lies with the definition of the concept of ‘ethnicity’which is controversial in the African. Brown defines an ethnic group as thosepeople who have the similar ancestral roots who share distinctive featuresrelating to language, religion and homeland origin (Brown, 2000). Ethnicity is acategory of people who identify with each other based on similarities, such ascommon language, ancestral, social, cultural, or national experiences. Unlikeother social groups (wealth, age, hobbies), ethnicity is often an inheritedstatus based on the society in which a person lives.1Sharingsuch similar features has not, historically, been associated with negativeconnotation or identification.
Ethnic connection by communal groups, Youngtells us, is a natural condition, and not a social pathology. He points outthat such identification can undoubtedly provide a sense of unity in the faceof a persistently globalising marketplace. Gulliver (1969), on the contrary,defines the ideology of ethnicity as “the loyalties and identification ofpeople engaged in conflict”. It suggests, Gulliver adds, divisiveness and insincerepartisanship. What is more, I shouldadd, it connotes group antipathy against others. Ethnicity manifests hatred,suspicion, greed and distrust (Oyugi, 1997). Inthis essay, the term ‘political ethnicity’will be used throughout which means the tendency among political elites tomobilise ethnicity for political ends.
It is imperative to draw a line betweenethnicity or tribalism in its standard practice, which is, the group of peoplesharing similar consciousness based on language, culture or shared ancestralheritage (Ajulu, 2002). Furthermore,political ethnicity is the deliberate politicisation and mobilisation of these”consciousness ” to achieve certain political and economic objectives.Goulbourne (as cited in Markakis 1996) refers to ethnic mobilisation as “asituation in which leaders seek to transform characteristics deemed ethnic intopolitical currency” to achieve several or specific ends.
(Ajulu, 2002) Inthis essay, however, I argue that the electoral competition provides thepotential for the politicisation of ethnicity and ethnicised conflict citingliving examples from Kenya’s post-independence. The ethnic violence, which hascharacterised much of the period of multi-party politics in Kenya, are nottribal conflicts in the primordial sense; rather, these creates politicallyorganised conflicts designed to reach political, and ultimately economic,advantages (Ajulu, 2002). Theessay will proceed as follows: an in-depth analysis the behaviour of theelectorates and the key reasons that drove the Kenyan politicians to competefor elections on ethnic lines and finally, the implications this competitionhad on Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence. Politicisation of Ethnicity duringelectoral competitionThis section critically points out themain reasons that drove the Kenyan politicians to compete for elections onethnic lines.A few academic literature is availableto explain the main reasons of politicisation of ethnicity in Africa during theelectoral competition and the evidence available primarily focus upon theethnic structures, i.
e. the number and size of ethnic groups (Webera, 2009). The African countries with few andmajor ethnic groups are seen to be naturally gifted with support groups largeenough to win a majority in elections. Hence, these countries are anticipatedto organise electorates along ethnic lines, and thus, ethnicity arises as asalient political identity. On the contrary, in countries with manysmall ethnic groups, political parties seem in need to endorse nationalprograms to appeal for sizable amounts of voters. The ethnic structure argumentis, though, challenged by the political ethnographic literature emphasising theuncertainty and contextual character of ethnic identity and thereby rejecting adirect link between genetic structures and the usefulness of ethnicity forpolitical mobilisation (cf. Schultz,1984; Widlok, 1996; and Elwert, 2002).
Africanpolitics literature emphasise that the political elites play a crucial role inpromoting ethnicity during their struggle for political power. The politiciansfind it beneficial to “play the ethnic card” as a means of mobilisingsupporters to attain or retain political control (e.g.
, Bates 1983; Ferree2006; Posner 2005; Young 1965, 1976). Nevertheless, this turns to be a realityduring the periods preceding and following election campaigns than at othertimes since the elections are the turning points for political changes to takeplace. These efforts are also particularly vital during election campaigns andthe political benefit to be gained by mobilising supporters will be utmost. Thus,to the extent that politicians’ ethnic calls make ethnicity more salient for electorates,and to the extent that, once created salient, ethnic identities take some timeto return to normality. Thefact that Kenya is a country where more than 42 different ethnic groups areliving together, the political elites are inspired to divide up the supportersand mobilise through ethnic lines.
The ethnic groups neither are in fightingwith each other nor pose a threat to the country’s peace and tranquillity merelybecause they have different cultural and linguistic attributes. Repeatedhostility among ethnic groups in Kenya was the consequence of thepoliticisation of ethnicity. Postcolonial leaders have not promoted a nationalcivic culture within the country’s body politic because those at the centre ofpower pursued narrow-minded, sectarian and self-serving interests (Kwatemba, 2008). Kenya’spolitical situation since the rebirth of multi-partisan politics in 1992 hasseen the promotion of ethnic values and ethnic conflict as the key instrumentsof political contestation. Political parties have been organised along ethnicidentities and state-power aggressively contested by mobilised ethnicity (Ajulu, 2002).
The political ethnicity has a longhistory in Kenya, triggered by grievances over uneven distribution of resourcessuch as land and public employment. For instance, Kikuyu ethnic group were favouredpolitically and economically by both the British colonial administration andsuccessive presidents, particularly, Kenyatta and Kibaki, against smallerethnic groups, including Luhya, Luo, Kalenjin and others (CSIS, 2009).The two presidents were both from the same ethnic community and promoted theirethnic interests rather than the national interests. As such, CSIS (2009) reports that ethnicity hasremained the critical axis on which Kenyan politicians mobilise theirsupporters, and the success of elections are determined by ethnic calculusrather than performance or national vision.
Whathappened in 2007 election is a testimonial evidence that the Kenyan politiciansplayed out their political competitions mainly on ethnic lines. As such orbecause of the fact, the ethnicity remains a crucial motivator in the Kenyanpolitical life. Manson (2007) explains that Kenyan political elites had nobetter alternatives to mobilise their supporters rather than using emptypromises such as “if youhelp your kinsmen you will survive; we will give you jobs, opportunities andeducation” to capture the attention of the voters. Responding to thesepromises, a large number of voters overwhelmingly supported presidentialcandidates from their ethnic community, expecting that the respective wouldbest serve their interests. Such political behaviours are not onlyprevailing in Kenya but are also correct in most African states. Africanpolitical elites will only appeal for voters to support members of their ethnicgroups if they believe that such promises will resonate, which in turn willdepend on voters’ beliefs about how patronage is channelled in Africa.
Similarly, although most citizens do not need to be reminded that their ethnicconnection with the election’s winner is likely to affect the level ofresources they will receive in the election’s aftermath, politicians’ ethnicappeals almost certainly reinforce such expectations. The result is anequilibrium in which expectations of ethnic favouritism by voters generateethnic appeals by politicians which, in turn, reinforce voters’ expectations ofethnic favouritism (Manson,2007). Because this mutually reinforcingprocess is motivated by the competition for political power, it makes perfectsense that it should cause ethnicity to become more salient in proximity tocompetitive elections, since this is the time when political power is mostclearly at stake. The link between political competitionand ethnic identification is characterised by a second sort of equilibrium aswell.
Rational politicians should target their ethnic appeals to the votersthey believe will be most receptive to them. Thus if we can identify the kindsof voters that politicians should be seeking to mobilise, we should expect tofind higher levels of ethnic identification among these voters than others (Eifert, 2010). Themost often voiced argument why ethnicity is a politically salient factor inKenya, as Webera (2009) argues, refers to the country’s ethnic structure, i.e.the number and size of ethnic groups.
A politician is seen to build his supportbase from specific ethnic groups and to distribute resources that he accessedthrough his political position to his co-ethnics. The ethnic group that formsthe support base must, therefore, be large enough to constitute a winningmajority. Ethnicity drives voting behaviour in Kenya sincedecolonisation. Archer (2007) argues thatthere is a common belief in Kenya that at the end of the day it is neverthelesssafer to vote for somebody from their tribe. The rationale seems to be that ifthere somehow should be the slightest possibility for them to get a job or tobe granted a loan, it would have to be in a situation where their tribe haspower over state resources. The case ofKikuyus who overwhelmingly emphasised securing property rights and on lessredistributionist policies is an excellent example in this regard. Accordingto Archer (2007), Kenyans, in general, lose faith in a neutral state and to acertain extent in politician’s altogether.
The concentration of power aroundthe president, however, made many Kenyans believe that politicians from theirethnic group have to be in high office in order both to embezzle public fundsand secure benefits while keeping the other ethnic groups away from takingjobs, land and entitlements Mostof the Kenyan presidents promoted ethnic interests and hence the solidarity ofthe diverse ethnic groups were hardly created. For instance, the threepresidents – Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, and Mwai Kibaki – have all usedethnopolitics as a political strategy during their time in office, which inthree instances has ended with severe political violence. This is exemplifiedby the fact that Kenya’s ethnic communities were not equally represented in thegovernment and some ethnic groups, for instance, Kikuyus and Kalenjins who arethe tribes of President Kenyatta and Moi respectively has been given more thantheir share of ‘the national cake’. Moreover, a deliberate re-grouping ofethnic subgroups comes from Kenya’s first and third president, Kenyatta andKibaki. These Presidents are members of the Kikuyu ethnic group.
However, theKikuyu are not sufficiently large to constitute a winning majority by themselves.Census data on ethnic groups shows that only 21 percent of the Kenyanpopulation identify themselves as being Kikuyu (Kenya, 1994).To attract a winningmajority, the Kikuyu politicians used various Kikuyu’s cousin ethnic groups,namely the Embu and Meru to form a more significant support base (the Gikuyu,Embu, Meru Association (GEMA); Ogot, 2005; p.338)8 9.
Only after the inclusionof the Embu and Meru into the wider super-tribe GEMA, did this ethnic supportbase add up to around 27 percent of the total population (Kenya, 1994). PresidentKibaki, for example, has left no stone unturned to maintain power whatsoevermeans. His power greediness was attributed to the death of more than 1,000people and some 350,000 displaced in just a matter of weeks. With this move, hefavoured his ethnic group Kikuyus and gave them a head start in economicdevelopment while ignoring his main rivalry Odinga’s tribe, Luo.
Thecompetition for and control over the allocation of resources is amongst themost significant contributing factors resulting in the continued politicisationof ethnicity in Kenya (Wanjiku, 2017). For example, Oyugi(1997) arguesthat, during the 1997 elections, the Kikuyus (the ethnic group ofPresident Kibaki) believed that the capture of the state by the oppositionwould at once mean the loss of economic privilege, which they had enjoyed forover decades. Similarly, every major ethnic actor believed that their party’svictory would end their relative deprivation. These perceptions werefunctionally conflictual and added fuel to the 2007’s post-election violence.
According to Crawford (1998), resource scarcitymay tempt the political elite to privilege particular groups because they nolonger can afford to uphold general welfare policies and because patronagenetworks as allocative mechanisms require few transaction costs. Much of the grievance that is at present felt in Kenya against theKikuyu, President Kibaki’s ethnic group, stems from the deep-rooted convictionthat after independence the Kikuyus were unrightfully given land. The majorityof the ethnic violence after the election in 2007 broke off precisely in theareas where Kikuyus were resettled after the independence (Konrad AdenauerFoundation, Dialogue Africa Foundation Trust, 2009; p.58-65). Scholarssupport the notion that ethnic tensions stem from unequal wealth distribution(cf. Gurr, 1970). In particular, consumption of wealth by one ethnic group andexclusion from the prosperity of other tribes is viewed to increase theconsciousness of one’s own ethnic identity. In agricultural societies, such asKenya, access to wealth is mainly achieved through access to land and farming.
Hence, unequal distribution of property is seen to increase the likelihood ofethnic conflicts and the pronouncement of ethnic identities (Amisi, 2009;p.23). Moreimportantly, many African scholars hold the view that the ethnic division inKenya did not begin with presidents mentioned above but is primarily attributedto the colonial administration. Kwatemba (2008) points out that Kenya was theinvention of the British colony, who deliberately invented territory, broughttogether different ethnic communities, some of which had little or nothing incommon culturally. Other communities were mutually hostile. This does not meanthat cultural homogeneity is a threat to theethnic coexistence. Kwatembe(2008) firmlybelieves that the culturally diverse ethnic societies will be in violentconflict unless the politicians make an intentional endeavour to disrupt thetrust and confidence betwee (Kwatemba, 2008) The colonial penetration of Kenya andits uneven impact on different ethnic groups set the stage for thepoliticisation of ethnicity after independence.
The Luhya, Luo and Kikuyucommunities accessed education earlier than the nomadic and pastoralcommunities owing to contact with the missionaries (Ajulu, 2002).It was therefore notcoincidental that members of these communities featured prominently in Kenya’spost-colonial politics and dominated the bureaucracy. Colonial control through indirect rule,uneven development of capitalism and, consequently, competition for resourcesmerely accentuated rivalry and politicised ethnic consciousness (Ajulu, 2002). The problem ofethnicity, having emerged during the colonial period, has been progressivelyaccentuated since independence with the emergence of ethnicity as a factor innational politics. Ethnicity in Kenya became a widespread concern as early asduring the colonial period but was accentuated in the post-independence periodduring the implementation of the policy of Africanization. Ethnic tensionsdeveloped especially around the structure of access to economic opportunitiesand redistribution of some of the land formerly owned by the white settlers (Oyugi, 2002). The Post-2007 Electoral and Political CrisisThat ethnicity was the salient forcebehind the post-election violence in 2007-2008 is apparent.
The post-electionviolence serves as an example of the state of the political system in Kenya.Being a pluralistic society with 42 ethnic groups, politics- all thoseactivities which are directly or indirectly associated with the seizure, consolidationand use of state power- has over time and for various reasons been ‘ethnicised’ (Wanjiku, 2017).Kenyahad relatively enjoyed uninterrupted peace since 1963 when it gained itsindependence from Great Britain. As Kwatemeba (2008) points out this was aremarkable achievement given that the country has had its fair share ofturbulent times. However, many analysts predicted that Kenya would be leaptinto ethnicised violence in 2007 because the political parties had ethnicmotives and the politicians mobilised their supporters through racial lines.This has made the electoral competition between the parties more difficult aseach had the active support of their ethnic-based supporters who could notaccept defeat whatsoever hence the country was plunged into deadly violence.
Perhapsmore than anything else the elections proved that Kenya’s nation-state is exceptionallyfragile. The 2007 misfortune was a strong indictment of the postcolonialleadership for having gambled with ethnicity among Kenya’s 42-odd disparateethnic groups (Archer, 2007). Kenyawas left with deep scars by the violence that erupted in the aftermath of thedisputed Presidential election of 27 December 2007. In just a matter of weeks,Kenya was plunged into ethnic chaos which made them lose their democratic credentialsand relative peace over the years (Gutiérrez-Romero, 2007). ConclusionIthas been necessary to trace this historical perspective to reveal the complextransactions between electoral politics and ethnicity in Kenya.
Quite clearly,ethnic cleavages and political conflicts have been at their most volatileduring the periods of election campaigns (Ajulu, 2002). Observersreasonably view Kenya’s 2007 election as a prime example of ethnic-based politics.The Kikuyu, Luo, and Kamba voters supported their co-ethnic presidentialcandidates at overwhelming rates. Ethnic orientations mould much of Kenya’spolitical life and remain critically important to its politics, economics, andsociety today. At first blush, ethnicity seemed to account for vote patternsand the chaos that followed the announcement of the questionable results (Gibson, 2015).
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