Thursday, October 6, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

October 4, 2011

Obsession with our tribe has been with us in this country since pre- colonial times. It is the reason every tribe fought one another either to conquer them and take their lands and wealth. Kikuyus fought Maasais for centuries over grazing land and watering holes. The Luos, led by Lwanda Magere fought countless battles against their neighbours, the Kipsigis and the Nandis of the Rift Valley. On the West side, the Luos were to fight the Samias from across Uganda and many other Luhya sub tribes around Maseno, Lwanda and Nyangori. In many instances, these conflicts ended up in draws where there was no winner and the communities ended up living as friendly neighbours and even marrying one another.

It is these age old fights and intermarriages that have seen different communities speaking many languages across the borders in our country. Along those borders, it is almost difficult to distinguish between Luos, Subas, Samias, Wanyore and Kipsigis. Years of intermarriage between Kalenjins, Kikuyus and Maasais in the Rift Valley make it difficult for the younger generations to understand the politics of the tribe.

It is true that when the colonial authority took over our lives for close to 70 years, our lives were turned upside down. We were given identity cards that specified our tribes and our place of origin. We were taught that every tribe was different and had nothing in common with other tribes on account of our linguistic and cultural differences. To the white ruler, these differences became handy in dividing and controlling the natives.

When finally the natives chose to rise up against foreign domination, the same cultural differences were used by the colonial power to divide the Kikuyus, Luos, Luhya, Kalenjins and the Mijikenda. And at one time when the Luos and Kikuyu came together to fight for independence, the colonial authorities invented another version of tribalism. They coined the word “minority tribes” to fight the eventual domination of the two “big tribes”- meaning Luos and Kikuyus. Among the “Minority Tribes could be found the Luhyas, Kalenjins, Mijikenda, Maasais and any other tribe that was neither Luo nor Kikuyu.

Although Kenya’s independence was achieved with Kikuyus and Luos fighting together under Kenya African National Union as championed by Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya, this alliance was short-lived soon after independence. Within the first two years, this Luo- Kikuyu alliance fell apart due to political and ideological differences between Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

The former small tribes led by Ronald Ngala from the Coast, Daniel arap Moi from the Rift Valley and Martin Shikuku and Masinde Muliro from Western Kenya quickly dissolved their political party- Kenya African Democratic Union to join Kenyatta’s government. Soon after Jaramogi was forced out of KANU with help from Tom Mboya, the small tribes suddenly felt safer serving under Kenyatta. With the new development, the 1961 political alliances came to an end giving way o fresh tribal affiliations. This time round it was the turn of Kikuyus to go into a new alliance, this time involving the “small tribes” led by Daniel arap Moi.

With this tribal re-arrangement, major developments did take place in our politics. The new friends of the ruling party still did not feel comfortable with the main mover of this new rearrangement, the man who is credited with ousting Jaramogi Oginga Odinga from the ruling party KANU.

After KADU died in 1964, attempts to form a second tribal alliance under Kenya Peoples’ Union, the opposition party formed by ousted Jaramogi Oginga Odinga to challenge KANU’s supremacy came to nothing. State machinery was deployed to its maximum to nip it in the bud. This show of power was seen in 1966 during the “Little General Elections” when MPs that had resigned their parliamentary posts attempted to cross the floor in sympathy with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

The vilification that accompanied the campaigns ensured that a mere 7 out of the 22 seats that were contested returned to parliament, six of them from Nyanza.

Before that little general election, Jaramogi had tried to put together a semblance of another tribal alliance involving Luos, Kalenjins, Kisiis, Merus, Embus, Kambas, Kikuyus, Somalis and Luhyas of like mind. They included Oduya Oprong of Elgon East, SM Kioko of Machakos, ZN Anyieni of Majoge Bassi, AW Bonaya of Isiolo, SK Choge of Nandi South, KN Gichoya of Gichugu, ED Godana of Rendile, B. Kaggia of Kandara, JD KALI of Nairobi West, AS Khalif of Wajir North, JP Losema of West Pokot, CC Makokha of Elgon South West, JKK Tanui of Baringo South, A Gaciatta of Nyambene South, Achieng’ Oneko of Nakuru Town and six Luo MPs that were returned to Parliament with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Once Kenyatta established himself as the unchallenged big man of Kenyan politics, the cabal around him targeted the only remaining Luo that posed a threat to them in succession politics. For this reason, Tom Mboya, the most urbane and detribalized politician of the day was gunned down just three years after ousting Jaramogi from KANU.

From 1969 to 1978 when Kenyatta ruled Kenya, the country was a defacto one-party state hence there was no need for any tribal alliance since anybody who aspired to become a political leader had no other choice but belong to KANU. This was the system that President Daniel Moi inherited and perfected for more than two decades.

When finally Kenya returned to multiparty politics in 1991 a fresh round of tribal alliances began in earnest. To oust KANU out of power, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga teamed up with Kenneth Matiba, Martin Shikuku, Paul Muite, Masinde Muliro and a host of young politicians then referred to as young Turks under a party called FORD. In essence it was a conglomeration of tribal representatives from Luo Nyanza, Kisii, Kikuyu, Meru and Luhya communities. They ganged up to oust the Kalenjin power barons of the day supported by minority tribes such as the Maasai, Somalis, Kambas, Kisiis, Kuria and the larger Luhya community.

Unfortunately for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, FORD split even before the first multi-party election was held. Kenneth Matiba teamed up with Martin Shikuku to scuttle Jaramogi’s last attempt to become Kenya’s third president. The two split from FORD to form FORD- Asili leaving Jaramogi with the rest of the young Turks to form Ford-Kenya. Once more the tribal alliance between Kikuyus and Luos had fallen apart before it began.