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Country Report: Kenya

Kenya Country Report

January 2023

A mural painted over a destroyed house in the Kibera slums during the post-2007 election violence (© Antony Njuguna | Reuters)

Kenya became a British colony in 1920 and attracted 80,000 European settlers. In 1952, Kenyans demanded independence. The Mau-Mau rebellion attacked white settlers to end British colonial rule. Britain imposed a “State of Emergency.” British forces placed over 80,000 Kikuyu and 80,000 other Kenyans in brutal concentration camps. 1957 elections held for a Legislative Council were won by Jomo Kenyatta's ZANU. In 1962, a referendum revealed that 86% of Kenyan Somalis wanted to join Somalia, but Britain ignored their preference.

In 1963 Kenya became independent. Kenya became a republic in 1964, led by the Kikuyu President Jomo Kenyatta and the Luo Vice President Oginga Odinga. Odinga resigned over ethnic conflict between the Kikuyu and Luo that culminated in the 1969 Kisumu massacre, in which 100 Luo were killed by Kenyatta’s personal guards. After Kenyatta died in 1978, Kenya became a one-party state under Daniel Moi. Moi violently suppressed political opposition, including a massacre of over 5,000 ethnic Somalis at Wagalla in 1984.

Under international pressure, Moi introduced multi-party politics in 1991. Since then, elections have been marked by ethnic violence between Kikuyus, Luos, Kalenjins and others. In 1992, Moi was re-elected. Violence surrounding the election killed 1,500 and displaced 300,000. In 1997, Moi was again re-elected. Election related ethnic violence in Kenya’s Coastal Province displaced 100,000. The 2002 election saw the Kikuyu Mwai Kibaki elected in a landslide win against Raila Odinga, but his victory was marred by massive voter intimidation. The 2007 election resulted in ethnic conflict after Odinga disputed Kibaki’s victory. Massacres killed over 1,400 and displaced 300,000.

In 2012, politicians hoping to win seats in 2013 stoked ethnic herder-farmer violence that killed 116 in the Coast Province. Whilst pre-election violence claimed 477 lives and displaced 118,000, post-election conflict was muted by the Supreme Court's rejection of Odinga’s challenge to Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory. The 2017 presidential election was surrounded by so much police violence and corruption that a re-run was held that reinstated Kenyatta. Although the campaign for the 2022 elections saw political disorder, William Ruto's victory was Kenya's least ethnically partisan.

The International Criminal Court charged Ruto with crimes against humanity for his role in 2007 election violence, but the ICC dropped the charges due to a lack of evidence. Ethnic hate speech has grown on Facebook and TikTok. Advocacy of "majimboism" (ethnic devolution and federalism) has been appropriated by the Kalenjin as a dog whistle for deporting Rift Valley farmers. The 2011 invasion of Somalia has legitimized the mass detention and deportation of Somalis and other Muslims. The pastoralist Maasai suffer from hate speech and state-sanctioned land expropriation, which robs them of grazing pastures.

Kenya’s political patronage is determined by its President’s ethnicity, resulting in Stage 3: Discrimination and Stage 6: Polarization. Ethnic violence surrounding elections represents Stage Five: Organization and Stage Eight: Persecution. Deportation of Rift Valley farmers and Somalis in northern Kenya is also at Stage Eight: Persecution.

Genocide Watch Recommends:

  • The Kenyan government must stop using anti-hate laws like section 13 of Kenya’s 2008 National Cohesion and Integration Act to arrest political opponents.

  • Kenya should continue supporting domestic and international election observers from the EU, Commonwealth, and UN to legitimize Kenya’s elections and prevent potential disputes.

  • The Sentinel Project's Una Hakika Project in 13 counties helped to prevent election violence in the 2022 elections. The Sentinel Project should be funded to expand its use of unbiased news reporting and social media to combat destructive rumors that lead to ethnic conflict.

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