2008 February 17 Sunday
Kenya Ethnic Separation Continues Apace

The Luo-Kikuyu divorce is well underway. At least most of them are getting away from each other without huge numbers of deaths.

Kenya used to be considered one of the most promising countries in Africa. Now it is in the throes of ethnically segregating itself. Ever since a deeply flawed election in December kicked off a wave of ethnic and political violence, hundreds of thousands of people have been violently driven from their homes and many are now resettling in ethnically homogenous zones.

Luos have gone back to Luo land, Kikuyus to Kikuyu land, Kambas to Kamba land and Kisiis to Kisii land. Even some of the packed slums in the capital, Nairobi, have split along ethnic lines.

The bloodletting across the country that has killed more than 1,000 people since the election seems to have subsided in the past week. But the trucks piled high with mattresses, furniture, blankets and children keep chugging across the countryside, an endless convoy of frightened people who in their desperation are redrawing the map of Kenya.

Western countries will refuse to let Kenya officially break up. Countries that break up create precedents. Other countries could follow. A redivision along ethnic lines cuts against faith in liberal universalism.

The Kenyan army is escorting convoys of people who are fleeing back to their ethnic heartlands.

The convoy joins its army escort on the road out of Nairobi as it starts its 150-mile journey in the verdant highlands where sheep and goats graze next to vegetable plots. Soon, the bus descends to the dusty savannah of the Rift Valley, passing occasional herds of zebra.

Along the way, it overtakes run-down cargo trucks crammed with other fleeing Luos and their furniture, clothes, goats, chickens. The passengers stare in silence when driving by burned out homes, which they assume belonged to Luos.

Hours later, as the bus barrels past tea plantations, safely out of Kikuyu territory and now in hills dominated by ethnic groups aligned with the opposition, they pass more burned-out homes. This time they presume the charred wrecks belonged to Kikuyus, and they start chattering.

"We are glad," says Christina Odhiambo, a 39-year-old who used to clean houses in Nairobi. "It is what they deserve."

Is Kenya finished? It looks like Humpty Dumpty to me.

Nobody knows how many people are moving across Kenya to seek the safety of ethnic numbers in this country of 38 million. But it's not just the rural poor; there are many reports of Nairobi landlords renting only to the right ethnicity, and businesses taking care about which staff are sent to which jobs.

For many ordinary Kenyans, the new reality is sobering.

"Sure, we all made jokes about each other, the Luos and Kikuyu, the other people," said Victor Gitonga, a 24-year-old Kikuyu Red Cross worker who was helping at the Luo camp.

"But that was joking. If people cannot live, work, stay in any place in this country, than is this a country? We are finished," he said.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 February 17 10:50 PM  Ethnic Conflict

Kenelm Digby said at February 18, 2008 5:49 AM:

Of course, over the past few decades Kenya experienced the highest level of population growth (around 4% per annum), that any human society in recorded history has experienced.
To state the obvious, the population stress has manifested itself out large - in just the same way a crowded rat colony would.
Of course, the whole 'sociological and economic establishment' would eat dirt than actually come close to even hinting this.

John East said at February 18, 2008 8:46 AM:

What a tradegy, and so predictable, as will be the reaction of the do-gooder liberals who will wring their hands in anguish whilst doing next to nothing to acknowledge the root causes (corruption, population, and an inability to self govern), and everything to stop genuine progress (preach fair trade, throw cash at them, and prop up the political status quo).

averros said at February 18, 2008 5:23 PM:

> throw cash at them...

Yep, that's probably the most dangerous one - the "aid" cash mostly goes straight into bank accounts of ruling thugs, and is used by these thugs to buy the support of particular groups (by allowing them to be first in line for the aid).

I'd add "establishing democracy" to the list of evils.

As for the ability to self-govern, Somalia clearly shows that people over there are quite capable of governing themselves. What they're lacking is the mindset of domesticated Westerners needed to have central government and relative peace at the same time - the very existence of the central power makes less "civilized" people to fight for that prize - because they know fully well that whoever of their brethren got to the top won't be shy about robbing everybody else. Western democratic governments tend to maintain at least some decorum of decency (although occasionally interrupted with bouts of megamurders), African are not so sophisticated.

Kenelm Digby said at February 19, 2008 3:09 AM:

Of course, Kenya's excess population will inevitably wind up on the shores of Europe and north America, where it will help destroy the racial demographics of the indigenous natives of those lans.
What a crying shame it is that the inability of Kenyans to 'keep it in their trousers' has such a profoundly negative effect on unrelated peoples many, many miles away.

Dragon Horse said at February 19, 2008 6:41 AM:

Kenya is not finished you got to be joking. What is going on in Kenya is relatively mild. You want to see something far worse go to Chad, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia. They were all in much worse situation with real true civil wars going on with violence that makes Kenya look like Disney Land. Today the latter two are at relative peace (although Ivory Coast still has a major divide in the North and South).

As my grandfather would say "slow your roll"...the Greeks believed cynicism was a virtue, I agree but it is more than cynicism when you allow hope for negativity to overwhelm the ability to think objectively.

(Vicente) Fox Hound said at February 19, 2008 1:12 PM:


How can this all be?

Randall Parker said at February 19, 2008 8:25 PM:

Dragon Horse,

Imagine the United States with a massive flight of millions of people leaving their houses to get away from neighbors who have just turned on them.

What is going on in Kenya is relatively mild. You want to see something far worse go to Chad, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia.

Obviously your standards and expectations for Africa are as low as mine. Kenya isn't so bad because other African countries are even worse. Wow.

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