Episode 16: Kenya’s Tribal Kingpins Try to End Tribalism by A Referendum


In the last episode of 2019, Africa Straight Talk looks at the politics of toxic ethnicity. We focus in Kenya, where there are efforts to end tribalism by a referendum. Will it work or is this another gimmick by the political elite?

After the December 2007 presidential elections, Kenya descended into chaos, following allegations of fraud. By the time the violence ended in February 2008, nearly 1,000 people had been killed and many more injured. More than 250,000 people were displaced from their home in the Rift Valley, the breadbasket of the country, where some of the worst atrocities happened. Since then, every election year has been a time of great anxiety as Kenyans spend months wondering if they could return to those dark days.

Now, two of the men at the center of the violence say they have a plan to end the toxic politics of ethnicity that led to the bloodshed. Raila Odinga, whose loss of the elections led to the violence, and President Uhuru Kenyatta, who would later be charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, (the case was dropped) have since gone toe-to-toe in two presidential elections, both of which Odinga lost. Recently, though, the two men have become inseparable as they try to unite the country. They have now drafted a plan they say will end tribal politics and create a just and equitable Kenya. It’s called the Building Bridges Initiative, and is likely to go to voters for approval. Is it possible to end ethnic hate by a mere referendum, or are Kenyans being taken for a ride? Why is ethnicity so important in African politics?