Meisler, Stanley
October 1970
Foreign Affairs;Oct70, Vol. 49 Issue 1, p111
This article examines the impact of tribal conflicts on Kenya's politics and government. The assassination of Kenya Minister for Economic Planning and Development Tom Mboya in July 1969 has had a great impact on political life in the country. For more than a year, Kenya was torn by a dangerous and blatant tribal conflict that colored all political activity. In a sense, this only followed what had happened elsewhere in Africa, where crisis invariably heightens tribal hatreds and suspicions. The results, as Nigeria showed, can be terrifying. In recent months, the fury has diminished, giving Kenya a time of calm to deal with its tribal problem. Its future depends on whether its politicians learn to do so. Unlike almost all other politicians in Africa, Mboya had never appealed to tribal chauvinism. Mboya had never had the support of most of the Luos, the second largest tribe in Kenya with 1.3 million people. This was probably the most critical moment in Kenya's history since independence. The plight of the Luos seemed desperate. The tribal problem has two sides, the domination of the Kikuyus and the disaffection of the Luos. The next president, if selected by constitutional means, probably would come from one of these four groupings: the Kikuyu establishment, the Kikuyu outs, a small tribe, a larger tribe. All this, however, should not suggest that turmoil is an inevitable result of the tribal manoeuvring for succession. The Kenya politicians are aware of the need for stability and for tribal compromise, they intend to bargain and trade. They do not intend to let the tribal conflicts get out of hand. But they will face a hard task. Of course, if time eases the tribal antagonisms, other issues could rule the selection of a new president. Dissatisfaction about unemployment and the uneven distribution of wealth, for example, could create more important issues.


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