Kenya’s political troubles have had a immediate impact on marriages composed of partners of different tribes. Individuals in inter-tribal or inter-ethnic marriages are often twice cursed in the event of inter-ethnic violence. On the one hand, each marriage partner is increasingly distrusted by members of the other ethnic/tribal group. But what makes matter even worse is that they are also ostracized and often the victims of violence on the part of members of their own group. Their sin is that, having married someone from the rival ethnic group/tribe, they are no longer seen as trustworthy. In noticed in Croatia that this led to counter-intuitive outcomes where individuals who had married spouses of the other ethnic group often become publicly intolerant toward members of the spouse’s group. This was not the result of true ethnic hostility but in order to prove the individual’s ethnic/nationalist bona fides to his (and it was mostly males in this case) own ethnic brethren.
Here is a report from the Associated Press about a woman in Kenya whose husband had to leave home, fearing for his life.
He doesn’t call. He doesn’t write. His cell phone has been switched off for weeks. After 17 years, Naomi Kering’s husband is gone — one more intertribal marriage fallen victim to the violence that has followed Kenya‘s disastrous presidential election.
“The kids always ask me, ‘Where is he?’ And I always say he is going to come back,” Kering, a 34-year-old of the Kalenjin tribe, told The Associated Press as she stood in the rubble of her home, torched by a mob last month because her husband is a Kikuyu. “But I hope he stays away, because I love him and I want him to be safe.”
Since the Dec. 27 vote, marriages that united different ethnic groups have felt the strain as communities shun the Kikuyu tribe of President Mwai Kibaki, whose disputed re-election unleashed a wave of bloodshed that has killed at least 685 people.
Until now, marriages like Kering’s were common enough to go largely unnoticed, representing hope for what Kenya could be as a nation. But now the fabric of Kenyan society is fraying, forcing families to confront tribal identities many had cast aside long ago.
“This election has changed the very essence of these marriages,” said the Rev. Charles Kirui, a Catholic priest whose church in the nearby town of Burnt Forest shelters hundreds of Kikuyus. “Marriages are breaking up because of a tribal conflict, which means we really have a problem in Kenya.”
There are no figures on how many families are affected, but the impact is particularly felt in the heart of opposition territory in western Kenya, where tribal tensions have been most inflamed by the election.
This country of 38 million was once seen as a stable democracy on a violent continent. But it depended on a delicate balance of intertribal power.