The Economist’s Diary on Kenya

The eminent British magazine, The Economist, currently has a correspondent in Kenya writing up daily reports in the Internet edition, which can be viewed here. There is, of course, much to be concerned about in Kenya these days, but as an academic I found the latest dispatch especially interesting:

Morning, Professor Alan Ogot’s office, Kisumu

ALAN Ogot (pictured below), one of Kenya’s leading historians, is the chancellor of Moi University in Eldoret. Like me, he graduated from St Andrew’s University in Scotland, but he was there in the 1950s, and his life before and since has been colourful and consequential.

Mr Ogot spends the first part of our interview delving into Luo history. Contrary to their reputation among some Kikuyus and white Kenyans as agitators, he says the Luo have always done the jobs no one else wanted to do. For a thousand years they have aspired to “fairness” and “reciprocity”. He gives examples of religious and political movements to argue that Luoland was the most progressive part of Kenya. That changed with independence in 1963 and the rise of a Kikuyu elite who mistrusted Luos.

Mr Ogot had lunch with Tom Mboya on the day Mboya was shot dead in 1969. Mboya was one of several Luo politicians tipped for the presidency and Mr Ogot thinks the Luo have never recovered from his death. “What followed was a police state. We were not allowed to speak our mind.”

 Then Mr Ogot moves on to the damage done to academia in Kenya by the post-election violence. He wonders what the future of research is in the country. Some of Africa’s best research institutions are located around Nairobi. Most are closed, he says, some burned, and the best minds driven out.

He points out that Maseno, the local university in Luoland, was over half Kikuyu. “Most of these people are not coming back. Who will provide them with security?” Other universities across the country are being similarly ethnically cleansed. “You call these universities? They’ll be worse than primary schools…”

…Since the election he has hardly left his house. A woman and child were shot dead outside his front gate. The police mistakenly killed a caretaker in a neighbouring house. “They have apologised, but what will that do?”

I’ve highlighted what I think are the interesting parts of the snippet I posted. First, contrary to what I have been reading in the newspapers lately, inter-ethnic relations between the Kukuyu and Luo, specifically, have not been as tolerant and peaceful and many have led us to believe. Second is the horrific damage that is being done to Kenya’s post-secondary educational system as a result of the current political situation there. A Boston Globe column that was published before the elections held out hope for Africa, and pointed to Kenya’s potential role as a leader for the rest of the continent. Now what?

Ethnic Segregation in Kenya Continues Unabated

Kenya seems to be following the template set out in previous inter-ethnic conflicts (see a previous post on the results of residential segregation in Baghdad), where the ultimate result is a more ethnically segregated society.  The “un-mixing of peoples” continues unabated in that increasingly unstable state.  The New York Times reports:


Following a flawed election, and a wave of ethnic and political violence, Kenya, once one of Africa’s most promising nations, is resegregating itself. Members of ethnic groups, like these Luos, left, waited for transportation to their ancestral homes.

Photo: Joao Silva for The New York Times

 OTHAYA, Kenya — Sarah Wangoi has spent her entire life — all 70 years of it — in the Rift Valley. But last month, she was chased off her farm by a mob that called her a foreigner. She now sleeps on the cold floor of a stranger’s house, seeking refuge in an area of Kenya where her ethnic group, the Kikuyu, is strong. It is, supposedly, her homeland.

“I am safe now,” said Ms. Wangoi, though the mob still chases her in her dreams.

Across the country, William Ojiambo sat in a field where the ground was too hard to plow. He, too, sought refuge with his ethnic group, the Luo. He used to live in an ethnically mixed town called Nakuru but was recently evicted by a gang from another ethnic group that burned everything he owned.

“We came here with nothing, like cabbages thrown in the back of a truck,” Mr. Ojiambo said.

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.