Susanne Mueller has a chapter in the recent Oxford Handbook of Kenyan Politics edited by Nic Cheeseman, Karuti Kanyinga, and Gabrielle Lynch on “High Stakes Ethnic Politics“.
Read it now for an accessible summary of the landscape with references for further study. From the Introduction:
This chapter examines the issue of ethnic politics: when it becomes important, why, and to what effect. The focus is on post-Independence Kenya, with reference to the colonial period and selected theoretical literature on ethnicity. I argue that ethnic politics is the by-product of historically weak institutions and political parties. When institutions are fragile and geography and ethnicity coincide, politicians generally woo their ethnic base with particularistic promises rather than policies. This is often self-reinforcing; the more winners and losers fall along ethnic lines, the greater the incentives for non-programmatic ethnic appeals. Accordingly, political trust weakens and ethnic divisions rise, sometimes inviting violence and reinforcing a vicious circle. Ethnic politics in Kenya is traceable to three critical junctures: first, to colonialism, which largely confined Africans to ethnic enclaves and prohibited national associations; second, to Independence in 1963, when the question of who gets what, when, and how became more salient as ethnically designed regions and districts battled for scarce national resources; and third to the return of multi-party politics in 1991, when politicians turned electoral contests for the executive into do-or-die events. Each of these junctures reinforced the personalization and regionalization of politics along ethnic lines. The result was non-programmatic political parties unable to make credible policy commitments to their constituents (Keefer 2008). This accompanied and promoted other important tendencies: weak institutions with only nominal checks and balances, political parties lacking policies and ideologies, and a strong centralized executive with a great deal of power to reward and sanction. Hence, ethnic groups either saw the presidency as their preserve or felt it was their turn to take power (Wrong 2009).
Another must read is from Cedric Barnes at the International Crisis Group: Losing Hearts and Minds in Kenya. Horne argues that the roundups specifically contradict the unity messaging offered by the Kenyan government after Westgate and are likely to backfire by promoting marginalization and thus increasing the persuasive power of extremists. The operations highlight the extremely slow pace of security reforms in Kenya; the going rate to avoid getting arrested if you are of Somali ethnic background is 5000 KSh. Horne also points out that Kenyans of Somali ethnicity and those from the historically marginalized regions in the eastern and northeastern part of the country have always had difficulty getting identity documents from the authorities in the Kenyan government.
Here is Muthoni Wanyeki in The East African : Usalama Watch–State is Fracturing Kenyan Society: “A journalist in discussion with a senior Anti-Terrorism Police Unit officer tells of the ATPU’s alleged frustration with the whole operation — for breaking down its intelligence networks, having nothing to do with counter-terrorism and the likelihood of blowback.”
Kenyans of Somali origin have also been detained as potential terrorists, making citizenship no bar to this programme of racial profiling.There is no indication that any useful intelligence leading to the apprehension of the café bombing Al-Shabaab terrorists has been obtained although at least 82 “illegals” have been deported to Somalia.The reality is that if the deportees are genuine hardcore Al-Shabaab operators, they will soon return to Nairobi via Kenya’s undefended porous border.
The obvious question about all this: why? At least one opposition politician has suggested that the operations are intended to curry favor with the West or the U. S. in particular for some reason. Admittedly I am not objective as an American but I tend to think that the roundups are obviously enough counterproductive (e.g., they increase rather than decrease net terrorism risk) that the Kenyatta administration would not find any serious encouragement for this from Western governments. Maybe I am naive, but its worth noting that the International Crisis Group is a firmly Western Establishment voice.
The great thing about books about Kenyan political parties: the books and the analysis are always more substantial than the parties themselves. I will hope to develop this theme further and discuss both books here later in the year. In the meantime, enjoy your choice of hard or soft power publishing.