Ethnicity and Politicization in Kenya

The instrumentalization of ethnicity as the primary means of mobilization has become an inescapable fact of political life in Kenya. However, how ethnicity came to be so elevated in Kenyan politics is a topic not well understood by the broader Kenyan public. For too long, the resignation by scholars, activists, and civil society on the politicization of ethnicity in Kenya has led to a stagnating of the discourse when it comes to approaches to address ways of ―managing‖ ethnic identity in relation to the sharing of power, resources, and opportunities. In as far as scholars and activists have worked to address the topic of ethnic divisiveness in the country; their efforts have been limited in two ways. First, scholarly work has not been effective in influencing discussions on ethnicity beyond academic circles. Many Kenyans may experience the vast effects of ethnic politics without necessarily ever having encountered analyses and explanations for this phenomenon. Many of these analytical tools have the potential of revolutionizing how Kenyans view ethnic identity, ethnocentrism, and ethnic discrimination by, for example, making light of the intersection between ethnic, gender, and class discrimination or the fluidity of ethnic identity in Kenya‘s pre- and post- independence history. Second, many activists, perhaps due to the urgency of addressing the consequences of ethnic politics such as corruption and political violence, employ simplistic explanations for this phenomenon, leaving the public with an incomplete picture of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of ethnicity and politics across Kenya.
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