Understanding Conflict

Horowitz describes conflict as a struggle in which the main aim is to gain objectives and simultaneously to neutralize, injure, or eliminate rivals(Horowitz 1985: 95)

Howitz identifies three strands of ethnic conflict, within the transition from tradition to modernisation. In the traditional setup ethnic conflict is a result of an extra-ordinary persistence of traditional antipathies that are so strong that they can survive modernisation.(pp 97).

According to Horowitz (pp 102) In the process of modernisation, social mobilisation also brought about ethnic conflict.  Ethnic tribes that are more wealthy , better educated and more urbanised tend to be envied, resented and sometimes feared by others.

According to Oucho, a simple theorical framework may be drawn from Premdas study of Guyana which identifies two sets of factors that influence ethnic conflict.

The predisposing factors include cultural pluralism, lack of co-operation and overarching values and internal communal beliefs. The exploitation of which could perpetuate ethnic conflict. The triggering factors on the other hand include colonial manipulation, introduction of mass democratic politics, rivalry over resource allocation and imported political institutions adopted from independence (Premdas 1992:5 , Oucho : 21 )

Oucho goes ahead to create his own Conceptual framework for analysis determinants of conflict in Kenya.

In this framework Oucho notes three sets of exogenous variables, which act as intermediate variables to conflict. These include factors that have origins in the colonialism. Factors like the administrative structure adopted from the colonial governments. Land and labour alienation of certain tribes, as well as colonial legacies administered by the colonialist.

In the independence era Oucho argues that the government perpetuated certain biases and prejudices toward some parts and against other parts of the country.

The third factor as noted by Oucho is the world economic/ political order which has brought the influence on international agencies to bear on the country’s political and economic development.

Oucho also notes four sets of intermediate variables like the Geo-political factors such as the physiographic, climatic and environmental conditions which affect survival and economic activity. Oucho places politics in this category arguing that political regimes often exploit and contribute to ethnic tensions and conflict.

The second set of factors are historical factors for example land alienation and land settlements. Ethno-linguistic balkanisation and inherent prejudices and animosities which remain unrectified are also an important factor .

In the third category Oucho notes population issues to be a contributing factor. Population size, growth, ethnic composition, spatial distribution and population dynamics also fuel conflict . State intervention is also an important contributing factor in conflicts, if the state itself deepens prejudices preferring some parts of the country to others.

Due to urbanisation, education and the influence of outside cultures, most Kenyans, especially those living in the modern urban cities, have, interacted with each other through trade, association,intermarriage, assimilation and absorption. Nevertheless which tribe  a person belongs to is still a very important factor in a Kenyan’s social life. Long time rivalries among the tribes, which in most cases erupt into conflict still exist. Tribalism in Kenya did not arise from ancient hatreds or warfare from cultures as most people think, though there were few sporadic clashes between some tribes.   It’s a relatively new phenomenon. Most Scholars like Oucho have pointed to

colonialism, unresolved historical grievances, especially with regard to land allocation, urbanization, and Kenya’s political culture as underlying factors in the ethnic conflict in Kenya.  In Fact until the 20th century most of the warring tribes in Kenya had little to no  contact with one another .

Land in Kenya is an important source of patronage and a is considered a source of identity, and has thus been a big factor in fueling conflict.

In precolonial Africa, every indigenous group had their own legal system based on their customs and practices. These customs were enforced by elders, clan leaders (and in some areas kings) who performed both civic and spiritual duties. Each tribe lived in their own distinct area  and had peaceful interactions  from time to time with neighboring tribes with some sporadic clashing over cattle or land. These tensions were however easily diffused through the workings of the established traditional systems.

During this time land tenure systems were communal and communities shared land under the authority and advice of community elders, or clan heads. Decisions about who farmed or grazed a particular piece of land were made by clan heads but often resulted from discussions in the family and clan, guided by customs that took into account the needs of various persons in the group. The land tenure agreements were flexible and fluid enough to accommodate the demands of agriculturalists and pastoralists alike. Land was plentiful,and there were no constraints on its use.

Colonial rule disrupted this communal land tenure system and introduced new individualised forms of land tenure, as a result, a significant part of the customary land rights were extinguished. The British forcibly resettled the indigenous peoples in reserves located on inferior lands and took over most of the best lands. They also began the process of  regulating the use and ownership of land in accordance with the needs and requirements of a capitalist economy. Ownership of land then became personal or divided among the tribes. Despite the fact that the tribes had never owned land as an entity. The result of dividing this land along tribal lines fostered a greater tribal consciousness and brew hatred among the tribes, as some of the tribes that co-operated with the colonialists got better land , while others who had occupied the best arable land in Kenya were resettled in less fertile land and others became squatters in on colonial farms in the White Highlands, as a bid to survive. The colonialist also confiscated the land of those who participated in protest groups like the Mau Mau as punishment.

British rule in the colonial Kenya was founded on the principle of divide and rule.

Divide and rule began in Kenya with the creation of native reserves, purportedly to protect the Africans against the encroaching of the European settlers. Rural areas outside the european domain were demarcated and administered largely as tribal units . Strict travel and trade restrictions among other restrictions were enforced to inhibit intertribal contact.

Through divide and rule, the administration played off one ethnic group against another and signed protection treaties with some of the ethnic groups, thereby cementing the differences between the various groups. Through this the British administrators accentuated the differences between the tribes and so from the beginning of multi-tribal life, seeds of discontent were sewn and negative tribal stereotypes became embedded in popular belief.

Even with the achievement of independence in 1963,  ‘divide and rule’ remained the basis for most politics in Kenya. The divide and rule had left the ethnic groups to look like independent nationalities. After independence the colonial government embarked on resettlement schemes in an effort to counter the dispossession. However the resettlement schemes did not bring about any positive change. These resettlement schemes were so riddled with corruption with senior individuals in the new government allocating themselves and “their people” large tracts of land. This saw a few ethnic groups being allocated more land than others.  Moreover the government used land as part of rewards to politicians, and to buy support from the people.

In Kenya belonging  or identifying with a group can provide measures of security. Since the ethnic groups are established and recognised institutions by belonging to a group one stands a better chance of acquiring resources from the state. Ever since independence politicians found these ethnic groupings to be advantageous and willingly took advantage of the structures already in place to further their own interest as well as their particular groups.

Over the years this has seen parties forming along ethnic lines with, voting based on ethnicity and valuing ethnicity above political ideology and policy . This has also created a heightened sense to ethnicity as the rewards for political/ethnic allegiance can be great. The political groups have created alliances based on their ethnic numbers with the majority of Kenyans deciding who they will vote for on the basis of their tribe. Most political battles in Kenya are perceived to be about dividing the “national cake” among the ethnic groups, with each group wanting the greatest share. The bigger an ethnic group is, the more support its leaders get , and the bigger their chances of getting the largest share of the “national cake.” They contend that charity must begin at home, and then move to the other tribes.

The issue of tribal discrimination in Kenya is not only found in politics, or in the unfair distribution of resources. Tribalism has gone beyond politics and land ownership and trickled down to almost every facet of the Kenyan society.  Favouritism on ethnic grounds dominate almost all sectors of life including employment, where most people get employed on the basis of what tribe they belong to instead of their academic qualifications or experience.

Unfair opportunities for economic advancements , ugly political confrontations and subsequent tribal clashes now dominate Kenya’s public life.  Over the years these tribal prejudices have made it okay for one tribe to demean and belittle the other tribes for being different. Underlying these prejudices are often certain tribal stereotypes that are passed on from generation to generation. While some of these stereotypes might be passed on good naturedly as  jokes, they become embedded in common beliefs and cause suspicion and distrust between the tribes. These stereotypes cause the people to judge each other in regards to what tribe they belong to and what stereotypes are associated with the tribe. For example some people  may fear getting into business with a Kikuyu because they are known to be cunning and treacherous. Or others might be hesitant to intermarry with the Kamba because they are known to dabble in witchcraft. These stereotypes, alienate the tribes and cause suspicion between the tribes, with each tribe thinking they are the “better” tribe  which in turn make it okay to demean the other tribes, based on these biases.