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Cablegate: Ethnicity & Politics in Kenya: Part 1, The

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DE RUEHNR #5388/01 3630657
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P 290657Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
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INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NAIROBI 005388

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TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KCOR KE
SUBJECT: Ethnicity & Politics in Kenya: Part 1, The
British Heritage

1. (SBU) Summary: A common Kenyan view of the colonial
period holds that blatant favoritism by those in power on
behalf of their own ethnic group was never more intense
than in Kenya's first 68 years of its 111 year existence.
Major political figures in today's Kenya were in their
30s at independence, and so directly experienced how
government at that time greatly favored the tiny settler
minority. While many Kenyans believe that their country
must overcome this heritage of ethnic favoritism in
governance if they are to achieve higher levels of
economic and social progress, they nevertheless resent
"hypocritical" preaching on the subject when it comes
from "whites" in general and the British in particular.
Foreigners, especially white foreigners, when speaking to
Kenyan audiences on the topic of ethnicity and
governance, would do well to start off with a frank
acknowledgement about struggles for fair treatment for
all in their own societies. End Summary.

2. (SBU) While polls suggest that issues-based politics
is slowly gaining ground among Kenyan voters, the 2007
national elections will still largely be determined by
the ability of key politicians to use ethnic rhetoric,
money, patronage and muscle to win over ethnic voting
blocs. By "ethnic rhetoric" we mean both appeals to
group solidarity to promote the political influence of a
community and hence the flow of state resources to that
community and rhetoric that stokes traditional inter-
ethnic resentments for political mobilization purposes.
This message presents a commonly held Kenyan view about
the British colonial period as it relates to politics and
ethnicity. PolCouns gleaned this "narrative" of the
colonial experience from discussions with Kenyans from
many walks of life and regions of the country as well as
reading various Kenyan writers and editorialists. Our
senior Kenyan colleagues concur that the views expressed
here do indeed reflect the thinking of many Kenyan
voters. Septels will discuss Kenya's major ethnic voting
blocs, the dangerously intense Luo-Kikuyu rivalry, and
religious identity politics.

The British Heritage: Some Things Never Change

3. (SBU) Note: The following does not purport to be an
objective balance sheet of the British formation and
administration of Kenya. Rather, it presents common
Kenyan attitudes about that period as it relates to
politics and ethnicity. End Note.

4. (SBU) Kenya was formally established as a political
entity in 1895. Effective control of the entire
territory was achieved in the early 1900s, although the
British administration never bothered to assert full
control over large swathes of unproductive Northern
Kenya, leaving those areas mostly ungoverned. Government
investment in administration and infrastructure
concentrated heavily on regions inhabited by the ethnic
group in power: white settlers and representatives of the
British government. Throughout nearly the entire 68
years of British administration, Kenya's formative period
as a political entity, white settlers alone were
permitted to organize themselves politically and lobby
the administration. (Note: A few elected seats for
"Africans" was established by the administration just
before independence in 1963. End Note.) The settler
minority used their exclusive political clout to win for
themselves large tracts of the most productive land, a
monopoly on the production of the most important cash
crops, and preferential treatment by the administration
in all matters (security, education, employment in the
state bureaucracy and military, etc.). State security
forces were used to seize the best lands from the prior
inhabitants (mostly Kikuyu in the central highlands) for
redistribution to the settlers. The state enforced the
settlers? monopoly on cash crop production and granted
many other privileges to the small settler minority.

5. (SBU) Is this all just irrelevant ancient history?
Not really. Several of today's major Kenyan political
figures were in their 30's at independence in 1963.
Their views of politics and the relation of the state to
a favored ethnic group were affected by what they
observed under British administration. Many
establishment politicians come from families that served
the British administration (appointed traditional
leaders, junior civil service, police, military), and so
gained first hand knowledge of how the system worked.

6. (SBU) The history of "White Kenya" is marked by shady
land deals backed by corrupt courts in thrall to the
richest and most politically well-connected settlers. It

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is also marked by increasing numbers of dispossessed
landless farmers drawn from disfavored ethnic groups
(that is, all other groups except for whites, but
especially those groups inhabiting the richest lands,
such as the Kikuyu). Shady land deals, corrupt courts
answerable only to the rich and politically well-
connected, and farmers from out of favor ethnic
communities dispossessed from their lands by the state;
all these continue to be major issues in Kenya today.

7. (SBU) Many Kenyans consider that the phenomenon of
rulers favoring their own ethnic community was never more
intense and blatant than in Kenya's first 68 years of its
111 year existence. While many Kenyans truly believe
that their country must overcome this inherited style of
bad governance if they are to achieve higher levels of
economic and social progress, they nevertheless resent
preaching on the subject when it comes from "whites" in
general and the British in particular. They tend to
note, with a smirk, that those preaching virtue come from
the same ethnic community ("whites") that committed the
gravest sins in this regard when they were in power in
Kenya. Foreigners, especially white foreigners, when
speaking to Kenyan audiences on the topic of ethnicity
and governance, would do well to start off with a frank
acknowledgement about struggles for fair treatment for
all in their own societies.
RANNEBERGER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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