Richard Dowden: The seeds of mistrust were sown decades ago, but this will not explode into genocide

Related Topics

As the situation in Kenya grows worse by the day – and the worst is almost certainly still to come – many people are drawing parallels with the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Pictures of gangs of young men carrying spears, clubs and machetes to cut down strangers in their area look like Rwanda '94. But the cause is very different.

Rwanda has a social system unique to that region. Hutu and Tutsi are technically the same ethnic group. They speak the same language (indistinguishable even by accent), they are part of the same culture and worship the same gods. They are separated by race and caste, not ethnicity. Physically distinguishable (though the stereotypes are not always a certain guide), they had different roles in a single society.

When the Hutu-led government was threatened by a Tutsi-led rebellion, it ordered the Hutus to exterminate the Tutsis. In Rwanda, Hutu and Tutsi shared the same land. There was no possibility of pushing the Tutsis out – back to "their own" land. The solution was a final one – extermination.

The Kikuyu are the largest ethnic group in Kenya and the one that benefited most from colonialism, via education and employment. Some Kikuyu fought back against the British seizure of their lands. When Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta, demanded "independence now", Britain tried to form an alliance of other ethnic groups in opposition. The plan failed, and sowed the seeds of mistrust between Kenya's peoples. Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, rewarded his followers with land abandoned or sold by whites who left after independence. Much of it was outside traditional Kikuyu areas.

Kenyatta was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin. He could not enrich his own people – there was less to distribute – but a few of his political cronies did grow hugely wealthy. When Moi was succeeded by Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, in 2002, the Kalenjin elite was squeezed out and Kikuyu politico-business bosses took over. Promises of a fairer constitution promised by Kibaki in opposition were abandoned. Today, businesses in Kenya that are not run by Asians are predominantly in the hands of Kikuyu – even outside their own areas. Others perceive that this is the result of political manipulation. (That is why the angriest group are the Kalenjin. Other groups have once again failed to get to the table. The Kalenjin were at the table and got pushed aside.)

Kenya's economy has been growing at 5 per cent in recent years. Kenyans can see the wealth around them, but nearly half of them live in poverty. That is why they are angry. And they see a Kikuyu conspiracy. The rigged election was the last straw.

So the gangs of youths are targeting Kikuyu in their areas, killing them and driving them out. In revenge, Kikuyu gangs are killing and driving out Kalenjin and Luo from their area. Think Bosnia or Serbia, not Rwanda. This is going to be horrific and puts Kenya and the entire East African region at risk of economic collapse. But it is not genocide.

Richard Dowden is director of the Royal African Society

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Java developer - (Intershop Enfinity)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Java Developer...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria  

Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to five years in prison - but what then?

Rosie Millard
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album