Why do Kenya's other tribes resent the Kikuyu?

Notes from different corners of the world.
Feb. 8 2008 12:11 PM

Who Are the Kikuyu?

And why do Kenya's other tribes resent them so much?

(Continued from Page 2)

There was nothing random about the violence that exploded with the announcement of a Kibaki win. Deciding that the Kikuyu intended to rule Kenya indefinitely, Luos in the Western town of Kisumu looted Kikuyu shops, while Kalenjin militias drove Kikuyus from Rift Valley farms, settling scores dating back to Kenyatta's 1970s settlement scheme.

A feared Kikuyu militia, the Mungiki, is now extracting vicious revenge. But as thugs demand ID cards at roadblocks and members of the "wrong" tribe watch homes go up in smoke, majimboism is being put into crude practice on the ground, decades of Kikuyu expansionism challenged and reversed.

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Many analysts see the entrepreneurship that defines the Kikuyu experience as the only hope for peace. Holding such a huge stake in the Kenyan economy, the Kikuyu have more to lose from the spiraling anarchy than any other group.

In Nairobi, groups of young Kikuyu professionals are calling for a power-sharing deal between Kibaki and Odinga. But the only individuals capable of pushing Kibaki to cede ground at talks being mediated by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan are probably his Kikuyu businessmen buddies. While they are beginning to feel the pinch as their hotels empty and investment portfolios collapse, this elderly group remains hard-line in its instincts.

Here in Central Province, a region locked in belligerent denial and memories of its insurgent past, there is little talk of compromise and no criticism of Kibaki. Retreating ever further into the chauvinistic bunker, some argue that the Kikuyu should create a mini-state of their own. "We can form a government from the Mount Kenya area, the Luhya, and some Kalenjin," James Wanyaga, Nyeri's former mayor, told me. "We can forget about the Luos and put our security machinery into Rift Valley, just as your people did under colonialism. And we would get on very well."

On one thing, however, all agree: There must be no more Kikuyu presidencies. The price of Kikuyu hegemony has already proved greater than anyone wants to pay. "Come 2012, a Kikuyu candidate will stand no chance at all here," says Gichema. "We don't want to be any further isolated."

Michela Wrong, author of I Didn't Do It for You: How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation, is working on a book about Kenya.