Kenya is a multi-ethnic state in the southern Great Lakes region of East Africa. Kenya has a very diverse population that includes most major ethnic, racial and linguistic groups found in Africa. The majority of the country's population belongs to various Bantu sub-groups, with a significant number of Nilotes. Kenya's diversity is such that its largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, make up for less than a fifth of total population. The 2009 census figures give the ethnic composition as follows : Kikuyu 17%, Luhya 14%, Kalenjin 13%, Luo 10%, Kamba 10%, Kisii 6%, Mijikenda 5% Meru 4%, Turkana 2.5%, Maasai2.1%. About 9% of populations consist of smaller indigenous group below 1% each, and Non-African groups (Arabs, Indians and Europeans) are estimated to total to about 1%. Kenyan politics have long been among the most "ethnic" in Africa. From the battles over the constitutional formula for independence to the waning days of the one-party regime in the late 1980s, Kenyan politicians sought support from their ethnic or sub ethnic groups, and citizens perceived most political battles to be about dividing the "national cake" among the constituent ethnic groups. Political liberalization since 1991 has not fundamentally changed this atmosphere. Most obviously, it has allowed ethnic politics to reemerge into open, public debate. Ruling and opposition parties represent primarily all, some, or coalitions of ethnic groups. Ethnically marked electoral violence, largely instigated by the ruling regime, has come to be expected, though not accepted, as part of the campaign season. Leaders are far more prone to make appeals to the state for resources in openly ethnic terms than they dared to do in the one-party era.
Kenyatta the first president of Kenya presided over a growing economy that allowed him to distribute patronage with relative ease. He allowed regional and ethnic power barons a great deal of local autonomy as long as they did not publicly question central decisions and ultimate power. Legislative elections rotated local elites in and out of Parliament and power, as the regime mostly allowed competing leaders to vie openly for local supremacy under the one-party state. As in the late colonial period, the central government, often via repression, limited politics largely to within ethnic groups. Moi became a symbol of loyalty, quietly serving in his number two position and building up his own sources of patronage and following. After a failed effort by Kenyatta's inner circle to keep the presidency "in the House of Mumbi" (under Kikuyu control), Moi succeeded Kenyatta on the latter's death in 1978.
Moi has proven to be a far more astute political operative than anyone imagined 25 years ago. He quickly set out to replace systematically the existing Kikuyu political elite with his own followers from the former KADU, particularly from his own Kalenjin ethnic group (itself a collection of eight groups living contiguously in the Rift Valley that Moi and others stitched together into a common political entity in the 1950s). The Kalenjin elite's limited control over the private economy (most business was in foreign, Asian and Kikuyu hands) meant the search for patronage increasingly required the use of political power to wrestle control of private assets from those who had them. This and the difficult international economy resulted in economic stagnation from the mid-1980s forward, making it increasingly difficult for the regime to generate adequate patronage for its supporters. Moi's reaction was to centralize control. Primarily via the elections of 1983 and 1988, he removed regional power barons he saw as a threat, replacing them with locally less popular but more pliable supporters.
The continued economic stagnation and alienation of the citizenry from the party and state laid the groundwork for popular demands for change. Underground political movements for change existed throughout the 1980s. The...