Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya seems to be hurtling inexorably towards another round of politically instigated violence connected to the 2017 elections. Hate speech is on the rise and there are even reports of groups arming themselves. Polarization is especially deepening between the Luo community on the one hand and the Kikuyu-Kalenjin ethnic alliance that rules Kenya.

The images below (courtesy of one Anyamah Wa Anyamah on social media ( are from the Nandi-Kisumu border taken in mid-June 2016. They show members of the Luo community attacked and fleeing from their ancestral homes to seek refuge far into the Luo country, where they are being temporarily accommodated in a church (AIC Church, Achego) and in local primary schools. This has been as a result of attacks and killings by some Nandis (a sub-group within the sprawling Kalenjin community). The question is: Is this a symptom of genocide in the making?

Description: C:\Documents and Settings\GEDO\Desktop\loba1.jpg

Genocide signifies a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of a community, with the aim of annihilating the community itself. The objectives would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of a group, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to the group.

In the contemporary world, political differences are a significant basis for the massacre and annihilation of whole communities.

It is not in question that the Luo community has been at significant odds with the exclusive rulership of Kenya by two communities: the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. It is therefore not far-fetched to suggest that there could be imagination in the minds of the ruling class that ‘Kenya would be a better place if there were no Luos to keep agitating for change’.

With this in mind how far down is Kenya on the road to genocide and what are some of the possible preventative measures?

In a briefing paper originally presented at the US State Department in 1996, Gregory H. Stanton says that genocide is a process that develops in eight stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear.  Logically, later stages must be preceded by earlier stages.  But all stages continue to operate throughout the process.

In contemporary Kenya, this process appears to be in progress with the Luo people on the receiving end.

First is classification (distinguishing people into “us and them”). Kenya is becoming cast as a bipolar country in which the Luo are ‘the other’. In this situation genocide is most likely against the targeted Luo people. The main preventive measure at this early stage would to develop universalistic institutions that transcend ethnic divisions, that actively promote tolerance and understanding, and that promote classifications that transcend the divisions.

The church can play a role in this. Unfortunately the church in Kenya is itself riven by the same ethnic cleavages developing in the Kenyan society. Promotion of a common language can also promote a transcendent national identity. This search for common ground is vital to early prevention of genocide.

Second is symbolization, in which a whole community is given names or other symbols. The Luo are increasingly being classified as the ‘uncircumcised’, a tag which makes them ‘immature’ in the eyes of those who use it. Their way of life/culture is derided and they are frequently told that they can go and join ‘their brothers’ in Uganda and South Sudan.

Classification and symbolization are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage, dehumanization. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of a pariah group.

To combat symbolization, hate symbols can be legally forbidden as hate speech. Group markings like tribal scarring (symbolized in Kenya by circumcision) can be outlawed, as well. The problem is that legal limitations will fail if unsupported by popular cultural enforcement. Code-words can replace them. If widely supported, however, denial of symbolization can be a powerful tool in averting descent into genocide.

The third stage is dehumanization in which one section of society denies the humanity of the targeted group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. It will suffice here to mention that there has been a concerted attempt to make the Luo appear to be, for example, the harbinger of the HIV-AIDS pandemic sweeping parts of Kenya.

In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.

Description: C:\Documents and Settings\GEDO\Desktop\loba.jpg

Fourth is organization. Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility. The Mungiki in Kenya is a good example. Sometimes organization is informal or decentralized. Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings.

To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed. Their leaders should be denied visas for foreign travel. The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations, as was done in post-genocide Rwanda.

The fifth stage is polarization in which extremists drive the groups apart. Some members of Kenya’s political class are adept at this. One has in mind people like Moses Kuria, a Kikuyu member of Kenya’s parliament who has recently gone as far as calling for the assassination of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the Luo doyen of Kenyan opposition.

Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremists target moderates, intimidating and silencing the centre. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed. Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups. Assets of extremists may be seized, and visas for international travel denied to them. Coups d’état by extremists and seizing state political power by corrupt and extra-legal means by such extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto were indicted at the Hague’s International Criminal Courts (ICC). Although the cases against them collapsed, the judges pointed out that this was due to intimidation and assassination of witnesses. Could it be that it is the extremists who are now governing Kenya?

Stage six is preparation in which victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved.

For our purposes proposals to eliminate Luo leaders already alluded to come to mind. Secondly, ‘opposition hotbeds’ have been identified. These include Kibera/Kibra (the sprawling slum in Nairobi where very many Luos live), and Luo towns such as Kisumu, Migori and Siaya. Suggestions have been made to the effect that the economies in these places are being stifled and that every time there are tensions, there is a noted brutality by Kenya’s security forces against residents of these areas.

Description: C:\Documents and Settings\GEDO\Desktop\loba2.jpg

Stanton has proposed that at this stage, a ‘genocide emergency’ must be declared. If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense. Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

The seventh stage, extermination begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide.

This stage has probably not started in Kenya. Yet, the so-called ‘ethnic clashes’ and ‘election violence’ periodically seen in Kenya may be an indicator as to where the country could be headed. With the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin this time round in a political alliance of convenience, it is not hard to see that should the violence erupt, the Luo would be the target of genocide.

Stanton states that at this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection. (An unsafe “safe” area is worse than none at all). The U.N. Standing High Readiness Brigade, EU Rapid Response Force, or regional forces -- should be authorized to act by the U.N. Security Council if the genocide is small.

For larger interventions, a multilateral force authorized by the U.N. should intervene. If the U.N. is paralyzed, regional alliances must act. It is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states. If strong nations will not provide troops to intervene directly, they should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.

Denial is the eighth stage that always follows genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them.

The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. Tribunals like the Yugoslav or Rwandan tribunals, or an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or an International Criminal Court may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some may be brought to justice.

Attempts to bring the perpetrators of the 2007-8 violence in Kenya may have foundered. However, it is our humble submission that unless concerted international action is initiated and supported, the scenario in Kenya can easily degenerate into stage seven; at which point it will turn out to be a very costly affair trying to repair damages to the country.

* Enoch Opondo is Projects Consultant, Global Education and Development Organization, Kisumu, Kenya.



* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to [email=[email protected]]editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org[/email] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

Comments (1)

  • Kweli Nzito's picture
    Kweli Nzito

    It is hard to disagree with much of what has been articulated here. The piece almost exclusively focuses on the perceived genocidal tendencies targeting the Luo ethnic group. While these trends may be as old as post-independence Kenya, it does not escape notice that the focus on Luos coincides the writer's own Luo extraction. There are other aspects of genocides, currently in progress in some areas of the Kenya Coast, that could fall under the same banners described here: namely economic and cultural genocide of the natives of the Lamu areas (including Mokowe, Lake Kenyatta, Witu and their environs). The infamous Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme inaugurated by the late President Kenyatta awarded lands and development aid to (>95%) Kikuyus, where even for window dressing purposes no other ethnic group were provided with land title deeds. A blatant act of dispossession had been set in motion. Now with the planned construction of a port in Lamu which would handle crude oil exports from Turkana County, a land buying frenzy, again dominated by Kikuyus is ushering a second phase of dispossession of peoples indigenous to the area for centuries. Many, if not most of the locals lack title deeds for lands to which they have inalienable rights and that are quietly being dished out to aliens from up-country. Recently, a retired professor was commissioned to research land ownership of the area. In no time was the professor forced to go into exile fearing for is life. In effect, what should be public records are being jealously guarded by Kikuyu cliques in Lamu County and are no longer accessible to the public. Bear in mind that Coast Muslim clerics have been targeted for extra-judicial killings. Several of them were murdered in cold blood. None of the culprits have been arraigned to date. Furthermore, the dehumanization phase of the genocidal project was started by Jomo Kenyatta himself who described Coastal peoples as being lazy, sleeping under coconut trees waiting to gather falling coconuts. His henchmen, such as the then Provincial Commissioner Eliud Mahihu, was among pioneers of the culture of land grabbing which has continued unabated in the Coast to this day. Neither is it a coincidence that Israel, one of the last bastions of apartheid, should dictate security to Kenyan authorities. In sum, unless a viable alliance of aggrieved groups emerges, the polarizing that may only serve to benefit those embarking on the genocidal path is sure to continue. Sadly, it is the very imperative of tribalism that might preclude the forging of such an alliance.

    Jul 03, 2016