Version classiqueVersion mobile

Kenya in Motion 2000-2020

Marie-Aude Fouéré
Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle
Christian Thibon


To the Test of Social and Political Violence: From the Kenya of Millionaires and Millions of Beggars to the Three Kenyas of the Twenty-First Century

Christian Thibon
Traduction de Catriona Bell

Texte intégral

1“The eyes of a starving child,” “Kenya has become a nation of ten millionaires and ten million beggars”: these lines from Josiah Mwangi Kariuki’s most often-quoted speeches are fitting anecdotal hooks to begin this chapter. Such critical views concern two historical periods: firstly in 1962 when Kenya was assessing its colonial era, and then at the beginning of the 1970s during the first decade of independence with its many people “left out in the cold,” that is, beggars as well as reliant vulnerable people. Such words—both critical and provocative, sensitive and political—reflect the life and political trajectory of Kariuki, a nationalist, progressive and populist leader, incidentally a millionaire, who was assassinated on 2 March 1975. His position was brilliantly taken up by a generation of intellectuals and especially in the novels from the new Kenyan school, also known as the Postcolonial Kenyan novels, which include amongst others Meja Mwangi, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Charles Mangua, and Grace Ogot. These literary works embrace critical social realism and target the ruling elite. They do not simply resound with post-independence disappointment, but reflect a deeper dissonance, both urban and rural, against the backdrop of a culture clash, of a tension between tradition and modernity, as well as of the political deadlock (Kabayi 1998; Kurtz 1998). In this way these works are as lucid about the first two decades of independence as they are foreboding of the subsequent changes that Kenyan society is presently experiencing—a premonitory mode of thinking which only artists have the gift of.

2In 2020, nearly half a century later, how relevant are these observations? And to what extent have social changes over the last thirty years confirmed or changed such social polarisation? Do these changes weigh on the identity crises and dilemmas which Kenyans are experiencing, as well as on the national political pact?

3At first glance these images and discourses are still relevant today. Various elements appear to confirm this idea in spite today’s nature-oriented and tourist-aimed marketing with its stereotyped ethnic categories (including the archetypal serene “Masai Warrior”) as well as more distant and cautious photo reportages, somewhat blur the picture.1 Media buzz perpetuates these images with titles such as “Kibera—Africa’s largest slum” (Desgroppes & Taupin 2011) or “Dabaab, the world’s largest refugee camp,” for example. Reports also abound about the daily life and suffering of many, which are usually intertwined if we pay close attention. Take for instance the chokoras (street children) “who rummage through waste,” or “the stone breakers” who work by the roadside. And last, fear prevails because of the violence of gangs and urban ghettos’ militias as well as, in pastoral areas, of livestock thieves. Conversely, other images offer an optimistic vision, and hopes of success, even if only in their beginning stage. They shed light on the proliferation of malls, the digital revolution, and the housing bubble and urban growth, which a political communication that promotes national success emphasises even further… And minor news items back up these major successes as well, such as the broadcasting of the import of mechanical crushers—crushers that should bring an end to the slave-labour conditions of stone breakers! Yet such emergent modernity brings in offensive situations exemplified by the ostentatious and mediatised lifestyle of some millionaire tycoons which urban and rural legends tell about. Recent opinion polls2 have recently revealed a divide in public opinion between the confidently hopeful and the despairingly suspicious in the face of the unknown, between Saint Valentine’s Day—a rose business success story as well as a reflection of a new individualised lifestyle—and recurring fears generated by the rising cost of living, corruption and violence, and the risk of famine in the pastoral North of the country.

  • 3 Among others, the works of cartoonist Gado in The Daily Nation.
  • 4 Songs and music such as benga or reggae, theatre, and the urban language of the ghettos, Sheng.
  • 5 This includes the great increase in urban and rural militias, vigilantes, and urban gangs, some of (...)

4The social question and the condemnation of injustices remain as prevalent in political speeches as in some clerics’ sermons, intellectuals’ accounts, journalists’ reports and in the sharp satire of caricaturists.3 Even if these messages have lost their original radical nationalist ideology or Marxist leanings and its political spokesmen, their capacity to mobilise, young people in particular, through the new mass culture4 remains intact. At the same time, the arguments have changed. We find many more moralistic denunciations of deviances from televangelists or elders. We also find ethnic recriminations which focus on access to land and spoliation, that is, on the “land question”—whether it concerns rural or urban dwellers. Categorial and sectorial claims have arisen to defend certain professions. And millenarian revolts have reappeared and are taking roundabout routes.5 In a society deeply marked by political debates and becoming more and more a show-society—due to the importance taken by the media and social networks—, these images and speeches are of tremendous importance, even more because they feed in people’s conscious and unconscious attitudes: indeed, they bring to light a division within Kenyan society, and in the urban world in particular, that would increasingly become rigid and could potentially result in explosive fractures. It is noteworthy that, in contrast to the independence years when the modern-urban world and the traditional-rural world were split and distinct, nowadays this half-world where wealth is neighbouring poverty increases frustrations among those who cannot access the enrichment they see but from which they are banned, as much in the cities as in the countryside.

  • 6 The data provided here are extracted from international and national agencies reports, public or a (...)

5Whatever comments are made about them, these imaginaries, sometimes overstated, get revitalised through real-life experience: they relate to objective realities. In order to capture them, it is possible to use statistics, maps and sociological data based upon social and economic monitoring and observations. From the 1990s, multiple sources offer information that is global and national, but also sectoral and regional or even local.6 These series are mapped—and thus somewhat dramatised. They raise questions regarding the permanence as well as the dynamics and causes of the changes observed.

1. The Poverty-Growth-Inequalities Triangle

  • 7 See Verdier (2013), Kenya Private Sector Alliance (2013), “Kenya, les cercles d’affaires des décid (...)

6An initial macroeconomic social response, supplemented by a more bird-eye-view observation, confirms finding and brings further nuance it to it at the same time. On the one hand, Kenya remains a nation of millionaires, some of whom have become billionaires, and the land of a politico-economic monopoly which, for some of its actors, is entering its third generation. This is evidenced by the consolidation of politico-economic dynasties successively put in place by each new governmental team, the saga of political entrepreneurs as well as the family trajectories of industrial or agribusiness entrepreneurs, and the trajectories of individuals—who can be called “tycoons”—who are hard-working or lucky magnates. More recently the success of wealthy urbanites in real estate, services and finance has been as rapid as urban legends would have it and sometimes the financial scandals that come up with them. Incidentally, these individuals now exceed the 200 families of the politico-economic clique - listed7 in a register that the media and social networks regularly update. They were said to be about 9,400 individuals in 2016, which represents a 95% increase between 2006 and 2016, according to African Wealth Report, pulling consumption and investment upwards… according to a consumerist trend which supposedly attract “up-market” tourists and rich foreign residents to the Indian Ocean coast followed by celebrity magazines and national tabloids.

  • 8 This 15-year plan was presented in February 1999 under Daniel arap Moi’s presidency. It followed o (...)
  • 9 The land data are a special case in Kenya’s statistics as it is always approximate.

7On the other hand, “the beggars” are still there, yet perhaps less visible than in the past. However, the poverty and structural vulnerabilities remain prevalent, so much so that the last great famines of a recent past, like those from 1984–85, still resonated in the 2010s as shown by the increasing price of ugali flour and food shortages. Furthermore, climate change and its local variations stress the structural constraints, clearly evident in the arid or semi-arid northern part of the country and continue to impact communities with a high population growth. Knowledge about these destitute populations has increased as well the categorisation they are subject to. As early as 1999, the National Poverty Eradication Plan8 targeted the following groups: farmers without land, disabled people, female headed households, farming communities in semi-arid regions, AIDS orphans, street children, and beggars. In 2015, there were 3.6 million orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), 0.41 million internally displaced people owing to “political or natural reasons” (IDP), 0.48 million registered refugees, and 3.6% to 4.6% of the national population living with a disability (2008 survey and 2009 national census). The undernourished population is estimated at 9.6 million, out of a population of 46 million, while the numbers of farmers without land—more difficult to discern as figures does not take into account young people without unemployment who are often moving around, if not migrants—made up 10% of the farm workers in 2004.9 Finally one third of households are headed by women, but this measure refers to various situations of dependency or vulnerability as well as autonomy, notably in the cities, thus not exclusively a measure of heads of poor households.

  • 10 They target the OVC, disabled groups, populations living in arid and semi-arid zones, and more rec (...)

8On a regular basis, large national surveys progressively follow one after the other, even more with the launch of national plans to eradicate poverty.10 They provide quantitative data that records and follows the evolutions, allowing us to reconstruct historical trends, to classify the chronic nature of poverty, to identify populations below the poverty line, and to assess the persistence of extreme poverty and the levels of prevalence of hunger. General trends come out from these datasets. Beginning in the 1990s, but starting earlier in the 1980s, a general deterioration of key indications is visible (poverty levels, hunger, demographic indicators) with regional and cyclical patterns revealing the impact of droughts, prices and socio-political conflicts. The concurrence of an economic depression, structural adjustment programs, an AIDS epidemic followed by political crises in time of transition reduced the number of public jobs, thus doubling the number of poor people that rose from 25% to 56.8% (44% in the cities) as well as of people living below the poverty line between 1972 and 2000. Life expectancy went downward from 59 to 54 years and the average income per resident reduced from 360 USD to 306 USD between 1989 and 2000.

9A key fact, these curves reversed from 2002–2004. The changes to the trends are slow but lasting whilst at the same time macroeconomic indicators (growth rate and GDP) are returning to growth. This general improvement includes vital indicators, such as life expectancy and the prevalence of hunger which has gone from 30% of the population on average in the 1990s to 21% in 2015. The same is true for the number of poor people that has slightly fallen from 56.8% in 2000 to 46% in 2006, followed by 45% in 2009 and 32% in 2015–2016. Yet this remains a high number: nearly 16 to 17 million people, of which 1.5 to 2 million Nairobi dwellers out of 3.5 million. It is also the case for extreme poverty which has fall off from 19.5% to 8.5% between 2005 and 2015–16.

  • 11 See data in KIPPRA (2013), IEA (2010) and ADB-GoK (2013).

10This new course is linked to the return of economic growth and a sustained increase in the average per capita income, despite the high population growth, which rose from less than 500 USD to 743 USD in 2006, 1,000 USD in 2010 and 1,432 USD in 2015 (World Bank data). The improvement is more modest when calculated and compared in Kenyan currency and current exchange rates, taking into consideration inflation: this is the case between 2004 and 2011, from 37,000 to 76,500 KES per year, from 35,000 to 39,000 KES per year11 (KIPPRA 2015). Moreover, inflation and the cost of urban living are eroding urban income growth. Purchasing power is affected by natural crises—for instance provoking the growth in price of maize—as well as political crises. Thus, in the months following the post-election crisis of 2007–2008, the capital experienced a half yearly inflation rate of 25-30%, a situation which is repeated with each electoral period.

  • 12 For an emerging country, Kenya, like Tanzania, is within the average. The highest index is found i (...)

11Furthermore, in the 2000s, characterised by the rise of an emerging economy or at least by Kenya’s ascension to the rank of middle-income country, the gap between beneficiaries and those excluded from the fallout of the growth became obvious. This differential, if not this social inequality—described in budgetary as well as demographic and health surveys (DHS) through socio-economic characteristics, goods, uses, domestic equipment and the asset base of each household—is captured by the statistical measure of the income gap, estimated at 0.416 in 2018 by the Gini index. This measure, albeit high, is well below that of other southern and central African countries12 and tends to dip in the countryside, but remains high in the cities where the wealth is concentrated. In 2016 the first quintile of the population (e.g. the richest 20%) had access to 56% of income whilst the bottom quintile (e.g. the poorest 20%) had only 4%, and in the cities the first two quintiles had access to 90% of income (data from KBS Basic Report on Well-being in Kenya).

12Another measure of inequality is derived by examining paid employment or self-employment—be it formal or informal work—and wage conditions, which both reveal structural constraints and positive development, even with distortions. Due to the population growth and the inertia of these trends, the number of employees, a measure smaller than the total working population, doubles every 6 to 7 years: 1.5 million in 1986, 3 million in 1993, 6 million in 2000 and the figure reached 10 million in 2008, whilst the ratio of employees to working population (men 78%, women 67% and young people 69%) vary only slightly as well as the distribution by sector of activity.

13In addition to the weight of population growth, the sets calculated from official data (data from Republic of Kenya Economics Survey) show a dramatic turnaround. Starting from the 1990s, the formal sector dropped heavily, starting from 79% in 1986 to 19.5% in 2008, then 17% in 2017. The informal economy thus absorbs the growth and the subsequent effects of public policies (PAS from 1993 to 1997).

  • 13 55% according to Awiti & Scott (2016).

14Therefore, in less than ten years, Kenya has shifted from a country of salaried employees, with a certain level of security, to a country of self-employed or informal workers, and from a mixed regulated economy to a liberal economy. Part of the urban working classes, composed of public and private sector employees, dismissed public officials and workers—are weakened, without protection whilst their unions, impaired or controlled by the regime, fall back to defending their trades (Leitner 1973; Sandbrook 1975; Smonini 2009). The informal economy has consequently seen a sharp increase from 0.5 million in 1990 to 4.2 million in 2000, 6.1 million in 2006, 9.2 in 2011, and 13.3 million in 2017. This situation accounts for 83% of economic activity and 70% of GDP. Yet it cuts across different situations: it comprises activities either in the process of becoming formal services or professions in certain fields, but also situations of survival and structural insecurity. Finally, youth unemployment is estimated between 17 and 58% of all the “youth,” depending on how this category is defined, which is one of the highest in the region.13 Nevertheless the formal salaried economy, private as well as public, experienced a relative increase: between 2004 and 2015 it rose from 1.7 to 2.1 million, whilst during the same period, the employment share in the tertiary sector rose from 48% to 52% and that of the secondary sector stayed constant (ADB-GoK 2013).

15The analysis of income redistribution through work is only possible for the formal sector, which at first glance is rather privileged compared to the informal sector: it reflects general inequalities. There is a high differential between high and median wages, in the public as well as the private sector, which is better able to acknowledge skills and qualifications, with underpaid categories in the public sector (such as the teaching and medical professions), so much so that the practice of working two jobs has become common even if public sector jobs are sought after for the security they offer. In the cities, the formal economy, as outlined by a retrospective study of urban biographies, remains the desired horizon (Bocquier 2003), but certain areas of the informal economy are the levers of growth, such as specific services, industries and urban start-ups.

  • 14 The number of students increased from 118,000 in 2007 to more than 400,000 in 2013. The government (...)

16This statistical and qualitative data reveals strong new trends, confirmed by the growth in financial assets (goods and services) and consumption levels among intermediate incomes. It even shows the emergence of new social strata whose living standards correspond with the two top quintiles, which are “the richest” from the DHS budgetary surveys. Moreover, the statistical indicators evaluating since 2002 the social distribution of cultural capital, access to education, levels of schooling, and media access confirm the potential for meritocratic social mobility, though they are unequally distributed throughout the country. This evolution combined with population growth is both an economic and social opportunity for many. Most spectacularly is university enrolment, which is growing rapidly14 although the Kenyan economy struggles to manage this social demand. This demographic divide is fuelling an international and recently regional migration of Kenyan graduates, resulting in a significant diaspora estimated at 3 million people, a sharp increase in the last decade, (corresponding to about 9% of the population in 2014). This constitutes an important contribution for the economy and society owing to financial transfers. Such transfers are indeed the fourth largest provider of foreign exchange after tea, horticulture and tourism, as well as an asset for families thanks to support provided for schooling, health and real estate costs.

17It is obvious that this macro-socio-demographic approach reveals not so much a dividing line between the cities and the modern commercial sector on one side and the countryside and the traditional subsistence sector on the other—as was the case in the decade following independence—but between two social spaces or two worlds: the rich and the poor. This reality, however, should be approached in ways that avoid the caricatured image of “the millionaires and the millions of beggars.”

2. The “Two Kenyas”: Two Worlds, Two Social Spaces

18The dividing line that cuts across both the urban and the rural worlds is both a power relationship and a relation of proximity. The power relationship is characterised by the top benefiting from an abundant labour force that is both insecure and underpaid. And the relationship of proximity is evidenced by the fact that the rich were former poor or have poor relatives in their family. This divide is observable through big-picture overviews as well as through detailed observations which recent works of socio-demography, social geography and social anthropology provide, and most notably those that exploit to the fullest new research methods such as the Geographic Information System. Such close-up approaches, associated with macro-data, help to draw social landscapes, reveal social structures and bring to light social relations. They contribute to spatialising social polarisation while revealing social nuances and new dynamics of interest to all disciplines of humanities and social science seeking to understand change and continuity. To do so, they work with various conceptual tools, like Pierre Bourdieu’s “social space” or the notions of “space-time-memory” of historians and of “identity-territory space” used in social geography.

  • 15 There are about 200,000 street children. According to a national estimate, 100,000 of them in 2000 (...)
  • 16 The poor, who live under the poverty threshold, relate to two distinct groups: the “permanent poor (...)

19In recent years, the city has been a particularly studied area because it crystallises all inequalities but also all the hopes for initiatives, freedoms, diversity and the social rebalancing that it promises. At first glance the overall picture is not a rosy one. The capital city and the large cities display social and geographic fragmentations (Charton-Bigot & Rodriguez-Torres 2006). They also bear witness to space injustice in terms of access to vital services (Ledant 2013), if not segregation between the upper classes gathered in their residential neighbourhoods and the populations of the slums. Unlike in the past, cities conceal the masses of street children, even families on the street,15 and at the same time host gangs like in South American cities. Yet new types of differentiation and stratification are in motion, this time in more optimistic ways. They concern even deprived neighbourhoods and the spaces that are being built at their edges, as well as slums that turn into middle class neighbourhoods. These dynamics bring to light an internal line of distinction between residents who can access mass consumption, or have just started accessing it, and those who cannot—mass consumption which an increasing number of malls and shopping centres materialise as they are built in affluent neighbourhoods and in these new in-between areas. It also separates those who can and those who cannot build and secure their property, have access to water, benefit from development programs…. Thus, the new urbanised spaces, including some slums, still include informal as well as formal housing, mostly rented, but also a minority of “non-poor” owners who live above the poverty line. In Nairobi, the latter represent 27% of the slum population. A study of urban poverty carried out by Oxfam GB in 2009 helped to understand the situation of households by distinguishing the “wealthy” whose annual income varies between 200,000 and 300,000 KES per year, thus representing 10% of the population—which puts them in the middle-class bracket—and the “middle poor” with around 100,000 to 200,000 KES per year who represent 20% to 40% of the population depending on the year considered. These “middle poor” represent a median group floating on either side of the poverty threshold.16

  • 17 See Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est/The East African Review no. 44, special issue: “Slum Upgrading Prog (...)

20Social anthropology and social demography, on the one hand, and social expertise, on the other, which poverty reduction programs call on, accurately describe these two worlds, that is, this spatial bipolarisation described above and the distinctions at play. This is the case in Nairobi, between and within the urban districts. Take for example the neighbouring districts of Muthaiga, the most residential area of the capital, and the Mathare and Pangani ghettos, which used to be slums. More generally, marginal differences appear in the slums within the different strata of settlement17 between squatters, tenants and owners, between old-timers and new comers, but also between households. Monographs reveal that in slums, which have become more and more mono-ethic ghettos following the 2007–2008 crisis, there is much demographic and economic precariousness, everyday instability and family tensions, natural and environmental vulnerabilities, prevailing insecurities and the grip of gangs and militias. They also shed light on the ways in which sociability, the economy of affection, socio-cultural cohesion, the creative energy of the “little big men,” and innovative or fraudulent accumulations, as Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres shows (2012), do prevail. The resilience of the slums dwellers who believe in and hope for a future of education for their children, is demonstrated in the high levels of pre-primary and primary education, both public and private, so much so that in some slums, residents nourish optimistic expectations, according to opinion polls.

  • 18 See also reports on public good and their registration, notably the Ndung’u Report.
  • 19 Forty years later we find the same differentials as in the 1950s, as observed by Kitching (1980).

21The findings are the same for the countryside, even though the social situations there are not only complex but also divided. In view of this, two scenarios can be identified for the agricultural semi-urban spaces and centres. There is, on the one hand, an agrarian Kenya that stretches from Mombasa to Kisumu, and, on the other, the peripheral areas and pastoral North, from the Somali border to the Ugandan border. In the agrarian Kenya, farm workers, rural households and farm owners have to deal with a difficult process of modernisation—sometimes a complete break from and sometimes heir to the traditional model of reproduction—that is linked to the urban and international market and to cities through commuting between towns and the countryside. They simultaneously grapple with social confrontation. particularly regarding the land question (Argwings-Kodhek 2006). In this regard, the precise measure of land inequalities remains unresolved, as it raises questions about the privatisation of collective land, spoliation and redistribution, and many unknowns concerning land registrations and the legal status of land. But for agriculture-oriented regions (except for pastoral zones within which the collective ownership or use of land plays an essential role, and except for the public domain where land is often labelled as heritage), data from official sources about surveyed land and from national surveys indicate blatant inequalities and large gaps over land control. Thus, in 1969, 7% of the farm workers owned 34% of agricultural land, a figure which monographs have since confirmed. These gaps and inequalities also concern social distribution: in 2004, farmers without land, micro-owners, smallholders, and large land owners with more than 10 hectares made up respectively 26%, 50%, 25% and 5% of the total farmers. The “agrarian reforms,” meaning the redistribution of land in several waves since independence, as well as the support to cooperatives and hydro-agricultural installations, have ultimately only benefited a minority of farmers from certain ethnic groups (Oucho 200218). They equally benefited large established landowners who were able to buy back land put on the market. The reforms have therefore not transformed the differentials that were already in place during colonisation.19 What they did, however, is to contribute to Africanising the large land property and, in some areas of the highlands, to giving rise to small and medium-sized land owners, while confining the large former colonial properties that have invested in their farms. As a consequence, the countryside offers a mixed picture: there is a majority of young landless farmers and micro owners, partly as a result from the long-term land deprivation established during colonisation but that was not corrected by the agrarian reforms of independence; this majority rub shoulders with small or medium-sized enterprising properties that have gained from the land privatisation that started as soon as the early 1950s. This sort of properties also benefited from some subsequent booms, used economic niches (e.g. coffee, tea, cereals, horticulture), received support from economic policies, and enjoyed opportunities in local markets, in transfers with the city and the countryside, and in urban connections based upon intergenerational links. These two constituencies of farmers neighbour large estates or companies that usually depend on modern technologies and form an agrarian power as they act a politico-economic lobby and are built upon technical corporate sociability. This agrarian power has been strengthened through investment in economic areas, such as tea, cereals, horticulture and dairy products, that were more promising than the neo-colonial private plantations of coffee and their public counterpart in sugar production. Their presence is prolonged and strengthened by integrating or associating with the agri-food industries in the hands of the Asians or of the former public cooperatives or companies now privatised.

22This evolution contrasts with the pastoral peripheries that are still confronted with ordinary fatalities: there people struggle to feed themselves and survive. The cyclical poverty tends to become structural under the cross-effects and snowball effects of climate vulnerability, the restriction of natural resources, the high population growth, and new economic and political contexts: the tragedy of the commons is underway. It can be associated with statutory degradation (e.g. for a shepherd to lose his flock is tantamount to extinction, as it forces him to become a farmer), although historically such degradation hit a share of these communities only marginally during crises, famine or drought (Anderson & Broch Due 1999). The capacity for resilience of these pastoralist communities, without assistance, is becoming way less effective than before and new modes of adaption are weakening the social fabric. Indeed, the marketing of pastoral resources (through cattle raiding and cattle rustling), the redistribution-partitioning of land (between ranches, reserves, and parks), and political and geopolitical instability are breaking apart the traditional means of survival in communities with high population growth and with internal and inter-regional tensions resulting from pastoral migration. In the process, groups of the newly wealthy, sometimes migrants, have taken the opportunity to monopolise the land to the detriment of local communities, playing on ethnic or regional rivalries (Grenier, Bollig & McCabe 2011). However, these faraway or even landlocked spaces and times that are so different from the centre and have long remained the no man’s land of Kenya, are now however becoming more and more connected to it: the Masai, Samburu or Turkana “young warriors” understand and speak Swahili, if not Sheng. Nevertheless, this assessment must include regional nuance. Some pastoral societies in the southern regions, including at least some of the Masai, benefit from the extension of new crops, including cereals, the meat market, or links with the big cities, such as the opening and widening of the regional tourist economy: this Westernisation, partly assimilated and controlled, that goes along with the privatisation of land and developments through ranches, farms, parks or reserves, happen at the expense of some local communities, and even more often at the expense of their own culture, resulting in a mobility of circular migration further and further away (Péron 1993; Spear & Waller 1993).

3. Two, Three Kenyas Put to the Test of Reforms, Efforts for Well-Being, and the Challenges of Public Policy

23Public policies for development, social protection and investment in the public service, and more generally poverty reduction reforms and, following the Constitution, devolution and modernisation as envisaged in Vision 2030 can, or might, bring to the whole population what the market and new economic growth, based upon an abundant low-cost labour force, cannot offer by correcting Kenya’s social and spatial differentials. Yet, the effects of these social-cultural policies (education) and social protection policies (which includes support to OVC, elderly people, etc.) take time, just as the multiplier effects of the major projects of Vision 2030. In addition, the assessment of these reform and the measures that accompany it as well as the rise in power of the counties have unveiled the multiple facets of territorial discrimination and increased awareness of them (Sivi 2013).

  • 20 See the maps available on the websites of SID and KPHC.

24However, taking these socio-territorial inequalities into account changes how society and its various components see themselves. Poverty is no longer defined and perceived solely in monetary terms (income) and patrimony (household assets). It now includes access to services, goods, knowledge, opportunities to advance and social mobility, insisting on the notion of “well-being”: such an indicator is put forward by the calculation of human development or methods of equalisation used for the equitable calculation of county budgets—somehow in the spirit of a “new Harambee.” Moreover, a new measure, the poverty gap, is used to assess how far away the standard of living of the poor population at the county level is from the national poverty line. It puts in full light the full extent and acuity of the social question, in terms of developmental delay in certain counties of Kenya. Well-being and the poverty gap, once they are mapped,20 draw social spaces and landscapes, less binary and more complex that the rationale of the two Kenyas: by crossing economic, patrimonial and access to services data, we rather find three Kenyas.

25Firstly, there is a Kenya often described as “useful” on the Mombasa-Kisumu axis. Undoubtedly the winner, it is characterised by an overrepresentation of the top national quintile—those who are the “richest” according to recent DHS surveys—in Nairobi (67% of the population), in the cities (49%), in the central region (32%) and in coastal cities (24%). There, the poverty line and the relative poverty gap are the lowest, while the regional indicators of human development and well-being are the highest. Additionally, for the destitute, access to services and the urban market allows hope of meritocratic advancement through school or of climbing the ladder and getting rich thanks to involvement in the informal sector. The “useful” Kenya is the country’s hub for consumption and employment. But these indicators decline as we move out of the cities: rural poverty is at the gates of the major cities, in their suburban peripheries, as well as in coffee producing and horticultural areas of paid employment (Kinyanjui 2007).

26Secondly, and on the contrary, a Kenya made up of outskirts and territorial disparities is emerging: it includes the counties of the northern pastoral peripheries, and semi-arid spaces that form an arc of a circle with the counties of West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Tana river, Garissa as well as Kwale. They have the lowest socio-economic indicators (e.g. poverty line and poverty gap, incomes, high gap in the Gini index, little secured employment) and are way behind in terms of socio-cultural development (access to education, water, electricity, etc.). They also have the largest number of “the poorest,” making up 73% of their population, and the highest poverty intensity (for example 46% in the Tana River county versus 4% in Nairobi), whilst their communities are the most affected by climate change. Moreover, marginalisation is high, targeting the “indigenous peoples,” pastoral societies, hunter-gatherer farmers—often isolated like the Ogiek and the Yaaku—, and particular ethnic groups such as Kenyan-Somalis, evidenced by many reports like the Human Rights and the Truth and Reconciliation national commission. These societies are somewhat Kenya’s “Third World,” as they are subordinate to both objective situations and general perceptions of their status. Last, the fact that these areas host refugee camps, for instance Kakuma and Dabaab, and have historical geopolitical border instability and recurrent dissidence, contributes to this devaluation. It also raises fears because of their higher than average population growth rate.

  • 21 Based on the rank of the top school districts access exam results (nb: 288) (KCPE 2013).

27Finally, the third Kenya, somehow set in between, yet the most imposing demographically, is sandwiched between the two Kenyas, that is, between the useful “winner” and the peripheral “loser.” It is made of the hinterlands of the useful Kenya, the coast of The Indian Ocean, the central region, the central Rift region, and the western regions, which are all overpopulated areas. They correspond to the historical and saturated population centres around Mount Kenya, in the Nyanza and Western provinces (e.g. the Kisii region), on the Swahili coast and in areas vulnerable to variation in climate near arid lands and frequently impacted by droughts. The percentages of the “poorest” and the intensity of poverty are higher here, whilst human development indicators are average. In particular educational data is above average, with the best-performing school districts: in 2016, 13 school districts out of the top 20 in the exams for accessing higher education come from this area (corresponding to the Kamba, Kikuyu, Meru, Luhya, Nandi, and Kalenjin regions), and 7 urban and semi-urban districts have a strong education tradition (among them Nairobi, Mumia, Kakamega, Kisumu, and Nyeri).21 This gap between the economic situation and the socio-cultural indicators explains why education is a priority, if not the object of a collective strategy of promotion that includes the urban elite who send their children to these renowned schools. This divergence is also the cause of internal tensions between young people, women, the often highly educated new generations and the established elders, whose authority is increasingly contested. These spaces consequently have high levels of domestic, neighbourhood, and even political violence that testify to these internal tensions. The communities only survive through countryside-town circulations, be they permanent migrations or commuting with the centre and its cities, and thanks to intergenerational transfers. These exit options and also these efforts to keep going with rural society via income transfers are not new, going back to the colonial period, but they are reaching their limits in some areas, like in the Kisii and the Luhya regions.

28The Kenya of today has thus become a case study that illustrates the interactive poverty-growth-inequality triangle inherited from the colonial time, which the crisis of the 1990s (with adjustment and liberalisation programs) have brought to light and which the growth of the 2000s and its ill-development have set in motion. The bipolarisation of the “two Kenyas”—one with its elite and one with the mass poor—is reproduced and maintained, but there are rather “three Kenyas,” that is to say three social spaces increasingly distinct and visible, with diverse dynamics regarding access to modernisation, different social aspirations (advancement, emigration, rural exodus or not), and varied territorial identity, memories, and trajectories that pull towards or away from the centre. Furthermore, this triangle of growth-inequality-poverty foreshadows a future story, that of the emergence of intermediate categories, of a middle class, which hinges on redistribution by the market and at least by the state. This transformation, which owes both to emergence processes and to social advancement, may give rise to a pivotal social class, therefore raising hopes for social stabilisation in the not so distant future. Is the old developmentalist dream of social stability, of the status quo through growth becoming reality?

29But in the immediate future, such bi- or tri-poled scenarios raise fears of tensions, if not social conflicts, and exacerbate social pressures given the national political and even cultural stalemates. Surprisingly and without inferring too easily a colonial legacy or at least a seduction of the Kenyan elite by the colonial elite, and in view of some commonalities in the education system and religious practices, Kenyan society could be considered somewhat “Victorian” with its triptych set against a backdrop of wild capitalism: the first part is made of a triumphant and westernised oligarchy that includes capitalist-gentlemen but compassionate and open to charity; secondly and in contrast, we find a mass of poor people of various social and ethnic backgrounds both in urban areas and in the countryside whom young migrants constitute a lumpen proletariat, even a potentially “dangerous class”; and finally there is an increasing intermediate class that can be found both in urban areas and in some rural areas, which we can label as “middle class” or petit-bourgeois—yet with no connection to a labour aristocracy—whose main characteristics are to be somewhat anxious and frustrated by the search and learning of a safe “sweet home” in secure compounds but also because of their unmet expectations of a better life.

  • 22 See the latest publication on this topic: Mwangi, Opongo & Wahome (2019).

30Today and more so than yesterday, this perspective of social divisions and their associated fear, which are the other side of this raw social deal, raise questions. On the one hand, how is it possible to overcome the deadlock in which the new educated generation are, and which the government and international organisations measure through index alerts—with a Gini index above 45% and increased levels of youth unemployment? On the other hand, and more so, how can the explosive outcome of social mobility be prevented? Politics only, as a way to bring different people together, could triumph over social dissonances. Yet, according to historian Bethwell Ogot who recently took stock of the nationalist project and of Kenyan identity, such kind of politics is missing today. Consequently, the study of social changes cannot omit a political and cultural analysis because the country is without or is in search of a national and social pact… and has actually been since independence.22

4. Kenya without a Social or National Pact, in the Grip of Symbolic Violence

  • 23 Recently, scholarly biographies of nationalist leaders (e.g. Paul Ngei) and Kenya’s great politica (...)

31From the first decades of independence to the transition of 1990, social divisions are present, but accepted. This social state is alive in the shape of muted acceptance which Josiah Mwangi Kariuki had condemned. The lines of separation were then still racial, neo-colonial, even regional and social. In view of this, the enrichment of national leaders and of their families, originally poor for most of them, was cast as the good fortune of the victors: it was an individual revenge rather than a social fact. These leaders neither belonged to a traditional African aristocratic elite, then non-existent, nor to the African economic elite already emerging or established, with the exception of a few.23 Thus social inequality became Africanised, yet without the racial connotations of the colonial period, by drawing from conformist, if not unequal so-called traditional community values. This social architecture was later maintained by authoritarian political systems, the neo-patrimonial nature of the state which politico-economic dynasties and a managerial and business petit bourgeoisie benefited from. This elite expanded, diversified and renewed itself from the top by co-opting the newly promoted, the “big men” and those under them, such as intermediaries and officials who were often the “broker-cum-clients” within such a pyramid system (Kidombo 2007). This domination and social peace suited Western partners concerned with geopolitical stability during the Cold War, especially at that time when the status quo contributed to civil peace. In effect inequalities are thus managed, ritualised, and somehow digested by imagery, rhetoric and political practices which since independence had been based on the national and moral values of sharing, solidarity, redistribution an pooling, that is, of the “all together” of Harambee—the national motto under President Kenyatta. Moreover, this nationalist political culture, confirmed and followed by the Nyayo regime (nyanyo meaning “the trace” in Swahili) of President Daniel arap Moi, resonated within the community and ethnic ethos of family and community accomplishment, success, advancement, seniority, and social conformity. Religious discourses also resounded with references to these values and contributed to the building of Kenyan identities.

32In the name of this national pact, mobilising all Kenyans thus helps to symbolically and materially correct the inequalities. This happens, firstly, through community work—a model which the nationalist nations of East Africa all share—and, secondly, through exchanges, compensations and distributions that tacitly materialise the social contract, beyond the political pact. The successive regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi instrumentalised this social “pact-contract” through political patronage and both institutionalised and ritualised it through speeches and slogans, through practices and symbols. Various very tangible gifts resulted from these in a ceremonial manner. Land was the first of these gifts, as well as commercial opportunities and profits, public amenities and social community projects, individual promotions, equipment and so on. The distribution of consumable products was the second type of gift, such as maize in times of scarcity or milk for school children. Local and territorial communities, often gendered, thus benefited from some of these exchanges, donations and takings which were sponsored and mediated by all the actors of the politico-administration. In reality patronage and clientelism were rapidly overtaking the original form of self-mobilisation, transforming Kenyan citizens into “political beggars.” Such a system reached its peak in the Moi era, a one-party regime, by integrating the periphery through the relay of local bosses, the “big men.”

33For a time, this redistribution—which is also a sort of politico-social evergetism—acted as a very strong social bound, despite the fact that is unequally favoured ethnic groups, allies, and partisans. It maintained links with the communities at the bottom and built an imagined national community, with the added bonus that it regulated in this way the foundations the regime in place by renewing its competing local elites. However, such a contract-pact, which also included support for the cooperatives (with 780,000 members in 1975 from a population of 13.5 million: see Kanogo 1990) and the strengthening of the public and administrative authority, the public bureaucracy and public companies, was only possible to the extent that the financial and economic margins of the ruling power was grounded upon a prosperous parastatal economy. This was the case for many reasons until the mid-1970s, until the 1980s and then 1990 when the depressive economic context giving less resources to the state, together with the authoritarian drift, poor governance, and the political transition failed this social contract-pact (Grignon & Maupeu 1998). The ethnic-political conflicts of the transition then gained the upper hand and sowed the seeds of a “moral ethnicity,” which is another type of pact.

34Since then, this national and social pact, already dormant on the political level—as the political lines of the main political parties converge in an assured liberal perspective according to which redistribution is a function of the economy only—has broken down. Its rectification is still desired through a second Harambee (Equal Rights Trust & Kenya Human Rights Commission 2012).

35As such the underlying and cold violence, apparent in the regimes of poverty as well as in social inequality and to which the country seems to have become accustomed, is therefore not solely social but has also become a symbolic if not moral violence. This happened progressively as Kenya’s nationalist model, which was based more on regulation than integration, which was more cultural than political, has become defective. We contend that ultimately this failing has been compensated by the recourse to ethnicity and then to religiosity.

  • 24 See the data in the different DHS surveys on the reality and the perception of domestic gender vio (...)

36Since the 1990s, the danger has started to show and translated into either a mass explosive social blaze owing to accumulated frustrations or a silent ethnic conflict. Both situations awaken and join up during every significant event, that is, during social conflicts, through politico-social protest movements like those which militias represent, and during political and election fever, which spreads the aspirations of the youth, the new generations, and specific age groups. The mobilisation of the youth into militias as well as the social dramatisation of the post-electoral crisis of 2007–08 are an illustration and a peak point of these phenomena. Low-intensity violence is also a daily experience at community level, in the streets, in families, and within household. And domestic violence is rising sharply24 as traditional, family, and community models of regulating tensions do no longer manage it as they were in the past and do no longer have the moral authority required for doing so.

37What is more, it is feared that in the future the chains of social inequality might once again play on socio-political tensions—social inequality between towns and cities, between territory-defined populations and within them, between the old and the young, between men and women, and between nationals, foreigners and marginalised people, the last ones being de facto dependent on humanitarian action. Identity, ethnic, and religious answers and ways to shut from the others might also arise, which in Kenya have already been at play, or even forms of Messianism, escapism and anomy. Eventually, wandering and aimless individuals and groups might increase in number and be captured or exploited by terrorist strategies as much in cities as in the countryside.

38Through these fragile social bonds and relations, it is clearly the ethnic question that dominates the social scene—or the “tribal” question if one retains the official terminology in use (“ethnic affiliations, tribes and nationalities”). At least it is the construction and uses of rigid identities that deserve to be addressed. Such identities are indeed both exclusive and violent, especially in times of open or muffled but also hopefully protective crises, yet crises that are always kept in memory. Social history therefore cannot do without a cultural and identity-aware approach.

5. Ethnicised Social Relations: Has Ethnicity Replaced Class?

  • 25 This might include, among others, naturalised Asians who do not declare themselves to be “Kenyan A (...)
  • 26 See the number of ethnic declarants who do not report their clan or subtribe.

39Kenyan society appears to be more and more divided along ethnic lines, so much so that it appears that ethnicity has taken the place of class, or at least become pervasive in the understanding of social and human relations. While only 2% of Kenyans self-identify as “Kenyans,”25 the declared ethnic affiliations—but is it through an exclusive sense of affiliation?—are essential even though internal social differences are growing irrespective of ethnic group. Has the ethnic struggle replaced the class struggle, as well as the racial struggle? Might imagined community equality and expected fraternity—of rank and status—26 help to accept or even erase social differences? To answer these questions, we are now turning to history and historical sociology, as ethnic groups are historical constructs.

40Today the ethnic reality prevails. The 43 “ethnicities and nationalities” in place since independence (and 44 since 2017) tacitly and officially recognised this reality on a social-cultural level. Among them, some “ethnicities” are considered “central” given their demographic strength in some regions and because they are represented throughout the country (census data 2009) as follows: the Kikuyu 17%, the Luhya 13.7%, the Kalenjin 12.7%, the Luo 10.8%, the Kamba 10%, then the Somali 6%, the Kisii 5%, the Mijikenda 5%, and the Meru 4.1%. Besides them, there are “peripheral” ethnic groups characterised as regional or even territorial minorities, which also include the “nationalities” such as the Asian Kenyans, White Kenyans, Arab Kenyans and “indigenous people.” This ethnic division is undergoing internal changes due to differing population growth rates and fertility rates, as some regional groups have entered demographic transition while the pastoral communities are seeing strong growth.

  • 27 All great theses of regional history by Bethwell Allan Ogot, William Ochieng, Godfrey Muriuki, Hen (...)

41This multicultural presence and ethnic diversity are part of Kenyan history and heritage. The longue durée historical perspective necessary to apprehend population settlements, the diffusion of languages (Nilotic, Bantu, Cushitic, Swahili…), techniques and material cultures, and cultural practices and exchanges, reveals differentiated constructions. Such constructions have changed because of particular demographic, pastoralist and agro-pastoralist mechanisms—impacting upon patterns of settlement, territorial expansion and growth—as well as because of social-economic, ecological, and social-cultural dynamics and due to the geopolitical context. These more or less favourable interactions stem from and have built diversity but also inequality in so-called traditional societies on the demographic, economic and geopolitical front: all of this explains the historical difference between the central ethnic groups and the peripheral ethnic groups. However, “ethnogenesis,” that is, the construction of ethnic territories and identities, seems more recent. It was reinforced in the nineteenth century when the populations came into contact as a result of demographic growth, thus creating internal tension and even external conflicts, even though, at that time, ethnic borders were still fluid and inter-ethnic exchanges frequent.27 Remarkably this construction did not result in state formations: there was no monarchy or aristocracy in Kenya except for embryonic forms (e.g. the city-states of the coast, and the Wanga state) and for a few occasional leaders, “big men,” warlords and precolonial prophets.

  • 28 Including the Swynnerton plan for the privatisation and redistribution of land in 1952, the author (...)

42Secondly, colonisation administratively entrenched racial categories and ethnic identities, territorialised them and exploited them without, however, attributing more or less value, or fewer or greater privileges to certain ethnic groups to the detriment of others, unlike what happened in other neighbouring colonised areas. In the Kenyan colonial regime, the appointment of chiefs remained the responsibility of the colonial administration and was never mediated by a customary ethnic authority as seen in monarchies and chieftaincies elsewhere in Africa. For its local administration and army, the colonial power exploited local resources; for labour or clerical assistants, it drew on central ethnic groups geographically associated with colonial exploitation; and for its military force it recruited from the peripheral ethnic groups perceived more as warriors and more apt to the arms profession—a process that in some cases contributed to inventing ethnic groups, like the creation of the Nubians. Thus, while the central ethnic groups, including the Kikuyu, were the most favoured through proximity to colonial power or through new economic trends or even by the reforms of the 1950s,28 they were also the most penalised by it. This style of colonial management and this proximity, this encounter between the colonial world and certain ethnic groups, is also reflected in the emergences of indigenous elites, the junior civil servants, the clergymen. They produced narratives and nationalist identity writings that blended traditions and borrowings from certain religious political conceptions of modernity (Peterson 2012). These types of “invented tradition” (Ranger 1985) and ethnic patriotism of the “small homeland” (petite patrie) compensated for the weakness of the political ethnic legacy. This local elite participated in the nationalist claim and then struggled for independence which prepositioned them to a national destiny. Upon gaining independence and although regional strife, fuelled partly by the racial question (the place of racial minorities and particularly that of the Asians), was perceptible between central ethnic groups (the Kikuyu and the Luo) and the peripheral ethnic groups or divided centres (like the Luhya, the Kalenjin, the Mijikenda), the national sentiment outshone feelings of ethnic belonging and supported a national associative project that nevertheless lacked a “national high culture,” principally a national language that was then neither English nor Swahili.

  • 29 In the words of political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi during the 2013 elections (see also Thibon, Foué (...)

43Thus, in Kenya, as anywhere else—and perhaps even more so—, the proclaimed nation is even less a natural given: it is a historical contemporary invention, a geo-economic, institutional, political construction, without long-term filiation except for the territorial, administrative and geopolitical framework inherited from colonialism. Moreover, this nation only a single objective: “nationalism,” which was the history of present time as well as the collective destiny of a cultural, social and political modernisation in its beginning stage. However, at the time of independence, the national consensus was dominated by a project of “African-Kenyan Socialism” blending political democracy, well-being, a mixed economy and self-sufficiency, and the progressive Africanisation of inheritance and jobs, under which ethnic groups did not have the right to political citizenship but to cultural citizenship. Yet the latter structured daily political life and impacted the national life but in an unequal manner, because historical processes differentiated them on many levels, granting some of them intellectual, economic, geopolitical, and demographic primacy. But political actors and political parties, with their strategies of conquest and maintaining power, increasingly played this reality, pulling the strings of ethnicity under the cover of nationalist rhetoric and through authoritarian practices. This had already been the case since independence, in the construction of parties, regional alliances and then ethnic alliance (including the KANU-KADU division), then ethnocentrism as an exercise of power. Ethnic preference was used in the management of power and in access to the state, to its services and redistribution, as well as tribalism to conquer and stay in power. This tendency was reinforced even more when political life became democratic, at least competitive. From the transition of the 1990s, indeed, politics both instrumentalised the ethnic factor and was trapped by it and by its power of demographic mobilisation deployed at each election. “The tyranny of numbers”29 therefore prevailed by corrupting and playing up the “moral ethnicity” unique to each society (Berman & Lonsdale 1992). Finally, the political disruptions and even more so, political crises—often due to identity manipulation—took root because of the litany of human and universal tragedies and the ascending collective violence they triggered, leaving in their wake painful memories and conficting identities.

44The decades of independence—and even more during the transition and the democratic period—therefore contributed to the exclusive consolidation of ethnic identities, which neither the precolonial nor the colonial period had produced, or if so, perhaps only partially. Tribalism in its various forms and through authoritarian, autocratic and even democratic implementations also took part in it. For these reasons, the ethnicisation of society appears to be a top-down process that stems from strategies devised by political elites at various levels through the manipulation of ethnic identity for their immediate gain—be it a politico-economic or a social gain—via political client-patron networks. Thus, social differentiation, territorial discriminations, the creation of millionaires as well as the emergence of a managerial public middle class, who are sometimes perceived as the brokers of the politico-economic elite, are the direct or indirect product of ethnicisation.

45However, we should not ignore a powerful bottom-up movement grounded upon the conjunction of many reasoned behaviours seeking advancement and survival, the resilience of the “ethnic groups of beggars-clients,” and the many attitudes that illustrate identity tension in reaction to the often-destructive process of socio-cultural modernisation with the objective to manage the malaise suffered by family and community structures. Such a movement is all the stronger when it is relayed through writing and language, even more when modern mass media is involved. This ethnic retreat, this ethnicity from rural and urban societies weakened by modernisation clings to a tradition or lost authority. This is illustrated by the millenarian militia, the culture clashes, the masculinity crisis and the authoritarian fold around traditional authorities (age classes and the elders). We often tend to forget those who have lost everything, who do not sink collectively into social anomie but cling to “what remains when we have lost everything,”: and what remains is culture, even if reinvented. Such a process is also true for the middle classes and concern both the old small managerial promoted bourgeoisie whose strategies of social meritocratic ascension are indebted to ethnic mediations, and the recent middle class that is a bit less permeable to identity-related pressures. Both resort to moral ethnicity and appropriate ethnic patriotism for security purposes or social distinction, which plunges into tribalism during time of crisis.

46Thus, the ethnicisation from above has found a reactive echo in society, especially as the suffering endured during these socio-political crises—which Kenyans experience as an intermittent civil war they are scared of—have given the people an additional memory of a sensitive nature. We would not then be facing 2 or 3 Kenyas but closer to 4 Kenyas, with the risk of seeing some leaders or local political classes play the card of decentralised ethnicity.


47Closely observing Kenyan society in the twenty-first century and putting it into context bring to light complex dynamics that cannot easily be captured in the idea that there are “two Kenyas” based upon a binary dividing line inherited from colonisation and reproduced the decades of the independences. Rather, “three Kenyas” emerge with their own social spaces, if not their ethnic-focused spaces. This complex character becomes even more obvious as we take into account not only income, well-being, and politico-ethnic behaviours, but also cultural changes. Some of these changes are silent but observable in everyday practices by looking at collective behaviours and habits, the effects of education and digital booms, access to media, language usage, the demographic transition of households, and more generally modernisation and acculturation. Other changes are less visible, or even invisible, except in times of overt crisis, as they relate to perception and religious practices, collective sensitivities, gender relations and diverging identities that may be divisive. The socio-cultural differentiation at work is more complex than we first thought. It reveals silent changes that can perhaps be seen in a more optimistic light than the one we used in this chapter to depict the inevitability of social trends. Such a move requires switching from the panoramic and longitudinal approach adopted here to the analysis of social trajectories through the use of a cross-sectional survey or monographic observation.


ADB-GoK. 2013. The State of Kenya’s Private Sector. Tunis: African Development Bank Group; Nairobi: Government of Kenya. [archive].

Anderson, David M., and Vigdis Broch-Due (eds). 1999. The Poor Are Not Us: Poverty & Pastoralism in Eastern Africa. Oxford: James Currey; Nairobi: East African Educational Publishing; Athens (OH): Ohio University Press.

Argwings-Kodhek, Gem. 2006. “An Inequality and Welfare Analysis of Kenya’s Agricultural Sector.” In Reading on Inequality in Kenya: Sectoral Dynamics and Perspectives, 253–87. Nairobi: SID (Society for International Development).

Awiti, Alex, and Bruce Scott. 2016. “The Kenya Youth Survey Report.” East African Institute. Karachi: The Aga Khan University.

Berman, Bruce, and John Lonsdale. 1992. Unhappy Valley: Violence and Ethnicity. London: James Currey.

Bocquier, Philippe. 2003. “Les impacts sociaux de la crise économique à Nairobi. L’ère Moi a-t-elle eu un impact significatif ?” Politique africaine no. 90: 78–93.

Charton-Bigot, Hélène, and Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres (eds). 2006. Nairobi contemporain. Les paradoxes d’une ville fragmentée. Collection “Hommes et sociétés.” Paris: IFRA-Karthala.

Dauch, Gene. 1982. “J.M. Kariuki et l’éthique nationale du capitalisme.” Politique africaine no. 8: 21–43 [archive].

Desgroppes, Amélie, and Sophie Taupin. 2011. “Kibera: The Biggest Slum in Africa?” Les Cahiers de l’Afrique de l’Est no. 44: 23–34.

Equal Rights Trust, and Kenya Human Rights Commission. 2012. In the Spirit of Harambee, Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Kenya. ERT Country Report Series 1. London: The Equal Rights Trust.

Flores Fernandez, and Rosa Amelia (eds). 2011. “Slum Upgrading Programmes in Nairobi: Challenges in Implementation.” Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est, no. 44.

Goodfellow, Tim, and Wendy Taylor. 2009. Urban Poverty and Vulnerability in Kenya. Kenya: Oxfam GB. https:/ [archive].

Greiner, Clemens, Michael Bollig, and J. Terrence McCabe. 2011. “Notes on Land-based Conflicts in Kenya’s Arid Areas.” Africa Spectrum 46, no. 3: 77–81.

Grignon, François, and Hervé Maupeu (eds). 1998. “Introduction au thème : les aléas du contrat social kényan,” numéro spécial “Le contrat social à l’abandon,” Politique africaine 70: 3–22 [archive].

IEA. 2010. “The Dynamics and Trends of Employment in Kenya.” IEA Research Paper, 1, Institute of Economic Affairs. [archive].

Kabayi, Egera. 1998. “Introduction au roman kényan.” In Le Kenya contemporain, edited by François Grignon and Gérard Prunier. Paris: IFRA-Karthala.

Kanogo, Tabutha. “Cooperatives.” 1990. In Themes in Kenyan History, edited by William Ochieng, 175–86. Nairobi: Heinemann; London: James Currey; Athens (OH): Ohio University Press.

“Kenya, les cercles d’affaires des décideurs.” 2012. La Lettre de l’océan Indien – Insiders, 16 November.

Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA). 2013. “List Members,” Nairobi.

Kidombo, Pius K. 2007. The Architecture of Corruption in Kenya. Nairobi: Sino Printers and Publishers.

Kinyanjui, Felistus. 2007. Causes of Persistent Rural Poverty in Thika District of Kenya 1953–2000. PhD Dissertation. Grahamstown: Rhodes University.

KIPPRA. 2013. “A Comparative Study on Public-Private Sector Wage Differentials in Kenya.” KIPPRA Policy Paper 5. Nairobi: Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis.

Kitching, Gavin. 1980. Class and Economic Change in Kenya: The Making of an African Petite-Bourgeoisie. New Haven: Yale University Press.

KNBS-SID. 2013. Exploring Kenya’s Inequality, Pulling Apart or Pooling Together? [archive].

Kurtz, Roger J. 1998. Urban Obsessions, Urban Fears: The Postcolonial Kenyan Novel. Trenton (NJ): James Currey, Africa World Press.

Lafargue, Jérôme. 2010. “Résistances au long cours. Narration et maniement de la mémoire insurrectionnelle à partir d’exemples des Mau Mau (Kenya).” Cahiers d’études africaines 197, no. 1: 25–50.

Ledant, Martin. 2013. “Water in Nairobi: Unveiling Inequalities and Its Causes.” Les Cahiers d’Outre-Mer 263, no. 3: 335–48.

Leitner, Kerstin. 1973. Workers, Trade Unions and Peripherical Capitalism in Kenya after Independence. Frankfurt am Main, Bern & Las Vegas: Peter Lang.

Maupeu, Hervé. 2002. “Mungiki et les élections. Les mutations politiques d’un prophétisme kikuyu (Kenya).” Politique africaine 87, no. 3: 56–77.

Médard, Jean-François. 2012. “Charles Njonjo: A Portrait of a ‘Big Man’ in Kenya.” In Neopatrimonialism in Africa and beyond, edited by Daniel C. Bach and Mamoudou Gazibo. London: Routledge.

Muriuki, Godfrey. 1974. A History of the Kikuyu 1500–1900. Nairobi: Oxford University Press.

Mwangi, Susan Waiyego. 2011. “The Genesis, Growth, History and Vibrancy of a Politico-Religious Movement: The Case of Mungiki in Kenya c. 1987–2007.” PhD Dissertation. Pau: Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour.

Mwangi, Susan Waiyego, Elias Omondi Opongo and Ephraim Wachira Wahome (eds). 2019. The State and Nation-Building in Kenya since Independence. Remembering the Marginalised and Forgotten Issues and Actors. Bamenda: Langaa RPCIG.

Ogot, Bethwell. 2012. Kenyans, Who Are We? Nairobi: Anyange Press.

Oucho, John Oyaro. 2002. Undercurrents of Ethnic Conflict in Kenya. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.

Péron, Xavier. 1993. L’occidentalisation des Maasai du Kenya. Paris: L’Harmattan.

Peterson, Derek R. 2012. Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival: A History of Dissent, c.1935–1972. African Studies Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Provini, Olivier. 2015. La circulation des réformes universitaires en Afrique de l’est, les politiques de l’enseignement supérieur au regard de la sociologie de l’action publique et de l’État. PhD Dissertation. Pau: Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour.

Ranger, Terence. 1983. “The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa.” In The Invention of Tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbwam & Terence Ranger, 211–62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [archive].

Rodriguez-Torres, Deyssi. 2012. Au cœur du bidonville de Mathare Valley. La politique du ventre vide à Nairobi. Paris: IFRA-Karthala.

Sandbrook, Richard. 1975. Proletarians and African Capitalism: The Kenya Case, 1960–1972. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sivi, Katindi. 2013. Exploring Kenya’s Inequality: Pulling Apart or Pooling Together? Nairobi: Kenya National Bureau of Statistics & Society for International Development.

Smonini, Ambra. 2009. Les classes moyennes au Kenya. Les enseignants du primaire et secondaire entre syndicalisme et grève. MD Dissertation. Pessac: Institut d’études politiques de Bordeaux.

Spear, Thomas, and Richard Waller (eds). 1993. Being Maasai: Ethnicity & Identity in East Africa. London: James Currey; Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota; Athens (OH): Ohio University Press.

Thibon, Christian, Marie-Aude Fouéré, Mildred Ndeda, and Susan Mwangi (eds). 2014. Kenya’s Past as Prologue. Voters, Violence and the 2013 General Election. Nairobi: Twaweza Communications, IFRA & Heinrich Böll.

Verdier, Isabelle. 2013. Kenya: The Top 100 People. Paris: Indigo Publications.


1 These photographic works, which are both exhibited and published, have been on the rise in recent years. They aim to visually capture social issues, the rise of the middle class, etc., by adopting an aesthetics of the everyday that aligns with a strong commitment to fight human suffering.

2 Opinion polls from Ipsos Synovate are available on their website:

3 Among others, the works of cartoonist Gado in The Daily Nation.

4 Songs and music such as benga or reggae, theatre, and the urban language of the ghettos, Sheng.

5 This includes the great increase in urban and rural militias, vigilantes, and urban gangs, some of which spread millenarian claims and expectations, in particular the Mungiki, in the 1990s-2000s.

6 The data provided here are extracted from international and national agencies reports, public or accessible online, such as: census data, data from KNBS (annual statistics and Basic report on well-being in Kenya), from KIBHS and from KPHC, financial, demographic and health surveys from DHS, economic surveys from BM, WHO, Unicef; finally, from SID, the Society for International Development, and from some NGOs such as Oxfam; see KNBS-SID (2013).

7 See Verdier (2013), Kenya Private Sector Alliance (2013), “Kenya, les cercles d’affaires des décideurs.” 2012. La Lettre de l’océan Indien – Insiders, 16 November.

8 This 15-year plan was presented in February 1999 under Daniel arap Moi’s presidency. It followed on from the World Congress in Copenhagen, right after the Structural Adjustment Plans (1993) that announced the adoption of poverty-reduction policies.

9 The land data are a special case in Kenya’s statistics as it is always approximate.

10 They target the OVC, disabled groups, populations living in arid and semi-arid zones, and more recently dependent elderly populations.

11 See data in KIPPRA (2013), IEA (2010) and ADB-GoK (2013).

12 For an emerging country, Kenya, like Tanzania, is within the average. The highest index is found in South Africa.

13 55% according to Awiti & Scott (2016).

14 The number of students increased from 118,000 in 2007 to more than 400,000 in 2013. The government thus expected a workforce of 60,000 (or 10% of the out-of-school population) by the end of 2010–2020, a figure which was actually higher in 2016 with nearly 700,000 students (see Provini 2015).

15 There are about 200,000 street children. According to a national estimate, 100,000 of them in 2000 in Nairobi and 130,000 in 2009 were driven from downtown Nairobi to some slums.

16 The poor, who live under the poverty threshold, relate to two distinct groups: the “permanent poor” and the “very poor,” who represent 40% and 10% respectively (Goodfellow & Taylor 2009)

17 See Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est/The East African Review no. 44, special issue: “Slum Upgrading Programmes in Nairobi: Challenges in Implementation.” 2011.

18 See also reports on public good and their registration, notably the Ndung’u Report.

19 Forty years later we find the same differentials as in the 1950s, as observed by Kitching (1980).

20 See the maps available on the websites of SID and KPHC.

21 Based on the rank of the top school districts access exam results (nb: 288) (KCPE 2013).

22 See the latest publication on this topic: Mwangi, Opongo & Wahome (2019).

23 Recently, scholarly biographies of nationalist leaders (e.g. Paul Ngei) and Kenya’s great political families have tremendously increased, notably focusing on the Kenyattas, the Mois and the Odingas. Others are about “big men,” such as Charles Njonjo (Médard 2012).

24 See the data in the different DHS surveys on the reality and the perception of domestic gender violence.

25 This might include, among others, naturalised Asians who do not declare themselves to be “Kenyan Asians.” Since July 2017, “Asian” is politically recognised as Kenya’s 44th “tribe.”

26 See the number of ethnic declarants who do not report their clan or subtribe.

27 All great theses of regional history by Bethwell Allan Ogot, William Ochieng, Godfrey Muriuki, Henry Mwanzi… note the porous nature of borders between tribes in the nineteenth century before colonisation.

28 Including the Swynnerton plan for the privatisation and redistribution of land in 1952, the authorisation of farm plantations, indigenous trade in certain areas, recruitment of personnel with a background in industrialisation, in the aftermath of the Second World War.

29 In the words of political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi during the 2013 elections (see also Thibon, Fouéré, Ndeda & Mwangi 2014).


Open access


Volume papier
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search