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Kenya: risk of conflict increasing

12 April 2005

Urgent action to address inequality is required in Kenya if a future major internal conflict is to be avoided. A new report launched today in Nairobi, Kenya and at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, demonstrates how inequalities between communities are increasing in this hitherto peaceful country and how government budget allocations are making the problems of minority and indigenous peoples intolerable.

A new report by MRG and Kenyan NGO, the Centre for Minority Rights and Development (CEMIRIDE), ‘Kenya: Minorities, Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Diversity‘ reveals how some minority and indigenous peoples are unable to gain access to resources and opportunities, cannot own land and are the frequent victims of development policies. Recent violent clashes between Maasai and Kikuyu groups over access to water highlight growing frustration amongst Kenya’s excluded and impoverished communities.

‘Members of minority and indigenous communities feel excluded. They resent being treated differently and having fewer opportunities’, states report author Maurice Odhiambo Makoloo. ‘Suppressing ethnic diversity, leaving minorities in poverty and politically marginalized, is the quickest route to conflict.’

MRG’s report reveals that:

  • In Turkana district, home to the Turkana community, 159 children per thousand die in infancy compared to a national average of under 100 per thousand and there is only one medical doctor for a community of over 180,000 people. Also the total development budget for famine hit Turkana in 2004-5 was 94.6 million Kenyan shillings, less that one sixth of the budget for the relatively developed and famine free Nyeri district (689.69 million Kenyan Shillings) which is relatively prosperous and is the home district of the Kenyan President.
  • Nubians are systematically denied their rights to Kenyan citizenship and their right to own land, 90 per cent live in poverty as de facto stateless persons, without adequate protection under national and international law;
  • The Endorois were removed from their lands to create a game park without consultation or compensation and are now battling for their rights and to save their environment from the effects of recent mining activities;
  • Muslims have been labelled as ‘terrorists’ and face restrictions on their religious freedoms and other rights. Several Muslim NGOs have been banned and many live in the most famine affected provinces where they face poverty and insecurity;
  • The Maasai are seeking to regain land given to settlers in 1904 and 1911, a move which has met with an aggressive response from the government since land is in the hands of a few extremely wealthy white settlers and black Africans.

A senior official at Kenya’s Central Bureau of Statistics, who did not wish to be named, admitted that resources allocated to even the poorest areas may even be diverted, depending on the political importance of certain regions or the influence of political leaders. ‘Too often in Africa, the risks of conflict have been picked up too late, and no one has been willing to take any action until after the conflict is already underway – when it is very difficult or impossible to stop. Kenya has avoided any major conflict until now, but tensions are rising. The new government promised many reforms, and raised many peoples’ expectations but has failed to deliver on many promises’ said Claire Thomas, MRG’s Deputy Director.

Kenya: Minorities, Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Diversity is calling for the promised new Kenyan Constitution to become a reality and for power to be devolved away from the centre. Urgent measures need to be taken to ensure minorities and indigenous peoples benefit equitably from current and new development programmes.

Kenya’s record on human rights was considered at the UN’s Human Rights Committee meeting in New York in March for the first time since the new government took office. MRG has submitted its findings to the UN and calls for a full and frank review of the situation and a full appreciation of the need to make swift changes to reduce the risk of conflict.

Notes for editors

  • Kenya: Minorities, Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Diversity‘ by Maurice Odhiambo Makoloo is published by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) with the Centre for Minority Rights and Development (CEMIRIDE).
  • For further information and to arrange interviews with the author, an MRG spokesperson or MRG’s partners in Kenya, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide and to promote co-operation and understanding between communities.