The Conflict at a Glance
Who (are the main combatants): The government of Kenya, led by current President Uhuru Kenyetta and the National Alliance, has been in opposition with both Raila Odinga via the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) as well as various armed ethnic and religious groups simultaneously. Protagonists in the conflict may be broadly divided into the Bantu, Nilotic- and Cushitic-speaking peoples. Among the Bantu speakers, the largest groups in the conflict are the Kikuyu, Luhya and Kalenjin peoples. The Kikuyu are Kenya’s largest tribe and their long-standing rivalry with the Luo – Kenya’s fourth largest tribe – has defined much of post-independence Kenya politics. Recently much of the government’s energy and resources have gone towards counterterrorism operations against mujahedeen insurgent group Al-Shabaab with the use of the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF).
What (started the conflict): In the 20th century, the Kenyan geopolitical landscape saw vast changes, moving from German and British rule to independence in 1963. During the colonial period, the administration displaced many Kenyans to make room for British settlers, especially in the Rift Valley that runs from the north to the south of the country. In 1971 Kenya established the Chebyuk scheme to provide land on which landless Sabaot and less prominent tribes could settle. Yet it pitted the Mosop (Ndorobo) and the Soy – the Sabaot’s two main clans – against each other. The agro-pastoralist Soy clan settled on the lower slopes in the fertile and habitable southern and eastern parts of Mount Elgon. By contrast, the hunter and gatherer Ndorobo settled near the border with Uganda and were subject to cross-border attacks. In response, the government resettled the Ndorobo further south where the Soy were living (Chepyuk Phase I: 1971 -1974). Lack of title deeds and corruption led to dissatisfaction among the Ndorobo and envy by the Soy. The government attempted to allocate land for a second time, causing waves of insecurity and violence in the area since 1991 (Human Rights Watch). The Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) took up arms in 2005 to defend seized land and resist government attempts to evict people in the Chebyuk area, killing more than 600 people from 2006 to 2008. In March 2008, the Kenyan army crushed the SLDF, but land issues remained and cause sporadic violence. After losing the December 2007 elections, Odinga and the opposition claimed that Kibaki had rigged the electoral process and won unfairly. The opposition saw this as a way for the ethnic Kikuyu, Kibaki’s ethnic group, to retain power over the Luo, Odinga’s ethnic group, and others. Odinga failed to accept defeat and his supporters engaged in violent clashes with Kibaki supporters, beginning the political violence between government and opposition supporters.
When (has fighting occurred): In 1989, the government made a second attempt to allocate land in the second phase of Chepyuk. Land theft, illegal or chaotic land allocation, forced evictions, corruption, impunity, and the manipulation of ethnicity for political purposes played a key role in the violence and insecurity that effected Mt. Elgon in 1991 and onwards, causing the deaths, dispossession, torture and repression of thousands of people (Human Rights Watch). After taking up arms in 2005, the Sabaot militia killed more than 600 people throughout 2006-2008 before their defeat by the Kenyan military. After President Mwai Kibaki’s controversial re-election in 27 December 2007, two months of country-wide instability followed. Over the following two months, approximately 800-1,500 people were killed and 180,000-600,000 people displaced as a result of the political crisis.
Al-Shabaab was formed in 2004 as the military wing of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union and has publically declared allegiance to Al Qaeda. Al-Shabaab is fighting for an Islamic State in Somalia based on a strict version of Wahbbi-Salafi interpretations of Sharia Law. In 2011, Al-Shabaab kidnapped several western aid workers and halted aid deliveries along the Kenyan border, leading the Kenyan military to enter Somalia to fight the insurgents. Al-Shabaab retaliated with deadly attacks on buses, public places and tourist resorts in Kenya. Kenya has been fighting Al-Shabaab ever since.
Where (has the conflict taken place): Ethnic violence has mainly taken place in the Rift Valley near Kenya’s northern border with Ethiopia. However widespread violence emerged across the country following the hotly contested 2007 re-election of former President Mwai Kibaki (in power 2002-2013). Kenyan troops have been involved in fighting al-Shabaab across the border in Somalia, representing the first time that Kenyan soldiers have undertaken offensives in a foreign country. Kenya is also involved in domestic counter-terrorism efforts against al-Shabaab.
2017 August presidential elections were marked by violent protests, beatings, and killings by police. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported that police killed at least 33 people, but declared that the number in Nairobi alone could have been as high as 50.
Election results were challenged by opposition leader Raila Odinga, who cited irregularities in the electronic transmission of results. Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the results, rescheduling elections for October. Mass protests and violence followed the ruling. Odinga boycotted the October vote, maintaining that the necessary reforms in the electoral process had not been made. Uhuru Kenyatta won the election and his second term as president.
The Rift Valley was the site of violence, with herders raiding villages and ranches in search of water as parts of the valley experienced serious drought. In the past, the government had persuaded ranchers to allow herders access to some of their land during times of drought, but such intervention had not occurred this time. Indeed, Kenya’s security forces were implicated in the beating and murders of herders in the Rift Valley.
During the year, Somalia-based al-Shabaab militants stepped up attacks in Kenya, particularly in the southeast, close to the Somalia border. In an attack on the village of Jima in July, they beheaded nine Kenyan civilians (The Guardian). This style of killing by al-Shabaab has been less common in Kenya than in Somalia. Police officers were also targeted; from May to September there were suspected al-Shabaab attacks on policemen that employed landmines, homemade explosives, and guns.
2016 In January, al-Shabaab killed 150 Kenyan soldiers at an African Union base in Somalia. The United Nations described this incident as “the largest military defeat in Kenyan history” (BBC). In response, the Government of Kenya stepped up its defence measures, beginning the construction of a security wall along the Somali border in April (Defense News) and increasing the intensity of counter-terrorism operations (Human Rights Watch). The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) called on Kenyans to participate in countrywide demonstrations against Kenya’s national elections management body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Largely peaceful demonstrations were violently suppressed by security forces, resulting in at least five deaths and 60 casualties (Human Rights Watch).
2015 In April 148 people, including 142 students, were killed in an Al-Shabaab attack on Garissa University College (HRW). The Kenyan government responded, seizing assets of alleged Al-Shabaab sympathizers and financiers and conducting a security sweep of suspected supporters of the militant group. In September security forces initiated “Operation Linda Boni” to destroy Al-Shabaab strongholds in the coastal Boni forest and surrounding area. Disputes over land boundaries and cattle continued to be flashpoints for communal violence. (International Crisis Group).
2014 Although conflict apparently decreased this year, al-Shabaab established a deeper presence in Kenya. According to International Crisis Group, there were approximately 570 conflict-related deaths. In April, the government launched counter-terrorism operation Usalama Watch, which resulted in 4,000 arrests in its first week and raised concerns about human rights violations. Communal tensions continued in the north, particularly in Mandera and Wajir. The government instituted the Security Laws Amendment Bill in December amidst criticism. In December 2014, the ICC dropped charges against President Kenyatta. A pilot repatriation program of Somali refugees in Kenya began in December, while Kenya accepted 42,000 asylum seekers from South Sudan.
2013 With an increase in communal fighting causing 200 deaths and a deadly massacre by suspected al-Shabaab militants in a shopping centre resulting in the deaths of 67 civilians, Kenya remained affected by internal and external violence. The country avoided post-election violence following the reelection of President Kenyatta, while the new Kenyan government, along with those of other African states, continued to ignore the International Criminal Court charges against Kenyan leaders for alleged crimes against humanity. A large number of refugees from Somalia in camps and centres remained in Kenya, and both governments agreed upon a refugee support system for those willing to return to Somalia, a move that strengthened ties between the two nations.
2012 The decree of Kenya’s High Court that national elections would be held in March 2013 triggered renewed political jockeying and alliance formation. Security appeared to deteriorate in major cities after a wave of grenade and bomb attacks targeted civilians at shopping malls, restaurants, and religious institutions. The government blamed Somali Islamist militants for an apparent retaliation against Kenyan participation in the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). A government-ordered registration process for refugees led to the relocation of thousands to an already overburdened network of camps. Agro-pastoralist clashes over land and water rights claimed many lives in the Tania River Delta.
2011 The year saw political jockeying and alliance formation ahead of 2012 elections, scheduled to be held in either August or December. With two likely presidential candidates accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of involvement in post-election violence in 2007-2008, the actions of the ICC played a role in the political process in 2011. Uhuru Kenyatta (the Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister and son of Kenya’s first president) and William Ruto (the former agriculture and Higher Education Minister) have both been named by the ICC as suspected masterminds of the 2007-2008 violence. In October, the Kenyan government for the first time militarized its foreign policy by launching Operation Linda Nchi (Operation Protect the Country) in Somalia’s Juba Valley. Post-independence Kenya had never sent its forces to a foreign country to fight. The offensive against the militant Islamic group al-Shabaab appears to have prompted an increase in attacks by al-Shabaab at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, which saw a massive increase of refugees from Somalia after a severe drought in the Horn of Africa in 2011, the worst in 60 years.
2010 An August referendum, supported by 67 per cent of Kenyans, approved a new constitution that set up a commission to settle land disputes, limited the power of the president, created a Supreme Court and introduced a more comprehensive bill of rights. In December, the International Criminal Court named six Kenyans as masterminds of the worst bloodshed of post-independence Kenya during the 2007 to 2008 post-election violence.
2009 The creation of a tribunal for war crimes was continually stalled by the Kenyan government, leading former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to hand over names of 10 top officials involved in post-election violence to the International Criminal Court. Violence broke out in rural and northern areas over land and resources, leading to resettlement and ethnic tensions. The UN condemned reports of police abuse, including executions, accusations of torture and intimidation against human rights activists. Killings were carried out between suspected Mungiki gangs, a quasi-religious militia recruited to protect the Kikuyu ethnic group, and villages, with violence leading to displacement and a growing refugee crisis.
2008 Post-election violence killed an estimated 1,500 in the first three months of 2008. Fighting between supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and the Party of National Unity (primarily of Kikuyu ethnicity) and supporters of Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement Party (primarily of Luo and Kalenjin ethnicity) took place in Nairobi and the Rift Valley Province. The February 2008 agreement between Kibaki and Odinga held, and a truth and reconciliation commission was scheduled to deal with those implicated in post-election violence. Clan violence continued throughout 2008, killing at least 200 in Mount Elgon District. Estimates by independent media placed the death toll in the Mount Elgon District upwards of 500. Although post-election violence largely came to an end in March, it reignited old rivalries in the Laikipia District in Rift Valley Province and hastened the re-emergence of the Mungiki sect, an outlawed quasi-religious militia group operating mainly in the Nairobi slums. Fighting over resources such as water continued in rural areas in 2008.
2007 Clan violence was responsible for nearly 200 deaths in 2007. Violence sparked by the December elections killed 1,500. After nearly two months of violent turmoil, a power-sharing deal between re-elected President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga was signed in February 2008 and was expected to be ratified by Kenya’s Parliament in March. The accord, brokered under the leadership of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, divided power between Kibaki and Odinga and brought an end to hostilities. However, the agreement did not address ethnic rivalries that continued to plague prospects for Kenyan stability.
2006 The Kenyan government was shaken to its foundations after the revelation of the Anglo Leasing corruption scandal, which implicated high-ranking politicians, including President Mwai Kibaki—elected on an anti-corruption platform—in a deal that awarded a highly lucrative contract to a company that did not exist. As a result, several cabinet ministers, including the former finance minister, resigned and foreign aid was withheld. Clan violence continued over struggles for land, water and cattle along the northern Kenya-Ethiopia border. Raids by Ugandan and Somali bandits were also reported, as well as clashes between Kenyan tribesmen and Somali refugees. Hostilities resulted in at least 125 civilian deaths.
2005 Inter-communal violence over natural resources, mainly land and water, escalated in northeastern Kenya. More than 150 people were killed, including 70 civilians in a single episode in July.
2004 Inter-communal conflict continued at a reduced level in several parts of Kenya. Clashes again were economic in nature, with land at the forefront.
2003 Inter-communal violence, fuelled mainly by economic interests, continued, especially in the northwest, as Kenyan, Ugandan and Sudanese populations clashed with each other, often in cross-border raids.
2002 Clashes along ethnic lines in several districts of the country killed more than 100. Violence marred presidential elections in December.
2001 Conflict between numerous tribal groups continued through 2001, with an escalation of violence targeting non-combatants. More than 100 people were reported killed in the clashes.
2000 Inter-tribal feuds, cross-border fighting pitting Kenyan tribes against tribes in Uganda and Ethiopia, and mob violence continued this year. At least 100 people were killed by the end of September, down from 1999.
1999 Political and mob violence, police-sanctioned extrajudicial killings and ethnic clashes increased in 1999, with ethnic clashes concentrated in the northern regions of the country. At least 550 people died in the violence, up from the previous year.
1998 Post-election peace and reform aspirations were shattered as politically and economically based ethnic clashes and police-sponsored extrajudicial killings increased throughout 1998. Most clashes took place in Rift Valley Province between members of the President’s ethnic group and rival ethnic groups, though serious fighting also occurred in the North Eastern Province among several groups, including ethnic Somalis and Sudanese.
- The Government of Kenya
a. President Uhuru Kenyatta and The National Alliance (TNA): President Uhuru Kenyatta, was elected with 50.3 per cent of the vote in a peaceful April 2013 election. He is the son of Kenya’s first president and founding father, Jomo Kenyatta. Uhuru Kenyatta backed former President Mwai Kibaki and the PNU in the controversial 2007 elections. In 2010, ICC began investigating him for planning and funding post-election violence, but accusations of crimes against humanity were dropped in 2014 due to insufficient evidence (BBC). The National Alliance party, founded in 2000, promised to unite Kenyans in tackling political, social, and economic challenges. It became the vehicle for Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2012 presidential campaign.
The Party of National Unity (PNU) was founded by then President Mwai Kibaki in 2007. Originally created as a coalition of parties, the PNU eventually became a party in its own right, but was disbanded in 2014 after aligning with the TNA and surrendering the right to field candidates. During the December 2007 presidential elections, Kibaki was reported to have used an array of vote-tampering methods to defeat opposition leader Raila Odinga. The violence that erupted threatened to further destabilize a country already divided over land disputes and ethnicity. As the result of the 2008 power-sharing agreement, Kibaki remained President and post-election conflict was greatly reduced.
b. Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF): The Kenyan Defence Forces operate in Kenya and Somalia. Controversial operations in the Western Provinces have been criticized by Médecins Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch. In 2016, a number of violent clashes between security forces and civilians occurred, as people protested for a number of reasons, including “corruption within the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (Human Rights Watch). The KDF have been accused of carrying out forced disappearances and many other human rights abuses, prompting demands on the government to formally investigate allegations (Human Rights Watch). Alongside the African Union in Somalia, the Kenyan forces are engaged in what is largely considered a successful campaign against the al-Shabaab.
2. Raila Odinga and the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD): Raila Odinga served as Kenya’s Prime Minister from 2008 to 2013 and is the leader of CORD, a coalition founded to contest the 2013 elections. CORD is made up of 15 political parties, including the Orange Democratic Party, led by Odinga (BBC). In the 2013 election, Odinga and CORD received 43.4 per cent of the vote, losing to Uhuru Kenyatta, who won 50.1 per cent. Odinga remains one of Kenya’s most prominent opposition members, along with his 2013 running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, from the Wiper Party.
After losing the December 2007 elections, Odinga and the opposition claimed that the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, of the Kikuyu ethnic group, had tampered with the electoral process to help the Kikuyu retain power over the Luo and other ethnic groups. Odinga, a Luo, refused to accept the results of the election and his supporters engaged in violent clashes with Kibaki supporters for two months following the elections. After a power-sharing agreement was signed in early 2008, Odinga became prime minister of Kenya and post-election conflict was greatly reduced. The power-sharing agreement expired at the end of Mwai Kibaki’s term in 2013.
Armed ethnic and religious groups
3. Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF): The Sabaot are a sub-tribe of the Kalenjin people, who form 11 per cent of Kenya’s population but comprise a much higher proportion in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. During the colonial period, the British displaced thousands of Kenyans from their original homes on Mount Elgon in western Kenya. In 1971, Kenya established the Chebyuk scheme to provide land on which landless Sabaot and less prominent tribes could settle. It pitted the Mosop (Ndorobo) and the Soy – the Sabaot’s two main clans – against each other. The agro-pastoralist Soy clan settled on the lower slopes in the fertile and habitable southern and eastern parts of Mount Elgon. The hunter and gatherer Ndorobo settled near the border with Uganda and were subjected to cross-border attacks. In response, the government resettled the Ndorobo further south where the Soy were living (Chepyuk Phase I: 1971 -1974). Lack of title deeds and corruption led to dissatisfaction among the Ndorobo and envy by the Soy, forcing the government to launch Chepyuk Phase II in 1989.
The SLDF took up arms in 2005 to defend seized land and resist government attempts to evict people in the Chebyuk area. Between 2006 and 2008, the Sabaot militia killed more than 600 people, and “terrorized the local population through physical assaults and threats, and the seizure and destruction of property” (Human Rights Watch). Militia members sought to intimidate opponents of the Orange Democratic Movement candidates before the 2007 election and punish them afterwards. Families in Mount Elgon were reportedly forced to pay the SLDF or enlist their sons as SLDF fighters.
In March 2008, the Kenyan army entered Chebyuk, mounted intense counter-insurgency operations and reportedly detained thousands, tortured and raped hundreds, and killed dozens unlawfully. More than 10,000 Kenyans were believed to have been displaced by atrocities and crimes perpetrated by both sides, and more than 1,200 killed (The Star). SLDF leader Wycliffe Komon Matakwei was reportedly killed in May 2008, along with most other SLDF top commanders. Approximately 900 SLDF fighters were arrested.
Since the SLDF was crushed, land issues remain emotive and cause sporadic violence and ejections of perceived outsiders in Chebyuk (Standard Media). A growing population led the government to launch Chepyuk Phase Three in 2011. In 2015, approximately 160,000 people lived in the fertile and habitable southern part of the scheme. In early 2017, former SLDF fighters were not registering to vote to avoid detection and possible criminal charges and imprisonment (The Star).
4. Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (“Movement of Warrior Youths” or “Mujahideen Youth Movement”), commonly known as Al-Shabaab (Arabic: “the Youth”): Since 2007, al-Shabaab has been considered the most dangerous insurgent group in the region, operating primarily across Kenya’s border in Somalia. Al-Shabaab seeks the establishment of an Islamic State in Somalia based on a strict and rigid version of Wahabbi-Salafi interpretations of sharia law. The group is ideologically aligned with al-Qaeda, and has also expressed support for global jihad. The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Sweden, and Norway. Estimates indicate that al-Shabaab had between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters in 2016 (BBC), with recruits coming from East Africa as well as Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Algeria, Europe, and North America. In 2011, after al-Shabaab kidnapped several western aid workers and halted aid deliveries along the Kenyan border, the Kenyan military entered Somalia to fight al-Shabaab (Foreign Affairs). Since then, al-Shabaab has retaliated with attacks on civilians on buses, in public places, and in tourist resorts, the deadliest taking place at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September 2013, killing 72.
Al-Shabaab was formed in 2004 as the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union. The ICU was a group of Sharia courts that took control of Mogadishu in 2006 after coalescing to oppose the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Al-Shabaab became further radicalized after Ethiopia’s 2006-2007 invasion forced the dissolution of the ICU administration. In February 2010, al-Shabaab leaders publicly declared allegiance to Osama bin Laden. In December 2010, al-Shabaab and Islamist militant group Hizbul Islam announced their merger, with al-Shabaab effectively taking over the other network. In 2014, Ahmed Abdi Godane (“Abu Zubeyr”), al-Shabaab’s long-time emir/overall commander and co-founder, was reportedly killed by a U.S. airstrike (The Guardian).
5. The Mungiki Sect (Kikuyu: “A united people” or “multitude”): The Mungiki sect is a quasi-religious militia recruited to protect the interests of Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu. Prior to the December 2007 presidential elections, the government cracked down on the sect, killing as many as 8,040 over five years (BBC News). The post-election political crisis encouraged the reemergence of the group, which was blamed for the deaths and disappearances of thousands of people from the slums of Nairobi. Mungiki membership is estimated to be more than 500,000. In April 2009, the group was implicated in the violent deaths of 28 people in a revenge mission in Gathaithi. In July 2016, Kenya’s inspector general of police issued an alert about a plot to revive Mungiki ahead of 2017 elections (Mail & Guardian).
6. Mombasa Republican Council (MRC): Based in Mombasa, Kenya’s oldest city and biggest port, the MRC seeks to secede from Kenya to form an independent state. Founded in 1999, the group was largely dormant until 2008 when it emerged as a prominent secessionist movement. Its supporters include both Muslims and Christians in Kenya’s resource-rich southeastern coastal region. The Kenyan government outlawed the MRC in 2010 and has accused it of having ties to al-Shabaab (Reuters). Former President Mwai Kibaki rejected MRC secession demands and refused to negotiate with the group.
7. Various other Kenyan ethnic groups: Kenya is made up of more than 40 ethnic groups that often find themselves in conflict over the equitable distribution of resources. In the Laikipia District in central Kenya, the Turgen and Turkana peoples (both pastoral groups) continue to fight the Kikuyu (traditionally farmers). Fighting in Laikipia also involves the Samburu, Maasai, and Pokot tribes. In Mount Elgon, a district in west Kenya bordering Uganda, the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) has appeared to encourage violence between the Kalenjin (of which the Sabaot form a part) and other tribes. In 2008, increased violence between ethnic groups – particularly the Kikuyu, Luo, and Kalenjin – was fanned by the post-election crisis over the legitimacy of the results.
2017 Al-Shabaab stepped up its attacks in Kenya and on Kenyan troops supporting Somalia’s weak central government. On January 27, al-Shabaab killed at least 57 Kenyan soldiers in an attack on a military base in Somalia. The African Union peacekeeping mission located near the Kenyan border town of Kulbiyow was bombed by two suicide bombers in cars. Witnesses reported that the militants loaded ammunition and military equipment into trucks before driving away. A fight for the control of the Africa Union-backed base subsequently broke out. Al-Shabaab claimed to have won control of the base, but this was denied by Kenyan forces. The exact number of casualties was unknown, but local forces were reportedly among the dead and wounded.
On March 2, Kenyan troops claimed to have killed 57 al-Shabaab militants in Afmadow, a town in southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab retorted that it had lost no fighters during their ambush of Kenyan soldiers. On April 21, the Kenya Defence Forces killed 52 al-Shabaab militants in Badhaadhe, Lower Juba, Somalia. In the assault, the KDF recovered bomb-making materials and improvised explosive devices.
Al-Shabaab was reportedly responsible for increased attacks in Kenyan counties close to the Somalia border. In Lamu and Mandera counties, by July, 46 people had been killed in the past year. On July 8, al-Shabaab extremists executed nine civilians in the Kenyan village of Jima during a three-day battle with Kenyan security forces. Kenya then launched air strikes on the Boni forest in an attempt to force al-Shabaab from their suspected base. On August 18, al-Shabaab is believed to have beheaded three more men and set houses on fire at Malei village in Lamu county. On September 6, four more men were beheaded in separate attacks in Silini-Mashambani and Bobo village in Lamu. All the victims were non-Muslim men.
2016 There were ongoing protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). On April 25, police in Nairobi tear-gassed CORD leaders and supporters on their way to the electoral commission to demand removal of chairmen and commissioners. From late April into May, more opposition protests against the IEBC saw dozens wounded during clashes with police. On May 23, police killed at least one protestor in Kisumu county and two in Siaya county. Additionally, al-Shabaab continued to do significant damage to Kenyans. In January, it claimed to have killed more than 150 Kenyan soldiers after overrunning an African Union base at el-Ade in Somalia (BBC) in what The New York Times described as “the worst military disaster in [Kenya’s] history” (New York Times). Al-Shabaab also claimed responsibility for an October bombing at a northern Kenya hotel that killed at least 12 people (New York Times). In the same month, al-Shabaab killed 18 people in Mandera, prompting a government-imposed curfew in the area that in December was extended to March 28, 2017. Al-Shabaab destroyed four telecommunication masts in Mandera county between December 12 and 14, in a move that the Mandera governor said was an attempt to isolate the county for a major attack (International Crisis Group).
2015 In response to ongoing militant activity in coastal Lamu county, security forces launched “Operation Linda Boni” on September 11, aiming to dislodge Al-Shabaab elements from the Boni forest and surrounding area. Six forest hideouts were destroyed (International Crisis Group). The Interior Ministry announced a plan to erect barriers along the Kenya-Somalia border to keep Al-Shabaab fighters out of northeast Kenya. Al-Shabaab fighters then targeted a National Youth Service team and its police protection force involved in building a border security fence.
Al-Shabaab continued to target civilians. They attacked Garissa University College in April, killing 142 students (HRW) and in July killed 14 and injured 10 in an attack on a quarry near Kenya’s border with Somalia (International Crisis Group).
Communal violence affected Turkana, Baringo, Samburu, Marsabit, Isiolo, and Wajir counties, among others. There was fighting between the Turkana and Samburu, and between the Turkana and Pokot (Global Post).
2014 ACLED reported a decrease in violence. But International Crisis Group reported that al-Shabaab has become more deeply embedded in Kenya, continuing activities in the northeast and on the coast. Media reports indicated that the group expanded its recruitment to other parts of the country. After attacks in Mombasa and Nairobi in March that killed 12 and injured at least eight, the government launched counter-terror operation Usalama Watch. More than 4,000 people were arrested in the first week. In May Sheikh Fuaad Mohamed Khalaf “Shongole”, a leader in al-Shabaab, announced that the group had moved its war to Kenya. On June 15 and 16, more than 60 people were killed in attacks on the town of Mpeketoni and in Poromoko district. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks, but President Kenyatta attributed them to local political networks that targeted Kikuyus. Since the start of military operations against al-Shabaab in Somalia in 2011, Kenya has experienced more than 50 gun, grenade, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, according to IRIN News. On September 21, President Kenyatta declared that Kenyan forces will remain in Somalia until it is stable.
Communal tensions persisted in northern Kenya. In August violence displaced 18,000 households from the town of Rhamu, Mandera North Sub-County. According to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), between January and August approximately 77 people were killed and 95 injured in conflict between Degodia and Garre clans in Mandera. Across the country, 125 people died and 215,479 were internally displaced between January and June, according to UN OCHA. The most affected regions were Mandera and Wajir, but clashes also occurred in Baringo and Nyakach in Kisumu, and in Garissa, Turkana, Samburu, and Moyale in Marsabit. Significant causes for the conflict are resource scarcity, political disagreements, and border disputes.
2013 Despite an increase of government forces in the region, communal fighting between the Borana and Gabra communities along the border with Ethiopia in the Rift Valley continued throughout 2013, killing an estimated 200 civilians The spring reelection of President Kenyatta occurred amidst fears of a repeat of the post-election violence in 2007 that did not materialize. Kenya continued participation in the African Union (AU) mission in Somalia, committing 4,040 troops to fight against the extremist Islamic group al-Shabaab. This support remained a source of tension as al-Shabaab continued small scale attacks in Kenya’s Northeastern provinces, and large-scale attacks in bigger cities such as Mombasa and Nairobi.
2012 The Kenyan government blamed frequent urban bombings on Somali Islamist militants retaliating against Kenyan participation in AMISOM. Grenade and improvised explosive devices claimed the lives of approximately 100–120 civilians over the course of the year, primarily in the volatile North Eastern Province. Attacks by al-Shabaab in the Dadaab area further compounded the region’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. Security appeared to deteriorate in major cities, with a wave of grenade and bomb attacks targeting civilians at shopping malls, restaurants, and religious institutions. Between 85 and 100 government military, paramilitary, and police personnel were killed across the country. In one case, more than 40 police were reportedly killed by suspected cattle raiders in the Suguta Valley. The subsequent arrival of military and paramilitary units triggered widespread displacement by civilians fearing reprisal attacks. Agro-pastoralist violence among rival tribes escalated, with 150–200 killed in a series of raids stemming from land and water rights. The Tania River Delta was particularly volatile, with intensified clashes between the Oromo and Pokomo ethnic groups.
2011 In an unprecedented move, the Kenyan government sent forces into Somalia in October as part of Operation Linda Nchi (Operation Protect the Country), bombing and strafing al-Shabaab positions. Though Kenyan forces have entered Somalia before, the maneuvers were usually covert. The government defended the overt offensive against the Somali-based militant group by citing a string of kidnappings of Westerners, despite reports that the kidnappings were the work of Somali bandits and pirates. Al-Shabaab responded with attacks in and around the Dadaab refugee camp, forcing aid agencies to reduce services at the already overwhelmed camp, according to the UN. In 2011, 15 deaths were attributed to al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya, the majority after Kenya’s October offensive.
A severe drought in the Horn of Africa, the worst in 60 years, according to the International Rescue Committee, led to a massive increase of refugees from Somalia into northern Kenya. In July, according to relief organizations, more than 1,000 refugees a day poured across the border to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya’s arid north. The camp, built to contain a maximum of 90,000 people, swelled to more than 450,000 inhabitants in 2011. Al-Shabaab attacks exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the camp.
In December, more than 20 people were killed and hundreds displaced in tribal clashes originating from disputes over grazing land in the northern villages of Moyale and Isiolo. Later the same month, three children were killed after unexploded ordnance, left by security forces during Operation Okoa Maisha in 2008, went off in the village of Kapisitet.
2010 Isolated political killings marked 2010. In August, six people were killed by a grenade attack in Nairobi during a Christian prayer meeting protesting the draft constitution. Kenyan Church leaders blamed the government for the attack. In November, a police officer on a rampage in Siakago, northeast of Nairobi, killed 10 people. In December, three people were killed and 39 wounded when a bomb exploded at a Nairobi bus station. Somali militant group al-Shabaab was believed responsible.
2009 The UN condemned killings carried out by Kenyan police, especially during post-election violence. Drought sparked clashes over resources between cattle raiders and farmers in remote areas of Kenya. Violence and the lack of security from the government was deepening tribalism and ethnic ties in rural areas.
2008 In post-election violence, the Kikuyu tribe and those aligned with them were fighting Luo and Kalenjin. The largely secretive Kikuyu Mungiki sect stepped up their profile, engaging in both post-election violence and additional violence throughout 2008. In the Laikipia District, fighting between the Turgens who are aligned with the Turkana, and the Kikuyu continued. In the Mount Elgon region, government forces continued their crackdown on the Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF). Both sides were accused of human-rights abuses. According to reports, the SLDF was forcefully recruiting children to fight.
2007 Fighting in the Mount Elgon region over traditional land rights grew more intense despite the presence of security forces. In March 2008, the government announced a large-scale military operation designed to target members of the Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF), reportedly responsible for atrocities against civilians in the region. However, the most troubling development of 2007 was the December presidential election, the results of which engulfed the country in violence from December to March. The banned Mungiki sect was responsible for a number of uprisings, which ended in arbitrary killings by government officials.
2006 Violent inter-clan skirmishes continued in Kenya’s northern provinces near the Ethiopian border as well as with Somali refugees and Ugandan tribesmen. These clashes included Dongiro warriors from Ethiopia who attacked Turkana herdsmen, as well as Boran raiders who assaulted the village of Dukana. The Marsabit District in the north reportedly suffered from Ethopian militia raids. In the southern Samburu District, Pokot tribesmen were responsible for a raid on the Samburu tribe. There were reports of fighting in the Kanyarkwat District, where many locals armed themselves for protection against Sebei and Karamajong raiders from Uganda. Violence erupted in a Kenyan Somali refugee camp in northern Kakuma, where tensions between local Turkana groups and Somali and Sudanese refugees erupted into violent attacks.
2005 Inter-communal violence, mainly over land and water, continued with clashes between the Murule and Garre communities and between the Borana and Gabra communities in northeastern Kenya near the Ethiopian border. On several occasions, government troops clashed with groups of armed attackers, including a large number of cattle raiders from Uganda.
2004 Inter-communal fighting continued over land and cattle rustling, though on a smaller scale than in the past. New problems emerged in the Laikipia District when Masaai attempted to repossess land involved in a contentious 99-year lease signed during the British colonial era.
2003 Inter-communal violence claimed more than 50 lives throughout the year. The violence, which often occurred in the northwestern region of the country, involved Kenyan, Sudanese and Ugandan groups. The presence of foreign groups in Kenya is largely due to continuing conflicts in neighbouring countries.
2002 A number of inter-ethnic conflicts over land, cattle and politics took close to 100 civilian lives in the first nine months of 2002. The December presidential elections followed an outbreak of politically motivated violence throughout the country.
2001 Conflict between tribal groups continued in 2001, with fighting widening to include attacks against villages, women and children—traditionally spared in such raids.
2000 Tribal feuding, cross-border fighting between Kenyan tribes and tribes in neighbouring Uganda and Ethiopia, and mob violence continued during the year. The most serious fighting involved clashes in May between the Borana and Somali ethnic groups in the North Eastern Province over livestock.
1999 Extrajudicial killings by police forces, ethnic clashes and political violence increased in 1999. Government officials arrested and prosecuted a number of police officers for abuses, but no action was taken against most of the police officers who perpetrated heinous crimes. Ethnic clashes continued between Pokot and Marakwet/Keiyo in Trans Nzoia in the northwest, between Borana and Somalis in North Eastern province, between Oromo and Somalis in Eastern Province, between Kuria and Luo in the west, and between Pokot and the Turkana ethnic group in the Turkwell Gorge. There were also clashes between the Njemp and Turkana ethnic groups in the Rift Valley, between members of different Sudanese clans in Kakuma refugee camp, and between the Aulyan and Abduwak clans of the Somali ethnic group over grazing and water rights. Many people were killed as a result of mob violence linked to police brutality and dissatisfaction with the judicial system.
1998 Ethnic-based conflict in 1998 primarily occurred in three major attacks, though there was sporadic fighting throughout the year. In January, armed groups of Kalenjin (President Daniel arap Moi’s ethnic group) attacked ethnic Kikuyu groups, apparently because they voted against Moi in the December elections. Kikuyu groups retaliated by virtually wiping out a Kalenjin community at Naishe, after which Moi publicly called for peace and the violence subsided. In early November, there was a massacre in the remote North Eastern Province village of Bagala, which pitted members of the Boran and Gabra tribes, reinforced by Oromo kinsmen from Ethiopia, against ethnic Degadia clans.
Total: The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded 9,532 conflict fatalities between 1997 and 2016 (ACLED, All Africa Files, ACLED Version 7 (1997-2016) filtered for Kenya).
2017 Ninety-two people were killed in election violence. ACLED reported some 697 conflict fatalities (ACLED, RealTime Country File for Kenya, filtered for 2017).
As of 2017, 138,000 people have been internally displaced since the 1990s because of political and ethnic violence as well as land disputes.
According to The World Factbook, Kenya hosts refugees from neighbouring countries, with 284,346 from Somalia alone. In 2017, other major refugee groups come from South Sudan (112,425), Democratic Republic of the Congo (35,710), Ethiopia (27,880), Burundi (12,828), and Sudan (10,008).
As of June 27, 2017, homemade explosives detonated by al-Shabaab have killed 46 people, most police.
2016 The death toll in Kenya decreased by more than half from the preceding year with only 220 conflict deaths (ACLED, RealTime Country File for Kenya, filtered for 2016). This number does not include members of the Kenyan Defense Forces who were killed in Somalia in violent clashes with al-Shabaab. BBC News reported at least 150 soldiers killed, but these numbers were not confirmed by the Kenyan government (BBC).
Refugees and IDPs: In December 2016, the UNHCR reported 494,863 registered refugees and asylum seekers residing in Kenya, the majority from Somalia (UNHCR). In May, the Kenyan government announced that it intends to stop hosting refugees, citing economic, security, and environmental concerns and a lack of support from the international community. The government also announced that it had disbanded its Department of Refugee Affairs. The potential closure of Kenya’s refugee camps, according to UNHCR, could affect as many as 600,000 people (UNHCR). In November, government officials allegedly coerced refugees into returning to Somalia (Amnesty International).
2015 ACLED reported 499 conflict fatalities (ACLED, All Africa Files, ACLED Version 6 (1997-2015) standard file), including 148 in a single attack on Garissa University College (International Crisis Group).
Refugees and IDPs: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 7,474 refugees and 3,278 asylum seekers originating from Kenya and 1,231 returned refugees. Deutsche Welle reported that, in the Rift Valley, as many as 5,000 people were displaced by fighting between the Maasai and Kipsigis communities (Deutsche Welle). At the end of 2015, 309,000 people in Kenya were internally displaced (IMDC). Kenya continued to host one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with 552,272 refugees and 40,341 asylum seekers from other countries.
2014 According to International Crisis Group, there were approximately 458 deaths caused by terror attacks, government operations against militants, and intercommunal violence.
Refugees and IDPs: According to UNHCR, there were 8,635 refugees and 2,187 asylum seekers originating from Kenya in July 2014. Kenya hosted 537,021 refugees, 32,751 asylum seekers, and 20,000 stateless persons. Most refugees in Kenya are from Somalia; others are from South Sudan, Ethiopia, and elsewhere.
2013 According to Amnesty International, an estimated 200 people were reported killed during inter-communal fighting throughout the year in the Tana River area. An additional 67 people were killed by suspected al-Shabaab members during a terrorist attack on a wealthy shopping centre in Nairobi in September. Aon Risk Management reported that there were a total of 38 terrorist attacks in Kenya throughout the year.
Refugees and IDPs: Kenya hosts the largest number of refugees in eastern Africa, which include internally displaced Kenyans and hundreds of thousands of Somalis. According to the UNHCR there were 8,759 Kenyan refugees in other countries in 2013, and 550,506 refugees residing in Kenya, mostly in Dadaab, one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
2012 Estimates suggest between 335 and 420 conflict deaths during the year. Media reports indicated that between 85 and 100 government military, paramilitary, and police personnel were killed across the country including more than 40 police reportedly killed by suspected cattle raiders in the Suguta Valley. Between 100 and 120 civilians were killed by grenade and IED attacks, most in the volatile North Eastern Province. Between 150 and 200 deaths were attributed to tribal violence, notably in the Tania River, Moyale, and Samburu districts.
2011 According to various media reports, between 50 and 60 people were killed this year. Al-Shabaab attacks killed eleven police officers, several militant forces and at least five civilians. In December, tribal clashes over grazing land left 20 people dead and displaced hundreds of families.
2010 According to various reports, between 45 and 100 people died in political or ethnic violence this year. In August, six people were killed by a grenade attack at a rally against the draft constitution in Nairobi. In October, seven people were killed in a stampede at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi. In November, 10 people were killed after a police officer went on a shooting rampage in Siakago, northeast of Nairobi. In late December, three people were killed by a bomb explosion at a bus station in Nairobi. Between January and September, the refugee camps in Dabaab received 34,000 new arrivals, most of them from Somalia.
2009 Media sources reported 151 people killed while the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that violence in pastoral communities killed 354 people; Human Rights Watch reported that Kenyan security forces were responsible for 200 of these deaths.
2008 According to reports, between 1,500 and 1,800 people were killed and 600,000 to 700,000 displaced this year from election violence and ethnic clashes.
2007 By the end of 2007, 200 people were killed in violence over land disputes. Violence stemming from the December elections killed close to 1,500 civilians and displaced 600,000. Human rights groups reported that the government was responsible for thousands of deaths from its crackdown on the Mungiki people.
2006 Violence killed 125 people this year, most civilians. This figure included those killed in inter-clan fighting as well as 14 officials who were killed when their plane crashed 450 kilometres from Nairobi while en route to a peace conference in the north.
2005 At least 180 people, mostly civilians, were killed in several inter-ethnic clashes and fighting between government troops and armed raiders. In July, 76 people were killed in a single attack.
2004 More than 40 people were killed as a result of fighting.
2003 According to independent media sources, more than 50 people were killed in 2003 as a result of inter-communal violence.
2002 According to independent media sources, close to 100 people were killed in the first nine months of 2002.
2001 More than 130 people were killed in 2001.
2000 At least 100 people were killed by the end of September.
1999 At least 550 people were killed in ethnic-based violence, extrajudicial killings and post-election violence.
1998 At least 430 people were killed in ethnic-based violence, extrajudicial killings and post-election violence.
2017 Presidential elections were held on August 8, 2017, using, for the first time in Kenya, an electronic voting system. About 10 days before the vote, Chris Msando, acting director for information and communication technology at the independent electoral board, was murdered. It is believed that his death was connected to his role and the information he had, Msando had received death threats, which he reported to the police.
Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya since 2013, won the election with 54% of the vote. His opponent, Raila Odinga, received 45%. Kenyatta is a member of the large Kikuyu community, while Odinga is from the Luo, who have often felt marginalized and excluded by the Kenyan government.
On September 1, the Supreme Court nullified the election results and ordered that a new election take place within 60 days. The Court cited the board overseeing the vote for announcing results before all tally forms were secured and for not granting the Court access to the computer systems used in transmitting results to check for possible hacking.
On October 10, Odinga withdrew from the race, stating that “there was no prospect for a credible election” (The Guardian). Kenyatta ultimately won the election held on October 26, this time with 98% of the vote but with a lower turnout. The Supreme Court stood by these results. More than 60 people were killed in political violence in the three months before the final Supreme Court announcement.
During his reelection campaign, Kenyatta affirmed that he would “strengthen the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit by acquiring more specialized vehicles to counter and deter security threats” (Al Jazeera).
2016 In May, protests in support of opposition parties and civil society organizations erupted throughout Kenya. Kenyans demanded the resignation of the leaders of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on allegations of corruption (Human Rights Watch). These protests led to violent clashes between civilians and security forces that resulted in many injuries and deaths. In June, countrywide demonstrations called for by CORD protested the national elections management body; police responded with gunfire (Human Rights Watch). Government security officials banned all “unlawful demonstrations,” although the definition of ‘unlawful’ remained unclear (New York Times). In August, the IEBC agreed to resign (International Crisis Group). On December 6, Raila Odinga of CORD and Musalia Mudavadi of the Amani National Congress (ANC) announced the formation of a coalition to contest the 2017 presidential elections (International Crisis Group).
In September, the Kenyan government announced its plan to implement the Public Benefits Organizations (PBO) Act signed into law by President Mwai Kibaki in 2013. President Kenyatta had originally placed restrictions on independent groups, blaming NGOs for the charges that the International Criminal Court had filed against him. The new law should “streamline registration of NGOs and strengthen accountability,” according to Human Rights Watch. The NGO Coordination board, which made numerous controversial decisions, including the arbitrary deregistration of some NGOs, will be replaced with the PBO Authority (Human Rights Watch). Continued attacks by al-Shabaab led the Kenyan government to increase its counter-terrorism measures, which have resulted in more extreme human rights violations, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions (Amnesty International). October saw the beginning of investigations by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) on how the insecurity caused by al-Shabaab’s attacks has affected human rights in Kenya’s coastal region, where there have been dozens of allegations of human rights abuses by security forces (Human Rights Watch).
On April 5, the International Criminal Court terminated the case against Deputy William Samoei Ruto, who was accused of contributing to the organization of widespread, systematic attacks against Party of National Unity (PNU) supporters during the post-electoral violence of 2007-2008 (International Criminal Court. According to Amnesty International, 2015/2016 saw no measures to ensure justice and reparations for the victims of the 2007-08 post-electoral violence. However on June 26, President Kenyatta announced that the government of Kenya would set up a reparation fund to compensate victims. This compensation would not be limited to the victims of the 2007-2008 post-election violence (Amnesty International).
2015 On February 23 Kenya’s constitutional court struck down 10 clauses of the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014. After the Garissa University College attack, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a crackdown on suspected Al-Shabaab sympathizers and financiers. The government froze the bank accounts of 86 individuals, firms, and NGOs on April 8. Human Rights Watch claimed that two organizations critical of Kenyan security forces—Haki Africa and Muslims for Human Rights—were included on the list. The bank accounts of both organizations were frozen and documents and hard drives were seized (Human Rights Watch). (The bank accounts were unfrozen in a November court ruling.) On September 15 a Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights press release reported 120 cases of gross human rights abuse during security force operations in response to the April attacks on Garissa University College. Incidents included 25 extra-judicial killings and 81 forced disappearances (Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, September 15, 2015).
2014 On March 25, refugees residing in cities were requested to report to refugee camps by the interior minister, in response to security threats. More than 4,000 people were arrested in the first week of Operation Usalama Watch, which began in April. Amnesty International raised concerns about “arbitrary arrest, harassment, extortion, ill-treatment, forcible relocation and expulsion” as well as the targeting of Somalis. Some 359 Somali and other nationals, several with refugee status, were deported.The Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014 came into effect in December—a move that was contested by some members of Parliament and human rights groups. Among other measures, the bill mandates media restrictions, strengthens the powers of security agencies, and puts a limit on the number of refugees in Kenya. In early December, the International Criminal Court dropped charges against President Kenyatta because of deficient evidence. Human Rights Watch reported incidents of witness intimidation. National Commission for Integration and Cohesion chairman Francis ole Kaparo and the Garissa senator Yusuf Haji were appointed to head peacebuilding efforts in Mandera and Wajir, addressing violence between Degodia and Garre communities.
U.S. President Obama pledged $65-million for the first year of the Security Governance Initiative (SGI), which seeks to enhance the security sectors of Kenya and five other countries in Africa. As part of the Tripartite Agreement between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a pilot repatriation program for Somali refugees in Kenya began on December 8. The initiative has a target of 10,000 repatriations. By August, Kenya had taken in more than 42,000 asylum seekers from South Sudan.
2013 Significant political change occurred in 2013, with the reelection of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Rutu without post-election violence, as was feared might happen. Both Kenyatta and Rutu refused to face the International Criminal Court (ICC) for charges against them for inciting violence following the 2007 election. Parliament voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court in September 2013. Key witnesses withdrew in December, significantly weakening the ICC case against the two for crimes against humanity. The Kenyan and Somali Governments signed an agreement with the United Nations in November stating that Somali refugees returning to Somalia will be provided with support, with between 30,000 and 80,000 returning throughout 2013.
2012 Kenya’s High Court set the date for national elections in March 2013. Key politicians formed alliances. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice President Stephen Musyoka, and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetangula formed the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD), while former Minister William Rutu and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta formed the Jubilee Alliance. The International Criminal Court announced that both Rutu and Kenyatta would stand trial in April of 2013 on charges stemming from post-election violence in December 2007. Responding to deteriorating national security, the Kenyan government initiated mandatory refugee registration and resettlement processes in established refugee camps. Reports from Amnesty International alleged abuses of Somali refugees by Kenyan security forces, notably in the Dadaab refugee camp and surrounding areas. Tribal clashes between rival agro-pastoralist groups escalated in a number of regions, notably the Tania River, Moyale, and Samburu districts. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that Ethiopian Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebels were suspected of exacerbating clashes in the Moyale district. The Kenyan government intensified its crackdown on the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), arresting its leader, Omar Mwamnuadzi. Riots followed the killing of cleric Aboud Rogo Mohammed—the country’s fifth high-profile extrajudicial killing of a suspected al-Shabaab supporter. Kenyan human rights groups accused the government of direct involvement.
2011 The year saw political jockeying and alliance formation ahead of 2012 elections, scheduled to be held in either August or December. With two likely presidential candidates accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of involvement in post-election violence in 2007-2008, the actions of the ICC played a role in the political process in 2011. Uhuru Kenyatta (the Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister and son of Kenya’s first president) and William Ruto (the former agriculture and Higher Education Minister) have both been named by the ICC as suspected masterminds of the 2007-2008 violence. Shortly after being named suspects late in 2010, Kenyatta (a native Kikuyu), Ruto (a Kalenjin), and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka (a Kamba), formed a political alliance called KKK that morphed into the G7 (a Group of Seven multi-ethnic Kenyan politicians— the remainder are, Eugene Wamalwa, Omingo Magara, Aden Duale and Najib Balala). Kenyatta and Ruto toured the country together in 2011, holding rallies in which they claimed to have been framed by political opponents. Early in 2012, the ICC confirmed charges against four of the six named the previous year, including Kenyatta and Ruto. (Charges were also confirmed against Francis Muthaura and Joshua Sang. Hussein Ali and Henry Kosgey were acquitted.) Immediately after the ICC confirmation, Ruto indicated his impending trial would not deter his decision to run in the upcoming elections. Kenyatta resigned his post as Finance Minister but remained Deputy Prime Minister; as of January 2012, it was not clear whether Kenyatta would abandon his presidential ambitions. Cabinet Minister Muthaura also stepped down.
In October, the Kenyan government for the first time militarized its foreign policy by launching Operation Linda Nchi (Operation Protect the Country) in Somalia’s Juba Valley. Post-independence Kenya has never sent its forces to a foreign country to fight. The offensive against the militant Islamic group al-Shabaab appears to have prompted an increase in attacks by al-Shabaab at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.
2010 In January, the United States suspended $7-million (U.S.) earmarked for free primary schools until fraud allegations were thoroughly investigated. In February, Kenya’s shaky coalition government was threatened when President Mwai Kibaki overturned a decision by Prime Minister Raila Odinga to suspend the Agriculture and Education Ministers for alleged involvement in corruption. In February, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights condemned the government’s expulsion of the Endorois people from their land. An August referendum, supported by 67 per cent of Kenyans, approved a new constitution that limits the power of the president while decentralizing power to other regions. The constitution creates a Supreme Court and introduces a more comprehensive bill of rights. As well, the constitution sets up a commission to settle land disputes. In December, the International Criminal Court (ICC) named six Kenyans as masterminds of the worst bloodshed of post-independence Kenya during the 2007 to 2008 post-election violence. The six came from both the Odinga and Kibaki camps. The Kenyan government did not arrest Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir during his visit to Kenya in August, despite the ICC’s arrest warrant against him for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and despite the fact that Kenya has ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that underpins the ICC. In December, Kenyan members of Parliament voted overwhelmingly to pull out of the Rome Statute. The United States continued to support Kenya’s police and military in their efforts to combat terrorism, especially in the fight against the Somali-based al-Shabaab militia.
2009 In February, Kenya’s Parliament failed to enact legislation creating a justice tribunal to deal with those implicated in post-election violence in 2008. Talks between Nairobi and the International Criminal Court continued. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ICC prosecutor, met both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga in November.
2008 The February 2008 agreement retaining Mwai Kibaki in the elected position of President and Raila Odinga as Prime Minister was fragile but continued to hold. In March, three new bodies were formed to look into the 2007 election violence: the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC); the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence; and the Independent Review Committee on the 2007 Elections. The bodies were set up amid debate on how to deal with those implicated in the post-election violence.
2007 The presidential elections in December sparked violent demonstrations that threatened to destabilize the entire country. The election results declared incumbent Mwai Kibaki the victor amid charges of vote-rigging and tampering, angering supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga. Kibaki further enraged opposition supporters by announcing that the election results would not be overturned. The African Union was unable to bring Kibaki and Odinga together to meet. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stepped in to facilitate peace talks in January 2008 and brokered a power-sharing agreement between the two parties in February. Under the agreement, Kibaki would retain the post of President and Odinga would be Prime Minister. The two parties had agreed to a similar arrangement in 2002, which collapsed after three years. The new agreement contained no mechanisms to address ethnic tensions within the new constitution, scheduled to be drafted later in the year. Kibaki had to agree to an external review of the marred 2007 elections. The government faced the daunting task of repatriating 600,000 displaced by post-election violence.
2006 The Kenyan government spent most of 2006 embroiled in the multimillion-dollar Anglo Leasing corruption scandal. The scandal centred around the awarding of a highly lucrative contract to Anglo Leasing—a company that did not exist. Four high-ranking politicians as well as President Mwai Kibaki, elected on an anti-corruption platform, were implicated in the $600-million (U.S.) scam. Several high-ranking officials, including former finance minister David Mwiraria, education minister George Saitoti and energy minister Kiraitu Murungi, resigned in the wake of the scandal. The World Bank withheld $266.6-million (U.S.) for HIV/AIDS due to transparency issues. The United States denied $2.5-million in aid for the country’s anti-corruption campaign also due to transparency issues. Several administration officials were suspended over the mishandling of relief distribution in northern regions. Government forces were reportedly responsible for a raid on the country’s oldest newspaper and the arrest of three of its editors, an act condemned by Reporters Without Borders. A newly formed political party, the National Rainbow Coalition-Kenya (NARC-Kenya), won the Nakuru Town constituency seat in Rift Valley Province and two other seats in the northern Marsabit District in a by-election. The by-election was held after five MPs were killed in an April plane crash.
2005 Kenyans voted to retain their current constitution, rejecting the proposed changes supported by President Mwai Kibaki but opposed by a faction within his government. The contention centred on the opposition belief that the proposed changes would create stronger presidential powers. In December, the EU pledged humanitarian assistance to victims of ethnic clashes in Kenya’s northeast.
2004 In what observers described as a controversial move, President Mwai Kibaki brought opposition members into his administration as it continued to struggle to produce a workable draft constitution. There was little progress on the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, although the government continued to promise it would be established by the end of the year. A lobby group, the Public Corruption, Ethics and Governance Watch, sued former president Daniel arap Moi on charges of failing to prevent genocide during his tenure.
2003 Mwai Kibaki, leader of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) was sworn in as Kenya’s third President in December, succeeding Daniel arap Moi. Moi, leader of the Kenyan Africa Union (KANU), held the presidency for 24 years and was prevented by Kenya’s constitution from running for re-election. Upon assuming the presidency, Kibaki promised constitutional reform and the establishment of a truth, justice and reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed under previous governments. Political opposition and violence stalled constitutional reform. An additional obstacle facing Kibaki’s government was the death of Vice-President Michael Wamalwa in August. After two alleged al-Qaeda attacks on Israeli targets in Mombasa in November 2002, the relationship between the Kenyan and U.S. governments deepened as Kenya became an ally in the U.S.-led “war on terror”.
2002 In preparation for elections scheduled for December, the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission proposed radical changes to the Kenyan constitution that would greatly reduce the President’s power by introducing the post of executive prime minister and a two-chamber parliament. Incumbent President Daniel arap Moi is due to step down. Controversy and violence surrounded his decision to name Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, his preferred successor.
2001 Attempts were made to restore peace between the Pokot and Marakwet communities. Some reports indicated that the Kenyan government and its local representatives were not doing enough to assist in the peace process and were in some ways disruptive.
2000 In April, opposition and religious groups launched a rival constitutional review process in response to a government plan to review the constitution, which would allow President Daniel arap Moi to appoint a Board of Commissioners.
1999 In August, a presidential Commission on Ethnic Clashes, created in 1998, submitted its report on the cause of the ethnic clashes that have plagued the country since 1992. At year’s end, the government had not made the report public, nor did it announce any steps based on the findings.
1998 A December election did not bring the reform and reduction in violence hoped for as ethnic conflicts increased during the year. After a serious attack and retaliation left hundreds dead in February and March, President Daniel arap Moi’s call for calm and dialogue reduced the conflicts to some degree. But no serious peace talks or ceasefire negotiations were attempted this year.
Kenya’s ethnic-based conflicts are primarily rooted in land disputes, many stemming from British colonial policies. Established in 1895, Britain’s East African Protectorate removed Kikuyu and other tribes from their land, giving much of the fertile central highlands to European settlers. Britain also displaced the Maasai and Kalenjin from their land in fertile parts of the Rift Valley and the western highlands. After becoming a British colony in 1920, Kenyans were prohibited from political participation until 1944 when a few appointees were permitted to sit in the legislature.
From 1952 to 1959, the Mau Mau insurgency challenged British colonial rule, particularly its land policies in central Kenya. Tens of thousands of Kikuyu died in the fighting or in colonial detention camps and about 600 British were killed. Indigenous participation in the political process increased rapidly and the first Kenyans were elected to the Legislative Council in 1957. Kenya achieved independence in December 1963 and Jomo Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became Kenya’s first president. A year later, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), a coalition of ethnic minority groups, joined KANU. Kenyatta died in 1978 and was replaced by his vice-president Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin from Rift Valley Province.
Moi was accused of bolstering his own power and that of his supporters by eroding the multiparty system, and exploiting factional violence, competition over land and ethnic patronage. In 1969, Kenya became a de facto one-party state. In 1982, Kenya’s National Assembly amended the constitution to make KANU the sole legal political party. This amendment was repealed in 1991, restoring a multiparty system to Kenya.
In 1992, ethnic clashes in western Kenya left an estimated 2,000 people dead and 20,000 homeless. The availability of small arms helped erode traditional tribal power structures and heightened the violence. The next year, Kalenjin and Kikuyu fighting in the Rift Valley resulted in the deaths of 1,500 people and displaced 300,000. Foreign observers accused authorities of promoting ethnic cleansing.
In 1997, Moi was reelected for a fifth five-year term in chaotic and contested elections that divided the opposition. Early 1998 saw a serious Kalenjin attack followed by retaliatory actions that left hundreds dead; Moi called for calm and renewed a peace dialogue, which reduced the conflict, but did not lead to tangible progress. The presidential commission’s 1999 report on the clashes was not made public.
In 2002 presidential elections, Mwai Kibaki ran on an anti-corruption platform on behalf of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) – a united multiethnic opposition group – and defeated KANU candidate Uhuru Kenyatta. His NARC coalition splintered in 2005 over the constitutional review process. Defectors joined the KANU opposition to form a new coalition, the Orange Democratic Movement. In November 2005, a popular referendum was held on amending the constitution of Kenya. After a powerful NO campaign by the ODM, 58 per cent of Kenyans rejected the draft and Kibaki fired his entire cabinet. In 2006, four high-ranking politicians, as well as Kibaki, were implicated in a $600-million scandal, involving a highly lucrative contract to Anglo Leasing—a nonexistent company.
Kibaki’s reelection in December 2007 led to widespread accusations of vote-rigging and two months of countrywide protests and violence in which as many as 1,500 people died. In February 2008, UN-sponsored talks produced a power-sharing accord that made ODM candidate Raila Odinga prime minister. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans remained in IDP camps after the post-election violence. The economic impact of the election crisis was devastating. Conflict among the pastoralists along the Kenya-Uganda border escalated. In August 2010, Kenya adopted a new constitution that limited the power of the president, created a Supreme Court, set up a commission to settle land disputes, and introduced a more comprehensive bill of rights. Uhuru Kenyatta, became President in 2013.
Muslims comprise 11 per cent of the Kenyan population and have been historically marginalized. According to the 2007 Presidential Special Action Committee, they face institutional discrimination and Muslim-majority areas are underdeveloped. Longstanding grievances have generated grassroots support for Somali group al-Shabaab and other Islamist extremist groups. Al-Shabaab established a presence in Kenya in 2009 and became increasingly active in Kenya after Kenya’s 2011 military intervention into Somalia. Al-Shabaab continues to target civilians, with deadly attacks on the Westgate Shopping Mall in 2013 and Garissa University College in 2015.
Past weapons suppliers to the Kenyan government include China, France, Jordan, Germany, Russia, South Africa, and Spain. Kenya’s domestic munitions corporation, the state-owned Kenya Ordnance Factories Company, produces live and blank 7.62mm, 5.56mm, and 9mm ammunition. The factory in Eldoret produced about two million bullets in 2003 (The East African) and has been criticized for arming combatants in the wider Great Lakes Region (Amnesty International). In 2010, the UN reported 77 tanks, 15 fighter jets, and more than 40,000 automatic rifles were imported into Kenya without proper notification and approval.
In 2012, Kenya spent $694-million on military expenditures (1.9 per cent of GDP). The defence budget increased to $971-million in 2013 and $1.018-billion in 2014. The 2014 military and security budget included the purchase of new military helicopters, development of an Integrated Public Safety Communication and Surveillance System, and 10,000 new police officers. That year, Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri and helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter Southern Africa Limited announced their expansion into Kenya. In May, Kenya and China also signed an agreement on aviation cooperation. However, Kenya imported arms from only one country – Serbia – in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
In 2015, Kenya’s military budget decreased slightly to $942-million (this figure does not include spending on internal security operations) (The Military Balance, 2016, 489). Kenya received $92.4 million in U.S. aid for soldier training and new equipment to sustain the war against al-Shabaab in Somalia (Defense News).
The proliferation of small arms among cattle raiders and villagers in Kenya has led to an escalation of hostilities. Some clans secure weapons from across Kenya’s northern and eastern borders with Ethiopia and Somalia, while others rely on government sources. Post-election violence in 2008 increased the number of small arms in Kenya. By May 2008, studies reported at least 100,000 illegal arms in circulation, entering Kenya from Uganda (Karamoja border region), South Sudan, and southern Ethiopia (IRIN).
Kenya is one of 12 African nations that produce weapons and/or ammunition. Cartridge cases and bullets at crime scenes have been traced back to a military ammunition factory in Eldoret. While this ammunition is intended for Kenya’s armed forces and police, corrupt officials are suspected of siphoning them to civilians.
Most Kenyans live on less than one dollar a day. Kenya suffers from extremely high unemployment, high levels of crime, and widespread poverty. There is a dangerous divide between rich and poor, reflected in the unequal distribution of land ownership. Population growth has led to a scarcity of water and other natural resources. In the arid north, millions of people face recurrent drought. After a 2009 drought destroyed livestock and crops, government officials sold thousands of tons of grain reserves. In April 2011, hundreds of protestors filled the streets, demanding a reduction of food prices. Protests were prompted by severe droughts, a sharp rise in inflation, and lack of government accountability to the affected populations. Economic tensions were heavily politicized in the lead-up to scheduled 2013 national elections.
Kenya has the biggest economy and is the most influential country in East Africa, but rampant crime and corruption contribute to ongoing political instability. Corruption has diminished the public’s confidence in the government and law-enforcement agencies and has aggravated the marginalization and disenfranchisement of the poor. In 2010, the Finance Ministry admitted that corruption accounted for up to one-third of the national budget, with corrupt officials stealing huge sums of money intended for development projects. The new constitution and Patrick Lumumba’s 2010 appointment as head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission were intended to tackle widespread corruption. However, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has consistently found Kenya to be among the world’s 50 most corrupt countries.
Ongoing conflict has damaged the coastal tourism industry. In 2012, economic strife, political tensions, and ethnic friction led to the dramatic escalation of tribal attacks in the Tania River Delta, claiming the lives of between 100 and 200 civilians and police. In 2013, the government reported an 11 per cent decrease in the number of tourists and a two per cent drop in revenue from the preceding year. Many tourism jobs were lost and hotels closed. The same year, oil discoveries and large-scale infrastructure projects began in some of the poorest parts of the country. Despite encouraging hopes of alleviating poverty, they are thought to have exacerbated fighting amongst tribes. Kenya’s 2013 GDP growth rate was 5.7 per cent, according to the World Bank. In 2014, President Kenyatta claimed that travel advisories by some western countries had harmed the Kenyan economy.
The illicit trade in food stuffs is an additional revenue source for both government troops and insurgents. In 2015, Kenyan Journalists for Justice alleged that the military, Somalia’s Jubaland administration, and al-Shabaab were sharing as much as $400-million a year from smuggling sugar (The Economist, November 23, 2015).
Terrorist attacks by al-Shabaab, particularly the 2013 Westgate mall attack, contributed to a decline in international tourism. However, the tourism sector was recovering, with tourism up 20% in 2017. Kenya’s GDP growth was expected to decelerate in 2017, mainly due to droughts, but also “security concerns, weak credit growth, and a rise in oil prices.”
map: CIA Factbook