Courtesy Reuters

Tribal Politics Harass Kenya

Before the murder of Tom Mboya in July 1969, Kenya politicians could mute and obscure their country's tribal tensions. The tensions, of course, were always there, straining the fragile unity of the new country, but they did not pervade every side of political life. Personal rivalry counted; so did ideology. The assassination changed all that.

For more than a year, Kenya was torn by a dangerous and blatant tribal conflict that colored all political activity. In a sense, this only followed what had happened elsewhere in Africa, where crisis invariably heightens tribal hatreds and suspicions. The results, as Nigeria showed, can be terrifying. But Kenya is not another Nigeria. In recent months, the fury has diminished, giving Kenya a time of calm to deal with its tribal problem. Its future depends on whether its politicians learn to do so.

At stake is a land of 10.5 million people led by pragmatic men who have nursed the old white settler economy so well that Kenya has one of the highest economic growth rates in black Africa. No other black African country has anything to compare with its fertile soil and energetic farmers. Its wildlife and incredible and varied beauty have made it the tourist center of black Africa. But all this is threatened by the instability inherent in tribalism.

Before analyzing the tribal problem, it makes sense to recount the excited political events of the country since the death of Mboya. They rushed on Kenya in a breathless way, moving so swiftly that they seemed part of a novel or a film rather than a real political story. Stark, dramatic events sometimes have a way of oversimplifying the complexities of a political and social problem. In this case, however, they helped to reveal the intensity and urgency of the problem, demonstrating how tribalism can suddenly take hold of an African country and blot out all else.

II

Mboya, the Minister for Economic Planning and Development, was gunned down by an assassin on a crowded

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