solid black line
dotted black line
  About MAR
dotted black line
  MAR Data
dotted black line
  AMAR Project
dotted black line
solid black line
Contact Us     


Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Kikuyu in Kenya

View Group Chronology

Kenya Facts
Area:    582,650 sq. km.
Capital:    Nairobi
Total Population:    28,333,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

While the Kikuyu used to experience significant political and cultural restrictions, since the election of President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, they have enjoyed political freedom and relative equality. Kibaki is leader of the coalition party the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC).

During the reign of former President Moi, the Kikuyu, while being economically advantaged, suffered the most in comparison to other groups in terms of political and cultural restrictions and being the victims of ethnic violence. Moi maintained power by providing his Kalenjin group with disproportionate political and economic advantages. The Kikuyu were politically advantaged from Kenya's independence until President Kenyatta's death in 1978. They now do not experience significant repression. While the risks of rebellion remain low for the Kikuyu, the risks of intercommunal violence are much higher. These risks stem from competition for access to land in the Rift Valley and from political competition. The post-election violence of late 2007 and early 2008 exemplify these risks.


Analytic Summary

The Kikuyu (22 percent of Kenya's population) are the largest of more than 40 ethnic groups that comprise Kenya's population. Some of the other groups include the Luhya (14 percent), Luo (13 percent), Kalenjin (12 percent), Kisii (6 percent), and the indigenous Somalis, Maasai, and Turkana. Group members are concentrated in Central Province and in the capital city, Nairobi (GROUPCON = 3). While the Kikuyu immigrated to the area in the 19th century, there has been little group migration across the country's regions.

Many of Kenya's ethnic groups are linguistically distinct, which is also the case with the Kikuyu who are ethnically related to the Meru and Embu peoples. In addition to the Kikuyu language, many Kikuyu also speak English and/or Swahili (LANG = 1). The group's social customs are similar to those of other communities (CUSTOM = 0). Most Kenyans are Christians (66 percent) or animist (26 percent). The Kikuyu are mostly Protestants (RELIGS1 = 3).

Migrations of various peoples to the territory that became Kenya predate the colonization period. The 1884-85 Berlin Conference which carved up Africa among the European powers led a decade later to British rule over much of East Africa, including Kenya. The colonial settlers forcibly evicted the indigenous African pastoralists and peasantry from the territory's most fertile highlands region, the Rift Valley area, (they referred to it as the White Highlands), in order to produce export crops. The Kikuyu ended up on inferior land or had to join the urban labor market. Others including the Kisii, Luhya and Luo were brought to the Rift Valley as sources of cheap labor. The nomadic Somali, Maasai, and Turkana not only faced discrimination from the British colonialists but also from successive post-independence governments.

Indigenous political activism dates to the early 1920s and in 1929 Jomo Kenyatta, a leader of the Kikuyu Central Association, went to London to press for Kikuyu land claims. He remained in Britain until 1947 when he returned and became president of the Kenyan African Union (KAU), the country's first nationalist movement formed in 1944. For most of the 1950s, Kenya was under a state of emergency due to the Mau Mau rebellion, a Kikuyu attempt to overthrow British rule (REB50X = 6; REB55X = 4). The rebellion was brutally suppressed as some 13,000 were killed and more than 100,000 were forcibly relocated. In 1957, the British sought to address nationalist demands by allowing African members to be elected to the legislative council on a limited franchise. The successor of the KAU, the Kenyan African National Union (KANU), was created in 1960 by two of the country's largest ethnic groups, the Kikuyu and the Luo.

Restrictions on African ownership of land in the White Highlands were lifted in the early 1960s and to prepare for independence, the territory's first general elections were held. KANU defeated its competitor, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). KADU, which represented the country's smaller ethnic groups including the Kalenjin, favored the adoption of Majimboism, a policy that would create ethnically-based semi-autonomous regions. Elections were next held in December 1963 and again KANU emerged victorious. Later that month, Kenya became independent and Jomo Kenyatta assumed the prime ministership. The following year, Kenya was declared a republic and Kenyatta became president.

President Kenyatta held power from 1963 until his death in August 1978. During this period, members from his Kikuyu group received a disproportionate share of political power along with special access to land and resources which reinforced their advantaged economic status. In particular, the Kikuyu were the primary beneficiaries of the Africanization of the White Highlands. The ruling KANU party also consolidated its position by absorbing the KADU and the only other political party, the African People's Party. Kenyatta was succeeded by Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin.

President Moi came under intense criticism from domestic and international sources for his repression of opposition forces which included human rights abuses such as extra-judicial executions, widespread torture, and the disappearance and harassment of activists. From 1982 until 1991, political parties other than the ruling KANU were not allowed to exist. International pressure, including threats to withdraw foreign aid, forced Moi to concede to multiparty elections in 1992. Moi had earlier rejected multipartyism, asserting that it would lead to ethnic violence. From the end of 1991 to 1994, widespread ethnic violence emerged in the Rift Valley Province and other areas as Moi’s Kalenjin along with the Maasai fought against the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, and Kisii. The Kalenjin and Maasai want to evict all non-indigenous groups from the region. More than fifteen hundred deaths were reported and around 300,000 Kikuyu, Kisii, Luo, and Luhya were driven out of the Rift Valley, Kenya’s richest and most fertile region. After President Moi took over, the Kikuyu were the main targets of ethnic violence. There were credible reports that the government, in an effort to counter the opposition parties, instigated much of this large-scale violence, partially through its support for the Kalenjin and the Maasai. No compensation has been provided, and the government has suggested that those who were displaced can apply for resettlement on land other than their original property.

Since the mid-1990s, the level of ethnic violence in the Rift Valley has declined. Hostilities did emerge during the 1997 elections and again there were allegations that some government officials either supported or instigated the ethnic violence. President Moi won the elections with less than 40 percent of the popular vote largely due to the fragmented nature of the opposition.

In December 2002 President Emilio Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was elected. He is a part of the coalition party the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). The parties involved are the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Democratic Party (DP), Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (FORD-K), and the National Party of Kenya (NPK). In those same elections, NARC won 125 seats in parliament, and through 2006 parliament continued to represent Kenya’s five largest ethnic groups, including the Kikuyu. Kibaki again won the presidential election of December 2007. However, there were widespread irregularities in vote-counting and violence erupted. Most of the violence was between Kikuyu supporters of Kibaki and Luo supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Demographic stresses that confront the Kikuyu include environmental decline in group-majority areas and dispossession from their land. Those who were displaced during the ethnic violence in the Rift Valley area in the early 1990s have been unable to return and given the government's indifference toward non-Kalenjins, it is unlikely that they will regain their original property.

Under Moi, there were no official economic restrictions against the Kikuyu, but significant political and cultural discrimination limited group activities. Public policies restricted the practice of the group’s religious beliefs and the activities of its cultural organizations. These policies were targeted against the Mungiki, a quasi-religious organization which was formed in 1987 by a self-proclaimed prophet, Maina Ngenga. Comprising poor, unemployed Kikuyu youth, the Mungiki has a radical political outlook that includes an anti-West agenda. In recent years, it has significantly increased its membership. The government has declared the Mungiki an illegal organization.

Under Moi, political restrictions, in the form of public policies, severely curtailed the opportunities and activities of group members, including limits on free movement, voting, political organizing, recruitment to the police and the military, and the attainment of high office. In recent years, state repression against the Kikuyu has been targeted against the Mungiki and includes arrests of the organization's members and the use of limited force against protestors.

The Kikuyu's past grievances encompassed political, economic, and social concerns. Along with seeking greater political participation at the center, the group wanted a larger share of public funds along with safeguards to ensure that their land and jobs are not used to the advantage of other ethnic groups. The freedom to practice their religious and cultural beliefs and protection from attacks by other communal groups were also significant concerns.

However, since Kibaki’s election, no instances of political or cultural repression were found (POLDIS = 1, ECDIS = 1). The only significant disadvantage was that following tribal clashes, thousands of Kikuyus fled their homes (DISPLACE05 = 1).

Various conventional umbrella organizations represent group interests, as well as at least one militant organization with limited support (GOJPA = 3). These include President Kibaki’s coalition NARC party, as well as the violent fundamentalist Mungiki sect. While the sect is violent, leaders did agree to meet with a parliamentary committee to address escalating crime in the country and to defend their position that they are not responsible for recent violence.

Relations between the Kikuyu and the country's other ethnic groups were nonviolent during 1999 and 2000. Sporadic violent clashes between the Kikuyu and the politically dominant Kalenjin were last reported in 1998. The Kikuyus had some violent clashes with the country’s other ethnic groups in the period 2004-2006. Following a disagreement over water rights, violent conflict arose between the Kikuyu and Maasai, resulting in the deaths of over 30 people and hundreds of people forced to flee their homes (INTERCON04-06 = 1). Additionally the Kikuyus had some violent incidents with the Kalenjins and Luos.

Most of the violence in the period 2004-2006 came from the Mungiki sect. They were responsible for small terrorist attacks, injuring and brutally murdering people in all three years. The government has outlawed the Mungikis, with the goal of completely eliminating the sect, resulting in numerous arrests of suspected sect members (REPVIOL04-05 = 3; REPVIOL06 = 4). The only protest activity came from the Mungiki sect or defectors of the sect (PROT04 = 3).

Kikuyu political activism dates to the pre-independence period. During President Kenyatta's reign there was a lull in protest but since the mid-1980s, but there were consistent protest actions including demonstrations in opposition to Moi's rule. Since the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, there has not been any other anti-state insurgency. However, there have been isolated incidents of political banditry in recent years, usually attributed to the Mungiki sect (REB03-04 = 1).



Africa Elections Database. 2006. “Africa Elections Database.”, accessed 11/7/2008.

Elischer, Sebastian. 2/2008. "Ethnic Coalitions of Convenience and Commitment: Political Parties and Party Systems in Kenya." GIGA Working Paper No. 68., accessed 11/17/2008.

IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Network): United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Various reports. 1996-1999.

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Morrison, Donald George, Robert Cameron Mitchell, and John Naber Paden, eds. 1989. Black Africa: A Comparative Handbook. New York: Paragon House.

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

ReliefWeb. 2005. “Four killed in renewed tribal fighting in Kenya.”, accessed 10/3/2008.

Stewart, Frances. 3/2008. "Kenya, Horizontal Inequalities and the Political Disturbances of 2008." Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity. Department of International Development, Oxford University., accessed 4/9/2009.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kenya. 2000-2006. 2002. “Kenya: Kibaki sworn in as new president.”, accessed 11/6/2008.


© 2004 - 2023 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of December 31, 2006