Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Kenyans are opposed to ethnic groupings

Close to two-thirds of Kenyans are opposed to ethnic groupings that some politicians are using to mobilize support and votes for elections scheduled for early next year, a new opinion poll shows.

The poll was conducted weeks after two prominent Kenyans accused before the International Criminal Court (ICC) lobbied for and secured the endorsement of some ethnic elite groups for their presidential aspirations. The groups also promised to mobilize signature campaigns against their trials at the ICC.

It comes a week after Prime Minister Raila Odinga told parliament that the National Security Intelligence Service had reported that the formation of tribal groupings was raising tensions in the country.

Independent polling company Strategic Public Relations and Research released its poll on May 16 in which it recorded that 62 percent of Kenyans do not support ethnic groupings that are being revived for vote-mobilizing and other purposes. Only 13 percent of people interviewed said they supported the tribal groupings. Twenty-five percent of those interviewed said they either had no idea or no comment to make.

The issue of ethnic groupings became a big public issue in Kenya when Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Cabinet William Samoei Ruto lobbied for and got the support of a grouping of their ethnic elites. Kenyatta and Ruto are accused before the ICC on several counts of crimes against humanity for the violence that shook Kenya following the controversial December 2007 presidential poll.

The GEMA Cultural Association endorsed Kenyatta on March 23 as its leader and gave him the mandate to determine the political party the group will back in general election scheduled for March 4, 2013. The GEMA Cultural Association has its roots in an organization of a similar name formed in the 1970s to try and hold onto political power by ensuring only one of their own succeeded the president at the time, Jomo Kenyatta, who was Uhuru’s father. The 1970s group was called GEMA, which stood for Gikuyu, Embu, and Meru Association. The Gikuyu are Kenya’s most populous ethnic group and the Embu and Meru are separate ethnic groups that have a culture and language similar to the Gikuyu. Kenyatta is a Gikuyu. In their March 23 declaration, the GEMA Cultural Association also said it would organize a signature campaign to pressure the ICC to schedule Kenyatta’s trial after Kenya’s elections have been held.

Just over a week after the GEMA Cultural Association endorsed Kenyatta as its leader, another association of select ethnic groups met on April 2 and in turn named Ruto as their leader. This group, KAMATUSA, has its roots in a similar group forged together in the early 1990s by the president of the time, Daniel arap Moi, to consolidate his own political base as he confronted the return of multiparty politics to Kenya. KAMATUSA stands for Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana, and Samburu. The Kalenjin are the most populous of the group and form one of Kenya’s big ethnic groups. Moi and Ruto are Kalenjin. The KAMATUSA also declared that they would collect signatures to pressure the ICC to hold Ruto’s trial after Kenya’s elections next year.

Support for the GEMA Cultural Association and KAMATUSA is primarily among the elite of the different ethnic groups.

Strategic Public Relations and Research found that even in the areas where GEMA and KAMATUSA are supposed to be predominant, the opposition to these groupings is higher than the support. GEMA is supposed be dominant in the Central and Eastern Provinces of Kenya. According to the poll, 53 percent of people in Central Province are opposed to tribal groupings such as GEMA and only 24 percent support the revival of such groups. The rest had no idea or no comment. Similarly, in Eastern Province, the poll found 55 percent were opposed and only 10 percent support such groups. KAMATUSA is dominant in the Rift Valley Province where the poll found 58 percent of the people were opposed to the revival of KAMTUSA and similar groups, while only 17 percent supported the groups.

Overall, among the reasons people gave for opposing such groupings was that they promote tribalism, and they bring about disunity and violence in the country.

During Prime Minister’s Question Time in Parliament on May 9, Odinga said that the National Security Intelligence Service had warned the government that the ethnic groupings could become a threat to security in the country.

“The recent trend where sections of the political elite have resorted to using ethnic groups for political mobilization in order to advance personal and community interest to the exclusion of other sections of the Kenyan community is posing a threat to national cohesion and security,” Odinga told Parliament, quoting from a National Security Intelligence Service report. The prime minister did not state when the report was written.

“The use of tribal groupings to rally ethnic communities to denounce the ICC process may lead to deterioration of inter-ethnic tensions pitting those perceived to be for and against the process. The trend where most of the political parties attract bedrock support from specific ethnic groups is fuelling ethnic hostilities,” Odinga quoted further from the intelligence report while addressing Parliament on May 9.

When Odinga was asked what the government was doing to prevent the likelihood of political violence in the country in this election year, he only appealed to politicians to talk about ideologies and not about personalities or communities.

According to the Strategic Public Relations and Research poll, Odinga remains in the lead among the declared presidential aspirants. Odinga polled 32.7 percent, compared with his closest rival, Kenyatta, who polled 15.2 percent. The poll also found that a large number of people are undecided – 11.7 percent of those interviewed. This still leaves Kenya’s presidential open given that there are about 10 months before the vote is held.

The poll also covered peoples’ opinions on what qualities they are looking for in a presidential candidate and which presidential aspirant is best suited to tackle issues like corruption, justice for the marginalised, and implementing the constitution, among others.

The Strategic Public Relations and Research poll is based on face-to-face interviews of 5,000 people across Kenya conducted between April 27 and May 2. The respondents were aged 17 years and above. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percent.