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Reimagining a Nation: Kenya Not for Two Tribes Only

13 min read.

As long as we focus on the tribe, we will lose the nation and be stuck in the tribal mire. Kenya will cease to be a society. We will lose our sense of collective responsibility and find in its place a culture of competitive victimhood.



Reimagining a Nation: Kenya Not for Two Tribes Only
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Facing a withering assault over his relationship with his Deputy William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta delivered a measured and thoughtful speech on Kenyan ethnic politics. During the burial of the mother of Hon. Musalia Mudavadi, leader of the Amani National Congress, Kenyatta proclaimed, “two tribes only should not lead this country”. His assertion was by almost every measure extraordinary. Or, perhaps, delivered against the advice of his advisors, who felt that rekindling discussion of the tribalized presidency would roil the usual negative public debate.

Uhuru did not gauge the language of his speech, nor was it shaped by his political handlers. Yet he set the tone for the 2022 presidential elections.

Just like Gandalf the White, in JRR Tolkien’s Return of the King, whose simple word freed King Theoden from an enchantment placed on him by Saruman through Wormtongue, with this pronouncement, Uhuru sought to exorcise the spell that has bound Kenya since independence: politicized ethnicity.

In a cruel irony, having benefited from tribalized politics, Uhuru would now purport to jettison it. His father, President Jomo Kenyatta, spawned the tribal logic that shaped Kenyan post-independence politics. By creating the Gikuyu Embu Meru Association (GEMA), he not only decimated a budding ideology-based party politics but, without shame, also anchored tribalized politics to win the 1969 General elections. Kenyatta commissioned the ominous Gikuyu Oath to galvanize support around his presidency. Rev. John Gatu, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), maintains that Kenyatta administered the oath to solidify tribal unity, besides ensuring that the presidency stayed in the house of Mumbi. Thus, Kenyatta created a super-majority for the political security of his ethnic kin. This approach was not unique to Kenyatta since, according to Prof. James Ogude, from 1963, parties mobilized political support along ethnic lines. These political parties articulated the communal and politicians’ interests, conflating personal with ethnic interests and thus widening social and political schisms.

In employing the colonial script of indirect rule, Jomo Kenyatta made Kenyans outside GEMA what Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, in Neither Settler nor Native, calls permanent minorities. They became tribal outfits and so excluded them from power and state resources. In this act, Kenyatta proffered to his community a distinct advantage in electoral politics, which they continued to enjoy, boasting of the tyranny of numbers.

By adopting a majoritarian democracy, the nation established Kenyan power through political units based on population sizes. Jomo led the nation along lines of cultural and ethnic distinction, politicizing ethnic groups into administrative-political units or tribes. This justified skewed political representation with minority groups not having a single representative at any level of governance, while the dominant had several. This divergence is based on skewed electoral boundary demarcations and the extent of concentrating ethnic groups within political units. The institutions given the authority to create boundaries have often done so, intending to make sure that they dispersed other communities across various political units, thus ensuring minorities were permanent.

President Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s second president, emulated Kenyatta’s tribal policies. His slogan, siasa mbaya, maisha mbaya (dirty politics, terrible life), epitomized his tribalized political agenda. Moi created his new minorities on a territorial and political basis, which he executed in two ways.

First, Moi capitalized on colonial territorial boundaries, which had become the basis for post-colonial conflicts, as the grounds for political belonging. Moi did not invent differences between ethnic groups, but exploited them. He copied the British tactics. The British, Mamdani argues, politicized real and acknowledged differences between ethnic groups by turning them into legal boundaries deemed inviolable and basing security and economic benefits on locals’ respect for these boundaries.

But not having a large ethnic bloc like GEMA, Moi aped the British. He identified distinctive local customs and histories and perpetuated the imperial historical narrative, census, and law, thus transforming existing cultural differences into boundaries of political identity. Moi amalgamated smaller tribes into a dreaded political juggernaut, the KAMATUSA acronym for Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana, and Samburu, earmarking the Rift Valley Province as their homeland. In this homeland, they made other communities permanent minorities irrespective of their number. It was, therefore, possible for him to govern the fragmented and fractured large groups, such as the Luo and the Kikuyu.

Moi capitalized on colonial territorial boundaries, which had become the basis for post-colonial conflicts, as the grounds for political belonging.

At the risk of violence, the state and Moi’s supporters further suppressed the minorities’ right to political opinion. Moi’s supporters, including Willy Kamuren, Baringo North KANU MP (1988-1992), declared, “[That] the Kalenjin, Maasai, Samburu, and West Pokot . . . were ready to protect the Government ‘using any weapon at their disposal’”. He warned, “If any FORD member dared to visit any part of the province, they will regret it for the rest of their lives.” But it was William Ole Ntimama, the then MP for Narok North and Minister for Local Government (1988-1992) who epitomized violence against minorities when he vowed, “We will use rungus if this will be the effective way of ending the talk about multi-party. This I have said on this platform and am repeating it: The violence of Saba Saba was not a milk-drinking party”. In early 1993, tribal clashes broke out in Enoosupukia—which is in Maasailand—between the Maasai and the Kikuyu).

For Moi’s supporters, any call for multi-parties and inclusive government met with calls for Majimboism. (Majimbo, Kiswahili for provinces/states, was a federal system of governing espoused in independent Kenya. The self-government and independence constitutions introduced in 1963 provided some significant characteristics of federalism, but the regionalism created under those constitutions fell short of a full federal system of governance.) Consider the boldness of Willy Kamuren, the Baringo North KANU MP (1988-1992), demanding that they “. . . keep quiet or else we’re ready for the introduction of Majimboism whereby every person will be required to go back to his motherland. Once we introduce Majimbo in Rift Valley, all outsiders who acquired our land will have to move and then leave the land to our children”.

Second, the Moi era re-defined permanent minorities via the prism of political power access. Moi made permanent minorities of the ethnic groups he excluded from power, thus justifying denying them access to economic progress. Their citizenship meant little as long as it precluded them from sovereign power.

Following the 1982 failed coup d’état against his government, Jennifer A. Widner observed that Moi radically altered the composition of key cabinet positions in 1985 and filled them with members of the Kalenjin and smaller communities. Moi’s government policies empowered these native authorities, bestowing benefits and generating higher investment in the homeland, while stunting the rest of the country. In this arrangement, the minorities have suffered most from such dynamic exclusion. Hassan J. Ndzovu noted that the government excluded entire regions from the benefits of state-sanctioned development, since it targeted specific communities for discrimination. This resulted in unbridgeable societal inequalities. Such inequalities violated basic human rights. The Swedish academic and Cambridge don Göran Therborn defines inequality as “a historical social construction which allocates the possibilities of realizing human capacity unequally”. According to Therborn, inequality kills. Inequality puts people asunder and tears families apart. It creates exorbitant squandering, self-indulgent profligacy, and other evils.

Of significance, inequality is a denial of the possibility for everybody’s human capabilities to develop. Therborn further enumerated the effects of inequalities to include premature death, ill health, humiliation, subjection, discrimination, exclusion from knowledge or mainstream social life, poverty, powerlessness, stress, insecurity, anxiety, lack of self-confidence and pride in oneself, and exclusion from opportunities and life-chances. While in Kenya Minorities, Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Diversity, Maurice O. MakOloo observes how many citizens, especially from minority groups, view the state as accessible to only those with strong ethnic affiliations with holders of political power, or economic might. It is disgraceful that Kenya’s post-independent governments institutionalized inequalities among its citizens through ethnic politics.

Appalled at the failure of governments to fulfil their social obligations to the citizenry, distraught Kenyans turned to civil society to agitate for law reforms. They sought laws to restrain the leaders’ inexcusable excesses. Ethnic politics has harmed our society. Such persistent inequality failed the national socio-economic development project. The exacerbation of exclusion and marginalization yielded systemic corruption, nepotism, and discrimination, which came to the fore during Moi’s regime.

Inequality puts people asunder and tears families apart. It creates exorbitant squandering, self-indulgent profligacy, and other evils.

Amid this encircling gloom, we saw a new constitution as a social contract between the people and their rulers. These were the explicit or implicit agreements among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, by sacrificing certain individual freedoms for state protection. Such was the Constitution 2010, which Kenya’s former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga maintains reflected the struggles of the people and provided foundations of a renewed hope. It thus allowed people to expect them to keep their promises, cooperate, and so on. Before establishing the basic social contract, nothing was immoral or unjust anything goes. Mutunga states: “In their wisdom, the Kenyan people decreed that past to reflect a status quo that was unacceptable”. For Mutunga, a modern Bill of Rights provided for economic, social, and cultural rights to reinforce the political and civil rights, giving the whole gamut of human rights the power to radically mitigate the status quo and signal the creation of a human rights state in Kenya.

This Constitution gave the ultimate authority to the people of Kenya, which they delegated to institutions. In return, the institutions must serve them and not enslave them. It sought to set up a framework to organize the operations of political parties and transform them into effective agents of democracy, national development, and national cohesion.

Kenya has since experimented with this new social order. By law, political parties were to have a national character and draw their members from across the country. Besides, they had to espouse a national agenda and thus promote national unity. Regrettably, ethnic politics remained weaved into political parties, with our law impotent and unable to solve inequalities and exclusion.

In 2013, for example, the two main political blocs had no presence outside the home region of their principal leaders. For instance, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of Raila Odinga has Luo Nyanza as its bedrock of support, while the Ford Kenya of Moses Wetangula is in practice a Bukusu-Luhya party. The Wiper Democratic Movement, led by Kalonzo Musyoka, draws its numeric strength from the Kamba people in the lower Eastern. Meanwhile, The National Alliance (TNA) of President Uhuru Kenyatta was a Kikuyu party, even though some of its leaders were from other regions. The United Republican Party (URP) of the Deputy President William Ruto drew its membership strength from the Kalenjin communities.

Here is an irony. The parties that formed coalitions and alliances did so to aid their respective leaders to accede to political power as an end. The articulation of ethnic interests meant little. These groups were a mere voting bloc whose leaders remained unaccountable.

The 2017 elections had a different format. The political parties formed coalitions, providing a key impetus to unite their ethnic groups. For example, NASA comprised of ODM, Ford-Kenya, and Wiper party, was an alliance of the Luo, Luhya and Kamba ethnic groups associated with the individual parties in the alliance. Similarly, the Jubilee Alliance represented the GEMA, the Kalenjin, and other groups in the Rift Valley.

The exacerbation of exclusion and marginalization yielded systemic corruption, nepotism, and discrimination, which came to the fore during Moi’s regime.

They formed these coalitions of convenience with the sole motivation of gaining a parliamentary majority. Political parties have continued to represent ethno-regional interests. We appear paralyzed by the “tribal logic” at the crossroads of either facing chaos or forming a community. Thus, again sinking the desired changes into the deep trenches of ethnic politics.

I fear that politics will continue to disappoint our expectations. There will be a rising tide of anger and resentment. The majority of Kenyans will feel anxious, uncertain, fearful, aggressive, unstable, unrooted, and unloved. In the meantime, our leaders will focus on promoting themselves instead of the one thing that will give them lasting happiness, making life better for others.

Perhaps, this explains Uhuru’s intervention upon seeing the trajectory of the 2022 elections. In his statement, Uhuru appears to recognize the imperative of eliminating tribalism. He spoke with the urgency of one determined to rise above these divisions. One is ready to repair the cords that bind the nation. To him, this is the time. But we do not seem to be there yet!

Take the case of Hon. Ruto, leader of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and his Kenya Kwanza alliance. He tried to change the debate on tribalism, which he saw unravelling his ambition, and make the election about economic inequalities of the haves vs the have-nots. Ruto campaigned for a change in the fortunes of those struggling at the base of the economy, arguing that it was a prerequisite for peace. He hoped this focus would erase the impact of inequalities among Kenyans. But the UDA party ought to be cognizant that focusing on the market economy will foster inequalities and fester corruption. The market proffers capitalism. And capitalism seeks to build a happy society based on the exploitation of man by man.

On the opposing side is Hon. Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja-One-Kenya. The alliance promises to unite Kenyans by including every ethnic group ready to join with them to achieve inclusion and prosperity for all Kenyans. This is their antidote to tribal politics but, on the contrary, pundits have deemed the alliance as an aggregate of tribal kings and queens. There has been limited discussion about Kenya within the parties, yet where mentioned, it is to make it easy to get political power in the interests of their leaders in the guise of the allied communities. Ethnic considerations are the basis for negotiating positions in government. Hence, the whispers within Azimio that Akamba people are negotiating for 20 per cent of the government.

Regrettably, ethnic politics remained weaved into political parties, with our law impotent and unable to solve inequalities and exclusion.

Driven by such strategic considerations, these alliances extensively use “ethnic arithmetic”, which tries to include as many groups as necessary to secure electoral victory. Overall, these types of ethnic coalitions prove to be internally fragile and short-lived. The two basic differences between the two multi-ethnic types are their respective motivation and internal stability: The alliance type corresponds to the logic of Donald Horowitz’s coalitions of convenience and coalitions of commitment. But these parties continue to manifest as a multi-ethnic alliance and multi-ethnic integrative parties, both of which, representing various ethnic communities, have widened the existing divisions.

Whatever form political parties take, the 2022 alliances—Kenya kwanza and Azimio—should desist from creating their minorities like previous governments. In both movements, the internal party discussions centre on “us versus them”. Party supporters prefer the local leaders they can trust to articulate their interests. Many people seek to join the winning team for fear of exclusion. It should not be that way.

Re-imagining a moral Kenya

Attempts to strengthen our institutions by creating institutions that offer democratic checks and balances, decreeing values in public service, have collapsed. The Constitution 2010, despite its inclusive and democratic laws, did not translate this promise into the life of the nation. Our leaders remain in breach of the social contract, and that, with impunity. Exclusion and inequalities continue to define our society.

For many Kenyans, the greatest sense of belonging and security derives not from the state but from the mediation of ethnic networks. If we are to turn things around in our society, we should heed the advice of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In his book The home we build together: Recreating Society, Sacks suggests that a society should develop on ideals such as justice, compassion, human dignity, welfare, relations between employer and employee, the equitable distribution of wealth, and the social inclusion of those without power (widows, orphans, strangers). Sacks maintains, “To these issues, a social contract is irrelevant. What matters is a social covenant”.

This requires a distinctive logic. Market economics and liberal democratic politics alone cannot sustain societal cohesion.

The market has been merciless. Politics are deceiving, divisive, confrontational, and extreme. Organizing our nation around the state (power) and market (economy) breeds inequalities and exclusion. In his book Morality, Sacks advances the third element for building a society: morality. Morality humanizes the competition for wealth and power. It is the redemption of our solitude. Sacks contends that morality gives us a concern for the welfare of others, an active commitment to justice and compassion, and a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for “all of us together”. We cannot outsource this aspect, however important to the market and the state.

We appear paralyzed by the “tribal logic” at the crossroads of either facing chaos or forming a community.

A society is a moral achievement, which we form through our habits. Sacks admonishes that we must cultivate self-restraint, develop a capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and grow the habits of heart and virtues, without which we disintegrate.

State formation is not the real challenge facing democracies. Our challenge, observed Sacks, “[is] not about power but about culture, morality, social cohesion, about the subtle ties that bind, or fail to bind, us into a collective entity with a sense of shared responsibility and destiny.” Morality depends on each of us.

President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, in his Ujamaa ideology, articulated what Sacks proffers as a moral society. Prof. Aloo Mojola of St. Paul’s University observes that Nyerere was dealing with inequalities, which in his judgment undermined mutual respect and humane relationships and destroyed the values and infrastructure necessary for a fair and egalitarian society. Central to Nyerere’s value of human brotherhood, according to Mojola, was his firm belief in Ubuntu, the equivalent of the Swahili term Utu.

This Nyerere defined thus: “Man is the purpose of all social activity. The service of man, the furtherance of human development, is, in fact, the purpose of society itself”. To emphasize Ubuntu’s importance, Desmond Tutu writes:

Ubuntu is the essence of being human. It speaks of how my humanity is caught up and bound up inextricably with yours . . . We are made for complementarity . . . Ubuntu speaks of spiritual attributes such as generosity, hospitality, compassion, caring, and sharing . . . The concept states that people are more important than profits.

Nyerere based his Ujamaa philosophy on communitarian thinking espoused in Africa’s extended families. He protracted this communitarian thinking beyond the circle of ethnic groups to include all humanity. His idea is that all humans should see each other as members of the same family. Nyerere stated, “As members of the ever-extending family . . . Bin adamu wote ni ndugu zangu, na Afrika ni moja,” All humans are my brothers and sisters, and Africa is one. In most African traditional heritage, the “society” extended the basic family unit. On extended family, Nyerere contends:

It can no longer confine the idea of the social family within the limits of the tribe, nor indeed of the nation. . . Our recognition of the family to which we all belong must be extended yet further– beyond the tribe, the community, the nation, or even the continent – to embrace the whole society of mankind.

Prof. Mojola maintains that the Arusha Declaration (Azimio la Arusha) is central to understanding Nyerere’s agenda. Thus Nyerere explained, “The Declaration is about the way we shall make a reality of human equality in this country, and how our citizens will achieve full control over their affairs”. Nyerere interpreted the Azimio to be “. . . based on the assumption of human equality, on the belief that it is wrong for one man to dominate or to exploit another, and on the knowledge that every individual hopes to live in society as a free man able to lead a decent life in conditions of peace with his neighbours. The document is, in other words, Man-centred. . . It is a commitment to the belief that there are more important things in life than the amassing of riches, and that if the pursuit of wealth clashes with things like human dignity and social equality, then the latter will be given priority”. For Nyerere, therefore, service to humanity was the purpose of society.

Ruto tried to change the debate on tribalism, which he saw unravelling his ambition, and make the election about economic inequalities of the haves vs the have-nots.

Raila’s Azimio-One-Kenya should adopt the spirit and policies of Azimio la Arusha, as espoused by Nyerere, and not just parrot the word. How do we persuade Kenyans to covenant to Utu politics? The blemish in Nyerere’s Ujamaa, observes Andrew Coulson, was in its forceful enforcement. It was not voluntary and not all Tanzanians freely embraced the policies. However, Prof. Mojola (2020) notes, these policies have had a good effect on Tanzania. Since society is the home we build together, I share Sacks’ conclusion that we may only recreate our society through social covenanting. He avers that while social contract can create a state, only a social covenant can create a society. According to Sacks:

Covenant complements the two great contractual institutions: the state and the market. We enter the state and the market as self-interested individuals. We enter a covenant as altruistic individuals seeking the common good. The state and the market are competitive. In the state, we compete for power; in the market, we compete for wealth. Covenantal institutions are essentially cooperative. When they become competitive, they die.

We can re-imagine Kenya in the framework advanced by Rabbi Sacks to achieve a sense of common belonging, which is imperative for a healthy society.

As long as we focus on the “tribe”, we will lose the “nation” and be stuck in the tribal mire where we act on tribal self-interest without a commitment to the nation’s common good. Kenya will cease to be a society and instead have identity groups. We will lose our feeling of collective responsibility and find in its place a culture of competitive victimhood.

Samora Machel, the independent president of Mozambique, rightly warned, “For the nation to live, the tribe must die”. If colonization and neo-colonization created permanent minorities, which were maintained through the politicization of identity, the counterpoint is the unmaking of the permanence of these identities. We must move from the politics of “our tribe” to the politics of “Kenya”. Only then will we rediscover the counter-intuitive truth, as Sacks states, that a nation is strong when it cares for the weak, that it becomes invulnerable when it cares about the vulnerable.

One day, Kenyans will rise above ethnic divisions and recognize the ties that bind all. I pray this message finds ready and listening ears to believe.

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Rev. Canon Francis Omondi is a Priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese of the ACK, a Canon of the All-Saints Kampala Cathedral of the Church of Uganda, Adjunct Lecturer at St. Paul’s University, Limuru, and Research Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life. Views expressed here are his own.


Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven

From its beginnings as a fishing village, Lagos has grown into a large metropolis that attracts migrants seeking opportunity or Internally Displaced Persons fleeing violence.



Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven
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Lagos, City of Migrants

From its origins as a fishing village in the 1600s, Lagos has urbanised stealthily into a vast metropolis, wielding extensive economic, political and cultural influence on Nigeria and beyond. Migration in search of opportunities has been the major factor responsible for the demographic and spatial growth of the city as Lagos has grown from 60,221 in 1872 to over 23 million people today. The expansion of the city also comes with tensions around indigene-settler dynamics, especially in accessing land, political influence and urban resources. There are also categories of migrants whose status determines if they can lay hold of the “urban advantage” that relocating to a large city offers.

A major impetus to the evolution of modern Lagos is the migration of diverse groups of people from Nigeria’s hinterland and beyond. By the 1800s, waves of migrants (freed slaves) from Brazil and Freetown had made their way to Lagos, while many from Nigeria’s hinterland including the Ekiti, Nupes, Egbas and Ijebus began to settle in ethnic enclaves across the city. In the 1900s, migrant enclaves were based on socio-economic and/or ethnicity status. Hausas (including returnees from the Burma war) settled in Obalende and Agege, while the Ijaw and Itsekiri settled in waterfront communities around Ajegunle and Ijora. International migrant communities include the Togolese, Beninoise and Ghanaian, as well as large communities of Lebanese and Indian migrants. The names and socio-cultural mix in most Lagos communities derive from these historical migrant trajectories.

Permanent temporalities

A study on coordinated migrations found that, as a destination city, Lagos grew 18.6 per cent between 2000 and 2012, with about 96 per cent of the migrants coming from within Nigeria. While migration to Lagos has traditionally been in search of economic opportunities, new classes of migrants have emerged over the last few decades. These are itinerant migrants and internally displaced persons.

Itinerant migrants are those from other areas of Nigeria and West Africa who travel to work in Lagos while keeping their families back home. Mobility cycles can be weekly, monthly or seasonal. Such migrants have no address in Lagos as they often sleep at their work premises or in mosques, saving all their earned income for remittance. They include construction artisans from Benin and Togo who come to Lagos only when they have jobs, farmers from Nigeria’s northern states who come to Lagos to work as casual labourers in between farming seasons (see box), as well as junior staff in government and corporate offices whose income is simply too small to cover the high cost of living in Lagos.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly. This is mostly because of the economic challenges Nigeria is currently facing that have crashed the Naira-to-CFA exchange rates. As a result, young men from Togo, Ghana and Benin are finding cities like Dakar and Banjul more attractive than Lagos.

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Aliu* aka Mr Bushman, from Sokoto, Age 28

Aliu came to Lagos in 2009 on the back of a cattle truck. His first job was in the market carrying goods for market patrons. He slept in the neighbourhood mosque with other young boys. Over the years, he has done a number of odd jobs including construction work. In 2014, he started to work as a commercial motorcyclist (okada) and later got the opportunity to learn how to repair them. He calls himself an engineer and for the past four years has earned his income exclusively from riding and repairing okada. Even though he can afford to rent a room, he currently lives in a shared shack with seven other migrants.

He makes between N5000 and N8000 weekly and sends most of it to his family through a local transport operator who goes to Sokoto weekly. His wife and three children are in the village, but he would rather send them money than bring them to Lagos. According to him, “The life in Lagos is too hard for women”.

Since he came to Lagos thirteen years ago, Aliu has never spent more than four months away from Sokoto at a time. He stays in Sokoto during the rainy season to farm rice, maize and guinea corn, and has travelled back home to vote every time since he came to Lagos.


The second category of migrants are those who have been displaced from their homesteads in Northern Nigeria by conflict, either Boko Haram insurgency or invasions by Fulani herdsmen. The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee. With many who initially settled in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) dissatisfied with camp conditions, the burden of protracted displacement is now spurring a new wave of IDP migration to urban areas. Even though empirical data on the exact number of displaced persons migrating out of camps to cities is difficult to ascertain, it is obvious that this category of migrants are negotiating their access to the city and its resources in circumstances quite different from those of other categories of migrants.

IDPs as the emerging migrant class in Lagos 

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, two of every three internally displaced persons globally are now living in cities. Evidence from Nigeria suggests that many IDPs are migrating to urban areas in search of relative safety and resettlement opportunities, with Lagos estimated to host the highest number of independent IDP migrants in the country. In moving to Lagos, IDPs are shaping the city in a number of ways including appropriating public spaces and accelerating the formation of new settlements.

There are three government-supported IDP camps in the city, with anecdotal evidence pointing to about eighteen informal IDP shack communities across the city’s peri-urban axis. This correlates with studies from other cities that highlight how this category of habitations (as initial shelter solutions for self-settled IDPs) accelerate the formation of new urban informal settlements and spatial agglomerations of poverty and vulnerability.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly.

IDPs in Lagos move around a lot. Adamu, who currently lives in Owode Mango—a shack community near the Lagos Free Trade zone—and has been a victim of forced eviction four times said, “As they [government or land owners] get ready to demolish this place and render us homeless again, we will move to another area and live there until they catch up with us.”

In the last ten years, there has been an increase in the number of homeless people on the streets of Lagos—either living under bridges, in public parks or incomplete buildings. Many of them are IDPs who are new migrants, and unable to access the support necessary to ease their entry into the city’s established slums or government IDP camps. Marcus, who came from Adamawa State in 2017 and has been living under the Obalende Bridge for five years, said, “I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

Blending in or not: Urban integration strategies 

Urban integration can be a real challenge for IDP migrants. Whereas voluntary migrants are often perceived to be legal entrants to the city and so can lay claim to urban resources, the same cannot be said about IDPs. Despite being citizens, and despite Nigeria being a federation, IDPs do not have the same rights as other citizens in many Nigerian cities and constantly face stigmatisation and harassment, which reinforces their penchant for enclaving.

The lack of appropriate documentation and skillsets also denies migrants full entry into the socio-economic system. For example, Rebekah said: “I had my WAEC [Senior Secondary school leaving certificate] results and when Boko Haram burnt our village, our family lost everything including my certificates. But how can I continue my education when I have not been able to get it? I have to do handwork [informal labour] now”. IDP children make up a significant proportion of out-of-school children in Lagos as many are unable to get registered in school simply because of a lack of address.

Most IDPs survive by deploying social capital—especially ethnic and religious ties. IDP ethnic groupings are quite organized; most belong to an ethnic-affiliated group and consider this as particularly beneficial to their resettlement and sense of identity in Lagos. Adamu from Chibok said, “When I come to Lagos in 2017, I come straight to Eleko. My brother [kinsman] help me with house, and he buy food for my family. As I no get work, he teach me okada work wey he dey do.”

The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee.

Interestingly, migration to the city can also be good for women as many who were hitherto unemployed due to cultural barriers are now able to work. Mary who fled Benue with her family due to farmer-herder clashes explained, “When we were at home [in Benue], I was assisting my husband with farming, but here in Lagos, I have my own small shop where I sell food. Now I have my own money and my own work.”

Need for targeted interventions for vulnerable Lagosians

“Survival of the fittest” is an everyday maxim in the city of Lagos. For migrants, this is especially true as they are not entitled to any form of structured support from the government. Self-settlement is therefore daunting, especially in light of systemic limiting factors.

Migrants are attracted to big cities based on perceived economic opportunities, and with limited integration, their survival strategies are inevitably changing the spatial configurations of Lagos. While the city government is actively promoting urban renewal, IDP enclaving is creating new slums. Therefore, addressing the contextualised needs of urban migrant groups is a sine qua non for inclusive and sustainable urban development.

“I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

There is an established protocol for supporting international refugees. However, the same cannot be said for IDPs who are Nigerian citizens. They do not enjoy structured support outside of camps, and we have seen that camps are not an effective long-term solution to displacement. There is a high rate of IDP mobility to cities like Lagos, which establishes the fact that cities are an integral part of the future of humanitarian crisis. Their current survival strategies are not necessarily harnessing the urban advantage, especially due to lack of official recognition and documentation. It is therefore imperative that humanitarian frameworks take into account the role of cities and also the peculiarities of IDP migrations to them.

Lagos remains a choice destination city and there is therefore need to pay more attention to understanding the patterns, processes and implications of migration into the city. The paucity of migration-related empirical data no doubt inhibits effective planning for economic and social development. Availability of disaggregated migration data will assist the state to develop targeted interventions for the various categories of vulnerable Lagosians.  Furthermore, targeted support for migrant groups must leverage existing social networks, especially the organised ethnic and religious groups that migrants lean on for entry into the city and for urban integration.

*All names used in this article are pseudonyms

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It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It

Nurses are central to primary healthcare and unless Kenya makes investments in a well-trained, well supported and well-paid nursing workforce, nurses will continue to leave and the country is unlikely to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals in the area of health and wellbeing for all.



It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It
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Nancy* is planning to leave Kenya. She wants to go to the United States where the nursing pastures are supposedly greener. I first met Nancy when the country was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic that tested Kenya’s healthcare system to breaking point. She was one of a cohort of recently graduated nurses that were hastily recruited by the Ministry of Health and thrown in at the deep end of the pandemic. Nancy earns KSh41,000 net with no other benefits whatsoever, unlike her permanent and pensionable colleagues.

When the then Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui announced in early September 2021 that the government would be sending 20,000 nurses to the United Kingdom to help address the nursing shortage in that country, Nancy saw her chance. But her hopes were dashed when she failed to raise the KSh90,000 she needed to prepare and sit for the English language and nursing exams that are mandatory for foreign-trained nurses. Nancy would also have needed to pay the Nursing Council of Kenya KSh12,000 for the verification of her documents, pay the Kenya Medical Training College she attended KSh1,000 in order to get her exam transcripts, and apply for a passport, the minimum cost of which is KSh4,550 excluding the administrative fee. Nancy says that, contrary to then Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s disputed claims that a majority of applicants to the programme had failed the English language test, most nurses simply could not afford the cost of applying.

Of the targeted 20,000 nurses, the first 19 left Kenya for the UK in June 2022. But even that paltry figure represents a significant loss for Kenya, a country where the ratio of practicing nurses to the population is 11.66 per 10,000. The WHO considers countries with less than 40 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people to not have enough healthcare professionals. Nearly 60 per cent of all healthcare professionals (medical physicians, nursing staff, midwives, dentists, and pharmacists) in the world are nurses, making them by far the most prevalent professional category within the health workforce. Nurses offer a wide range of crucial public health and care services at all levels of healthcare facilities as well as within the community, frequently serving as the first and perhaps the only healthcare provider that people see.

Kenya had 59,901 nurses/midwives in 2018, rising to 63,580 in 2020. Yet in 2021, Kenya was proposing to send almost a third of them to the UK to “address a shortfall of 62,000 in that country”.

The growing shortage of nurses in the UK has been blamed on the government’s decision to abolish bursaries and maintenance grants for nursing students in 2016, leading to a significant drop in the number of those applying to train as nurses. Consequently, the annual number of graduate nurses plummeted, reaching the current low of 31 nurses per 100,000 people, below the European average of 36.6 and half as many as in countries like Romania (96), Albania (82) and Finland (82). Facing pressure to recruit 50,000 nurses amid collapsing services and closures of Accident & Emergency, maternity and chemotherapy units across the country, the UK government decided to once again cast its net overseas. Established in 1948, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has relied on foreign healthcare workers ever since staff from the Commonwealth were first brought in to nurse back to health a nation fresh out of the Second World War.

The UK government’s press release announcing the signing of the Bilateral Agreement with Kenya states that the two countries have committed  “to explore working together to build capacity in Kenya’s health workforce through managed exchange and training” and goes as far as to claim that “with around only 900 Kenyan staff currently in the NHS, the country has an ambition to be the ‘Philippines of Africa’ — with Filipino staff one of the highest represented overseas countries in the health service — due to the positive economic impact that well-managed migration can have on low to middle income countries.”

It is a dubious ambition, if indeed it has been expressed. The people of the Philippines do not appear to be benefiting from the supposed increase in capacity that the exchange and training is expected to bring. While 40,000 of their nurses worked in the UK’s National Health Service last year, back home, according to Filipino Senator Sonny Angara, “around 7 of 10 Filipinos die without ever seeing a health professional and the nurse to patient ratio in our hospitals remains high at 1:50 up to 1:802”.

Since 2003 when the UK and the government of the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the recruitment of Filipino healthcare professionals, an export-led industry has grown around the training of nurses in the Philippines that has attracted the increased involvement of the private sector. More nursing institutions — that have in reality become migrant institutions — are training nurses specifically for the overseas market, with the result that skills are matched to Western diseases and illnesses, leaving the country critically short of healthcare personnel. Already, in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

It is difficult, then, to see how the Philippines is an example to emulate. Unless, of course, beneath the veneer of “partnership and collaboration in health”, lies the objective of exporting Kenyan nurses with increased diaspora remittances in mind – Kenyans in the UK sent KSh28.75 billion in the first nine months of 2022, or nearly half what the government has budgeted for the provision of universal health care to all Kenyans. If that is the case, how that care is to be provided without nurses is a complete mystery.

Already in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

For the UK, on the other hand, importing nurses trained in Kenya is a very profitable deal. Whereas the UK government “typically spends at least £26,000, and sometimes far more, on a single nurse training post”, it costs only £10,000 to £12,000 to recruit a nurse from overseas, an externalization of costs that commodifies nurses, treating them like goods to be bought and sold.

However, in agreeing to the terms of the trade in Kenyan nurses, the two governments are merely formalizing the reality that a shortage of nurses in high-income countries has been driving the migration of nurses from low-income countries for over two decades now. Along with Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Kenya is one of the top 20 countries of origin of foreign-born or foreign-trained nurses working in the countries of the OECD, of which the UK is a member state.

Faced with this reality, and in an attempt to regulate the migration of healthcare workers, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Code of Practice on the Recruitment of Health Personnel in May 2010. The code, the adherence to which is voluntary, “provides ethical principles applicable to the international recruitment of health personnel in a manner that strengthens the health systems of developing countries, countries with economies in transition and small island states.”

Article 5 of the code encourages recruiting countries to collaborate with the sending countries in the development and training of healthcare workers and discourages recruitment from developing countries facing acute shortages. Given the non-binding nature of the code, however, and “the severe global shortage of nurses”, resource-poor countries, which carry the greatest disease burden globally, will continue to lose nurses to affluent countries. Wealthy nations will inevitably continue luring from even the poorest countries nurses in search of better terms of employment and better opportunities for themselves and their families; Haiti is on the list of the top 20 countries supplying the OECD region.

“Member States should discourage active recruitment of health personnel from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers.”

Indeed, an empirical evaluation of the code four years after its adoption found that the recruitment of health workers has not undergone any substantial policy or regulatory changes as a direct result of its introduction. Countries had no incentive to apply the code and given that it was non-binding, conflicting domestic healthcare concerns were given the priority.

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has developed its own code of practice under which the country is no longer recruiting nurses from countries that the WHO recognizes as facing health workforce challenges. Kenya was placed on the UK code’s amber list on 11 November 2021, and active recruitment of health workers to the UK was stopped “with immediate effect” unless employers had already made conditional offers to nurses from Kenya on or before that date. Presumably, the Kenyan nurses who left for the UK in June 2022 fall into this category.

In explaining its decision, the DHSC states that “while Kenya is not on the WHO Health Workforce Support & Safeguards List, it remains a country with significant health workforce challenges. Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

The WHO clarifies that nothing in its Code of Practice should be interpreted as curtailing the freedom of health workers to move to countries that are willing to allow them in and offer them employment. So, even as the UK suspends the recruitment of Kenyan nurses, they will continue to find opportunities abroad as long as Western countries continue to face nurse shortages. Kenyan nurses will go to the US where 203,000 nurses will be needed each year up to 2026, and to Australia where the supply of nursing school graduates is in decline, and to Canada where the shortage is expected to reach 117,600 by 2030, and to the Republic of Ireland which is now totally dependent on nurses recruited from overseas and where working conditions have been described as “horrendous”.

“Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

Like hundreds of other Kenyan-trained nurses then, Nancy will take her skills overseas. She has found a recruitment agency through which to apply for a position abroad and is saving money towards the cost. She is not seeking to move to the UK, however; Nancy has been doing her research and has concluded that the United States is a much better destination given the more competitive salaries compared to the UK where nurses have voted to go strike over pay and working conditions. When she finally gets to the US, Nancy will join Diana*, a member of the over 90,000-strong Kenyan diaspora, more than one in four of whom are in the nursing profession.

Now in her early 50s, Diana had worked for one of the largest and oldest private hospitals in Nairobi for more than 20 years before moving to the US in 2017. She had on a whim presented her training certificates to a visiting recruitment agency that had set up shop in one of Nairobi’s high-end hotels and had been shortlisted. There followed a lengthy verification process for which the recruiting agency paid all the costs, requiring Diana to only sign a contract binding her to her future US employer for a period of two years once she had passed the vetting process.

Speaking from her home in Virginia last week, Diana told me that working as a nurse in the US “is not a bed of roses”, that although the position is well paying, it comes with a lot of stress. “The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients,” she says, adding that in such an environment fatal mistakes are easily made. Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of losing her nursing licence hangs over Diana’s head every day that she takes up her position at the nursing station.

“The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients.”

Starting out as an Enrolled Nurse in rural Kenya, Diana had over the years improved her skills, graduating as a Registered Nurse before acquiring a Batchelor of Science in Nursing from a top private university in Kenya, the tuition for which was partially covered by her employer.

Once in the US, however, her 20 years of experience counted for nothing and she was employed on the same footing as a new graduate nurse, as is the case for all overseas nurses moving to the US to work. Diana says that, on balance, she would have been better off had she remained at her old job in Kenya where the care is better, the opportunities for professional growth are greater and the work environment well controlled. But like many who have gone before her, Diana is not likely to be returning to Kenya any time soon.

*Names have been changed.

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Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner.



Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance
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Even before the 9 August general election, it was expected that the loser of the Kenyan presidential contest would petition the Supreme Court to arbitrate over the outcome. Predictably, the losing party, Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya Coalition, petitioned the court to have William Ruto’s win nullified on various procedural and technical grounds. Azimio’s case was predicated on, among others, three key allegations. First, that William Ruto failed to garner the requisite 50 per cent plus one vote. Second, that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati had announced the outcome without tallying and verifying results from seven constituencies. Finally, that the commission could not account for 250,000 votes that were cast electronically.

As we know, Azimio lost the case as the judges dismissed all the nine petitions that the party had filed, unanimously finding that William Ruto had won fairly.

Adjudicating electoral fallouts

Since its inception in 2010, the Supreme Court has played a decisive role in adjudicating fallouts linked to contentious presidential politics in Kenya, with the court deliberating on the outcome of three out of the four presidential elections held after its inauguration. Prior to this, the losing party had no credible institutional mechanism of redress and electoral disputes were generally resolved through mass political action (as in 2007) or consistent questioning of the legitimacy of the winner (as in 1992 and 1997).

The Supreme Court’s presence has, therefore, been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent, with the court operating as a “safety valve” to diffuse political tensions linked to presidential elections. It is, hence, impossible to conceive of the relatively peaceful elections held in 2013, 2017 and 2022 without the Supreme Court whose mere presence has been key in discouraging some of the more deadly forms of political rivalry previously witnessed in Kenya.

Relentless petitioning

While the Azimio leadership were right to petition the court in the recent election, first because this successfully diffused the political tensions among their supporters, and second because the court was expected to provide directions on IEBC conduct in future elections, it was clear that Raila Odinga’s relentless petitioning of the court in the previous two elections, and the nullification of the 2017 elections, was in essence going to be a barrier to a successful petition in 2022.

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner. The relentless petitioning of the court and the nullification of the 2017 elections had in essence raised the bar for the burden of proof, which lay with the petitioner(s) and, therefore, reduced the probability of a successful petition.

The Supreme Court’s presence has been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent.

The reason for this is both legal and political. Legal in the sense that the IEBC is expected to conduct the elections under the law, which, among other issues, requires that the electoral process be credible and the results verifiable before any certification is made, otherwise the election is nullified, as was the case in 2017. It is political because the power to select the president is constitutionally, hence politically, delegated to the Kenyan people through the ballot, unless electoral fraud infringes on this, again as was the case in 2017.

The court in its deliberation must, therefore, balance the legal-political trade-off in its verdict in search of a plausible equilibrium. For instance, while the majority of Azimio supporters had anticipated a successful petition based on the public walkout and dissent by the four IEBC commissioners, it seems that the decision to uphold the results displayed the court’s deference to political interpretation of the law by issuing a ruling that did not undermine the Kenyan voters’ right to elect their president.

While the settlement of legal-political disputes by a Supreme/Constitutional court is a common feature across democracies, and continuously being embedded in emerging democracies like Kenya, it does seem that in this election, the political motivations for upholding the vote outweighed the legal motivations for nullifying it. In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Supreme Court power grab 

A counterfactual outcome where the evidential threshold for the nullification of presidential results is low would foster a Supreme Court power grab, in lieu with the 2017 nullification, by marginalising the sovereign will of Kenyans to elect their president.

In many ways, nullification of the results would also have incentivised further adversarial political behaviour where every electoral outcome is contested in the Supreme Court even when the outcome is relatively clean, as in the case of the 2022 elections.

It is this reason (among others) that we think underlined the Supreme Court justices’ dismissal of Azimio’s recent petition. The justices ultimately dismissed the evidence presented by the petitioners as “hot air, outright forgeries, red herring, wild goose chase and unproven hypotheses”, setting a clear bar for the standard of evidence they expect in order to deliberate over such an important case in the future.

In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Since the earth-shaking nullification of the 2017 elections, the Supreme Court transcended an epoch, more political than legal by “invading” the sovereign space for Kenyans to elect their president, thereof setting a precedence that any future successful petition to contest a presidential election requires watertight evidence.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the successful 2017 petition. In so far as the evidence submitted to the Supreme Court by Azimio in 2022 was at the same level or even lower than the 2017 base, their case at the Supreme Court was very likely to be dismissed and even ridiculed as the justices recently did.

The precedent set by the 2022 ruling will, actually, yield two positive political outcomes. First, it will in the future weed out unnecessary spam petitions that lack evidence and rather increase needless political tensions in the country. Second, it has signalled to future petitioners, that serious deliberations will only be given to petitions backed by rock-solid evidence.

Missed opportunity

From the recent ruling, it is evident that the judgement fell far below the precedent set in 2017. The 2017 Supreme Court ruling that the IEBC should make the servers containing Form 34A publicly available, was crucial in improving the credibility of the 2022 elections, by democratising the tallying process. At a minimum, the expectation was that the justices would provide a directive on the recent public fallout among the IEBC commissioners with regard to future national tallying and announcement of presidential results.

By dismissing the fallout as a mere corporate governance issue, the justices failed to understand the political ramifications of the “boardroom rupture”. What are we to do in the future if the IEBC Chair rejects the results and the other commissioners validate the results as credible?

Additionally, by ridiculing the petitioners as wild goose chasers and dismissing the evidence as “hot air”, the justices failed to maintain the amiable judicial tone necessary to decompress and assuage the bitter grievances among losers in Kenya high-octane political environment.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Mr Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the 2017 successful petition.

The Supreme Court ought to resist the temptations of trivializing electoral petitions, as this has the potential of triggering democratic backsliding, where electoral losers might opt for extra-constitutional means of addressing their grievances as happened in December 2007. It is not in the petitioners’ place to ascertain whether their evidence is “hot air” or not, but for the court to do so, and in an amiable judicial tone that offers reconciliation in a febrile political environment.

The precedent set by the 2017 ruling that clarified the ambiguities related to the IEBC’s use of technology to conduct elections, set an incremental pathway towards making subsequent elections credible and fair, and increased public trust in the key electoral institutions in Kenya.

The justices, therefore, need to understand that their deliberations hold weight in the public eye and in the eyes of political leaders. Therefore, outlining recommendations to improve the IEBC’s conduct in future elections is a bare minimum expectation among Kenyans. In this case, while they provided some recommendations, they failed to comprehensively address the concerns around the walk-out by the four IEBC commissioners.

At the minimum, chastising the IEBC conduct was necessary to consolidate the electoral gains made thus far but also recalibrate institutional imperfections linked to how elections are to be conducted and, especially, contestations around the role of the commissioners in the national tallying of results in the future.

This article is part of our project on information and voter behaviour in the 2022 Kenyan elections. The project is funded by the Centre for Governance and Society, Department of Political Economy, King’s College London.

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