News 2008


Families feel strain as ethnic violence divides Kenya

McClatchy Newspapers


12. 02. 2008

KINOO, Kenya - As the ethnic violence shows few signs of abating, Josphat Karanja, a Kikuyu, and his wife, Everlyn Adoyo, 25, a Luo, have begun looking for a new home in a safe section of Nairobi. In the six weeks that ethnic fighting has ripped through Kenya, Josphat Karanja hasn't once called his father, not even after clashes erupted near the family home in the turbulent Rift Valley.

"I know what he's going to say," said Karanja, a 30-year-old computer systems manager. "I can't hear that right now."

Karanja is a Kikuyu, the dominant tribe in Kenya. Three years ago, against his father's wishes, he married a woman from the smaller Luo community, Everlyn Adoyo, whom he had courted by showing up at her home unannounced almost every day for several months until she agreed to go out with him.

Today the couple is the picture of wedded bliss: she a bubbly salesclerk, he a straight-faced techie with a wry sense of humor. But to the chagrin of Karanja's father, their ethnic groups are on opposite sides of Kenya's bloody postelection divide, which has pitted supporters of President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, against those who back the Luo opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

The disputed election, which independent observers say was rife with vote-rigging, has reopened generations-old rivalries among Kenya's 42 ethnic groups. Perhaps none is more fierce than that between Kikuyus, who have dominated business and politics since the country won its independence in 1963, and Luos, who wear their long exclusion from power like a giant chip on the shoulder.

In recent years, with Kenyans from all over the country flocking to the capital, Nairobi, ethnic identities have blurred and mixed marriages no longer are uncommon. In a national survey last year by the Steadman polling firm, 3 out of 4 Kenyans said they'd consider marrying outside their tribes.

But in a reflection of the deep mistrust between their communities, Kikuyus and Luos were the least likely to want to intermarry.

"I feel proud that I've married outside my tribe. It's something exotic," said Karanja, sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe with Adoyo, 25, smiling back at him. "But now I feel that people will think twice about marrying someone from another group."

In their concrete block of comfortable apartments in Kinoo (pronounced "kin-OH"), a bedroom community 20 minutes outside Nairobi, the couple lives among middle-class Kenyans of many different groups, bonding in the evenings over shared interests such as English Premier League soccer.

Now they fear for their multiethnic oasis.

Adoyo was raised in Nairobi, and her family didn't have a problem with her marrying a non-Luo man. One close cousin married a Kalenjin, another a European. It was his parents, who live in a village near Nakuru, who were wary. His father never came to terms with the union, and it has badly strained their relationship. These days, when he wants news from home, Karanja calls his brother to make sure their parents are OK.

In Nairobi, they said, communities seemed to mix easily enough. Adoyo works for a Kikuyu who owns several cellphone outlets, and at nights she attends college classes in human-resources management.

When the new semester started a few weeks ago, however, she was disturbed when she introduced her- self by her nickname, Eva, and classmates shot back: "Eva what?" They wanted to know her family name -- the easiest indicator of one's community.

"That never happened before," she said. "But now I always hear people saying, 'Kabila gani?'" -- Swahili for "Which tribe?"

So they have reluctantly begun looking for a new home in a safe section of Nairobi, where Adoyo's sister lives. Karanja is due to complete his master's degree in information technology in April, and he plans to apply to Ph.D. programs overseas.

"I always thought I would do that at some point," he said. "Now seems to be the time. I don't think there's a bright future in Kenya."