The Kalenjin and their trinity of land, cattle and women

Initiation rites that create a resentful, standing army do not bode well for inter-ethnic cohesion. Teachings can be restructured without eroding cultural pride and identity

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Kalenjin women in cultural attire.
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The political environment in Kenya is very dicey. The UhuRuto presidency locked out a big chunk of Raila supporters from power, which in Kenya means resources as well. Between 2013 and this year, Kenya was more divided than it had ever been, and it is only Raila’s wisdom over his supporters – who had begun talk about secession – that held the country in place.

Efforts to bring Raila closer to power culminated into the ‘handshake’ whose primary objective, we are told, is to unite the country. Meanwhile, it has given birth to another headache: how to handle the volatile Rift Valley region with the perceived alienation of Deputy President William Ruto.

Kikuyus were the majority supporters in TNA that formed Jubilee Coalition, with the Kalenjin-backed URP in 2013. The two parties were dissolved to form Jubilee Party last year, which was then explained as a means to make it easier for William Ruto’s ascendancy to power in after Uhuru.

All things point to it that Ruto may not be the favourite in JP next elections. The Kikuyu wing of JP is worried about short changing Ruto because the backlash will be upon Kikuyu residents in Rift Valley – the Kalenjin have subjected Kikuyus to political land clashes since 1991 in Nakuru and Uasin Gishu.

The post-election violence in 2008 is said to have been behind the formation of Jubilee in 2013. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto declared that never again would Kenya go through such an experience. They were still facing charges at the ICC in The Hague over their involvement in the 2008 clashes. Today, rubber has met the road and it seems Kikuyus are not open to a Ruto presidency. It is a proper conundrum.

Political coalitions are not the answer to long term peace in Rift Valley, as the presidency cannot forever rotate between Kikuyus and Kalenjins. The solution lies in the Kalenjin initiation culture, not politics. If this culture can be engaged, then Kenya will go upstream to find a solution to the perennial cyclic floods of political violence. Anything else is cosmetic and a soothing of symptoms.

I grew up among the Tiriki, who have borrowed initiation rites heavily from the Kalenjin subtribe of Terik, where their ancestor is believed to have originated from. One characteristic of these heavily spiritual rites is the secrecy around them. At no time did any one of my friend who had gone through the ritual offer me a glimpse of what happens deep in the forest every five years when young Tiriki boys cross into manhood. It is this secrecy that is also the mark of Kalenjin warriors. Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago was castigated when his supporters sang Kalenjin war songs in the streets of Eldoret when it looked like Ruto preferred his opponent Buzeki for the Jubilee Party ticket.

Several Kikuyus have spoken about going to church on Sunday morning only to be attacked by some members of their congregation at night. Secrecy is the mark of Kalenjin warriors and is one of the reasons why they prefer and succeed in security agencies.

This mark is inculcated in Kalenjin young men at the right moment as they are about to form an identity as they join puberty. To counter this, the church and ministry of Education can look for ways to tap into this rite of passage.

I was recently obtained a prevue of the curriculum that is taught to these initiates, which is what got me thinking. The young men are taught to be loyal to their tribal elders and leaders in regard to their duty to defend their land, cattle and women (I am not sure if this is the right order).

If you, like myself, insisted that the 2008 PEV was not pre-planned but was surprised at the speedy and efficient execution prowess of Kalenjin youth, look no further.

From the 2009 census, Rift valley had 10 million people (about 26% of Kenya’s population) out of which 45.3% were below the age of 15. I attended a talk by ACK led Church Army Missions in 2008 where the speaker said there were about 2.5 million youths between ages of 18 – 25 in the Rift Valley. His worry was that this demographic was a political and security risk if economic intervention was not initiated. They were laying the ground for long term for peace building interventions in the region. This high rate of population increase in the rift has put pressure on land, which is at the core of Kalenjin community. It is only a small group of Kalenjin who own large tracts of land; the majority has average sizes of land which is slowly being divided into smaller plots.

There is no reason these youths will not jump at an opportunity to send people away from land that politicians tell them is their ancestral land.

If you can remember, the clashes in the Rift Valley led displaced Kikuyu youth to form Mungiki, which became a security menace in Nairobi and Central Kenya.

Young men who had been displaced from their homes in the Rift Valley in the 90s formed the group first as a kikuyu supremacy organization, but which soon turned into an underground tax collection cartel. Kenya had to spend enormous resources to completely disband it.

Cultural and social engineering is necessary in the Rift Valley to take people away from their unhealthy belief in land. Land is a finite resource and if fighting for it is the propagated solution, then Kenya is sleeping with a bomb under the bed.

Asians do not own large tracts of land in Kenya, and where they need large tracts they prefer to lease. But they control our economy from these small strategic parcels. The thirst for large tracts of land even if no economic activity is undertaken on it that is propagated by politicians is also at the root of these clashes. Progressive land reforms devoid of emotions that shroud land issues in Kenya is also critical.

For this engineering to occur in the Rift Valley, there is no other place to tap into than the initiation rites. The teachings can be restructured to be in line with the times without eroding their pride and ethnic identity.

Meanwhile the government must find a way of conducting equitable land reforms while expanding economic opportunities to absorb the fears of Kalenjin youth over the diminishing sizes of their land. Long term peace is made, not preached. (

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