Tribalism and nepotism


Done by: Ruth Mulwa, Maureen Murimi, Gordon Mutugi and Annette Mombo




According to, tribalism is behavior, attitudes that are based on being loyal to a tribe or other social group. It is the very first social system that human beings have lived in. Tribalism can also be said as the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates a person as a member of a one group from members of another group.

Nepotism on the  other hand is the showing of favoritism for relatives or friends based upon that relationship, rather than on an objective evaluation of ability or suitability, for instance by offering employment to a relative, despite the fact that there are others who are better qualified and willing and able to perform the job. The word nepotism is from the Latin word Nepos meaning “nephew” or “grandchild“.



            The objectives of this paper are to show that tribalism and nepotism are problems that are being ignored in our country and they have crude consequences. It also aims to show possible causes, effects and solutions of these vices. It highlights ethical issues and the application of different ethical theories to deal with tribalism and also possible solutions to this problem.


In the case of tribalism and nepotism various ethical theories can apply. One is the veil of ignorance which states; “justice emerges when negotiating without social differentiations.” Looking at the post election violence which occurred in 2007-2008, the two parties,-P.N.U and O.D.M- would have opted to sit and come to an agreement without letting their members kill each other. Morally appropriate action should have been taken. Whoever rigged the election should have faced justice. Swearing in Mwai Kibaki as the president was done in an unethical manner, it was a rushed process which left us Kenyans with many unanswered questions.

The other theory is Judeo-Christian which states, “do unto others as you would that they did unto you.” No one would wish to be lied to by another or killed by the other.  In this case therefore, they would have thought of it this way; that it would be bad to steal from the other since none would want to be stolen from, so the process would have continued without any interference. The main push of all the violence was selfishness and power, either party wanted to have power over the other.

            However tribalism has an advantage. It helps keep individuals committed to the group. Social divisions between groups create special interactions with others based on association, positive interactions with unrelated members and violence. It also gives us a sense of identity; it is where we derive a sense of pride in being African. We need to take advantage of our strong tribal ties to create democracy that will derive power from tribal belonging instead of using it for selfish gains.


Case study:


During the post election violence majority of those killed were the Kikuyu living in the areas largely populated by the Luo and the Kalenjins. In this regard, the Luo and the Kalenjins had ganged up to fight the Kikuyu, a situation which had been described by many international communities as another Rwanda Genocide mainly because of the kinds of instruments used in the mass killing.

BBC and many international Television networks showed how the Kikuyu were leaving the western parts of Kenya as well as how the youth belonging to the Luo and Kalenjin tribes had taken matters in their own hands as they loot, kill and terrorize the kikuyu.

In Eldoret, Kikuyus’ who sought refuge in one of the churches in town were burned to death as the church was razed to ashes, a situation which raised a lot of questions and concerns. How could the Luo or Kalenjin youths burn the church, a house of prayer? Do you have to burn both the church and people inside to demonstrate your anger?

According to information obtained from the Human Rights Watch investigations page on  Thursday, 24. January 2008; after Kenya’s disputed elections, opposition party officials and local elders planned and organized ethnic-based violence in the Rift Valley. A Kalenjin preacher in a village in Eldoret North constituency told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of December 29, 2007, a local ODM party  mobilizer called a meeting and said that war had broken in Eldoret town, so the elders organized the youth into groups of not less than 15, and they went to loot Kikuyu homes and burn them down.  In many communities, local leaders and ODM mobilizers arranged frequent meetings following the election to organize, direct and facilitate the violence unleashed by gangs of local youth. What could have been done is let the leaders sought out their own issues and not give room to be intimidated. Kenyans suffered because of a division created by our leaders. We should have united as one instead of killing one another because before the eyes of God we are the same, He does not classify us into tribes.

Tribalism is like cancer, it is a challenge that we face in Kenya and Africa as a whole. It is an evil that we have to overcome. Unfortunately majority of Africans are not able or willing to forsake their tribal allegiances. We need to understand our tribes before imposing  anything on them. Struggle for power is what is separatingand dividing us as a country. We must admit that tribalsim is a big problem which exists and not just brush it off. We need to admit that Africans are by nature tribalsitic but that should not stop us from dealing with this vice.

For one to have allegiance to a nation the benefits must outweigh those of belonging to a tribe. Therefore we should think of us as a nation and not just as tribes. African states need to form governments and institutions that have their power base in such institutions because this is where real power emanates from. Most Africans respect and have primary allegiance to the tribal structure. We should therefore balance both interests. An equal representation will ensure that the rights and interests of minority tribes are not trampled upon by majority tribes.

Tribalism as a social problem
Ethnic relations have three dimensions: the political, the legal, and the socio-psychological.

The political dimension: Politics is the lawful scramble for advantage and resources, which is done in an atmosphere of scarcity and limited seats of advantage, through a complex interplay of human factors. Wherever different ethnic groups live and work together, there must be some form of scramble, a chronic striving by each group to outdo the other.

The legal dimension:  Because politics can and does get ugly, a system of strict rules, laws and policies is essential if the different groups in society are not to resort to mischief in trying to gain an edge. In every society, unfortunately, the process of setting the ground rules of the scramble is essentially a political one. In Kenya, the law-making process has never been sober. Retired President Moi puts it best: “Siasa mbaya, maisha mabaya” (bad politics translates to a bad life). One of the lamentable achievements of Kenyan politics is that it has consistently dwarfed all other professions that impact on the quality of social life.

The socio-psychological dimension:  when it comes to tribalism it is some sort of competition. People are motivated by different things many of which are negative. Some of these motivations are conscious, others are unconscious. Every step of the way, there is struggle among beliefs, needs and desires. Unfortunately, Kenya’s version of politics has always succeeded to dismiss the importance of the socio-psychological dimension of ethnicity. Professionals such as psychologists and sociologists are hardly ever considered in the quest for solutions to problems like tribalism. Only during major national crises, such as the wave of school strikes that hit Kenya in mid last year, did we hear our politicians making casual comments like “Our students need guidance and counseling.”



Possible causes:

  • Bad leadership
  • Selfishness by serving personal interests instead of the needs of the people
  • Corruption
  • Contribution from our political leaders – careless utterances and incitement by politicians.
  • Easy access to weapons of mass destruction- the availability of these weapons undermines security. The introduction and spread of such sophisticated weapons among these communities has intensified conflict and blurred the line between long-standing ethnic competition-traditionally manifested in cattle theft or rustling-and political violence.
  • Strong ethnic divisions.
  •  Polarized political issues.
  • Political manipulation.
  • Socio-economic disparities
  • Lack of economic opportunity.


Effects of tribalism:

  • Encourages hatred among people of different tribes.
  • Brings corruption
  • Promotes selfishness.
  • Leads to discriminations against members of different tribes
  • Contributes in slowing down the economy, since only people of the same tribe want to help each other as the rest suffer.
  • Creates conflicts among people and may end up being fatal if these conflicts get out of hand.
  • Encourages hypocrisy.
  • Undermines security – The increasing availability of weapons in Kenya has helped fuel rise insecurity and, in some areas the growing militarization of society.
  • Erodes prospects for development.
  • Contributes to social disintegration, and makes the resort to violence more likely-and more deadly.


Possible solutions:

  • The political leaders should be at the forefront in admitting that tribalism is a problem and they should be giving people guidance on how to deal with it.
  •  Our leaders both political and religious should be loyal to serve the society wholly without giving into the demands of tribalism. They should remain neutral at whatever cost.
  • Acknowledging that God created us equally and that there is no one superior than the other in His sight and so we should treat each other as equals.
  • Ensure accountability of local security structures; and strengthen legal controls, particularly those related to the manufacture, possession, and transfer of firearms and ammunition.
  • Everyone should embrace Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance. “Justice emerges when negotiating without social differentiation” for justice to be served, fairness is fundamental.


Nepotism is the showing of favoritism for relatives or friends upon that relationship, rather than an objective evaluation of ability or suitability e.g. offering a job to a relative despite the fact that there are others who are better qualified and willing. It is a common accusation in our politics when the relative of a man/woman in power ascends to power without proper qualification. At some point nepotism at high levels of government might lead to the creation of effective monarchies in nominal republics. Nepotism got its name after the church practice where some catholic bishops gave their own nephews positions of preference. There are places where nepotism is believed to thrive as much e.g. the civil service.

The government may have allowed cabinet ministers to either appoint or lobby for the appointment of relatives or tribesmen to public jobs. The ministers seem to be to be taking cue from the president who has been accused of making most of the government appointments from among close political from among close political cronies from Central Province. An example of nepotism is when some time this year minister for Transport, Chirau Ali Mwakwere, announced the appointment of Abdalla Hemed Mwarua as the Managing Director of the -Kenya Ports Authority, only days after coast leaders insisted they want the next MD to be from Coast Province. There are many other examples of tribal bias in public offices – the Police Force, Kenya Revenue Authority, the Central Bank of Kenya, the Judiciary, State House and the Office of the President are other examples.

Another example is the government which has created new districts in Bungoma but the choice of headquarters has left the residents dissatisfied. In all the districts the headquarters have been positioned in the neighborhood of the sitting MPs. E.g. Webuye is not in the middle of new Bungoma East District but it is a few metres from the Minister for Local Government Mr.Muskari Kombo’s Matulo home. Could this be the reason it was chosen as the new headquarters? The same goes for Member of Parliament Mr. Moses Wetangula whose home in Chwele market in Bungoma West is the new headquarters.

Case study

            The most extreme case is in Bungoma North, where the area MP, Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, has decided that Mukuyuni, his small home village be the new headquarters of the district. The market centre is next to Dr Kituyi’s home, Mbakalo. Most of the residents there are relatives of the MP from his ancestral home of Sirisia. This confirms our fears that our leaders are not able to give a fair judgment to situations on the ground. However this situation could turn bitter when the mwananchi makes a choice in the next general elections.

            The tragedy now is that this vice is not confined to the public sector. The private sector has been following suit and some proprietors are now showing open bias when recruiting staff for their companies or enterprises. Indeed, chief executives are now – without hesitation – recruiting mainly their tribes-people. The danger is that this trend openly undermines the much-vaunted fight against corruption, whose effects are devastating. This argument is premised on the fact that tribal bias is itself a form of corruption and, unless the country appreciates the effects of corruption in its wider sense, the political leadership risks being accused of double standards by fighting one form of corruption while promoting another. It is such actions that have given rise to the argument that, other than direct theft of public resources, which is the limited dimension that the much-hyped war on corruption has been reduced to – never mind concerns of people waging a political battle in the name of fighting corruption – there are many other forms of corruption that need to be confronted.

            Sadly, these forms of corruption have just as much potential to destroy the country as the outright theft of public resources. From recent events, tribalism is currently the biggest form of corruption the country has to contend with. It is, in fact, true that theft of public resources is sometimes done in the name of the tribe. There are many people who steal – that’s exactly what it is – in the understanding that it is their tribe’s turn to eat.

            When the government came into power they promised that it would promote human rights, equality, job appointments on the basis of merit and economic reforms, the nation is now watching with horror as politicians snap up the few job opportunities available only to dish them out to tribesmen and cronies. It now looks like a minister, no matter what he/she says in public, can look no further than his/her tribe when an opportunity knocks to make an appointment to a public office. Unless the country confronts the question of nepotism and tribalism head on, the fight against corruption will go nowhere.





Problems associated with Nepotism


  • Unequal distribution of resources
  • Services rendered are of low quality due to incompetence of those performing the duties
  • Negative growths of the economy as people serve their own interests and those of their relatives.
  • Lead to fight for power because everyone wants to enrich himself by serving his selfish needs and those of his relatives
  • Breeding ground for hatred and tribalism


Possible solutions of nepotism


  • Assuming responsibility in the work place by adhering to the set standards that any employee in an organization must meet before being employed
  • Patriotic campaign
  • Using our diversity as a tool to unite us rather than divide us. There is much that can come form our   different ethnicities than the bad that come from it.
  • Applying the Judeo-Christian theory; do unto others what you would want them to do unto you.
  • People, and especially those in top positions, should practice virtue ethics; do what good people do.






You are the manager Kent and Cradle, and your company is looking for a corporate affairs manager. Of those who had applied and managed to go to the final stage are your brother and another gentleman. Your brother has a degree fresh from campus, and the other person has five years experience. What is the right thing to do?



Application of the porter box where by;

Definition of the problem is; a dilemma- choosing between the brother and the other experienced gentleman

Our values are justice and fairness

Our principle is the veil of ignorance; justice emerges when negotiating without social differentiation.

Our loyalties are to the organization.



Tribalism and Nepotism are issues that our country faces and has to keep up with. Both lower the levels of development as they are the breeding grounds for corruption. Ironically, our leader who are supposed to show us the right path and lead us to success as they work with us to develop and improve our economy, are the biggest participants in it.

We should all apply the theory of Judeo Christian and Rawl’s veil of ignorance as we relate with each other. Doing unto others what we would want done to us and acknowledging that justice emerges when negotiating without social differentiation.

God created us all equally and before Him there is no tribe or race that is superior than the other. Who are we then to create tribes and to favor those that are close to and view others as less significant?

He that is the creator and owner of all loves us all and in the same manner we should love each other and treat them all equally. Our differences should not cause hatred amongst us but should be our pillars of strength.

They say I was a “kikuyu” before I became a Kenyan, maybe we should ask, who are you now?

The knowledge that God is Mind, the one divine intelligence that governs all, is also a great comfort. This Mind, being one, isn’t at war with itself, it isn’t confused or angry. It knows only harmony. Nor are there especially favored tribes, races, professions—whatever—in Mind. Since there is only one Mind, there isn’t a second or third mind to compete—to be smarter or inferior, to win or to lose. In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “The one Spirit includes all identities” (Science and Health, p. 333).





Eyes on Kenya


Friday, 28. March 2008 von Abdilatif Abdalla

And so you come and talk to me

About “Peace, Love and Unity”

Expecting me to agree

Parroting your parody

In my poetry:

Decorating your tyranny

With bouquets of perfumed words and imagery

To drive away the stench of your treachery

And hoodwink humanity.


I refuse!


I refuse to enter my brain

And ask it to entertain

Even the sound of the idea, that our loves should entwine.

Because what by “Love” you define

Doesn’t tally with mine:

I love my heroes you ignore, persecute and kill,

You love my enemies who rob and enslave me still;

How, then, can there be love between you and me

When the beats of our hearts’ music are not in harmony

When our hearts pump in and out different colours of blood:


No! I refuse!

I refuse to sing your song of submission and despair

I will, instead,

Forge my own words

Which will cry out for my martyred heroes –

Past and present –

Whose blood and tears and death and toil

Gave life to the tree of the freedom of my soil,

Those who always sought

For freedom of speech and thought

And refused to bend or be bought;

Those whose faith never waned to call

For freedom to each and all,

Whose courage was their shield

And with their spear of truth they fought and killed;

Those who, with their lives, they swore

That, come what may, onward they will go

Till their humanity they restore!


Every day, every minute, I hear

The bones and blood of my heroes declare:

“There is a debt to square!”


Them, we have not forgotten

Them, we will always honour and mention.

With their memories we shall rekindle the fire

Spreading its flames of wrath and ire

To burn the roots of our oppression

And uncover your every evil intention!

How, then, can there be “Peace” between us?

How can there be peace between us

When I’ll never accept to bury the people’s anger in the tomb of my verse!

How can I forget decades and decades of my people’s suffering and pain?

Of tears and blood pouring from their limbs, like rain?

How can I ask them to sing your songs in high volume

To stifle the tormented sounds of those you torture and maim?

How can I draw veils over their eyes

To conceal and eclipse the scenes of numerous massacres?


I can still hear the echo of those dead proclaiming:

“Our Country!

Our wounded, mutilated country

Where the dead are not dead

And the living are not living;

Our Country!

Sculptured in fire and blood

Where the north is barren

And the south is hard;

Our Country!

In death we still bleed for you

For we have decided to fear death less

And decided to love death more

Because, if by living we are dying

Why, then, not die a little more

So that we can live longer?”

Should I ignore these voices

Of these noble daughters and sons of my land?



No! I refuse!


For it is their Unity I crave for,

Shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm we go

Not with you, whom we happen to know

That you take from a lamb and give to a lion more;

You, who have torn our house in two:

Ignoring the majority and favouring the few

But, “When the sun is darkened

When the stars fall and disperse

When the mountains are made to move away,

When the camels, ten months pregnant, are left untended

When the wild beasts are brought together

When the seas are set alight

When the souls are paired (like with like)

When of the infant girl, buried alive, is asked: ‘For what crime was she slain?’

When the records are laid open

And the sky is stripped bare…”1

And there is nowhere to hide,

You, who today judge, shall be the accused!


by Abdilatif Abdalla


October 1988

Abdilatif Abdalla, a Kenyan political activist and a Swahili language instructor at Leipzig University Germany, is the author of Sauti ya Dhiki, Utenzi wa Maisha ya Adamu na Hawaa, Kenya Twendapi? and other literary and political classics. He translated Vàclav Havels Die Vernissage (Uzinduzi).






Reference list

East African Standard 18th Feb 2007

Daily Nation 30th June 2009;

Human rights watch;;;;;


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