Catholic Church in Kenya Urged to Address “entrenched” Tribalism Influencing Elections

Members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB). Credit: KCCB

The Catholic peace and charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has expressed concern that nearly 60 years after independence in Kenya, elections in the East African country are still conducted along tribal lines and geopolitical zones, and that political leaders are not chosen based on merit.

In a Tuesday, August 23 interview with ACI Africa, DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen, said that the Catholic Church in Kenya still has a lot of work to do in terms of educating the masses to put their tribal inclinations behind and to elect leaders who have the interest of the people at heart.

“I have been following the Kenyan elections and one thing that stood out was the tribalism and geopolitical zoning that seems entrenched in the country especially in every electioneering period. Tribalism is still a huge factor in Kenyan politics, nearly 60 years after the country’s independence,” Mr. Viljoen said.

He added, “I spoke to people in various regions in Kenya concerning the presidential election and I realized that most were supporting one of their own. It is disheartening to note that tribalism still plays a huge part in the politics of a country that has such a huge population of Christians.”

Mr. Viljoen lauded members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) for playing their civic role before, during and after the August 9 general elections, and urged them to now focus on uprooting “the disease of tribalism” in the country.


“The Church should always stand up fiercely for social justice and human rights and should teach that we are all one in Christ. As St. Paul says, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’, so should our Pastors teach us to look beyond our tribal affiliations,” the Director of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said.

He added, “If the Church did its job of evangelizing hearts properly in all these years, we would have seen even just Catholics voting for candidates based on their values and track records, and not based on tribal lines.”

Tribal undertones seemed to characterize the 2022 political campaigns and elections in Kenya, with potential supporters of the leading Azimio La Umoja One Kenyan Coalition and Kenya Kwanza political alliance also being grouped according to geopolitical zones.

In Kenya, the various counties were christened candidates’ “strongholds”, with Dr. William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza political alliance identifying regions such as Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang'a, Kiambu, West Pokot, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Baringo, Laikipia, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Bungoma, Kericho and Bomet as their strongholds.

Raila Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja, on the other hand, seemed to boast of a larger following in Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia, Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii, Nyamira, Kitui, Machakos, Makueni, Taita Taveta, and Mombasa.

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Dr. Ruto, Kenya’s current Deputy President was on August 15 declared the winner of the tight Presidential poll with 50.49% of the valid votes, against his main challenger, former Prime Minister Raila who garnered 48.85%.

There are those who, however, believe that the 2022 presidential race in Kenya “is the end of ethnic groupings in determining who becomes king”.

An analysis by The East African indicates that the presidential election pitting Kenya Kwanza Alliance and the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition showed ethnic groupings are still a major factor in determining who leads the country, but may not determine who eventually leads in an election.

According to the analysis, Kenyans mainly voted according to their socioeconomic interests and social justice.

In the August 23 interview with ACI Africa, Mr. Viljoen applauded the Kenyan authorities for conducting what he referred to as a “free and fair” election.


“From what I have seen this time around, the election process seems to have been free and fair. We could see even the NGO observers being allowed to go and count the ballot papers at will,” the official of the peace entity of the Catholic Bishops in Botswana, Eswatini, and South Africa said.

The Director of the Catholic entity that researches the evolution of conflicts in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Nigeria, expressed optimism that peace will prevail in Kenya, even as the country goes through a court process to determine the winner of the 2022 Presidential election.

“It is important to note that Ruto’s victory was very slim... What happens next depends on what the court will decide. The situation right now could be some sort of quiet before a storm. But it is highly unlikely that there will be violence in Kenya,” Mr. Viljoen told ACI Africa August 23.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.