Conflict analysis of Kenya

Kenya is a large multi-ethnic country, with over 40 different ethnic groups and many overlapping conflicts. It has high levels of sexual and gender-based violence and of intercommunal violence; low levels of persistent violence; cycles of election-related violence; and increasing numbers of terrorist attacks. The incidence, gravity and intensity of violence have all increased in recent years.

Conflict dynamics highlighted in the literature as having a particularly important impact on conflict in Kenya include the following:

  • Social fragmentation, politicised ethnicity and partisan politics: political entrepreneurs use ethnic affiliation and manipulate ethnic grievances as the basis for political mobilisation to gain power and control over resources.
  • Corruption and impunity: corruption has severely compromised the security sector, while impunity and lack of justice legitimise violence and lead to revenge attacks.
  • Land and development projects: inequity in land ownership and access cause widespread grievances, as do development projects that are not delivered in a conflict-sensitive manner.
  • Discrimination and marginalisation: certain groups and areas have faced long-term discrimination and marginalisation, which has been exploited by violent extremists.
  • Al-Shabaab’s exploitation of local politics: recently Al-Shabaab’s violence has interwoven with local Kenyan violence, as Al-Shabaab has used social and economic grievances to deepen political divides and further its own cause.
  • The government’s response: the politicisation of the counterterrorism response and the scapegoating of certain ethnic and religious groups have also played into Al-Shabaab’s hands.
  • The proliferation of small arms: this provides more opportunities for violence and wider insecurity.

Recommendations from the literature include measures to strengthen Kenya’s security, combat the threat of Al-Shabaab and radicalisation, and address pastoral violence in the drylands of Kenya. They include a focus on: i) addressing inequalities and socioeconomic marginalisation; ii) reforming the security sector and tackling corruption;  iii) improving the relationship between the state and Muslim communities; iv) refraining from hate speech and ‘collective punishment’; and v) engaging in conflict-sensitive development.

Suggested citation

Rohwerder, B. (2015). Conflict analysis of Kenya. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.