Kenya - Country Profile

Republic of Kenya - "the cradle of humanity"

There are more than 40 ethnic Groups in Kenya, the majority of who are descendants of two major language groups - the Bantu of Western Africa (Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Kamba) and the Nilotic from the Nile Valley (Luo).

The main ethnic groups are:

  • Kikuyu 22%
  • Luhya 14%
  • Luo 13%
  • Kalenjin 12%
  • Kamba 11%
  • Kisii 6%
  • Meru 6%
  • other African 15% (e.g., Somalis, Turkana)
  • non-African 1% (Asian, European, Arab)


  • Protestant 45%
  • Roman Catholic 33%
  • Muslim 10%
  • indigenous beliefs 10%
  • other 2%


  • English (official)
  • Kiswahili (official)
  • Numerous indigenous


Generally, Kenyans primarily identify themselves according to their tribe or ethnic group, and then as Kenyan. The Kikuyu - the largest ethnic group in Kenya and most dominant in political spheres - are more likely to identify themselves as Kenyan. They have built up their representation over the centuries traditionally through trading portions of their harvests for land, through inter-marriage and intermingling with the many different ethnic groups - although there were occasional tensions around land and cattle! In Kenya, the Kikuyu dominate jobs with the highest status in Kenyan society, followed by the Luo - government, business and education. In rural areas, many Luo are fishermen and boat-builders; in urban areas they are mechanics and craftsmen and dominate Kenyan trade unions. Some members of the Maasai and Samburu ethnic groups are park rangers and safari guides.


Kenya has regularly experienced disputes around land issues that have existed for decades. The tensions appear to peak around election times - 1992/3, 1997, 2001/2 and more recently 2007/8. However, to the international observer these are all too often viewed as solely 'tribal clashes'. The widening poverty gap in Kenya - the majority of Kenyan's living below the international poverty level of US$1 a day - high unemployment and increasing crime all contribute to heightening tensions in the country. With increasing claims by national and international observers of vote rigging in the December 2007 presidential elections by incumbent president Kibaki, violence almost immediately erupted in Kenya among members of the Luo and Kikuyu ethnic groups. The opposition leader Odinga, is Luo and Kibaki, who has been in power for 2 terms, is Kikuyu. The violence is said to have claimed more than 800 people so far and 250,000 people have been uprooted from their homes. Some have called the violence in Kenya 'Genocide' other ethnic clashes some say it is "about deep, long-running income inequalities in Kenya' and a rapidly growing population which sees land ownership as a means of survival" (BBC) The current conflict has been particularly intense in the rich and fertile Rift Valley, where the best land was distributed to the Kikuyu by Kenya's first president after Independence. The Kikuyu have experienced relative wealth and high status with successive governments, which has bred resentment among other ethnic groups - in particular the Luo. The December elections were viewed as a chance to reverse this imbalance. The violence subsequent to the elections is taking the form of Luo versus Kikuyu:

"I was targeted because I am married to a Kikuyu. There is no other reason why they should have attacked me and identified me. They were attacking selectively." Professor David Habel Odongo, from the Luo ethnic group, married his wife, a Kikuyu more than 20 years ago. "This isn't only about election results or tribalism... it is deep grievances about land." (elderly Kikuyu man in the Irish Times). There are stories of Luo recruiting other ethnic groups to attack and kill Kikuyu - "They are paid to kill and destroy... by an ODM politician." (Irish Times)