Article from ROAPE Volume 33 Number 107
Negotiating Ethnicity: Identity Politics in Contemporary Kenya
Ethnic identities are best understood as complex and contested social constructs, perpetually in the process of creation (c.f. Berman, 1998). It is with the perpetual processes of evolution, devolution, change and conformity of ethnic identities, often perceived to be cultural givens, that this paper concerns itself. Ethnicity is a politically relevant signifier in contemporary Kenya, and drawing on evidence from Kenya's Rift Valley Province and Western Province, the paper looks at the ways in which ‘modern’ Kenyans can, and do, contest, revive, create, negotiate and renegotiate their ethnic identity. The paper reveals how ethnic communities can both contract and/or expand, and how individual actors and groups can draw on selective memories and histories to justify their ‘migration’ from one community to another; while the relevant content of ethnic units is open to both debate and contestation. &break;The paper provides detailed evidence of the fact and nature of ethnic construction, deconstruction and creation in the Kenyan postcolony and reveals how processes of ethnic negotiation and renegotiation are ultimately fuelled by the desire to stake claims to, and access resources controlled by the Kenyan state and external agents. Ultimately, the negotiation and renegotiation of ethnicity is inexorably intertwined with common perceptions of how political representation and redistribution actually works in Kenya, and with the perceived opportunities for advancement in both domestic and/or international arenas and forums.