FIGHT FOR RECOGNITION

Why minority Kuria banks on BBI for own county

The community has a population of about 350,000, based on four per cent growth since the last census.

In Summary

• Geographically, the Kuria community is a minority in Kenya, but most are found in Tanzania while in adjacent Trans Mara, they have been lacking contact with the Maasai.

• The community has thus been forced to co-exist in administrative units with the Luos, who are ideologically, culturally, linguistically and behaviourally different.

Migori Governor Okoth Obado and Deputy Governor IMwita Mahanga
Migori Governor Okoth Obado and Deputy Governor IMwita Mahanga
Image: MAUEL ODENY

The October 26, 2017, repeat presidential election sharply brought to the fore the long-standing tribal tension between the minority Kuria and other major tribes in Nyanza and South Rift Valley region.

This was after the Supreme Court nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win after a successful petition by then opposition leader Raila Odinga.

While Kuria East and Kuria West constituencies woke up in the morning to peacefully vote, six others across Migori county — Nyatike, Suna West, Suna East, Uriri, Awendo and Rongo of majority Luo — were in lockdown.

 
 

Youths barricaded roads and prevented election materials from reaching polling centres, in what spilled over to tension and tribal clashes between the Luo and the Kuria across the border. Raila had called for the boycott of the election.

In the repeat poll, Uhuru garnered 19,587 votes in Kuria West, while Raila got 214 votes only.

In Kuria East, Uhuru won by 13,156 while Raila got 180 votes.

In the August presidential poll, Uhuru Kenyatta garnered 41,951 votes (65 per cent of the cast votes) compared to Raila’s 21,202 votes (34 per cent) in Kuria.

The two MPs in the region, Marwa Kitayama of Kuria East and Mathias Robi of Kuria West were both elected on the Jubilee Party ticket, a major show of community rebellion in Migori and Nyanza region considered opposition and Odinga’s backyard.

REBELLION OF MINORITY KURIA SINCE INDEPENDENCE

Soon after Independence, Kuria elders, feeling marginalised, sent a delegation to Tanzania’s founding father Julius Nyerere in 1964 seeking to secede.

 

Geographically, the Kuria community is a minority in Kenya, but most are found in Tanzania while in adjacent Trans Mara, they have been lacking contact with the Maasai.

The community has thus been forced to co-exist in administrative units with the Luos, who are ideologically, culturally, linguistically and behaviourally different.

“Nyanza region is arguably an ODM zone. But the Kuria region has always voted to the contrary. It is the only region from Nyanza ODM-controlled counties, with both of its (only) two MPs in Jubilee,” the community through opinion shapers wrote to the Building Bridges Initiative.

Before Independence, the Kuria found themselves in the newly formed South Nyanza County Council after separation from Kisii county. After their push for their own council flopped, they boycotted the county between 1962-1694.

After the failed Nyerere visit, the Kuria, through politically instigated violence, clashed with the Luo, the Maasai and the Kipsigis, which was fuelled by cattle rustling, banditry and land disputes.

In the first multi-party elections in 1992, when Migori Council was formed but the Kuria were denied theirs, the community voted for Daniel Moi, a statement against opposition leader Jaramogi Odinga Oginga.

Moi rewarded the community with their own council and district in 1993.

“In the 2010 referendum which ushered the new constitution, the Kuria community also went against Oginga’s son Raila in voting against it as it denied Kuria a county. The issue of having our own county as Kuria is dear to us,” Matiko Bohoko, a Kuria elder, politician and former journalist told the Star in an interview.

In 2013 General Election, Raila tried a negotiated democracy between the Kuria and the Luo to bring unity in newly formed Migori county but it flopped on the ballot and was rejected by both communities in last elections.

With the hope of getting the Kuria vote bloc, Raila through his party, ODM, helped push through the election of first Senator Wilfred Machage, first Woman Representative Dennitah Ghati and Governor Okoth Obado’s deputy Mwita Mahanga from the community.

“In 2013, the two protagonist communities attempted pre-election political pact which worked temporally but collapsed immediately after. That has since sparked revulsion between the two communities,” the community’s memorandum to BBI notes.

NEW KURIA COUNTY PUSH

“The biggest problem we have as the Kuria community is Migori county. We continue to be marginalised despite devolution and in the next referendum we will support a move for our new county,” Kuria East MP Marwa Kitayama said.

Kitayama, who has been the community voice, earlier this year publicly rallied Kuria against Sh516 million World Bank urban upgrade project in the county, which unsuccessfully ended up in court.

The Sh28 billion World Bank project in the country is a grant under the Kenya Urban Support Programme which picked Migori, Awendo and Rongo towns, all in majority Luo area and leaving out Isebania and Kehancha towns in minority Kuria area.

Kitayama helped in moving to court and marshalled the community to write to the BBI. He also presented his personal views as well.

The legislator said whereas they don’t have a county, the Kisii has two while the Luos have four in the former Nyanza region, sighting it as marginalisation.

“Elsewhere, Lamu, Isiolo, Taita Taveta and Samburu which are homogenous with a lesser population than Kuria have their own counties while Kuria suffocates under ethnic majority domination,” Kitayama said.

Nominated MP Dennitah Ghati said the community will reject Thirdway Alliance’s Ekuru Aukot’s Punguza Mizigo Bill that seeks to reduce elective positions.

“We have regions in Kenya, even with minority communities, benefitting while the Kuria have been sidestepped. We bank on the BBI to favour us for what we’ve sought since Independence,” Ghati said.

The two leaders insist that with population size and the community now divided into Mabera, Kehancha, Kegonga and Ntimaru sub-counties with a commissioner, the demand for a new county is real and justified.

The community has a population of about 350,000, based on four per cent growth since the last census. In the last polls, Kuria had 94,000 voters who are estimated to be 110,000 in 2022.

Chronology of a struggle by the Kuria  before and after Independence

1961/1962: South Nyanza - Kisii combined council separated into South Nyanza and Kisii county councils. Kuria protest against being lumped together in South Nyanza and demand their own council. A Kuria council is proposed on paper but never actualised

1962-1964: Kuria boycotts the South Nyanza council

1964: The three Kuria councillors fight at council session protesting mistreatment by colleagues and walkout demanding their own council

1964: Leaders lead a delegation to Dar es salaam to see President Nyerere demanding to secede from Kenya. Nyerere consults with President Kenyatta and promises to look into their affairs, including giving them their own council and district but does not happen.

1972: A vicious war breaks out between the Luo and the Kuria over discrimination and reference as Tanzanian by political powers

1991: Migori is separated from South Nyanza council but again lumped together with Kuria as council and district. Kuria protests and demands their own district and council

1992:  Kuria votes against the opposition led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga as a protest.

1993: President Moi visits Kuria and creates a Kuria district and Kehancha Municipal Council.

2005: Kuria votes to reject a draft constitution which does not create its own county

2010: Kuria votes against another proposed Constitution on the ground that it seeks to lump them in Migori. Then Kuria MP Wilfred Machage is arrested and charged with incitement against the draft.

2010-2012: Kuria/Migori is marked as a conflict hot spot because of the political tension between the Kuria and the Luo.

2012-2013: Prime Minister Raila Odinga leads a flopped negotiated democracy (Kuria wins Senate and Woman rep seats courtesy of Raila)

2017: Tension erupts again after the negotiated democracy flops over skewed voting pattern, no Kuria is elected into any county elective post save for deputy governor, who is retained by the incumbent governor. 

2018- 2019: Tension heightens again over Kehancha and Isebania town which was omitted from the World Bank’s Sh500 million urban development support programme. 


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