In spite of difference: making sense of the coexistence between the Kamba and the Maasai peoples of Kenya

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Dissertation
Title In spite of difference: making sense of the coexistence between the Kamba and the Maasai peoples of Kenya
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2003
„Coexistence? is a concept that can easily take centre stage in contemporary socio-political
debates. Whether one wants to make sense of Huntington?s (1996) “clash of civilizations”, the
religious and ethnic conflicts in India, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Sudan or the juxtaposition of
a market economy with communism in China, „coexistence? comes to mind. The concept, as
indicated above, is a multidimensional one that encompasses contradictions and
inconsistencies in human interactions. The study examines ethnic groups that live side by side,
recognise themselves as distinct and are externally recognised as such. Although they are
rivals, have strained relations and compete for scarce resources, they are also complementary
and interdependent. Besides, this complex relationship is examined within the context of an
influential and an ambivalent state.
In Africa, Kenya takes pride in being one of the most stable, peaceful and fairly prosperous
multiethnic states in the conflict-prone continent. And this notion is not unfounded. Kenya has
indeed remained quite stable in the midst of turmoil in the neighbouring states. Even limiting
oneself to Kenya?s immediate neighbours like Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, one can
see that all have at one time or another experienced ethnic conflict, civil war and military
dictatorships. For this reason, Kenya has been one of the key and strategic hosts to the large
number of fleeing groups (refugees). Moreover, ethnic conflict and turmoil have been
witnessed in many other states. From the Rwandan and Burundian ethnic cleansing and
genocide, the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, recurring ethnic tensions in Nigeria,
to the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, Africa has had more than its fair share of ethnic
tensions and conflict, war and instability. And yet, the problem does not seem to be anchored
on the degree of homogeneity in these states. Conflict and turmoil have been witnessed in
what would pass as “true nation states” like Somalia (Abdullahi, 1998; Schlee 2001, 2002),
bi- or tri-ethnic states like Rwanda and Burundi where groups share one language and a long
history of living together, to diverse multiethnic countries like Ethiopia (Triulzi, 1996),
implying that ethnic conflict in Africa has never been reducible to simplistic categories like
„sameness and peaceful coexistence? or „ethnic diversity and conflict?. The internal dynamics
that explicate why some states have escaped ethnic conflict, genocide and political instability
require careful scholarly scrutiny. This study therefore is partly about how the crises
witnessed elsewhere have been avoided in Kenya in general, and between the Kamba and the
Maasai groups in particular. These two groups with linguistic and cultural distinctions, share a
volatile and fluid political border, have fairly distinct modes of subsistence, and invariably
compete for regional and national resources and political power. They often resort to armed
but „controlled? conflict, form political alliances, are engaged in social and economic
exchanges and also have certain commonalities or seek common identities. Let me begin by
giving a brief description of these groups.

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