Ethnicity, violence, and the immigrant-guest metaphor in Kenya

Sarah Jenkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Kenya's enduring ethnic violence is frequently explained with reference to the mobilization of ethnicity from above, and relatively little attention has been paid to the participation of ordinary people. Focusing on the violence that followed the 2007 general elections, this article explores how bottom-up processes of identification and violence interacted with incitement from above. It argues that autochthonous discourses of belonging and exclusion engendered an understanding of ethnic others as ‘immigrants’ and ‘guests’, and these narratives of territorialized identity both reinforced elite manipulation and operated independently of it. Kenya's post-election violence can thus be understood as a bottom-up performance of narratives of ethnic territorial exclusion operating alongside more direct elite involvement, organization, and incitement. The durability of these narratives, as well as their inherent plasticity, has significant implications for the potential for further violence and the prospects for democratization.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576–596
Number of pages21
JournalAfrican Affairs
Issue number445
Early online date10 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012

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