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The People of Kenya, Ethnic Groups

Kenyan politics, western group, Luhya, Kalenjin, Oromo

Kenya’s black African population is divided into more than 40 ethnic groups belonging to three linguistic families: the Bantu, the Cushitic, and the Nilotic. Language traditionally has been the primary characteristic of ethnic identity in Kenya. Bantu-speaking Kenyans are divided into three different groups: the western group (Luhya); the central, or highlands, group (including the Kikuyu, the Kamba, and other subgroups); and the coastal Bantu (Mijikenda). Among Kenya’s Nilotic speakers, the major groups are the River-Lake, or Western, group (Luo); the Highlands, or Southern, group (Kalenjin); and the Plains, or Eastern, group (Masai). The Cushitic-speaking groups include the Oromo and the Somali. The Kikuyu, who make up 21 percent of the population, are Kenya’s largest ethnic group. The next largest are the Luhya (14 percent), the Luo (12 percent), the Kamba (11 percent), and the Kalenjin (11 percent).

For much of Kenya’s history, its ethnic groups were loose social formations, fluid and constantly changing. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries British colonial rule solidified ethnic identities among Kenya’s people. Colonial administrators associated ethnic groups with specific areas of the country by designating areas where only people with a particular ethnic identity could reside. This pattern of ethnically based settlement has persisted in Kenya since it became independent, even though economic and political development has increased mobility and urbanization among the country’s inhabitants. Thus, the majority of Kikuyu live in south central Kenya, the majority of Luhya in western Kenya, the majority of Luo in southwestern Kenya, the majority of Kamba in east central Kenya, and the majority of Kalenjin in west central Kenya. Ethnicity also has been an important factor in Kenyan politics.

Article key phrases:

Kenyan politics, western group, Luhya, Kalenjin, Oromo, Kamba, Kikuyu, political development, Masai, Somali, Kenyans, urbanization, Plains, mobility, Luo, Ethnicity, highlands, major groups, ethnic groups, important factor, percent, different groups, fluid, subgroups, Language, pattern


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