Identity in Kenya: Tolerance and Trust Deficits Points to Opportunities for Progress

Winnie V. Mitullah

14 May 2021

13pages PDF

Identity is an important attribute of individuals and groups that influences how people see themselves and relate to others. Individuals and groups leverage many different identities as the situation demands: ethnic, linguistic, economic, national, religious, and sexual, among others. Identification with a particular group is not necessarily a problem – can indeed be both useful and enjoyable – unless identity is used to undermine the rights of those outside the group, including the right to access goods and services. In Kenya, as in many African countries, ethnicity has at times been a determinant of individuals’ access to resources. But other identities are also used to create divisions of “us” vs. “them,” including affluent vs. poor, Christian vs. Muslim, gay vs. straight, citizen vs. immigrant. This analysis of Afrobarometer Round 8 findings shows that most Kenyans value both their national and ethnic identities and feel comfortable speaking their mother tongue and wearing traditional dress in public. Most do not experience unfair treatment based on ethnicity, religion, or economic status, but a sizeable minority do. Most also believe there is strength in diversity, and express tolerant attitudes toward other ethnicities, religions, political views, and nationalities – but not toward different sexual identities. And even though a majority say there is more that unites Kenyans than divides them, very few think they can trust other people.