Muslims and Party Politics and Electoral Campaigns in Kenya

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This essay analyzes the historical struggle of the Muslim community to have a voice in Kenyan politics and the Islamic topics that have surfaced during electoral periods. A minority group in Kenya, Muslims have faced political marginalization more on the basis of race and ethnicity than religion. The pre-independence period saw the development of racially-based Muslim organizations made up of Arabs and Asians. The colonial regime, which viewed its subjects in racial rather than religious terms, accorded Arabs and Asians privileges of representation which they did not extend to Africans. This influenced the shape of Muslim poltical activity after independence. The first president, Jomo Kenyatta, primarily concerned with ethno-regional balancing, coopted individual Muslims in the governments, but these Muslims tried to form their own political party (the Islamic Party of Kenya or IPK). However, the government banned the IPK on the grounds that it was discriminatory, and tried to split the Muslim constituency along racial lines by creating its own party (United Muslims of Africa). Since 1990, Kenyan Muslims have managed to coalesce around perceived attempts at marginalization or discrimination, such as their reaction to the succession act of 1981 (which Muslims considered contrary to Islamic law) and Moi's singling out of Somali Muslims to carry additional identification. While Muslims won concessions on both issues, the author contents that these were acts of appeasement by the government to win Muslim votes. He concludes that Muslim polticial unity is being more clearly articulated now than anytime since the IPK period; at the same time, however, race and ethnicity continue to be divisive factors.

Last modified
  • 01/01/2019
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  • 09-001
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