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Kenya in Pre- and Post-Democracy Periods Research Paper


Democratization is a concept that has been studied widely by many political analysts, economists, and historians. In countries that have become partly or fully democratized, a significant number of upheavals have been recorded thus redefining their historical developments. The selected country for this comparative essay is Kenya. The nation is, without doubt, one of the African republics that have realized some fruits of democratization. In 2003, Kenyans overwhelmingly participated in a historic general election to overthrow an authoritarian regime that had remained in power for four decades (Crawford and Lynch 48). Specifically, this paper seeks to compare the pre-democracy and post-democracy periods in order to understand Kenya’s political gains.

Comparing and Contrasting the Pre-Democracy Period With the Post-Democracy Period

Pre-Democracy Period

The path towards democratization in Kenya cannot be clearly understood without analyzing the country’s historical developments. To begin with, Kenya was colonized by Britain whose legal institutions and political foundations framed specific political ideologies (Anders and Zenkel 21). The colonial government failed to establish a nation characterized by meaningful ideals, laws, and ideas that could serve the interests of the people. Political analysts argue that the concept of capitalism led to devastating impacts on the country. Unfortunately, leaders who took over after independence did not address the issues emerging from peripheral capitalism (Crawford and Lynch 62).

The first president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, presented notions of unity, peace, and love using his famous Harambee Philosophy. Crawford and Lynch go further to indicate that such populist concepts were mainly aimed at sugarcoating political insensitiveness and demagoguery (72). The leaders used inappropriate strategies to manage resources and establish new identities. Basically, the social interests and rights of the people were mostly taken for granted (Khaunya et al. 28). The established regime came up with various social strategies incapable of promoting development and cohesion. Effective initiatives could have fostered economic prosperity in Kenya.

Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel Moi, did not do much to leave the country better or transform the lives of the people. He polarized the country further and disoriented its political fabric. The independent nation found it hard to deal with most of its challenges such as ethnicity, economic imbalance, and vulnerability to international pressure (Anders and Zenkel 12). Most of the authoritarian propensities promoted by the colonialists were propagated even further by these leaders.

The first four decades after independence in Kenya were defined by authoritarianism. This leadership approach resulted in uneven development, intolerance, increased ethnic tensions, and political inadequacies. Consequently, the idea of democracy imagined by freedom fighters during the colonial period lost meaning after independence. President Kenyatta’s party, Kenya African National Union (KANU), applied inappropriate strategies to centralize the nation. This led to a powerful executive capable of controlling every aspect of the national government. The established wave of authoritarianism suppressed class struggles and equality (Crawford and Lynch 487). The material expectations and interests of the elites were safeguarded thus resulting in economic imbalances.

History indicates that Kenya remained a stable nation despite the existing challenges. The government managed to build infrastructure, schools, and promote economic development (Anders and Zenkel 93). However, more people had realized that social inequalities, economic imbalances, and poverty had already swelled by the year 1980.

Struggle to Democracy

Many historians agree that the journey to democracy in Kenya began in the 1970s. It was during the time when Kenyans realized that the country had been mismanaged. The unsuccessful coup of 1982 redefined the history of the country. After the attempt, the president instituted new mechanisms with the aim of strengthening the ruling party. The party became more powerful than ever before. The president used state resources to punish those who were opposed to his leadership. Resources during the time were misappropriated. The country was plunged into wider ethnic divisions and inequalities (Anders and Zenkel 19). Fortunately, a new era emerged on the continent towards the end of the century. The Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) era became an opportune moment for Kenya to begin its journey towards liberalization (Anders and Zenkel 42).

Kenya’s passage to democracy took a new trajectory in the 1990s when new civil societies emerged. Many non-governmental agencies began to tackle most of the social rots that affected the country’s citizens. These agencies were also supported by a number of religious bodies that wanted to establish a new order in the country. The number of vigilante groups, student activists, and politicians joined hands in order to oppose the ruling party. The age of multiparty democracy was born in 1992. The opposition managed to win a number of seats in parliament (Crawford and Lynch 49). The struggle continued throughout the decade. In 1997, Moi won the presidential election for the second time. However, his victory was questioned by many politicians and civil societies.

Although the wave of multiparty democracy failed to topple KANU from its position, the elections of 1992 and 1997 created a new path for a better future in the nation. The move strengthened many people and encouraged them to continue fighting for their civil rights and entitlement to the national resources. The pro-democracy struggle in Kenya failed to realize its goals in a timely manner due to the lack of clearly defined objectives, ineffective leadership, and lack of adequate resources (Crawford and Lynch 48). Additionally, issues such as ethnocentrism, factionalism, mistrust, and ineffective political policies affected the ambitions of the opposition.

From this analysis, it is quite clear that the democratic transition in Kenya was gradual in nature. Mass demonstrations were common throughout the 1990s in an attempt to force KANU to embrace the concept of multiparty politics (Hassid and Brass 5). Many people sacrificed their efforts, resources, and time in order to achieve these goals. Ethnic clashes were also witnessed in different regions such as the Coast and Rift Valley provinces. Such sacrifices paved the way for a democratic future in the nation. The spirit of a true democracy would be experienced after the fall of KANU.

In 2002, different opposition leaders and parties came together and formed a formidable alliance by the name the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). Led by Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, the new party eventually managed to dislodge KANU from power. Many people in the country were happy because a new period had come (Crawford and Lynch 109). The era presented numerous opportunities and possibilities. It was a new beginning for Kenyans to establish a new state defined by democracy.

Post-Democracy Period

Since 2003, the history of Kenya has been reshaped by numerous events that have tested the validity of its democratic transition. Although the year offered numerous promises to the people, the leaders who took over after the fall of KANU did very little to deal with social inequalities affecting the people (Hassid and Brass 3). The new economic blueprint adopted by the NARC government did not address the issue of wealth inequality. Consequently, the issue of historical injustices emerged whereby many leaders wanted the government to address such imbalances.

The hope experienced in the country would be short-lived since most of the issues affecting the people were ignored by the new government. The question of land gained much attention in 2007. Although most of the conflicts experienced in the country took place before elections, things changed in 2007. Kenya’s post-election of 2007-2008 was a wakeup call for politicians to reflect on the major issues that affected the people. Failure to reform the constitution was seen as the main reason behind such problems (Hassid and Brass 8). The people were also yearning for a new system characterized by powerful institutions capable of delivering transparent elections.

The post-election violence forced the leader of the opposition, Raila Odinga, to share power with President Mwai Kibaki (Crawford and Lynch 56). However, the move would not have fruited without the efforts played by the African Panel of Eminent African Personalities (APEAP). The agreement eventually led to a new constitution aimed at addressing most of the issues that were affecting the people since independence. The new constitution also recognized the rights of the people. The powers (and limitations) of the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive were also redefined. The concept of devolution was also adopted to ensure resources were delivered to Kenyans proportionately (Khaunya et al. 31).

The new constitution is believed to have led to the birth of a “Second Republic” characterized by equitable development, inclusivity, and devolution (Anders and Zenkel 109). The elections of 2013 would put this constitution into the test. Polity IV standard focuses on three key attributes. The first one is the presence of processes through which the people of a particular country can express their views or preferences. The second aspect is the institutionalized limits of the executive’s powers. The final one is the provision of civil liberties to every person in the nation. The effectiveness of different institutions in Kenya was displayed after the elections. Uhuru Kenyatta became the fourth president after the Supreme Court affirmed his victory following a petition filed by his competitor, Raila Odinga. In 2017, the reelection of Uhuru Kenyatta was nullified by the same Supreme Court established in accordance with the Kenyan constitution.

Political leadership in this county can, therefore, be described as more democratic. This is the case because more efforts and developments have been recorded from 2010. Based on the Freedom House standard measure of democracy, it is indisputable that Kenya has managed to develop a democratic system. This is the case because the government supports and obeys the rule of law, promotes people’s rights, and allows them to voice their opinions. Although there have been cases of economic and social injustices, the government has continued “to respect the constitution and the rule of law” (Hassid and Brass 16).

Concluding Remarks

The governments that have been in place since 2003 have implemented adequate measures to improve the lives of the people. Devolution has led to better infrastructure, equal distribution of resources, and improvement in healthcare delivery (Khaunya et al. 35). The nation has therefore also recorded significant economic gains and human development goals. In conclusion, democratization in Kenya is still an ongoing process that must be supported in order to foster consolidation.

Works Cited

Anders, Gerhard, and Olaf Zenkel. Transition and Justice: Negotiating the Terms of New Beginnings in Africa. Wiley, 2014.

Crawford, Gordon, and Gabrielle Lynch. Democratization in Africa: Challenges and Prospects. Routledge, 2013.

Hassid, Jonathan, and Jennifer Brass. “Scandals, Media and Good Governance in China and Kenya.” Journal of Asian and African Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2014, pp. 1-18.

Khaunya, Mukabi, et al. “Devolved Governance in Kenya: Is it a False Start in Democratic Decentralization for Development?” International Journal of Economics, Finance and Management, vol. 4, no. 1, 2015, pp. 27-37.

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"Kenya in Pre- and Post-Democracy Periods." IvyPanda, 8 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/kenya-in-pre-and-post-democracy-periods/.

1. IvyPanda. "Kenya in Pre- and Post-Democracy Periods." September 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kenya-in-pre-and-post-democracy-periods/.


IvyPanda. "Kenya in Pre- and Post-Democracy Periods." September 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kenya-in-pre-and-post-democracy-periods/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Kenya in Pre- and Post-Democracy Periods." September 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kenya-in-pre-and-post-democracy-periods/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Kenya in Pre- and Post-Democracy Periods'. 8 September.

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