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  • Kenya:Lessons From a Flawed Election
  • Joel D. Barkan (bio)

On 29 December 1992, Kenya held its first multiparty parliamentary elections in 26 years and its first-ever multiparty presidential election. Despite the many flaws that appeared in an electoral process lasting over a year, the elections were a watershed for Kenyans seeking a democratic transformation of their country's political system. A watershed election, however, does not necessarily mark a transition to democratic rule. One era of Kenyan politics—the decade-long period of personal rule by President Daniel arap Moi—ended with the elections, which showed that Moi and his party are unpopular, but which nonetheless failed to dislodge them. It remains to be seen whether the new era will produce a transition to democracy or a prolonged and potentially bloody struggle between Moi and his opponents.

The Kenyan experience—together with recent electoral outcomes in Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Senegal—tells us that elections per se are not enough to guarantee a successful democratic transition in Africa today, just as they failed to do so at the end of the colonial era 30 years ago. Elections are but one event in the long process of establishing a political culture and institutions supportive of democratic rule. The Kenyan experience also exposes the limits of the international donor community's ability to promote democratic reform. [End Page 85] Democratization in Kenya—as elsewhere in Africa—will not come quickly or easily. In the end, it will depend mainly on the people of these societies, and especially on the attitudes and actions of competing political elites.

The December 1992 elections were the eleventh in a series of regularly held contests. In the run-up to independence from Britain, Kenya held two multiparty elections for the National Assembly, in 1961 and 1963. Two parties emerged to contest these elections: the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). As in the recent elections, these parties ran on similar platforms, but differed markedly in their ethnic and social bases. These ethnic cleavages, which have persisted for three decades, form the underlying structure of the present conflict.

KANU emerged as the alliance of the larger, more educated, more urbanized, and more politically mobilized ethnic groups. In contrast, KADU was composed of groups that were either smaller or internally divided, which had been largely bypassed by the colonial economy, and whose members therefore tended to be less educated, less urbanized, and less mobilized politically.

KANU's ethnic base consisted of the Kikuyu people who reside in Central Province and parts of Rift Valley Province and their cultural cousins, the Embu and Moru of Eastern Province. Together these groups constitute 28 percent of Kenya's population. Support for KANU also came from the Luo, who reside in Nyanza Province along the shores of Lake Victoria and who comprise 13 percent of the population; and to a much lesser extent, from the Kamba of Eastern Province (11 percent) and the Kisii of Nyanza Province (7 percent).

KADU included the Luhya of Western Province, who are Kenya's second-largest group at 14 percent of the population; the Kalenjin and related groups of the Rift Valley (14 percent); the Mijikenda peoples of Coast Province (5 percent); and several highly dispersed and nomadic groups that inhabit the vast arid and semiarid areas of the Rift Valley and remote Northeastern Province (7 percent all told).

With a three-to-two advantage in the combined population of its ethnic base, KANU beat KADU soundly in both the 1961 and 1963 elections, and proceeded to form Kenya's first independent government with Jomo Kenyatta as prime minister.

In the year following independence, Kenyatta and KANU used a carrot-and-stick approach toward the opposition that was and is typical of government-opposition relations across Africa. Kenyatta held out promises of position and patronage to those members of KADU who defected to the ruling party, but froze out stalwart opposition supporters when distributing public services involving roads, education, and health care. Thus squeezed, KADU merged into KANU by the end of 1964. Kenya became a de facto one-party state and amended its constitution to [End Page...


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