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In December 2002, the long-ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) lost massively to a united opposition bringing together 15 parties bound in an electoral pact. This outcome ended one of Africa's most intransigent semi-authoritarian regimes and induced great optimism in Kenya and elsewhere for fundamental reform. This paper analyzes several structural and strategic factors that combined to produce opposition unity, the lack of which was seen as the reason behind the popular opposition losing in two previous elections. It also points to lessons from historical and comparative experiences that militate against the high optimism for fundamental change following such breakthroughs.

Last December 27, the people of Kenya broke new political ground and brought a measure of progress to what had been one of Africa's most notorious cases of stalled democratic transition. The balloting—for a new president to replace the retiring autocrat Daniel arap Moi, for a new set of legislators, and for numerous local-government posts—was almost certainly the most important African election of 2002, and perhaps the continent's most important over the last five years. Once the results came in, it was clear that Kenya's 5.8 million participating voters had opted for a 15-party opposition coalition led by veteran politician Emilio Mwai Kibaki and had ousted the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the only ruling party that Kenya has known in almost 40 years of independence and the winner of two dubious national elections held after the 1991 advent of multiparty competition and limited political liberalization.

In the presidential race, Kibaki swamped KANU's Uhuru Kenyatta 61 to 31 percent. 1 Kibaki's grouping—the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (NARC)—rounded out its triumph by winning 125 of the 210 elected seats in the 224-member National Assembly, Kenya's unicameral parliament, leaving KANU with 64 elected seats and smaller parties in control of the remaining 21 elected seats. Local-government elections also trended heavily in the NARC's direction, another first for Kenya. Taken as a whole, the opposition's win on this, its "lucky" third try was the most significant political event in the history of Kenya since British colonial rule formally ended in December 1963.

The two previous elections—the first in 1992 and the second in [End Page 145] 1997 2 —had been carried by Moi and KANU partly because of their use of a depressingly familiar array of underhanded and coercive tactics calculated to help them hang on to power at all costs, but more importantly because the opposition permitted a combination of internal tensions and regime attempts to play on these to sustain splits in the anti-KANU ranks. With the 78-year-old Moi leaving the scene in 2002 after having served the two consecutive terms (his third and fourth overall) allowed by the 1991 constitution, the plates finally shifted, and a new dynamic set in. With it came the formation of the 15-party NARC, the group that would successfully challenge KANU for power and offer new hope for an opening in what had been one of Africa's best-known cases of stalled transition. [End Page 146]

The December 2002 election marked a milestone in a process that had begun a dozen years earlier, and did so with an éclat comparable to that of earlier landmark votes in Zambia (1991) and Malawi (1994), when long-ruling autocrats went down to defeat at the hands of aroused electorates. In Kenya, early and persistent divisions in the opposition had allowed Moi and his fellow incumbents to stymie fundamental change. Because opposition disunity is a challenge elsewhere in Africa, Kenya's 2002 experience may hold lessons for confronting stubborn and resourceful authoritarians in countries such as Cameroon, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These lessons will involve insights about both the structural and the strategic elements of NARC's victory, for while changes in Kenyan society and a process of institutional learning set the stage for KANU's fall, the decisions of groups and individuals mattered a great deal as well.

By denying the presidency to Moi's handpicked successor while also stripping KANU of both its parliamentary majority and its control over so many local governments, Kenyan voters sent an emphatic message. The presidential race, as opinion polls had indicated in late 2002, was clearly between Kibaki and Kenyatta—the latest protagonists in the 12-year-old struggle between the KANU incumbents and the large but uncertainly unified opposition. 3

To win office, a Kenyan presidential candidate must not only win a plurality of the nationwide vote, but must also exceed a 25 percent threshold in at least five of the country's eight provinces (see the map on the previous page). This provision, written into the constitution by Moi in order to cripple his regionally or ethnically based rivals going into the 1992 elections, hardly proved an obstacle ten years later, as Kibaki surpassed the threshold in every province, receiving at least three-fifths of the vote in six of them. Kenyatta also crossed the threshold in six provinces. He is the son of independence leader and first president Jomo Kenyatta (d. 1978) and, like Kibaki, a member of the Kikuyu, which is Kenya's largest single ethnic group at about a quarter of the total population of 31 million. The two provinces where Kenyatta failed to clear the threshold were far-southwestern Nyanza on the shores of Lake Victoria and Nyanza's immediate neighbor to the north, Western Province. The first was a historic and the other a re-energized anti-KANU stronghold. The only other candidate to meet the 25 percent requirement anywhere was former KANU politician Simeon Nyachae, who polled 30 percent by running as, in effect, a "favorite-son" candidate in his home province of Nyanza.

Whatever its other ills and shortcomings, KANU was and remains a transethnic party, and thus had little trouble topping the threshold in the five requisite provinces. As a cobbled-together conglomerate of the leading ethnically or regionally based parties, NARC could not, for better or worse, claim anything like KANU's cohesion, but its 15 constituent parties [End Page 147] spanned the country and assured Kibaki a truly nationwide majority mandate.

Comparing 2002's tallies with the presidential results from 1992 and 1997 (see the Table above) a number of things are notable. First, the winning candidate won more handily in 2002 than in 1992 and 1997. Moi's winning 36 percent in 1992 was not much more than half the vote share that Kibaki picked up ten years later (Kibaki received 20 percent in 1992 as the opposition vote fractured, due to ethnic rivalries and machinations of Moi and KANU). In 1997, Moi took 41 percent to Kibaki's 31 percent. Second, Kibaki's 61 percent 2002 share falls precisely between the 64 percent and 58 percent that all the opposition presidential challengers mustered collectively in 1992 and 1997, respectively. This tends to support the argument that the opposition wasted excellent chances of capturing the presidency on both those previous occasions. Another way of putting it would be to say that 2002 was a victory ten years delayed.

The large swing in the parliamentary results—KANU plunged from 107 to 64 seats—also emphatically signaled the collapse of the traditional ruling party's hegemony, even though it may be not altogether clear that the opposition could have achieved parliamentary dominance earlier had it coalesced more quickly. The mere 21 seats won by parties other than NARC and KANU underscored that this was largely a two-horse race. The dominance of NARC in the home provinces of its main coalition partners was plain: It won all eight seats available in the province of Nairobi, the site of Kenya's capital and long a bastion of opposition politics, and took between 52 and 92 percent of the constituencies in every province except Rift Valley and North Eastern. In these two provinces, which also preferred Uhuru Kenyatta for president, KANU won 61 and 91 percent of the parliamentary seats, respectively. [End Page 148] This was not surprising: The Rift Valley is the ancestral home of President Moi's minority Kalenjin group (there are about two Kikuyus for every Kalenjin in Kenya, but Kalenjins are heavily represented in KANU's upper ranks), and both provinces are isolated, regime-dependent, and heavily gerrymandered by KANU.

Among the keys to the NARC's success was an agreement among its member parties to field only one coalition-endorsed candidate in each constituency. Almost always this meant giving preference to the party that could claim incumbency (or which could claim having been runner-up where KANU held the incumbency), as well as following the contours of ethnic and regional identity generally. Accordingly, the NARC more or less retained all the constituencies that its member parties had won in 1997. But this accounted for only about 85 seats. The additional bloc of 40 was the visible sign of KANU's disintegration, which meant that the transition was something that ran deeper than a mere gathering-together of traditional opposition seats. A further indicator of realignment is the declining average vote share that KANU candidates claimed: According to Kenya's Institute for Education in Democracy, a typical KANU candidate received 11 percent less of the vote in 2002 than the KANU candidate in his or her district had won back in 1997.

The first crack in KANU's unity came when young MPs, especially from the Rift Valley, became disenchanted with the party hierarchy beginning around the year 2000. There followed others, from a part of Nyanza province, whom Moi had angered by spurning them during the jostling over the presidential nomination. The biggest blow landed when the National Development Party (NDP) broke with KANU and took along several figures who commanded significant voter support in Eastern, Nyanza, Western, and Coast provinces. The arrangement of ethnic forces that underlies Kenyan electoral politics had shifted enough to cost KANU two-fifths of all its seats in the national legislature, and for the most part, KANU's loss was the NARC's gain. Even in the Rift Valley, the KANU delegation dropped from 39 to 30 MPs. In the Coast, Eastern, Western, and Nyanza provinces, KANU went from a combined total of 57 seats to just 18 seats altogether.

How Did the Opposition Do It?

While it might be tempting to conclude that the opposition had simply "learned from its mistakes" in 1992 and 1997 and, sick of being trounced, had "gotten its act together" for 2002, there is more to the matter than that. For one thing, Moi did not trounce anyone so much as sneak by: He won both of the 1990s presidential races with only slender pluralities. And the opposition actually tallied more votes overall in both 1992's and 1997's legislative races than did KANU, even though the [End Page 149] latter picked up a hefty "seat bonus" in parliament each time. Still, as of mid-2002 there were eight serious presidential contenders, including Kibaki. That none of the others was still in the ring by the autumn is a testament to the degree of resolve that prevailed in top opposition ranks. If that unity seemed purposive and unshakeable (or "unbwogable," as a popular Kenyan song put it), the path to it had many dangerous curves, strange turnings, and alternative lanes that often seemed as if they were hardly heading toward a common destination.

The story of Kenyan politics leading up to the December 2002 elections is a tale of four roughly parallel (though at times seemingly antithetical) movements whose common thread was a desire to seize the opportunity (or in one case, deflect the threat) created by Moi's constitutionally mandated retirement. The first was the drive by Moi and KANU to "play defense" by shoring up that party's electoral prospects in the face of structural and strategic changes that had eroded its dominance and dimmed its chances of repeating 1997's performance. Moi's withdrawal from the scene dissipated his patronage-bound support and opened an intraparty scramble for succession. While some analysts may argue against viewing KANU as driving toward unity, it is a mistake to assume that only opposition parties viewed a more unified front in elections as a prerequisite for success.

According to the arithmetic of ethnicity that Moi had long manipulated with such skill, KANU's eclectic base as a coalition of minorities would not be enough to win in 2002. 4 Moi's original approach, going back to his first days as president in the late 1970s, had been to conduct a courtship (punctuated by bouts of vilification) of the Kikuyu. Since about one out of every four Kenyans belongs to the Kikuyu, Moi seems to have believed that he would need them to secure stable government as well as safety and privileges for his own family, his regime cohort, and his Kalenjin ethnic minority. When his wooing of the Kikuyu seemed to be going nowhere, Moi sought cooperation from the Luo (which at about 12 percent of the population is roughly the size of the Kalenjin) initially through dealings with Jaramogi Odinga (1993-94), and then through his son, Raila Odinga (1998-2002), whose NDP would first merge with and later break from KANU.

This merger, which lasted from March to October 2002, brings us to the second of our four movements. The ultimate reversal of the NDP's drive toward effective unity with the ruling party was probably the single most important event during the run-up to the election. The initial maneuvering began as early as 1998 and was quite transparent—of all the major parties, the NDP has always been the frankest about its goals. The NDP started by working with Moi in parliament in exchange for access to government-controlled resources on a scale large enough to affect entire regions. Moi needed the help because of splits within KANU ranks and open defiance on the part of some KANU legislators. In June [End Page 150] 2001, Moi named Raila Odinga and several other NDP members to the cabinet, signaling how important this arrangement had become. When the NDP formally joined the ruling party in March 2002, the resulting formation became popularly (though never officially) known as New KANU. This was a huge step, especially given the long history of antagonism between the Luo and KANU, but Odinga argued openly that it was the move best calculated to help him get the ruling party's presidential nomination and thereby swing the advantages of incumbency and a transethnic base behind himself and the groups he most fully represented.

In physics always and in politics sometimes, an action will provoke an equal and opposite reaction. In 2002, the coalescence of KANU and the NDP prodded the opposition to speed up its own slow-moving collaboration, leaving KANU all that much more exposed when its deal with Odinga collapsed. While all this was occurring on the interparty level, KANU continued to be riven by internecine wrangling that the lame-duck Moi was increasingly powerless to stop. Anticipating the struggle over the succession, KANU split in two as early as 1998, and cleavages multiplied and changed shape as the time to nominate a candidate drew nearer.

Into this divided house moved the NDP and its leader Odinga, who was betting that the advantage of KANU's incumbency, his own unassailable hold on the Luo vote, and what was left of Moi's patronage network would, when summed, add up to the presidency. From Moi's end of things, it looked as if the wily old president had weakened the opposition by coopting a sizeable chunk of it, lined up the solid Luo voting bloc in the KANU column, and given himself the best chance possible of being able to manage the succession. Given these incompatible goals, it was not surprising that the merger did not last.

For Moi, the merger was about picking up ethnic votes for a nonincumbent KANU candidate. The ethnic calculus at work could be divined from the allocation of four important new party vice-chairmanships: With Moi's personal influence playing a telling role, these went by acclamation to younger politicians from the Kikuyu, Kamba, Luhya, and coastal ethnic groups. Odinga became secretary-general of New KANU in this fashion as well. The sitting vice-president and the KANU secretary-general, both old-line Kikuyus, found themselves sidelined. Uhuru Kenyatta, already being groomed for the nomination but facing many potential opponents, was the Kikuyu vice-chairman. Moi held an extremely powerful chairmanship, which he meant to hang on to after the elections.

As the process of naming a presidential candidate got underway, Moi at first stood more or less aloof, but soon threw all his weight behind Uhuru Kenyatta. By August 2002, Moi had made plain his desire to have the younger man nominated by acclamation, resolutely turning a [End Page 151] deaf ear to the complaints that this drew from both old KANU hands angry at being shoved aside and former NDP leaders shocked at how the very process that had vaulted them to the top of the ruling party was now being used to dash the presidential hopes of their champion, Raila Odinga. Moi's unbending attitude led to several high-level dismissals or resignations from cabinet or party posts. On the eve of KANU's convention, the cashiered officials, the former NDP members, and other assorted rebel elements of KANU quit the party to form first the Rainbow Coalition and later the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The third impetus for opposition unity was not a holding action by the ruling party or its Johnny-come-lately allies, but rather a straightforward attempt by anti-KANU forces to learn from and overcome the blunders that had squandered so much opposition support in 1992 and 1997. This push for unity within the opposition was slow going, and was beset by the same kinds of zero-sum trade-offs that had caused KANU and the former NDP to fall out so publicly. A number of legislators calling themselves the Central Province Parliamentary Group (CPPG) were the first to raise the possibility of a formal united-opposition front for 2002. Drawing most of its strength from the Democratic Party (DP) and a narrow ethnic base, the CPPG was not a serious force in the early going. Mostly it held "summit" meetings with party heads or breakaway MPs from KANU or smaller parties that were in the process of falling apart.

The last of the four drivers of opposition unity was Kenyan civil society. Many human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had added their voices to the broad chorus that began demanding political liberalization as far back as 1990. After the opening of the early 1990s, some of these entities spun off newly legal political parties in order to carry on the work of democratic advocacy, much of which then took the form of a campaign for constitutional reform. Unification work among the opposition began around the same time. In 1992, a mediation effort spearheaded by environmentalist Wangari Maathai's Middle Ground Group tried and failed to persuade the main opposition politicians to join forces against Moi. Five years later, in the wake of successful mobilization to secure the passage of constitutional and electoral changes, these civil society groups failed to persuade the opposition to coalesce behind a single candidate to take on Moi. Their painstaking work had planted seeds of cooperation, however, and these would ultimately take root and flourish amid continuing public dismay over splits within opposition ranks as well as both the threat still posed by KANU and the opportunity created by the crackup of its ill-fated merger with the NDP. Taken together, all these factors spelled new leverage for the cause of compromise. With civil society groups mediating, and spurred on by the ominous KANU-NDP deal, the opposition parties had by mid-2002 agreed to form a National Alliance [End Page 152] of Kenya (NAK) as a vehicle for contesting the upcoming December elections. By October, several parties and civil society groups had gathered under the NAK umbrella.

As should be evident, these four dynamics were all working more or less simultaneously to promote opposition unity, but hardly with the same rhythm or on precisely the same schedule. It was therefore quite easy for certain actors, especially Raila Odinga, to play a role at critical moments in more than one dynamic. And of course the dynamics all affected one another, with important groups and individuals often communicating in two-sided or even multi-sided interchanges.

In the end, however, it was the NDP and KANU that set the agenda and through their actions opened or constricted the concrete opportunities for unity. When those two parties merged in March 2002, they effectively put a lock on the December election—but only if they could hang together despite the contending and even mutually incompatible interests that threatened to tear them apart. And we have seen how, by galvanizing the opposition, the KANU-NDP union gave itself a tough uphill pull and revealed yet again the role that unintended consequences can play in political life. In an illustration of how the various intentional or unintentional dynamics of unity could counterpoint one another, the opposition umbrella group called the NAK was holding its own desultory talks when the KANU-NDP merger came unglued over the presidential nomination.

Reacting nimbly to this, the NAK's decision makers invited the Rainbow Coalition and LDP band of ex-NDPers and other disaffected KANU types to join. Following intense negotiations, the NAK, the Rainbow Coalition, and the LDP merged according to terms spelled out in a public Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the design of fielding a single compromise candidate for the presidency as well as for each parliamentary seat and local-government post.

Three Structural Factors That Mattered

Apart from the calculated maneuverings of politicians and activists, a number of structural factors (and opportunistic responses to them) enabled the opposition to make its agreements stick, and in the end to prevail over what seemed to many like long odds in favor of a determined incumbent party that had never theretofore given up power. Three factors are especially important.

First, once Moi had committed himself firmly to stepping down no matter what (as a constitutional amendment adopted in the mid-1990s required), the political landscape was fundamentally transformed. With Kenya's long-time ruler a lame duck, there was little reason for officials and politicians to indulge in mischief or chicanery on KANU's or Kenyatta's behalf. Instead, everyone wanted to keep open as many options [End Page 153] as possible, and reposition effectively in the face of whatever new reality was about to be born.

Second, the slowly unfolding constitutional-reform process served the opposition well in smoothing the way toward a compromise settlement with which each significant party could live. Kenya has an extremely strong, even overweening presidency—an office so strong it is desired and feared by all—but the overall direction in which reform appeared to be heading looks toward the introduction of cabinet government, with an executive prime minister chosen by parliament to be head of government, and a president to serve as head of state. In keeping with this, the MoU envisioned a relatively copious number of influential posts to be distributed among leaders of the signatory parties. Had the constitutional-reform process not been going on at the time of the campaign, it is virtually inconceivable that any opposition leader would have agreed to give up his or her slim chance at the imperial presidency and settle for the certainty of exclusion in its shadow.

Third and finally, given the widespread belief that KANU had cheated in 1992 and 1997, it was not enough to build a coalition: A way had to be found to make sure that the votes which Kenyans cast for it would count. Here, three things helped. One was the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). Long suspected of being less than independent, in 2002 it took a big step toward coming into its own, expanding its assertiveness in response to the greater leeway created by the incumbent's withdrawal and the immense struggles over legitimacy surrounding his anointed heir—a figure on whose behalf bureaucrats would be unlikely to try and steal the election.

Moreover, a small change in the election law—calling for vote-counting and ballot verification to be conducted at each polling station—had made electoral skullduggery far harder to pull off. The opposition parties added insurance by deploying an army of agents and volunteers who used cell phones to relay precinct-level tallies to party headquarters as soon as the counting was complete. In fact, the opposition knew that it had won hours before the national radio broadcast the results and days before the ECK could officially call the election. There was simply no opportunity for anyone to "retool" the count.

The euphoria following the NARC's victory is, in part, a reflection of hope that the new government can deliver the country from economic malaise, extreme corruption, and ethnic conflict; that it will get serious about fighting HIV/AIDS (which according to the UN afflicts about 15 percent of all adult Kenyans); and that it will install rights-enhancing governance which, ultimately, can create the conditions for alleviating poverty. While the NARC campaign platform and the early actions of President Kibaki and the new government clearly indicate a drive toward this, a number of fundamental challenges remain.

Experience also cautions against too much optimism. In general, [End Page 154] African countries that have ushered long-reigning dictators out of power have tended to fall short of achieving truly transformative (or in some cases, even significant) change. The cases of Nigeria, Zambia, and Malawi all feature an electoral triumph that begins with inspiring promise and yields disappointing or even dismal results. The jury is still out on Madagascar while Senegal—admittedly an outlier but only slightly so—is no better. Most have backslid into the same old types of malaise, especially as new incumbents fight to keep their grip on power (for example, Zambia and Malawi), or as problems once identified with outgoing rulers (as in Nigeria and Senegal) prove to be deeply ingrained agonies that will take far more to resolve than a change of personnel at the top. Other polities have simply found themselves overwhelmed by the complexities of navigating multifaceted reforms and populist demands (for example, Benin under one-term president Nicéphore Soglo). 5

Typically, the new incumbents have won second terms (a respectable indicator of approval and reform endurance) by no more than slender margins. The need to balance populist responses with some hard-nosed reforms has often been especially difficult (consider Zambia's policies on the copper industry or Malawi's efforts to provide free primary schooling), often leading to continued macroeconomic crises. In countries where electoral coalitions have been necessary to secure the defeat of the old regime, such alliances have typically frayed under the strains of governing. This fraying tends to be especially severe in countries known for overweening presidential powers and built-in pressures for centralization. Conditions such as these crippled campaigns for transparency and accountability in Malawi and Zambia almost before they could get started.

The Travails of Transformation

Of course, the difficulties of true transformation are peculiar neither to new democracies nor to Africa. Even in stabler and more developed countries navigating a sharp turn away from a dominant regime, changing the structure of politics (especially where a spoils system exists) and "re-engineering" the state have proven difficult. Where palpable change has been achieved, it has taken at least a decade. Mexico after 70 years of one-party rule and Japan after the initial fall of the Liberal Democratic Party have yet to truly transform governance to rectify the ills responsible for previous crises.

A look at the recent record in Africa and in some relatively advanced countries suggests that Kenyans should brace themselves to meet at least four challenges that will come up fairly early, once the new government has enacted the most obvious and popular reforms, and must confront problems that resist easy solution and differences that are hard to split.

The first challenge flows from the composite nature of the "change [End Page 155] event" itself. In the broad camp of those who opposed KANU and the Moi legacy, two distinct but overlapping agendas are at work. As Kelechi Kalu has pointed out, one has to do with "transition," while the other focuses on the deeper and wider question of "transformation." The politicians and parties who banded together behind Kibaki's candidacy wanted to beat the incumbents at the polls and take office. That transition has now largely occurred. The forces of civil society and constitutional reform seek not merely a change of administration but a change in the nature of the regime: They want to transform the basic character of the state and its relations with society. The current transition is a necessary first step, but only a first step. President Kibaki and his cabinet can hardly be said to profess, much less embrace, a transformational agenda aimed at taming the state. To date the administration's rhetoric has stressed the need to make government more efficient but said nothing about reimagining the role of the state in Kenya's national life.

What is likely to happen as regards the agenda of "transformation"? I will hazard three predictions: 1) After the first series of major correctives, attempts to redesign of the state will stall. Efforts to correct the institutionalized propensity for overcentralization will be abandoned. Local governments will not get much more authority because power will mostly remain in the hands of presidentially controlled provincial administrators. 2) The politics of ethnic jockeying with an eye toward winning elections will reassert themselves near the heart of power as the hastily cobbled-together NARC frays and governance demands trade-offs that will almost certainly take on ethnic overtones. 3) The new government will make some of the obvious macroeconomic corrections that donors and investors expect (moves toward lighter, more sensible regulations; privatization; stronger anticorruption efforts; fiscal prudence; and the like). But it will sidestep the "transformational" challenges of enacting land reform, weaving a social safety net, or bringing into the mainstream certain marginalized areas and communities that have long been in conflict with the state and with certain favored economic actors.

The second challenge will be to improve parliament's performance. While the executive branch will remain the center of action given Kenya's history and institutions, the legislature's prominence in policy making, oversight, and governance generally is nonetheless likely to rise. As a formerly excluded opposition takes over, parliament will become the place to make deals concerning new governmental priorities (such as reviving of specific sectors of the economy or minimizing the claims of [End Page 156] neglect coming from regions supportive of KANU). While a more active parliament is good, it could come under populist pressures severe enough to threaten fiscal prudence. A hint of this came in February 2003, when US$47 million had to be added to the budget midyear to pay for NARC's campaign promise of free primary education. As the Malawian experience suggests, popular expectations will run very high: The provision of free schooling may be a great investment for the medium and long terms, but in the short run it poses a challenge as masses of new students step forward to enroll and demands for similar free services are heard in other areas, such as health care. The new government's own proclamations have fueled expectations for rapid progress on several fronts. To make matters worse, many still hold the overly simple view that all the country's ills are purely the result of malfeasant or grossly negligent individuals from the previous regime rather than fundamental structural faults.

While such structural flaws must be acknowledged honestly, it remains true that there was tremendous malfeasance by the KANU regime, and this brings us to the third challenge. Changing the conditions that make such malfeasance possible and correcting its far-reaching and deeply perverse effects will take every ounce of savvy and muscle that the new government can muster. Declaring free primary schooling immediately after the election is one thing; addressing misallocations among educational levels, and particularly the dearth of secondary and tertiary schools, is something else. Then there is the petty corruption that maddens citizens in their everyday dealings with public officials. Ending this will require thinking about whether civil servants are paid enough, whether they have the resources they need to do their jobs, and whether the state even needs to be imposing all the rules and regulations (such as those concerning the various certifications needed before identity cards or passports can be issued, for example) that its officials are now enforcing—or taking bribes not to enforce—and so on. Such problems and a host of others demand sustained and multifaceted attention. They cannot be fixed by populist decrees that promise citizens benefits and say nothing of costs.

The fourth challenge will be simply to stay the course. Electoral coalitions can easily come apart as the challenges of actually running a country mount, so we should expect that whatever momentum and coherence the government's reform programs display will be short-lived. In particular, second-generation reforms (beyond the populist first salvos) will require concrete trade-offs among coalition partners that may be too much for the disparate and ideologically unfocused NARC to stomach. Historically, coalitions in Kenya have tended to be short-lived especially beyond the critical objective (or accident) that impels their creation. The NARC has already accomplished more than any of its predecessors, of course, but severe and repeated tests are in store. Even if the arduous calculus of ethnic politics does not trip up the coalition [End Page 157] early on—and events in April 2003 were already portending increased tensions within the NARC's ranks and a dulling of its governing edge—the prospect of the elections in 2007 (or earlier if a midterm succession ensues) will cause major coalition partners with particularly ambitious and able candidates (one thinks especially of Raila Odinga and the LDP) to think of striking out on their own.

In sum, we have seen a realigning moment make its long-delayed, long-awaited advent in Kenya. An orderly transition of power has at last occurred, and one of Africa's more stubborn "big men" has now slipped placidly from the scene. Could it be, despite all that has been said above about the problems that dog Kenya's polity and society, that a transformation of the state and its manner of dealing with society might be riding somehow in NARC's baggage train? Perhaps this will prove to be the case; a number of issues bear watching. One thing that we can hope for is that the forces of positive transformation in Kenyan civil society will prove to be as persistent and ultimately irrepressible as did the forces of transition in Kenyan political society during the long parenthesis of the Moi-dominated 1990s. The extent to which the recent electoral transition sets the stage for deeper changes in the state (and its role in society and the economy), like the extent to which the NARC holds up under the demands of governance and in the shadow of a more prominent parliament, will go a long way toward determining whether democracy in Kenya can stand its ground and deliver on its promise.

Stephen N. Ndegwa

Stephen N. Ndegwa is associate professor of government and directs the Program on Civil Society and Governance in Africa at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is editor of A Decade of Democracy in Africa (2001) and has published widely on African and Kenyan politics.


1. There were three other candidates in the presidential race, but none was consequential. Simeon Nyachae, who had been viewed as a possible spoiler by the Kibaki camp, managed to garner only 6 percent, while the other two, James Orengo and Waweru Ngethe, trailed in an extremely distant fourth and fifth place, respectively.

2. For reviews of the 1992 and 1997 elections, see David Throup and Charles Hornsby, Multi-Party Politics in Kenya (Oxford: James Currey, 1998); Joel D. Barkan, “Kenya: Lessons from a Flawed Election,” Journal of Democracy 4 (July 1993): 85–99; Joel D. Barkan and Njuguna Ng'ethe, “Kenya Tries Again,” Journal of Democracy 9 (April 1998): 32–48; and John W. Harbeson, ed., “The Future of Democracy in Kenya,” Africa Today 45 (April–June 1998).

3. A wealth of detailed material on the elections, including results, preelection analyses, and observer reports, is available at the websites of the Institute for Education in Democracy (; the Donor Information Centre on Elections in Kenya (; Kenya Elections 2002 (; and the Electoral Commission of Kenya (

4. On the politics of ethnicity, see Stephen N. Ndegwa, “Citizenship and Ethnicity: An Examination of Two Transition Moments in Kenyan Politics,” American Political Science Review 91 (September 1997): 599–616.

5. Initial misgivings and frustrations were evident, for example, in Kibaki's first hundred days. Douglas Okwatch, “Kibaki: 100 Days Later,” East African Standard (Nairobi), 8 April 2003.

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