Contributing writer discusses democratization of Kenya

By Stephen Turzai || Contributing Writer

When it comes to the government and politics of our nation, we tend to be heavily involved following elections, bills and laws in a systematic way. But when it comes to countries like Kenya, this has not always been the case– in fact, Kenya is getting its first taste of democracy in recent years. The world’s 29th most populous nation is going through the process of democratization ridding itself of corrupt elections, violence in the streets and a weak 5.18 rating on the Democracy Index (​Corruptions Perception Index 2018)​ .

Kenya’s history is a long record of citizens trying to eliminate British intervention and the nation’s own authoritarian leaders in an effort to push towards democracy. From 1888 to 1962, Kenya was held under British rule. Kenya was granted its independence in 1963, only to see their nation be led by the corrupt Kenya African National Union. Under the K.A.N.U., the nation had rigged elections, ranked 137th of 180 countries on the Corruptions Perception Index with a 28 out of 100, and was considered a single party country. In 1992, Kenyans started movements resulting in the deaths of 5,000 Kenyans and the displacement of another 75,000 from their homes. In 2007, the National Rainbow Coalition, which represented multiple parties, voted to uphold the original Kenyan Constitution. As a result, violence ensued causing the 2007-2008 Kenyan Crisis, a massacre in which 1,500 Kenyans were killed while a whopping 600,000 were displaced from their homes. The citizens had made it evident to the nation’s leaders that a new constitution and democratic system were necessary.

In 2010, the Kenyan government made its first true attempt to implement democracy as the country’s government of choice. President Kibaki and Raila Odinga, members of opposite political parties, worked to end the violence for good. That year, a referendum election was held, resulting in the passing of a new Kenyan Constitution. The newfound, bipartisan document limited presidential powers, giving more powers to the subsequent governments– a key stronghold in most democratic systems. Allowing for subsequent governments to hold power while limiting presidential power is a key component in preventing one from overstepping boundaries potentially resulting in a dictatorial-like system.

Since the implementation of the new Kenyan Constitution, there has seemingly been more democratic practices in the country. Additionally, since their democratization, the nation has been the recipient of foreign assistance, much of which comes from the United States (​Foreign Assistance of Kenya​). Specifically, the aid provided by the U.S. has worked to advance access to and improve the quality of education, lay a foundation for long-term economic growth, and make devolution work for the benefit of all Kenyans through democracy. It is no surprise that countries like the United States have begun to assist Kenya due to the democratic peace theory, which states democratic governments will be hesitant to engage in war with other identified democracies. Additionally, since the move to democracy, the nation has seen a decline in the once high unemployment rate lowering from 11.10% to 9.29% (​Macrotrends, Kenya Unemployment Rates​). In the nation’s push towards democracy, Kenya has made rigged elections, regular violence, and authoritarian leadership a thing of the past (​Kenya: Democracy and Political Participation)​ .

On the contrary, some may claim that Kenya is backsliding to more of an authoritarian government as the nation recently had the 2007-2008 Kenyan Crisis which caused more than 5,000 deaths. Furthermore, it can be argued that Kenya is headed more towards an authoritarian regime because the same political parties continue to rule the country. In short, some may say that it is the same old Kenya that hasn’t sought any political changes. This, however, is not the case as the new, bipartisan constitution and leadership have resulted in democratic elections and a lawmaking body which are key aspects of democracy.

Kenya went through and benefited from the democratization process following a 40 year rule under the corrupt K.A.N.U. and a 10 year window where elected officials failed to support the drafting of a new constitution. Prior to Kenya being a democracy, it was considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries according to the Transparency International’s Corruptions Perception Index. Eventually, in a bipartisan effort, leaders passed a new constitution in 2010 allowing the country to reap the rewards of democracy. The move has benefited the nation and its people allowing for free and fair elections, the ability to be aided and allied with some of the world’s superpowers such as the United States, and resulting in a lower unemployment rate. Other nations should aim to follow the bipartisan work of President Kibaki and Raila Odinga to help make the world a better place for all.

Stephen Turzai is a Contributing Writer. His email is sturzai@fandm.edu.

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