Tensions and Reversals in Democratic Transitions
Kanyinga, Karuti; D
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This book is a product of much reflection thought, and commitment to examine the gaps and gains in Kenya’s democratic process. Its very title: Tensions and Reversals in Democratic Transitions: The Kenya 2007 General Elections, suggests not only the difficulty of democratic arrival but also the difficulty of its measurement. It reflects on the progress that has been made and the threats inherent therein. By implication, it sits on the side of the debate that takes the view that the democratization process will not necessarily be peaceful, neat, or unilinear. The book acknowledges that the balance sheet of Kenya’s democratization project demonstrates a mixed result. Whereas in the period leading up to December 2007 the ‘assets’ side of the balance sheet was arguably healthier, the subsequent events, and post-2007 election violence in particular, exposed huge liabilities–mostly hidden in the structural inefficiencies of the Kenyan. This binary or bifurcated reality in Kenya’s democratization, and the gains and tensions inherent in it, is evidenced by several developments. First, whereas the political space has remained highly pluralized since 1991, with the holding of regular and periodic elections following the re-introduction of multi-party politics, there are a number of negative or illiberal tendencies that have accompanied this progress: consolidation of ethnic identities, political conflicts and violence, and rising impunity. These elections often turn out to be tournaments of communal values in which ethnic interests compete in pursuance of centralized political powers in search of the imperial presidency. Essentially, although the space for democracy is enhanced and the authoritarian monster tamed, elections have acted in the main as instruments of social-political exclusion rather than instruments for furthering democratic governance. Second, whereas the legalization of political parties was seen as a necessary part of the democratization process, the political parties themselves are not practising internal democracy. The quality of rules, decisions, and accountability is woefully weak; personal rule and the dominant leader culture is strong; and party institutions generally emasculated. All these account for the remarkably short shelf life of Kenya’s political parties, a development that greatly undermines the consolidation and institutionalizing of democratic gains. Third, whereas the liberal environment has led to plurality of media outlets, the ownership structure, professional conduct, or content of these media houses have not necessarily passed the democratic muster. The emergence of new technologies such as cell phones and e-communication has weakened state control of information; allowed citizens unhindered access to information; and permitted intense, unregulated citizen dialogue. However, the emergence of these technological choices or opportunities has not necessarily improved the quality of the democratic discourses, even though the space for engagement has increased. Fourth, whereas Kenya’s disciplined forces have maintained a fairly respectable distance from politics, generally, and Kenya’s Preface democratization process in particular, this distance was completely eliminated in 2007/2008. The long term political impact of this ‘return’ to the civilian arena remains unknown, particularly given the ethnicization of politics and by implication security. Fifth, whereas the gender discourses have more or less been settled in favour of the argument for the added value for greater women participation in politics, Kenyan politics remains remarkably ‘un-gendered’ particularly with respect to representation. This publication shows that culture is a double-edged sword capable of both hindering or facilitating women’s access to political power. The 2007/2008 cataclysmic events provided a fitting context for examining or auditing Kenya’s democratization process. This book, therefore, was inspired by the desire to record, archive, analyse, and interpret that sad but immensely significant occurrence in Kenya’s democratic, nay, political evolution: the 2007 general elections; the violent social convulsions it subsequently generated; the deeply hidden social-political divisions it brought to the fore; and the resultant constitutional and institutional architecture of governance it created–the Grand Coalition Government. However, because of the contaminated and disputed nature of the results of that election, as affirmed by the Independent Review Commission of Kenya (IREC) or the Kriegler Commission, this publication has used the ECK data mainly to assist in scholarly inquiry. Its use in this volume should by no means be read as a validation of the figures, but rather as reference data (of whatever remains of the ‘official results’ of the 2007 general elections) to assist in analyzing that indelible mark in Kenya’s political life. The sheer size and length of this publication speaks to its own scholarly ambition: to undertake and provide, all under one roof, a scholarly inquiry into all the key elements, issues and driving forces in the 2007 general elections and its aftermath. We are under no illusion that this is a ‘catch-all’ publication and, quite importantly, are acutely aware that there are issues that should have merited attention here but which, for various reasons, have not. However, we remain confident that this publication sets the stage as a veritable volume of reference for future work on the 2007/2008 political events in Kenya. In undertaking this project, we were persuaded that it is important for scholarship, policy, and advocacy to provide and benefit from local perspectives to the 2007/2008 political events. This is because much of the scholarship on Kenya’s democratic transition is foreign in character and, while useful, some miss out on the nuances and hidden meanings that characterize local political experience. This publication attempts to cure that problem.
University of Nairobi
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