What were the origins of the crisis that grew out of the disputed Kenyan presidential election in December 2007? What lessons does the case of Kenya offer for other states with regard to the debate on democratisation and sequencing? This article from African Affairs examines the wider lessons and implications of the Kenyan election crisis for other states undergoing political liberalisation. It argues that the case of Kenya shows that political liberalisation is a high-risk activity that can produce unintended side effects. The processes of democratisation and reform can be undertaken simultaneously, but require institutional reforms not yet undertaken by many African states.
The roots of the crisis in Kenya in 2007 are located within three historical trends: elite fragmentation, political liberalisation and state informalisation. The origins of each of these trends can be traced to the style of rule employed during the presidency of Daniel arap Moi. In 2007 President Mwai Kibaki attempted to use the same methods as Moi to maintain his power. However, the above historical trends had radically altered the balance of power in Kenya. Therefore when the Kibaki government attempted to employ the same methods as its predecessors, the result was crisis and disorder.
The interconnected processes of elite fragmentation, political liberalisation and state informalisation contributed to the crisis in Kenya in the following ways:
- The stability of Kenya’s ‘bureaucratic-executive’ state depended on elite unity. Moi’s exclusionary system of government, however, ruptured the elite consensus. In 2007, therefore, Kibaki was unable to use the state to maintain power.
- Multi-party politics created opportunities for leaders to abandon the ruling party, contributing further to elite fragmentation. Electoral democracy also provided an incentive for increased corruption, which in turn encouraged state informalisation.
- State informalisation, characterised by looting of state funds and elite patronage and funding of gangs, increased elite fragmentation. It eroded trust in state institutions and made elections high stakes events.
Since the above processes are present in many states at a similar stage of democratisation, the case of Kenya has important lessons for democratisation. However, while it appears to support the case for sequencing of democratic reforms, it does not build the case for a roll-back of democratisation. In many cases, simultaneous democratisation and reform has proved possible. However, greater attention must be given to constitutional reform, in order to provide an institutional safety net to limit the impact of inter-communal tension. In the case of Kenya, a number of constitutional reforms would be beneficial:
- Removing appointments to the electoral commission and the judiciary from executive control would give the opposition greater faith in these institutions.
- Removing the President’s ability to delay indefinitely parliamentary legislation would encourage candidates to take up parliamentary seats even when challenging the presidential election’s outcome.
- Genuine decentralisation, electoral systems that encourage parties to field candidates of all ethnicities and a professional bureaucracy have been successful in other African states. Such reforms could have similar positive effects in Kenya.