Kenyan politics 1963-2007: A background to the elections

Kenyan politics 1963-2002: KANU’s dominance

At independence in 1963, Kenyan politics was dominated by two parties, Kenya African National Union (KANU) and Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). KANU was essentially an alliance between politicians from Central Kenya and Nyanza Province, and the party was a proponent of a centralised state. KADU on the other hand represented the interests of numerically and politically weaker ethnic groups, expressed among other things as demands for federalism. The political orientation and regional base of the parties by and large reflected the uneven economic development under colonialism, which had benefited landowning classes, mainly in Central Kenya. The latter had much to gain from centralised control over economic and political resources, while KANU sought to compensate for the economically weaker bargaining power of its supporters through demands for a political federation.

KANU gained a majority in parliament, and its leader Jomo Kenyatta became the first President of Kenya. Relatively soon KADU was incorporated into KANU. At the same time, the left wing of KANU evolved into an internal and, after the 1966 formation of Kenya Peoples Union (KPU) external opposition, protesting against what was perceived as the too capitalist-friendly and Western-oriented political orientation of KANU. KPU was outlawed in 1969, and Kenya became a de facto one-party state. Kenyatta and KANU presided over an expanding economy, concentrated to Central Kenya, where an emerging class of capitalists among mainly the kikuyu people enjoyed growing prosperity and political influence. Any resistance against this polarising yet relatively stable politico-economic order was met with repression.

After the death of Kenyatta in 1978, the then vice-president Daniel arap Moi took over power. Moi was a kalenjin from Rift Valley, who lacked Kenyatta’s firm base among kikuyu capitalists. Therefore, he had to, from a more uncertain position, create his own political base. In 1982, the one-party state was confirmed by law, something which gave Moi the opportunity to reshape both KANU and the state apparatus. Under Kenyatta’s rule, KANU had successfully managed to create political support for its rule in spite of restrictions of political freedoms, due to a growing economy and an expansion of infrastructure and social service delivery. For Moi, the opportunities to legitimise his hold on power through economic rewards were more restricted, due to a slowing-down of the economy. From the late 1980s, economic downturn and authoritarian political control had set off protests, which in turn were met by increased repression. In 1991, the discontent with corruption and repression had grown in strength to the level that pressure from domestic opposition in combination with external arm-twisting forced Moi to amend the constitution so as to allow for multi-party politics. The re-born opposition movement was made up of an alliance between young civil society activists and an older generation of opposition politicians.

In spite of the forceful opposition, Moi and KANU managed to win the 1992 elections, by deepening existing divisions in the opposition and by grossly manipulating the electoral process, not least through instigated ethnic conflicts. The introduction of multi-party politics only democratised Kenya to a limited extent, much due to an authoritarian constitution with enormous powers vested in the Presidency. Struggles over constitutional change continued throughout the 1990s, and to this day this remains an unresolved conflict. KANU also defeated a divided opposition in the 1997 elections, again much due a combination of violence and manipulation. At the same time, the Kenyan political economy was decaying. The civil service, infrastructure and public welfare suffered from dilapidation after years of misrule. Colossal corruption scandals with links to the very top destabilised the national economy. What finally united the political opposition was that Moi appointed Jomo Kenyatta’s son Uhuru to succeed him as KANU’s presidential candidate in 2002. This led to a massive exodus from KANU and a general rallying around Narc, promoting Mwai Kibaki as its presidential candidate. Kibaki and Narc won the elections by a landslide, and many Kenyans nurtured strong hopes of a better future where ethnic polarisation and corruption would soon become history.
The Kibaki government 2002-2007
Just a few months into the Narc government, the initial euphoria had been replaced by scepticism, and no more than two years after the election disbelief had turned into profound disillusionment. The first sign that the old order would not be challenged was the breaching of the Memorandum of Understanding on power sharing between the different parties of the Narc coalition. The plans for an executive Prime Minister, reserved for Raila Odinga, were abandoned. This was described by Raila’s party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as a breach of not only an agreement in a narrow sense, but as a betrayal of a pact symbolising a new mode of politics based on broader ethno-regional representation and power sharing. LDP was gradually marginalised within Narc. Instead, informal and narrower alliances grew in strength. These alliances were reminiscent of, and in some cases directly inherited from the politico-economic networks of power that underpinned the Kenyatta government during the 1960s and 1970s

Not only were corruption scandals from the KANU era (such as the Goldenberg affair) treated with conspicuous restraint. A new massive scam, the so-called Anglo-Leasing affair, was linked to precisely the above mentioned networks of business elites and core ministers. After a wave of protests, three cabinet ministers were forced to leave the government in early 2006, only for two of them to bounce back within a year. In addition, Kibaki chose to include old hard-core KANU politicians into what was now called a Government of National Unity, at the same time as LDP became ever more marginalised.

The one issue that finally tore the coalition apart was the conflict over constitutional reform. This is hardly surprising, as the issue goes to the heart of organisation and distribution of political power. The debate on constitutional reforms illustrates two different perspectives on this. During the campaigns Narc had promised a new constitution with one hundred days. The deadline was postponed time and again, and certain cabinet ministers from the inner circle of power discussed above obstructed and eventually walked out on the national conference, the so called Bomas talks, that had been initiated. In place of the negotiated “Bomas draft”, the government presented its own proposed constitution that in many significant respects ran counter to the Bomas draft. The government version (the “Wako draft”) remained faithful to a relatively strong centralisation of power in general, and vested in the President in particular. The Bomas draft on the other hand proposed, in line with the election promises from 2002, rather far-reaching power-sharing, by reducing the power of the Executive through decentralisation and parliamentarism. After protests and demonstrations, the government proposal became subject to a referendum in October 2005, in which the government side (symbolised by the banana) lost to the opposition’s “no” (symbolised by the orange) by 42 per cent to 58. The cabinet ministers, mainly from LDP, who had supported a no vote, were sacked from the government and created an alliance with the opposition. The orange symbol was used to baptise the Orange Movement, which one year later was formalised into the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, with Raila Odinga as key leader.

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