Department of Development Studies, Moi University (Kenya)

Keywords-. Kenya, legitimacy, political transition, democracy

The historical development of Kenya as a state has been marked by, among other important changes, the transition from colonial power to the people, from multi-partism to single and back to multiparty system, and a series of constitutional amendments, comprehensive review, a launch of a new constitution and back to demands for its review.

Kenya became a legitimate state after attaining independence on 12 December 1963. However, the challenges experienced in quest of state cohesion reflect on the tentative nature of its internal popular legitimacy. Internal legitimacy of government in Kenya since independence has always been questioned through political party alignments and protests from the civil society. However, the demands are overshadowed by the need for political stability, which leads to them being negotiated. The negotiations can be with individuals, political parties and ethnic groups.

The article analyses Kenya's transitional politics to understand if there have been false or minimal change that encourage change of governments and not regimes, which become a hurdle to democratic growth and enhancement of popular legitimacy.

The article attempts to shed some light on this phenomenon by looking at major socio-political and economic events in Kenya. We note

that advancement of democracy seems to continuously compete with other interests and goals.


The past general elections and the constitutional review process beckons the question how deep rooted is the fourth wave of democratization1 in a country like Kenya? Drawing on the late Professor Thomas Ohlson and Professor Mimmi Soderberg's work (both of Uppsala University, Sweden) on democratization and conflicts in weak states (in particular Africa), the dynamics and outcome of the fourth wave of democratization have raised questions that expose relatively unexplored theoretical frontiers2. The empirical experiences of democratization in Kenya seem to refute some of the assumptions and predictions found in mainstream theoretical works on democratic transitions and democratization as well as in policy related documents influenced by these writings.

The debate on what role the colonial factor plays in postcolonial Africa has not ceased to surface. Kenya like every other state that has moved from colonialism to independence has sought to shape its inherited institutions to the changing circumstances and ideals of its independence. According to Cherry

Gertzel*, in seeking to move away from the colonial past, the Kenya state was concerned with needs of the independent society3; Kenya being no exception in Africa was just a creation of colonial rule, the country lived under colonial policies that were calculated more to facilitate control than create a nation state. When political independence was conceded, the colonial creation was transformed with the post-colonial state. A scenario developed whereby the new state borrowed substantially from the colonial State. As the Kenyan historians, Professor W.R.Ochieng and the late Professor Emeritus E.S.Atieno-Odhiambo put it:

"It is generally accepted that independent Kenya did not effect a major ideological or structural break with the colonial state and that all she did was to expand the former colonial administrative and economic infrastructures"4.

The inherited infrastructures and the efforts to modernize them to meet the expectations of the newly independent society have been the pre-occupation of post independent leaders. What the struggles for Uhuru (freedom) yielded immediately was political freedom, which is the capture of the state power in 1963. For most Kenyans the attainment of independence was meant to mark a transition from the realm of necessity to that of building a

* Professor at Curtin University and Research Fellow at Western University of Australia, a political scientist and a specialist in African political transitions and development.

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democratic state strongly committed to Pan-African ideals and world peace5.

The inability of the state to radically depart from the colonial policies and do away with their institutional structures compounded with the lack of capability to fulfill the aspirations of the population as in the Weberian sense of its meaning and the pillars of a democratic state wanting. This occasioned the lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the people. This "legitimacy gap" in Kenya has created a state of "infinite transitions". A myriad of challenges have hampered pragmatic transitions from a colony to a democratic cohesive and legitimate state.

The post-colonial state in Kenya like in the majority of the other former colonized states is weak. The weakness is attributed to the statebuilding process. According to T.Ohlson and M.Soderberg, a weak state is weak in terms of low levels of socio-political cohesion and political legitimacy and may further be exacerbated by the lack of essential capabilities at the hands of political leaders that are deemed essential in order to overcome this structural weakness and build strong states6.

In Kenya the state weakness nurtured a particular political style of governance that risked further undermining the state and making it less, not more, inclined to development and democratic reform. The "invented Kenya"7 lacked the defining properties of a state which include "unchallenged control of the territory within the defined boundaries under its control, monopolization of the legitimate use of force within the borders of the state, and the reliance upon impersonal rules in the governance of its citizens and subjects"8. From this position the question of legitimacy is crucial. There is the rising number of the poor, nepotism, negative ethnicity, corruption and the upsurge in violence.


A close look at Kenya's birth and state building process revolves

around the search to construct a legitimate state. Attainment of independence through

international recognition was achieved, but the need to attain internal sovereignty is still a process in the making, hence the contested issue of legitimacy.

A state contains three interlinked components, the physical, the institutional basis and the idea of the state9. An examination of Kenya shows that the physical basis of the state which includes defined territory, population, resources and wealth are unquestionably present, but the other two components, the institutions of the State and the idea of the state are not clearly defined. Institutions comprise the whole machinery of government including its executive, legislative, administrative, and judicial bodies as well as laws, procedures and norms which they operate while the idea of the State provides the mechanism of persuading citizens to sub-ordinate themselves to the State's authority.

Professor Barry Buzan (London School of Economics) argues that strong and vividly held ideas serve to bind the state into an entity and provide the needed socio-political cohesion which gives legitimacy to the State entity. He contents that "If the ideas themselves are weak or if they are weakly held within society; or if strongly held but opposed, ideas compete within society: then the State stands on fragile political foundations"10.

In the Kenyan situation the defective remnants of colonial institutions/policies and the divided allegiance of her members due to divergent group/ethnic interest affects what Professor Kalevi Holsti (Killam University, Canada) refers to as the vertical and horizontal dimensions of legitimacy. Vertical dimension established the connection, the right to rule, between society and political institutions and regimes, while the horizontal dimension defines the limits of and criteria for membership in the political community that is ruled11.

If vertical legitimacy is thus the belief by the population in the rightfulness of the state and its authority to rule the state, in Kenya, such a belief has been

wavering. Consent on one form or another on matters of state performance and expectations, always has not been automatically attained. Immediately after independence the newly born state was faced with the problem of internal recognition.

One illustration of this is the North Eastern Province war of cessation. After the suppression of the rebellion the region became alienated from the main stream of national development. B.A.Ogot (Kenya) in analyzing President Daniel Moi's* politics of populism refers to how the communities of the North Eastern Province had not been fully incorporated into mainstream politics of the State till the 1980s. Ogot observes that: "For a long time for example the North Eastern Province of Kenya was referred to simply as Shifta** areas and many of the inhabitants of the region did not feel they were part of Kenya"12.

According to B.A.Ogot and W.R.Ochieng (professors of Kenyan history), one of the causes of the feeling of alienation which was beginning to develop among some sections of Kenyans was the distance which had gradually developed between the 'government' (bureaucracy) and the people. He supports this view with the argument that a section of the population felt that important decisions affecting their lives intimately were being made by a bureaucracy which they neither participated in nor controlled13.

During the Kenyatta*** and the later days of Moi's regime saw a great deal of centralization of power in the hands of the Executive. In both regimes there was quite a big section of the population who felt they were being sidelined or marginalized.

Kenya being a heterogeneous community is still struggling to transform t

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