Kenya: The Challenges Ahead

CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Kenya: The Challenges Ahead
Ted Dagne
Specialist in African Affairs
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division df
In mid-July 1997, President Daniel arap Moi met with religious and opposition party
leaders to discuss opposition demands for constitutional reforms prior to presidential and
parliamentary elections, expected to take place before the end of the year. The
government's refusal earlier to consider these demands resulted in the deaths of over a
dozen people in the past several months.
Kenya At A GlanceBackground
Population: 28.1 MillionKenya, a nation of 28 million people, became
(7/1996 est.)independent in December 1963 after a prolonged
Comparative Area: Slightlyuprising against Britain. Since independence, the East
more than twice the size ofAfrican country has enjoyed relative stability in a
Nevadaregion long marred by civil wars, famine, coups and
Ethnic Divisions: Kikuyucountercoups. Kenya became a one-party state in

22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%,

Kalenjin 12 %, Kamba 11%,1969 and returned to multi-party rule in the early
Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, Asian,1990s largely due to domestic and international
European, and Arab 1%pressures.
Religions: Protestant 38%,
In early 1990, opposition, religious, and civic society leaders launched a campaign
against the one party rule of President Daniel arap Moi. Kenya had been, de facto, a one-
party state since 1969; in 1983, President Moi ostensibly legalized that reality by amending
the constitution. However, by 1990, domestic and international pressures against
authoritarian governments were mounting across Africa. In response to these forces,
President Moi initially arrested leading opposition figures and cracked down on the
movement in mid-1990, branding proponents of a multiparty system as tribalists and
troublemakers. In July 1990, the peaceful multiparty campaign turned into a violent

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

confrontation between security forces and pro-democracy advocates when police killed

23 and arrested over 1,000 protestors.

In December 1991, President Moi reluctantly agreed to move to multiparty politics.
The move came after two years of an anti-government campaign by opposition groups and
persistent pressure by donor countries, including the United States. Opposition groups
were apparently caught unprepared by the swift move to a multiparty system. A major
concern was a snap election without opposition groups being ready for the multiparty
challenge. With President Moi holding out on the date for elections, opposition leaders
began squabbling among themselves.
In August 1991, former Vice President Oginga Odinga announced the formation of
Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), four months prior to the presidential
declaration of a switch to a multiparty system. Security forces arrested some FORD
leaders, but released them days later. By mid-1992, FORD began to fragment along ethnic
lines in the face of infighting between the two leading opposition leaders, Kenneth Matiba
and Odinga. By September 1992, FORD, which was founded by disgruntled former
politicians and new generation democrats, officially splintered into two factions: FORD-
Kenya (Odinga) and FORD-Asili (Matiba). Intense rivalry within the opposition camp led
to rivalry among the major ethnic groups, diminishing the prospects for opposition victory.
FORD-Kenya led by Odinga was considered a Luo dominated party, although it had a
multi-ethnic representation at the top level of leadership. FORD-Asili became known as
a Kikuyu party, while the Democratic Party, led by former Vice President Mwai Kibaki,
a Kikuyu, emerged as a new political force.
The 1992 Elections
With opposition groups fighting each other, the ruling party moved to consolidate its
power-base and entered the election campaign strong. In late December 1992, Kenyans
voted in record numbers in the country's first multi-party election in almost 26 years.
President Moi, in power since 1978, defeated opposition candidates by a small margin.
His party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), also won a majority in the 200-seat
parliament, despite scores of defeats of senior KANU officials by little known opposition
candidates. The three major opposition parties, FORD-Kenya, FORD-Asili, and the
Democratic Party (DP), each received substantial votes, but fell short of expectations.
Observers attributed the opposition's defeat in the presidential elections to internal
bickering in the parties and failure to field a single opposition candidate to challenge the
incumbent president.
The three opposition parties that competed in the elections won a total of 88
parliamentary seats, while the ruling party won 100 seats. According to the Kenyan
Constitution, the President has the authority to appoint 12 members of parliament further
increased KANU's majority in parliament. But KANU's victory in the parliamentary
elections was not easy. Over a dozen prominent KANU politicians, including several
cabinet members, were defeated by opposition candidates. Some prominent opposition
members were also defeated, including Gitobu Imanyara of FORD-Kenya and John Keen
of the Democratic Party. Some opposition leaders rejected the election's result, accusing
the Moi government of election rigging. International election observers, while agreeing

that there were some abuses, stated that the election results reflected the wishes of the
people of Kenya.
Developments since the 1992 Elections
Since the 1992 multi-party elections, Kenya's political landscape has been unstable.
Progress has been made on a number of fronts, despite occasional harassment of
opposition politicians and pro-opposition journalists by hardline KANU members.
Opposition parties have been actively engaged in the political process inside parliament and
outside, but remain divided along ethnic lines. Numerous efforts to bring about
reconciliation among opposition groups have not been successful. In April 1995, a new
opposition party, Safina, was launched with the objective of bringing other opposition
groups under one umbrella organization. Safina has attracted prominent Kenyan
politicians, including some white Kenyans who had been strong supporters of the ruling
party for many years. Safina's registration application for official recognition is still
pending and its leaders have been subjected to occasional harassment and intimidation by
government officials.1 Meanwhile, the extensive attention given to Safina by the west,
whose support-base outside the capital has yet to be tested, could cost the new opposition
party valuable support among average Kenyans. Some Kenyans are convinced that the
sudden rise of Safina is because of the membership of whites in the party and outside
Meanwhile, divisions within the opposition camp continue to intensify.2 In addition
to the formation of several other small political parties, a number of factions have emerged
within the major opposition groups in recent years. FORD-Kenya currently led by Michael
Wamalwa has lost a number of prominent political figures, including Paul Muite. Last
year, Raila Odinga, the son of the founding father of FORD, left FORD-Kenya and joined
the small National Development Party of Kenya (NDPK). FORD-Asili is also split into two
factions, one led by Matiba and another led by the Secretary General of the party, Martin
Shikuku. The Democratic Party has also suffered from factional fighting. The Secretary
General of the party, John Keen, and the deputy chairman of the party, Agnes Ndetei
defected to the ruling party and the latter is now serving as Assistant Education Minister
in the Moi government.
The internal bickering within political parties is not limited to opposition parties. The
ruling party, KANU, has also been in turmoil in recent months. At the center of this
controversy is the issue of succession. The upcoming presidential election, expected
before the end of the year, is President Moi's last, according to the constitution, and
KANU leaders are trying to position themselves for a post-Moi era. In January 1997,
KANU's internal feud came to an end for the time being when President Moi reshuffled his
cabinet and brought back his most-trusted political ally, Nicholas Kipyator Biwott, who
was forced out of government in 1992 for his alleged role in the killing of former Foreign

1 Wrong, Michela. Kenyan Youths Whip Dissident Conservationist. Financial Times, Aug 11, 1995.
2 The Weekly Review. Phenomenal Losses for the DP, March 14, 1997.

Minister Robert Ouko and role in a major corruption scandal.3 The faction, known as
KANU-A, led by Simeon Nyachae, former Agriculture Minister; Kipkalya Kones, former
Minister of State; and William Ntimama, former Local Government Minister, sought to
oust Vice President George Saitoti and KANU Secretary General Joseph Kamotho, both
considered close allies of Biwott and Moi. The Biwott faction, KANU-B, appears to have
won the first round against the so-called reformers, who were either demoted or ousted
from cabinet posts in the recent reshuffle.
Sources of Crisis
Kenya's ongoing political crisis has many roots: (a) erosion of checks and balances
and Moi's autocratic style of leadership; (b) mistrust and ethnic politics; (c) human rights
violations; and (d) intolerance and insecurity.
Erosion of Checks and Balances. Concentration of executive powers at the
expense of the legislative branch and the judiciary is seen as one of the major causes of the
current crisis. In August 1978, after President Jomo Kenyatta died, Vice President Daniel
arap Moi assumed the presidency against a background of intense political infighting and
uncertainty within KANU, but in a relatively smooth transition. President Moi, a member
of the minority Kalenjin clan, did not seem to pose a serious threat to the political
establishment; rather he was seen as a caretaker president. But what evolved over the
years since he became president was a stunning surprise. Not only did President Moi
remain in power, but he created a much stronger presidency than Kenyatta. A series of
constitutional amendments were implemented beginning 1982 that strengthened President
Moi's office and weakened both the judiciary and the Kenyan Parliament. In 1982, the
Moi government led the parliament to amend the constitution to make Kenya a de jure
one-party state. A series of electoral laws and presidential decrees ensured presidential
supremacy and reduced the once relatively active parliament to an advisory body. Colonial
laws stifled political freedom and gave security forces enormous power to crackdown on
Analysts assert that it is the concentration of enormous powers in the hands of the
President that is at the core of the current political turmoil in Kenya. A number of
promises and pledges to repeal these oppressive laws and implement reforms have not
materialized. Opposition groups are demanding the repeal of these laws and discussion
of constitutional reforms before the upcoming elections. At a minimum, opposition groups
are demanding the creation of an independent Electoral Commission; constitutional
guarantees for the formation of a coalition government; simple majority requirement to be
elected president; constitutional guarantees for independent candidates to run for office
without being affiliated to a political party; repeal of colonial laws; and access to4
government-controlled media.
The government's refusal to consider these opposition demands resulted in the deaths
of over a dozen people in clashes between protestors and security forces in the summer

3 Africa Confidential. Old Nick's Back, January 31, 1997.
4 Excerpts from the National Convention Assembly resolutions. April 1997.

of 1997.5 The violence shook the political establishment of Kenya and eventually led to
government concessions. In mid-July, President Moi met with religious and opposition
leaders to discuss opposition demands and agreed to consider constitutional reforms
before the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. President Moi's unexpected
move has been well received by some opposition groups and church leaders, although
others remain skeptical. However, this move may threaten the unity of the fragile coalition
of church groups and opposition parties. At a recent meeting of the National Convention
Executive Council (NCEC), a group that has organized recent protests, some opposition
leaders lambasted individuals who met with President Moi and rejected the President's
proposal for reform. Some members of the NCEC would like negotiations to take place
through the NCEC and not with opposition leaders selected by the President. The ruling
party for its part argues that the government will not negotiate with non-elected groups
like the National Convention Assembly (NCA). In a recent interview, the Secretary
General of KANU stated that "the issue of constitutional and legislative reforms cannot
be handled haphazardly and KANU will not therefore abdicate its responsibility or delegate
it to non-elective bodies like the NCA."6
Ethnic Politics. Kenya's political system is marred by ethnic divisions. Kenyan
political leaders often deny that they are motivated in any way by ethnic concerns,
although political parties are largely structured along ethnic lines. Kenya is not unique;
ethnicity and politics in many African countries are intertwined, albeit beneath the surface.
During the long rule of the late Kenyatta, the Kikuyu, the President's ethnic group,
benefitted at the expense of other groups. Almost two decades of rule under Moi brought
enormous political and economic clout to the Kalenjin, the president's ethnic group,
although some Kalenjins deny that they have benefitted from Moi's presidency. The
dominance of the Kalenjin has led to the marginalization of the old political class, the
Kikuyu, although they remain dominant in the bureaucracy. The ruling party seems to be
inclusive of all groups on the surface, although real political power rests with a small circle
of trusted advisors. These advisors appear representative of all groups in Kenya.
The democratic credentials of opposition parties are also tarnished in large part by
strong ethnic divisions. Some observers assert that ethnic politics has emerged as one of
the major obstacles to the democratization process in Kenya. Recent attempts by the ruling
party to lure the Kikuyu are seen by other groups as an attempt to marginalize them and
secure continued Kalenjin dominance. In 1992, the two major ethnic groups, the Kikuyu
and Luo, voted in large numbers for opposition candidates, and help defeat Kikuyu and
Luo candidates in the ruling party. Not a single Luo or Kikuyu was elected to parliament
from the ruling party in the 1992 elections. Public disenchantment with both the
opposition and the ruling party has in recent years led to the growth of a strong civil
society. This movement could become an important third force with better chances of
success in bringing change where opposition groups and the ruling party apparently failed.

5 The Christian Science Monitor. Moi Ducks and Weaves in Bid to Rule Kenya, July 22,

1997. p.6.

6 Reuters. Kenya-Reforms. July 24, 1997.

Human Rights Violations. Another source of tension is the abuse of power by
security forces and violations of basic human rights. Indeed, human rights conditions have
improved over the past years in Kenya, but serious problems remain. Opposition party
officials and journalists continue to be harassed and intimidated by government officials,
even though the government claims to have no political prisoners. Meanwhile, numerous
sedition laws, many from the colonial era, continue to encroach upon the fundamental
liberties of Kenyans. These laws, which include the Chiefs' Authority Act, the Police Act,
the Society Act, the Public Order Act and the Preservation of Public Security Act, are used
systematically to suppress opposition groups. Most of these laws do not require a
constitutional amendment for repeal, but the Preservation of Public Security Act requires
a constitutional amendment since it is referred to in the constitution.
Intolerance and Insecurity. Another contributing factor to the current political
crisis is intolerance by both sides. The culture of intolerance has dominated Kenya's
political scene, especially since the late 1980s. The ruling party, according to Kenya
watchers, is quick to use violence to suppress dissent. Some ruling party officials have not
yet fully accepted the concept of multiparty politics. Opposition politicians also do not
understand or are not accustomed to an opposition role. Electoral defeat is seen as the end
of their political career. Some in the ruling party are concerned that if the opposition gets
to power minority groups will find themselves dominated by the majority and thus the
return of the old political order. It is this sense of insecurity that has been the core of
contention in recent years. For democracy to succeed in Kenya, political leaders on both
sides must find a middle ground and build the level of trust across party and ethnic lines,
in the view of Kenya watchers. The upcoming elections, if judged free and fair, could pave
the way for a more stable and democratic Kenya.
U.S.-Kenya Relations. Kenya has been a valuable U.S. ally since independence,
providing the United States access to its military facilities and political support in the
United Nations. Washington once considered Kenya a model developing country with
shared democratic values in a continent where civil wars raged and military and
authoritarian governments reigned. With the end of the Cold War, U.S. interests began
to shift from containing Soviet expansion in Africa to human rights and democracy. In the
late 1980s and early 1990s, human rights issues emerged as one of the leading U.S. foreign
policy concerns in Kenya. The promotion of democracy also surfaced as an important
element of U.S. policy towards Kenya.
In the early 1990s, relations between Kenya and the United States became strained
due to deteriorating human rights conditions and the government's refusal to introduce a
multi-party system. Relations began to improve slightly after the December 1992 multi-
party elections in which the ruling party won. The United States and Kenya in mid-1997
renegotiated the Facilities Access Agreement which was first signed in 1980. The
Agreement allows the United States to use Kenya's ports and airport facilities for military
purposes. Despite some concerns, Washington continues to see Kenya as a stabilizing
force in a region still marred by civil war and political instability. Washington, for
example, monitors events in Somalia from its embassy in Nairobi and moved the operation
of its Sudan embassy to Nairobi in January 1996 because of safety concerns. Kenya is also
an important U.S. trading partner, the 8th largest in sub-Saharan Africa. U.S. investment
in Kenya is estimated at $300 million.