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date: 05 June 2020

The political economy of Kenya: Community, clientelism, and class

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter introduces the politics of Kenya by focusing on three identities and relationships that have animated its politics over the last 100 years: community, clientelism, and class. This stylized approach is not intended to downplay the importance of formal political and economic institutions. Instead, it is designed to emphasize the need to consider formal institutions in the context of their informal counterparts in order to understand continuity amidst change. Ethnic identities and clientelism have dominated much discussion of Kenyan politics and political economy. To this we add class relations—or what might more accurately be called the degree of elite cohesion—an issue that has often been overlooked, but which plays an important role in shaping the rules of the political game. The chapter analyzes these factors and uses them to explain the key developments in Kenyan politics from the colonial era to the present day.

Keywords: class, clientelism, community, ethnic identities, formal institutions, informal institutions, political economy


Kenya is a country of almost 50 million people located on the coast of East Africa. Today, it is known in equal measure as a country that has experienced great highs and tragic lows. In the 1960s and 1970s, studies on the political economy of development in Africa discussed Kenya as a “success story” of development in the periphery. In the twenty-first century, the country made headlines for improving financial inclusion through mobile money transfer technology. Kenya is also well known for leading the way when it comes to democratic breakthroughs, as in 2002, when a peaceful transfer of power took place; in 2010, when a new constitution devolved power and placed new constraints on the executive; and in 2017, when the Supreme Court became the first judicial body in Africa, and second in the world, to nullify the electoral victory of a sitting president. However, Kenya also makes international headlines for the kind of political instability that occurs when electoral violence is expressed along ethnic lines, such as during the “Kenya crisis” of 2007/8 when over 1,000 people lost their lives and almost 700,000 were displaced. It has also developed an unenviable reputation for political disputes outside of elections, corruption scandals, extra-judicial killings, and a high number of terrorist attacks. Taken together, these divergent experiences help to explain why Kenya has been used as evidence to support both some of the most widely optimistic and bleakly pessimistic projections about Africa’s future.

The significance of these events for Kenyans, and for our understanding of African politics more broadly, means that putting together a Handbook of Kenyan Politics is a (p. 2) great responsibility. Not only is Kenya an important country with a rich political history that is tremendously close to our own hearts, but it has also played a key role in some of the most important debates within African studies. Indeed, in almost every decade, events in Kenya—and debates about Kenya—have shaped the wider academic and policy landscape. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the violent Mau Mau peasant rebellion against land alienation under British colonial rule strongly influenced perceptions about the end of empire. Ever since, academics have argued about how we should characterize Mau Mau and the brutal response to it—which featured detention centers, torture, and public hangings—and what this tells us about “African nationalism” and the strategies European governments used to frustrate it (Kanogo 1987; Maloba 1994; Anderson 2005; Elkins 2005). By the 1970s new questions had emerged, including the nature of nationalism (Mazrui 1963; Ogot and Ochieng’ 1995), the extent to which Kenya’s political independence had been translated into economic freedom, and whether development was primarily being driven by external forces or led by an incipient entrepreneurial class. This long-running academic conversation became known as the “Kenya debate” (Cowen 1982; Kitching 1985; Chege 1998) and was inspired by and played into wider discussions regarding neo-colonialism and dependency theory, which claimed that the wealthy former colonial powers in the “core” deliberately kept those in the “periphery” poor in order to sustain their exploitation (Leys 1978).

At the same time, the political salience of land and ethnic identity, the intensity of political competition, and periods of inter-ethnic violence—especially following the reintroduction of multi-party politics in the 1990s—has ensured that Kenya has been at the forefront of the literatures on communal identities, ethnic voting, and electoral conflict. This includes analyses of the extent to which “Big Man” politics and other barriers to democratization on the continent can be traced back to the legacy of colonial rule (Berman and Lonsdale 1992; Oyugi 1994; Oucho 2002) and the challenges that strong ethnic communities present to political stability (Cowen and Kanyinga 2002; Oyugi 1998; Kanyinga 2009). Events in Kenya have also animated contemporary conversations about the capacity of elections to foster democracy or, alternatively, to exacerbate ethnic tensions, inculcate clientelism, drive corruption, and fuel instability (Omolo 2002; Bekoe 2012).

A separate set of developments in the decade following the 2007 elections—including the introduction of power sharing in 2008, the intervention of the International Criminal Court (ICC) between 2009 and 2016, the devolution of power in 2010, and the nullification of the August 2017 president election by the Supreme Court—have also triggered a set of vibrant debates with implications beyond Kenya’s borders. These include the pros and cons of unity governments (Cheeseman and Tendi 2010; Khadiagala 2010), the ability of the ICC to deliver “justice” (Wamai 2017, Lynch 2018; and Chapter 39 this volume; Clark 2018), the potential for devolution to manage ethnic tensions and improve governance (Ghai 2014; Kanyinga 2016; Hassan 2019), and the possibility that the judiciary can play an important role in promoting democratization (Ellett 2019; Kanyinga and Odote 2019).

(p. 3) Embedded within these various discussions has been a consistent focus on the state as an arena of accumulation, generating a problematic winner-takes-all dynamic (Oucho 2002; Mueller 2008). Less high-profile but no less significant has been a related literature on the development, during colonial rule, of a powerful provincial administration—a prefectural bureaucracy that has long acted as the eyes and ears of the executive—and its maintenance by successive post-colonial presidents. The survival and centrality of the Provincial Administration is significant, because it suggests that the Kenyan state is not as weak or fragile as some of its counterparts elsewhere on the continent (Branch and Cheeseman 2006; Oyugi and Ochieng, Chapter 16 this volume). In this sense, and in a number of others, the country is something of an outlier and so has also been cited as evidence of the dangers of overly generalizing about the African experience.

In addition to the specific events and developments highlighted above, Kenya’s central position in these debates reflects the confluence of three different factors. First, the presence of a highly skilled and critically engaged intelligentsia led to the emergence of a number of prominent and influential scholars from various disciplines—such as E. S. Atieno Odhiambo (1987, 2002), Bethwell A. Ogot (1999; Ogot and Ochieng’ 1995), Ali Mazrui (1963, 1993) and Yash Pal Ghai (1972, 2008, 2014)—whose writings were read across the continent. Second, the attraction of Kenya to a wide variety of British and American researchers as an economically important Anglophone state with a special place within the European memory of empire ensured that it is one of the African countries that has received the greatest time and attention from foreign academics. Third, Kenya’s politics and economics is important to the broader region: it is a hub for both multi-national businesses and international organizations; it has played a central role in the post-9/11 War on Terror; and it has the potential to both drive and undermine regional economic growth (Porhel 2007).

A Handbook of Kenyan Politics is therefore much more than a summary of political developments in one African state; it is a window into the way that we understand some of the key features of politics in Africa, offering insights into some of the most important debates about the way that the continent’s politics and economies function. In this introduction, we aim to set out a basic framework through which those new to Kenya can make sense of the diverse stories that this book has to tell, and briefly indicate where some of the 49 chapters that follow fit within it.

One way to tell this story would have been to focus on the formal political systems through which Kenya has been governed. A British territory during colonial rule, Kenya became independent in 1963 under Jomo Kenyatta and the Kenya African National Union (KANU) government. In 1964, the “voluntary dissolution” of the opposition party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), left the country a one-party state—albeit one that continued to hold elections to the legislature—while a series of constitutional amendments centralized power under an executive president (Ghai 1972). With the exception of a short period of multi-party competition between 1966 and 1969 when the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) challenged KANU’s hegemony (Mueller 1984), (p. 4) this political system held until the late 1980s (Anyang-Nyong’o 1989), when growing domestic and international pressure ultimately led to the reintroduction of multi-party politics in 1991. President Moi used the various benefits of incumbency, along with repression and electoral manipulation, to “defeat” a divided opposition in the 1992 and 1997 general elections. However, when Moi stepped down in 2002, a more united opposition—the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC)—managed to outmanoeuvre his chosen successor, resulting in the country’s first transfer of power via the ballot box. The subsequent fracturing of NARC, however, paved the way for the hotly contested and disputed elections of 2007, 2013, and 2017, in which an establishment candidate won amidst widespread claims of electoral malpractice (Long; Odote; Pomerolle, Chapters 6, 7, and 8 this volume).

In part because leaders such as Moi deployed state security forces and militias for political ends, multi-partyism brought with it frequent bouts of electoral violence, the worst of which, in 2007/8, led to the promulgation of the aforementioned 2010 constitution (Ghai, Chapter 15 volume). Key changes included: a requirement that presidential candidates win more than 50 percent plus one of the vote, else a second round be held; the creation of a Supreme Court; and devolution of considerable economic and political power to 47 new counties. However, while there is some evidence that the latter has created a robust and important new tier of government (Cheeseman, Lynch, and Willis 2016; Kanyinga 2016), electoral controversies in 2013 and 2017 demonstrated that it had done little to deflect attention away from the presidency as the ultimate political prize (Cheeseman et al. 2019).

This institutional context is important, not least because it has shaped a much broader set of political and social developments. However, viewed on its own, a focus on formal institutions emphasizes change, downplays the role of informal institutions, and thus elides the important continuities that have spanned these different eras. In order to do justice to some of the more durable features of Kenyan politics, we instead focus our attention on the types of political identities and relationships that have animated politics over the last 100 years: community, clientelism, and class.

Readers familiar with the extent to which ethnicity and clientelism tends to dominate both foreign and domestic discussion of Kenya and many other African countries may be surprised to see class given equal billing. The reason is that it is in fact class relations—or what might more accurately be called the degree of elite cohesion, given the lack of clearly demarcated social classes in the Marxian sense—that determine the rules for how politics is played (Nyangira 1987, Kanyinga 1994). More specifically, it is precisely when cross-ethnic elite relationships break down—as they did in the run up to Kenya’s 2007 elections—that the centrifugal forces that ethnic politics can generate are unleashed (Branch and Cheeseman 2009). Conversely, it is when elite actors re-establish working relations, coming together to protect the system on which their own privileged positions depends—as they did in forming a power-sharing government in 2008—that political stability is at least temporarily restored. Thus, it is only by considering the complex interaction between these factors that we can fully understand the dynamics of Kenya’s political economy over the last 70 years.

(p. 5) Community

Kenyans share a sense of community or affinity with a complex array of groups and identities. The vast majority of citizens share a strong sense of national identity and are proud of (among other things) the country’s regional strength, its diverse flora and fauna, and its sporting achievements—most notably in long-distance running. Many also identify as members of a socio-economic class or by their profession/trade, and almost all view themselves as religious, predominantly as Christian—though there is a substantial Muslim minority. In addition, gender and sexual identities exert a powerful hold, and most feel a strong association with “their”generation: as children, youth, or elders.

Recognizing these multiple identities and associated communities is critical for a full understanding of the country’s politics. To give just a few examples, a sense of national resistance against colonialism has long been central to political debates and mobilization (for example Peterson; Wamai, Chapters 2 and 39 this volume). Access to political power and resources is strongly gendered, with women facing greater barriers to representation despite various constitutional and institutional reforms designed to achieve equality (Mitullah, Chapter 12 this volume). In a similar vein, the relationships between different generations—in particular the tension between the demand by elders for respect and the desire of youth to change the gerontocratic system that often locks them out of leadership positions—has complicated political debates and dynamics (Rasmussen; van Stapele, Chapters 31 and 13 this volume; Ocobock 2017).

For their part, religious organizations have at times played an important role at the forefront of civil society efforts to push for development, democratization, and security (Lugano, Chapter 22 this volume), while religious discourse and imagery has become increasingly central to political mobilization across the political divide (Deacon, Chapter 10). At the same time, a powerful narrative has emerged amongst the country’s Muslim minority that emphasizes their socio-economic and political marginalization (Chome, Chapter 11 this volume; Mazrui 1993). This narrative, in the context of the growth of radical Islam, Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in 2011, and the government’s heavy-handed domestic response to “terror,” has helped encourage a small number of individuals to participate in terrorist attacks (Halakhe, Chapter 30 this volume).

Despite this complex reality, Kenyan politics is often reduced to an “ethnic” logic, in which power is secured by, and used to the advantage of, the president’s co-ethnics. On this understanding, resources are distributed according to a “winner-takes-all” logic that is fuelled by what many Kenyans refer to as the “tyranny of numbers”—i.e. election outcomes are seen to be determined by an ethnic census. In turn, this increases the stakes of political competition and hence the potential for inter-ethnic violence and instability. It is certainly true that successive governments have tended to favor their own, that voting patterns demonstrate a strong ethnic logic, and that there have been times when the continued existence of the country as a coherent national entity has been called into (p. 6) question (Oyugi 1998). Yet even allowing for this, it is far too simplistic to reduce Kenyan politics to ethnicity. Instead, studies of the country’s history and contemporary dynamics have found that the salience of ethnic identities does not determine political outcomes, and is itself something that needs to be explained (Berman 1998). Indeed, an important strand within the literature has demonstrated that politicians cannot simply rely on the support of co-ethnics, but must persuade voters to support them, often in the face of stiff competition from within their own community (Lynch 2011). In so doing, scholars have complicated the idea of “ethnic politics” through analyses of the malleable nature of ethnic identities and the creative and logistical work that leaders must do to earn the loyalties of their own people.

Ethnic groups can be distinguished from other kinds of communities—nations, races, classes, and interest groups—by the way in which in-group membership is primarily rooted in a notion of cultural peoplehood that is itself based on linguistic similarities, common practices, and the perception of common descent (Lynch 2011: 12). Having previously been relatively fluid, such identities became more entrenched during the colonial era, when the government sought to classify and codify Africans as members of particular “tribes,” who were then associated with territorially demarcated administrative units (Ogot and Ochieng’ 1995). Central Province was deemed to be the “home” of the Kikuyu, Nyanza of the Luo and Kisii, Western of the Luhya, the Rift Valley of the Kalenjin and a number of other pastoralist communities, and so on.

This process went a long way to institutionalizing ethnic identities as we now know them, but did not fix them in stone. While it is often said that Kenya comprises 42 “tribes,” with the largest, and most politically influential, being the Kikuyu (17 percent), Kalenjin (14), Luhya (14), Luo (10), and Kamba (10) (Government of Kenya 2010), this number simply refers to the options available to people when answering the question of which “tribe” they belonged to in the country’s 1969 national census (Balaton-Chrimes 2015). The 2009 census provided codes for no fewer than 112 ethnic groups, the 2019 census for 134. The increase over time reflects the ways in which identities and alliances have been negotiated and renegotiated over the last 40 years—a process that has been driven by the actions of political entrepreneurs seeking to strengthen their claim to leadership (Vail 1989); the incentives that political institutions create to invest in certain kinds of identities over others (Posner, 2005); and the everyday experience of politics, which often implies that state resources will not be equally shared (Miguel 2004).

The fluidity of identity politics is demonstrated by the fact that several of the larger ethnic communities—such as the Kalenjin and Luhya—are relatively recent constructs and date back only to the mid-twentieth century, in part as a sustained attempt by elites to build a viable vehicle for their political ambitions (Kipkorir and Welbourn 1973; Kanyinga 2006; Lynch 2011; Omosule 1989). The challenges involved in this kind of political strategy are confirmed by the way in which a number of ethnic groups—the Kikuyu in 1992, and the Luhya and Kamba in a number of elections (Oloo 2000; MacArthur 2008)—have divided their vote between rival candidates (see Table 1.1). This complex reality has ensured that discussions about community in Kenya have made an important contribution to a growing consensus that ethnic identities are socially constructed, and that ethnicity becomes politically salient when mobilization and (p. 7) support along ethnic lines is seen to be the best way to secure access to political and economic resources (Berman 1998; Oucho 2002; Lynch 2011).

Understanding how ethnic groups are mobilized, and whether such efforts are effective, therefore requires us to pay careful attention to both the attitudes of wananchi (or ordinary citizens) and the work of elites (Mueller 2008). Kenyans are savvy political consumers, and aspiring leaders who are not seen to be trustworthy—either because they have no history of delivering for the group, or because they are associated with unpopular parties and networks—cannot rely on ethnicity to rally support. Indeed, because voters often have a choice of different candidates of the same ethnicity, especially in primary elections and in constituency- and county-based contests in more homogeneous areas, an individual’s record is as important as their background (Barkan 1976). The intensity of intra-ethnic competition that this generates might encourage leaders to make ever more extreme pledges of ethno-regional favoritism were it not for the incentives that the political system provides those seeking national office to avoid making exclusively ethnic appeals. Because no ethnic group makes up a majority of the population, all leaders know that they need to be able to call on the support of at least two or three communities to win a general election. This is especially true in the wake of the 2010 Constitution, which introduced a new clause that the victorious presidential candidate must secure 50 percent plus one of the vote. Promising to divert state resources to one group alone makes little sense in this context. It is also likely to be unpopular with Kenyans who are less motivated by ethnic considerations—such as those who have married into another ethnic group, live in urban areas, and are more educated (Bratton and Kimenyi 2008)—and have been shown to vote on the basis of a candidate’s record (Long and Gibson 2015).

How then, does one square a circle in which Kenyans have multiple identities and are not swayed by ethnic loyalty alone, yet patterns of political support have long exhibited a strong ethnic logic? How is it that a pair of leaders can mobilize the overwhelming majority of their co-ethnics to their cause—as the Jubilee Alliance did in 2013—when others suffer embarrassing defeat? The answer lies in the ability of candidates to exploit the widely held assumption that co-ethnics are more likely to promote and protect one’s interests, and a deep-rooted fear of marginalization by ethnic “others.” In other words, leaders typically achieve effective ethnic politicization by manipulating the worst fears of their supporters in order to increase the perceived risks of allowing a leader from another community to emerge victorious, thus enforcing group discipline. When this is done effectively, it can create a powerful ethnic cleavage during elections. Such a cleavage will usually be carved out between rival multi-ethnic coalitions, rather than single ethnic groups, as a result of the need to form alliances to secure the presidency—but it can have profound implications for inter-group tensions nonetheless (Khadiagala 2010).

Another way to conceptualize this process is that the success of leaders hoping to ensure “bloc voting” depends on whether they can promote political tribalism over moral ethnicity. As John Lonsdale has argued, it is important to separate “the moral ethnicity of the small working community which springs from below, and the political (p. 8) tribalism of invented nationality which may be manipulated from above” (1992: 2). For Lonsdale, moral ethnicity refers to what it means to belong and to fulfil one’s role within the community. Significantly, it features deeply held norms relating to what it means to be a good community member and a good leader, which have the potential to constrain aspiring ethnic patrons. This is because although moral ethnicity is rooted in ethnic identity, it generates a kind of accountability—leaders who fail to respect community norms may be replaced by those who do. However, clever politicians can weaken the ties of moral ethnicity by playing on “unprincipled ‘political tribalism’” (Lonsdale 1994: 131), increasing the costs of dissent by depicting their critics as traitors who will undermine the ability of the community to compete for public resources.

In Lonsdale’s conceptualization, moral ethnicity and political tribalism are two sides of the same coin: they are different expressions of a common ethnic identity, and wax and wane over time. While moral ethnicity may gain ground during periods of political stability and economic growth, episodes of inter-ethnic conflict and winner-takes-all politics make it easier to push political tribalism. The danger is therefore that the more groups “worry that their co-nationals are prone to organize politically along exclusive ethnic lines and to govern in a discriminatory fashion” (Bratton and Kimenyi 2008: 276), the more they become willing to overlook the failings of their own leaders. In this way, divisive ethnic politics may create a self-reinforcing cycle, as voting for “one of your own” becomes a rational response to perceived state bias (Lynch 2011). As Atieno Odhiambo has written, when this happens, tribalism comes to be “regarded as an attribute of state power” (2002: 244).

It is against this background that presidential aspirants tend to reach out to influential ethnic point-men in their efforts to build winning alliances, and parties have become associated with particular leaders and ethnic groups (Table 1.1). For example, in the early 1960s, KANU, then led by Jomo Kenyatta (a Kikuyu), was associated with some of the larger and more economically and political powerful communities, most notably the Kikuyu and Luo. By contrast, KADU, led by Ronald Ngala (a member of the Mijikenda group), was associated with smaller and/or more marginal communities (such those who reside at the Coast and the Kalenjin). When Daniel arap Moi (a Kalenjin) took over the leadership of KANU in 1978, its ethnic composition began to shift to incorporate many of the communities that had backed KADU. As a result, the Kikuyu and Luo communities threw their weight behind new parties led by co-ethnics following the reintroduction of multi-party politics in 1992. In turn, the capacity of individual leaders to take their ethnic constituency with them from one political vehicle to another has undermined the institutionalization of political parties. In the most extreme cases, as between 2002 and 2007, many of the parties and coalitions that contest one election were no longer relevant by the next.

Table 1.1. Voting patterns of select ethnic groups (1963–2017)







KANU (Kikuyu)

KADU (Mijikenda)

KADU (Mijikenda)

KANU (Kikuyu)


FORD-A (Kikuyu)

DP (Kikuyu)

FORD-K (Luo)

FORD-A (Kikuyu)

KANU (Kalenjin)

KANU (Kalenjin)

FORD-K (Luo)


DP (Kikuyu)

FORD-Kenya (Luhya)

KANU (Kalenjin)

NDP (Luo)


NARC (Kikuyu)

NARC (Kikuyu)

KANU (Kalenjin)

NARC (Kikuyu)


PNU (Kikuyu)

ODM (Luo)

FORD-K (Luhya)

PNU (Kikuyu)

ODM (Luo)

ODM (Luo)


JA (Kikuyu)

FORD-K (Luhya) CORD (Luo)

JA (Kikuyu)

JA (Kikuyu)

CORD (Luo)


JP (Kikuyu)

NASA (Luo)

JP (Kikuyu)

JP (Kikuyu)

NASA (Luo)

Source: compiled by the authors.

* The table depicts the party for which the majority of the ethnic group voted for with the identity of the party’s presidential candidate in brackets. CORD = Coalition for Reform and Democracy; DP = Democratic Party; FORD-A = Forum for the Restoration of Democracy—Asili; FORD-K = Forum for the Restoration of Democracy—Kenya; KADU = Kenya African Democratic Union; KANU = Kenya African National Union; NARC = National Rainbow Coalition; NASA = National Super Alliance; JA = Jubilee Alliance; JP = Jubilee Party; ODM = Orange Democratic Party; PNU = Party of National Unity.

In addition to breeding distrust of non co-ethnic leaders, winner-takes-all politics has encouraged Kenyans to doubt the efficacy of key political institutions because voters typically assume that office-holders will act in the interests of their own community, even in supposedly non-partisan parts of the bureaucracy. Significantly, the sense that a broad range of economic and political opportunities depend on controlling the state has made elections increasingly high-stakes events, and thus increased the risk of conflict (p. 9) (Halakhe, Chapter 30). Despite this, ethnic violence remains relatively rare and typically occurs when electoral controversies intersect with deep historical grievances—often, but not always, over land (Boone 2011)—and a breakdown in the relationship between leaders from different communities. To fully understand the salience of ethnicity and its capacity to destabilize the broader political system, we therefore need to factor in the role played by clientelism and class.


The salience of ethnic identities and the impact of winner-takes-all politics are rooted in the clientelistic relations that link leaders to their supporters. To fully appreciate how and why, we need to adopt a historical perspective. A localized form of “boss politics” emerged in the late colonial era, when the State of Emergency introduced in response to the Mau Mau rebellion led to a ban on colony-wide parties (Atieno Odhiambo and Lonsdale 2003). This forced aspiring nationalist leaders to focus on the local level, and thereafter the political parties that emerged—KANU and KADU—were formed more as coalitions of individual Big Men than coherent parties with a common set of policy preferences. When Cherry Gertzel analyzed the politics of independent Kenya, she (p. 10) therefore likened it to the individualistic and clientelistic relationships that characterized the notorious Tammany Hall regime in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s (1970: 15).

The political preferences of the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, exacerbated these tendencies. Having been in detention during the early evolution of KANU and KADU, Kenyatta did not fully trust either institution. He was also not a “party man,” had little time for African socialism, and did not share the leftist sentiment that a strong party was necessary to act as the vanguard of political and economic transformation. Thus, while Kenyatta agreed to head KANU, he preferred to rule through a combination of personal networks and the Provincial Administration—the bureaucratic colonial structure that had demonstrated its ability to empower the executive and demobilize opposition in the 1950s. Allowing official KANU structures to decay meant that it was particularly important to Kenyatta that his personal network of leaders had the capacity to reach all the way from State House down to individual households. He therefore established a pyramidal model in which national leaders cultivated provincial bosses who in turn recruited and managed district and constituency representatives, who then established links with a range of local notables and, ultimately, ordinary citizens (Barkan 1976).

In pursing this strategy, Kenyatta did not follow Presidents Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in seeking to manage ethnic identities out of politics. Instead, his regime consciously invested in sustaining ethnic sentiments and Big Man politics to substitute for the lack of an effective party structure. As Lonsdale has argued, Kenyatta’s state rapidly became “a federation of tribal baronies, not because that was inevitable but because that is what he intended” (1992: 12). Following Kenyatta’s death, this structure was adapted by President Moi (Throup 1987), who retained the Provincial Administration but modified it to create a stronger focus on the district level (Barkan and Chege 1989), and revived party structures and promoted loyalists in a bid to make “use of every arm of centralized and personalized control at his disposal” to boost his limited authority (Lynch 2011: 125).

Kenyatta’s economic policies also played an important role in shaping popular ideas of political representation. As discussed in greater depth below, his anti-egalitarian politics meant that he sought to deflect demands for public services away from the state by arguing that development was the responsibility of local communities (Mbithi and Rasmusson 1977). Those who worked hard would get assistance; those who did not would be left behind. What this “survival of the fittest” approach meant in practice was that voters were told to look for developmental leadership not from the national government but from their constituency MPs, who continued to be elected in regular first-past-the-post elections even during the one-party state years. Under this system of harambee (“self-help” or “pull together” in Swahili), local communities were expected to work with their MP and other local notables to raise funds to construct small buildings that could house schools or clinics, after which the state would help to meet the running costs (Gibbon 1994; Kanyinga 1995).

This system initially proved to be extremely popular, in part because it resonated with pre-existing moral economies, turning elections into referenda on the development (p. 11) performance of the local MP (Hydén and Leys 1972). The evolution of this dynamic helps to explain why Joel Barkan’s pioneering surveys of the 1970s found that what voters wanted their MPs to do, above all, was to stand up for their interests and link them in to networks of power and resources (Barkan 1976). Thus, “the three most common answers [in Barkan’s surveys] were that MPs should visit the district frequently (11%), obtain projects and benefits for the district (25%), and tell the government what people in the district want (29%)” (Cheeseman 2016: 186).

Setting up MPs as a source of development in this way had three important consequences. First, it initially generated a responsive political system because, so long as legislative elections remained relatively free and fair—as they largely were in the 1970s—communities could vote out MPs who had failed to deliver. Second, it helped to shape ideas regarding the kind of leaders that Kenyans valued, and led to a marked change in the composition of the Kenyan legislature between the 1960s, when it was populated with teachers and traditional leaders, and the 1970s, when businessmen and those with prior experience of working within the state came to dominate (Hornsby 1989). In short, desperate to find MPs capable of funding development either personally or through their contacts, voters increasingly used candidates’ wealth and generosity, rather than education and propriety, as a guide to their likely effectiveness in office. As Eric Kramon (2017: 3) has argued, political leaders do not simply hand out money to prospective supporters in an attempt to buy their vote, but as a way to demonstrate their credibility as local patrons. This helps to explain why, while wealth and largesse are often valued as evidence of a capacity to assist, rich politicians who hand out money may be rejected if they are regarded as arrogant or dismissive of their constituents (Lockwood 2019).

The combination of these two trends drove a third, as the great expectations placed on MPs to deliver development and to cover a range of expenses for their supporters—from school fees and medical bills to legal costs and funeral expenses—placed them under great financial pressure. Although Kenyan politicians have always been among the best paid on the continent, their salary has never come close to covering their constituents’ needs and the cost of election campaigning, which is now estimated to set the average MP back around US$500,000 a time (Ng’etich 2013). Successful political leaders therefore need to either have a lucrative business operation or to align themselves with powerful political backers. Especially during the economic downturn of the 1980s, the former was difficult and so the importance of political networks gained in significance. Thus, the financial pressures placed on legislators encouraged corruption (Githongo 2006) as national leaders redirected state resources to finance their political campaigns and those of their personal network (Mwangi 2008). Indeed, it is no coincidence that major corruption episodes—such as the Goldenberg scandal in which an estimated US$520 million of state resources was stolen in a fake import/export scam (Cherotich 2012)—often occur in the run-up to closely fought elections when candidates are desperate for campaign funds.

In addition to providing political entrepreneurs with a strong incentive to engage in the misappropriation of funds, the financial dependence of many new legislators on senior (p. 12) political figures—who had a vested interest in preserving the status quo—undermined parliamentary support for anti-corruption reform (Cheeseman 2015a). In this way, the political system that emerged after independence fostered a particular form of political clientelism that was both parasitic on access to state resources, and was particularly resistant to external pressure to reform—a point we develop further below.

Taken together, these three trends played into and exacerbated winner-takes-all dynamics, as successive office holders have used their positions to pay back and reward their allies and communities (Widner 1992; Hassan, this volume). Understanding this logic of representation is important in order to appreciate both why communities who feel that they are “in power” are so supportive of the state, and why those who are not often challenge its legitimacy. It helps to explain, for example, why Moi’s efforts to interfere with party and parliamentary elections during the 1980s in order to impose loyal point-men was so unpopular and fuelled calls for a return to multi-party politics (Branch 2011). Communities who saw their leaders removed unfairly were angered both by the regime’s disregard for constituency elections—one of the key legitimating pillars of the one-party state—and by their exclusion from access to state patronage. In turn, this encouraged broader elite and popular support for the process of democratization, and for candidates and organizations willing to take on the establishment (Wanyande 2002; Waddilove 2019). In this way, ethicized clientelism can simultaneously drive support for, and opposition to, the state.

Decades of winner-takes-all politics also gave rise to two very different kinds of inequality. On the one hand, the determination of successive leaders to channel resources to their own communities has exacerbated existing regional inequalities created by geography and the colonial legacy. In short, the parts of the country that have “held” the presidency—the Central Province heartlands of the Kikuyu and the Rift Valley stronghold of the Kalenjin—are in many ways more developed than those areas that have tended to be in opposition, such as what used to be known as the North Eastern, Nyanza, and Western provinces. In turn, these inequalities have had a dramatic and very real effect on citizens’ everyday lives. The difference in life expectancy between Central—which has enjoyed the presidency for all but 24 years since independence—and Nyanza is a staggering 16 years, while the doctor–patient ratio is five times better in Central than it is in North Eastern (Pan-African Conference, 2014). The lived reality of inequality thus reinforced popular perceptions of the exclusionary nature of Kenyan politics, further hardening ethnic identities.

At the same time, the tendency of clientelistic networks to leave patrons considerably better off than their clients has contributed to growing economic inequality. This is both because corruption benefits the wealthy at the expense of the poor (Christian Aid 2008) and because ethnic distrust militates against the provision of public goods and so undermines the quality of public services received by a significant portion of the population (Miguel 2004). Two important consequences of this process have been the emergence of a super elite and a growing gap between the rich and the poor.

(p. 13) Class

From the 1980s to the early 2010s, the term “class” was rarely the focus of publications on Kenya, and the few studies that were published tended to focus more on the relationship between “social class” and ethnicity (Berg-Schlosser 1994). There were three main reasons for this. First, following a wave of left-leaning scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s, it became less fashionable to analyze politics through a sociological lens. Second, it was clear that while Kenyan society is far from egalitarian, it has not witnessed the emergence of distinct classes in the Marxian sense (Cowen and Kinyanjui 1977). Limited industrialization and urbanization meant that there was no equivalent to Marx’s proletariat (now referred to as the working class), and for a long time the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class, often referred to as the middle class) was tiny. Third, the political salience of ethnicity has often been assumed to undermine the significance of other forms of solidarity, such as the kind of ties that bind people of the same economic status. To be sure, there have been moments when researchers have hoped that moral ethnicity would evolve beyond the confines of a single community to unite a cross-ethnic set of clients in a rejection of the patrons who manipulate political tribalism to exploit them (Orvis 2001; Klopp 2002). There has also been considerable media and academic excitement about the potential for the country’s growing middle class—which the African Development Bank (2011) has put at 6.48 million, the fourth largest in Africa—to serve as a driver of both political and economic liberalization. However, the cyclical rise of ethnic politics during election campaigns, and in particular during the Kenya crisis of 2007/8, has often shifted attention back to ethno-regional identities (Bedasso 2017).

This is unfortunate, because class has always been central to Kenyan politics—you just need to know where to look for it. As Kanyinga has argued (1994: 84), “efforts to mobilise the Kikuyu along class lines have recurred since the 1940s” but have tended to be understudied in large part because they were often unsuccessful. What has been more successful, and received greater attention, is the willingness of elite actors to work across ethnic lines to maintain their access to political power and economic opportunities. As Nicholas Nyangira has argued (1987), the route to power involves first establishing control over an ethnic group and then bargaining with other members of the elite for acceptance, using one’s support base as leverage. Indeed, while it is true that Kenya does not feature traditional class cleavages—i.e. ones formed on the basis of the relationship of different economic groups to the means of production—it does feature vast inequalities and an extremely privileged elite. As of 2018, less than 0.1 percent of the population—just 8,300 people—owned more wealth than the bottom 99.9 percent; while the richest 10 percent of society earned 23 times more, on average, than the poorest 10 percent (Oxfam, 2018). This trend is projected to continue, with 7,500 millionaires set to be created over the next 10 years. The impact of such pronounced inequality is profound. At the time of publication, Kenya was ranked as the eighth worst country in the world in (p. 14) terms of the number of people living in extreme poverty. The gendered nature of these processes means that poor women face a particularly challenging situation: although 96 percent of rural women participate in farm work, only 6 percent hold a title to land (Oxfam 2018).

As Nyangira and others have suggested, the maintenance of a super elite is no accident. Instead, it is the product of the patron–client system presided over by Big Men described in the previous section, and the policies that they have enacted to protect their own interests. To give an example, it is estimated that many of the country’s super-rich have benefited from low taxes (the highest rate of income tax is just 30 percent), government tax exemptions, and corruption. Taken together, these practices are estimated to cost the country billions of dollars a year in lost revenue that could be invested in health and education (Oxfam 2018). In addition to explaining the highly unequal nature of the country’s political settlement, the relationship between different members of the elite—which it is important to emphasize are not solely drawn from one ethnic group or one part of the country—is also significant because it is central to the stability of the Kenyan political system during times of elite collusion, and to the breakdown of that system during episodes of elite fragmentation (Branch and Cheeseman 2008).

Over the last 80 years elite relations have passed through six distinct phases that demonstrate their significance to wider political developments. In the first, the colonial government used land titles and settlement programs such as the Million Acres Scheme to try and create a propertied middle class (Atieno Odhiambo and Lonsdale 2003). Such a group, it was hoped, would be naturally conservative and have a vested interest in restraining more radical nationalist voices—such as the violent Mau Mau rebellion—making it a natural ally of the colonial regime (Kanyinga 1998). In this way, “the government intended to break the alliance of middle and lower peasantry of Central Province that sustained the Mau Mau movement, whilst providing the foundation for local loyalist domination” (Branch and Cheeseman 2006: 19). “Loyalists” were also promoted to key positions within the state, and as a result conservative political forces were able to inherit the most influential levers of power, such as the Provincial Administration.

In the second phase, the African elite that inherited the colonial state consolidated its position. Although the British government accused Kenyatta of being the leader of the Mau Mau and detained him on trumped-up charges, he was anything but radical (Atieno Odhiambo 2002: 239). Steeped in the moral economy of the Kikuyu community in which “fatness was fertile, poverty a life-sucking parasite” (Lonsdale 1992: 4), for Kenyatta wealth implied both hard work and virtue. He therefore dismissed the demands for greater redistribution of land and wealth from more radical figures, such as the Luo leader Oginga Odinga and ex-Mau Mau leader Bildad Kaggia, as the selfish begging of the lazy for “free things” (Lamb 1974: 36). On this distinctive understanding of leadership and civic virtue, wealth was not only seen to be a good thing for the person concerned, but also a demonstration of their leadership credentials. This was epitomized by Kenyatta’s attempt to undermine support for his rivals by pointing to their poverty, demanding to know “What have you done for yourself, Mr Kaggia?” (Ngugi 2015). While this approach frustrated many of those who had fought for independence, it also appealed to a general antipathy towards egalitarian politics (Gertzel, 1970: 86–87).

(p. 15) First as prime minister and later, after a series of constitutional amendments, as an extremely powerful president, Kenyatta and his allies used their growing authority to marginalize Odinga and Kaggia. As part of this process, communist and socialist ideals were attacked, in part through the highly effective use of what would now be called “fake news.” For example, Tom Mboya—the KANU Secretary General until he was assassinated in 1969—sought to discredit Odinga by claiming that his rival would turn the country into a Marxist dictatorship and would break up families so that children would not be reared by their parents (Gertzel 1970: 145–147). Once Kaggia and Odinga had been forced out of the ruling party, forming the rival Kenya People’s Union (KPU) in 1966, a combination of carrots and sticks were used to limit popular support for the new party before it was banned in 1969 (Mueller 1984).

This attack on the left went hand in hand with the promotion of economic policies that fostered economic inequality. Most notably, while the title of the pivotal Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965—“African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya”—implied that the country was following the path of Tanzania and Zambia, in reality it committed the state to private enterprise, foreign investment, and wealth creation through economic expansion rather than the redistribution of resources (Branch and Cheeseman 2006: 25). As we have already seen, the harambee model introduced by Kenyatta downplayed the role of the state in meeting popular demands for development, and enabled those at the top of the economic ladder to get vastly richer while those at the bottom became significantly poorer in real terms. Once Odinga and Kaggia had been defeated—the former effectively excluded from power for the rest of his life, the latter rehabilitated back into the ruling party—the Kenyan political elite worked to stabilize the country’s new political and economic arrangements. Most notably “elite collusion served to contain dissent from below … enabling Kenyatta to demobilize the more radical elements of Kenya’s diverse ‘nationalist’ movement” (Branch and Cheeseman 20109 6).

The main challenge to this fragile consensus came before and after the death of Kenyatta in 1978, five years that represented a third and particularly difficult phase of elite relations. During this period, the ethnic divisions within the elite were exacerbated by an intense power struggle between Vice-President Moi, who was in line to succeed Kenyatta, and a faction of Kikuyu leaders who sought to keep the presidency in Central Province by changing the constitution (Karimi and Ochieng 1980). Moi emerged victorious after a number of prominent Kikuyu leaders, including the minister of finance, Mwai Kibaki, and the attorney general, Charles Njonjo, broke ranks to back his leadership. However, the new president’s efforts to transform the ethnic basis of the regime in order to reduce his vulnerability, redistributing opportunities away from Kikuyu constituencies and towards his Kalenjin supporters, placed inter-ethnic elite relationships under renewed strain. Amidst an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty, growing discontent culminated in a coup attempt in 1982 (Branch 2011). While the coup was ultimately unsuccessful, it came close to removing Moi from power and so set the scene for his increasingly authoritarian approach in the later part of the decade.

Even during this most challenge of contexts, however, ethnic tensions tested elite cohesion but did not fatally undermine it. Over time, the use of greater coercion, along (p. 16) with the inclusion of leaders from rival ethnic groups in his cabinet (Arriola 2013) and the distribution of vast amounts of clientelistic resources (Widner 1992), enabled Moi to gradually re-establish control. Kenya thus experienced a fourth phase of elite relations in the mid-1980s, characterized by an uneasy peace between rival elite factions. As Tamarkin has written (1978: 33), “the struggle for succession was essentially an intra-elite one, the two factions striving to control the regime rather than subvert it. Once the succession was decided, the elite, and the bourgeoisie as a whole, had an overriding interest in stabilizing the regime upon which they thrived.”

However, Moi’s attempt to eradicate any sources of dissent ultimately led to a rupture of this elite pact. Most notably, the president’s efforts to remove critical voices from the legislature and KANU itself led him to manipulate party and state elections held in 1986 and 1988. As has already been noted, the blatant way in which this was done generated considerable resistance, and persuaded rival leaders such as Charles Rubia and Kenneth Matiba that their interests could no longer be served within the ruling party (Throup, Chapter 4 this volume). As a result, the fifth phase of elite politics saw a damaging process of what Branch and Cheeseman (2009: 10) have called “elite fragmentation,” which “provided the alternative elite leadership required to transform Kenya’s ‘diffuse’ opposition into a mass movement for change, paving the way for political liberalization.” This process was of great significance, not only because it undermined the foundation of the one-party state (Chege 1994) but also because it sowed the seeds of the political violence that was to follow.

Taken together, the fragmentation of the elite and Moi’s instrumental use of ethnic clashes to intimidate opposition communities and retain power in 1992 and 1997 (Boone 2011) gave rise to a new and much more dangerous political landscape. Having so long demobilized radical threats to the state, political leaders now faced strong incentives to co-opt militias and vigilante groups (Anderson 2002) in order to cultivate election gangs in support of their quest for power. The significance of this shift was masked in the early 1990s by the fact that the most powerful militias were under the control of the state itself and so posed little danger to the maintenance of the status quo. This changed following the defeat of KANU by Mwai Kibaki and NARC in 2002, when ruling party leaders and the gangs that they were affiliated to entered into opposition (Mueller 2008). At this point, control over the use of violence effectively passed out of government hands, diminishing the ability of state institutions such as the Provincial Administration and the police to maintain political order. The combination of these two processes—elite fragmentation and the decentralization of control over together with a culture of impunity and long-standing narratives of ethnic marginalization laid the foundations for the Kenya crisis of 2007/8 (Branch and Cheeseman 2009). Following an intensely fought election between President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga that ended in a disputed victory for the incumbent, political elites that had previously used their authority to encourage popular acceptance of the political settlement now directed militias to attack each other’s communities.

Given the severity and nature of the violence (Bekoe 2012)—which led to over 1,000 deaths—it might have been expected that the conflict would undermine the (p. 17) potential to rebuild elite consensus for decades to come. Instead, the sixth phase of elite relations was characterized by further periods of consensus and collusion, albeit periods that have themselves been punctuated by episodes of renewed struggle (Chege 2008). Just weeks into the crisis, leaders from different ethnic groups and parties came together to form a power-sharing government that brought the violence to an end. The government that emerged from this process was often disjointed and fractious (Cheeseman and Tendi 2010), but it also achieved the impressive feat of delivering a new constitution that was supported by the vast majority of leaders across the political divide (Ghai 2014).

The introduction of new checks and balances on the president, a system of devolution that promised to bring power closer to the people, and the expansion of the country’s middle class following a long period of economic growth led to fresh optimism that the country would enter a new era of programmatic politics and political stability. The middle class was expected to play a twofold role in this process (Cheeseman 2015b). First, members of the middle class were expected to be less susceptible to ethnic politics, such that their growing numbers would drive an increasing focus on policy issues and government performance. Second, the greater resources and education of the middle class were interpreted to imply that they would be more effective than the country’s poorer citizens at putting pressure on the elite to govern in a more inclusive and responsible way.

Early research, however, suggests that both of these hopes will prove to be overly optimistic, at least in the short term. On the one hand, it appears that the size of the middle class has been overstated by using a low threshold—those living on US$2–10 a day—which includes many people whose lives are actually extremely vulnerable and who do not have the freedom to take economic risks in order to promote democracy (Cheeseman 2015b). On the other hand, while there is some evidence that members of a more carefully defined middle-class have particularly pro-democratic attitudes and consciously think of themselves as playing a distinctive role in the national policy, it is also clear that they are placed under great pressure to follow the logic of group representation during elections, and often succumb to demands of candidates, other community members, and their own families to vote along ethnic lines (Burbidge 2014). It therefore seems likely that, while the rise of the middle class will complicate the politics of ethnicity and clientelism, it does not sound its death knell.

The tension between class consciousness and ethnic identity is readily apparent in political developments between 2010 and 2018. After Kibaki stood down in 2013 having served the constitutional limit of two terms in office, the country experienced further episodes of compromise and conflict. Most notably, following the comparative quietude of the power-sharing period, further election controversy in 2013 and 2017—when Odinga narrowly lost out again, on these occasions to Jomo’s son, Uhuru Kenyatta—placed elite relations under renewed strain. Relatedly, the decision of the Supreme Court to nullify Kenyatta’s election in August 2017 on the grounds that it had had not met legal requirements and was therefore “null and void” (Pommerolle, Chapter 8 this volume), was seized on by opposition supporters as evidence that their candidate had repeatedly (p. 18) been rigged out of power. The Court’s decision meant that the election had to be rerun, but Odinga chose to boycott the “fresh” poll on the basis that he did not have confidence that the reforms introduced were sufficient to improve the process to an acceptable standard (Cheeseman et al. 2019). This led to a tense and dangerous standoff in which some opposition supporters sought to disrupt the election by preventing polling stations from opening (Waddilove 2019). When this failed, elite relations hit a new low as Odinga refused to recognize Kenyatta as a legitimately elected president, and the main opposition coalition moved to swear their leader in as the “People’s President” in January 2018.

Yet even this most tense of standoffs did not last long. Just six weeks later Odinga and Kenyatta appeared outside Harambee (State) House to allow the nation’s media to photograph them shaking hands on a new deal. Although the precise nature of their agreement was not made public, it clearly involved Odinga recognizing Kenyatta as the country’s legitimate president in return for Kenyatta reintegrating Odinga into the ruling coalition. In addition to an end to state harassment of the opposition leader, the government supported his bid to be appointed a special envoy for infrastructure by the African Union—a position that brings official status and influence, as well as a salary. Once again, just at the moment when elite conflict threatened to spill over into a more serious rupture, the main protagonists proved able to come together to make a deal that protected their interests, as well as the broader system on which their political and economic privileges depend.

Conclusion: Democracy, inequality, and the ideology of order

The way that a small number of elite figures have attempted to maintain political control has significant implications for the prospects for democratization in Kenya. Atieno Odhiambo (1987) has written powerfully of the emergence of an “ideology of order” under colonial rule that was subsequently inherited by post-colonial political elites. The desire for order “encapsulated an intolerance of dissent, the maintenance of profound social inequality and a determination to maintain control for its own sake” (Branch and Cheeseman 2006: 13). This is perfectly illustrated by (then Vice-President) Moi’s response to the accusation of bias against the Kenyatta administration in 1966: “even if it’s a political Government, it is an orderly Government, it is not a Government of disorder” (cited in Gertzel, Goldschmidt, and Rothchild 1969: 126). The reification of order provided moral legitimacy for state efforts to demobilize radical political movements because it resonated with many citizens’ fear that inter-ethnic tensions would lead to conflict. From the brutal civil wars in Nigeria and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1960s, through to the more recent conflicts in nearby Uganda and Rwanda, citizens have been regularly reminded of the dangers of political instability (Lynch, Cheesemna, and Willis 2019).

(p. 19) In many ways, the desire for order is entirely understandable: the achievement of stability is productive of both democracy and development. However, this should not blind us to the fact that this narrative has also been consciously produced by successive incumbent elites in order to delegitimize opposition to their rule. Under the one-party state, the idea that unity was needed for national stability and development was manipulated to discredit the idea of multi-party politics (Cheeseman 2015a). Following the supposed transition to democracy in the 1990s, Moi played on the notion that elections would lead to civil unrest to justify authoritarian excesses. And following the Kenya crisis of 2007/8, the Jubilee Alliance manipulated the peace messages pushed by a range of domestic and international actors to its own advantage (Odote, Chapter 7 this volume). More specifically, Jubilee leaders sought to close off certain topics of debate on the grounds that they might trigger violence, to delegitimize public protests and legal challenges against perceived electoral manipulation in the name of maintaining public order, and to justify a heavy-handed response to activities that arguably threatened a fragile peace (Lynch, Cheeseman, and Willis 2019). At the same time, the election of the Jubilee Alliance in 2013, which brought together leaders from the communities that had been involved in the worst clashes in 2008, was sold as the best way to avoid the resumption of hostilities. In this way, the persistence of an ideology of order has undermined the emergence of a more transformative politics that might otherwise pave the way for a deeper process of democratization and a more inclusive economic system.

Of course, this introduction has only provided a brief overview of some of the core forces that animate Kenyan politics. The chapters that follow highlight a broad range of other issues and factors that are also important, in part because they interact with, and complicate, the impact of class, clientelism, and community. Part I provides a history of Kenya’s struggle for democracy from the mid-colonial period to date, going into much greater depth and nuance than we were able to here. Part II then elaborates on the role of political identities, casting the net much wider to look at youth, gender, and religion in addition to ethnicity. Part III offers a set of chapters that analyze Kenya’s formal political structures, and explain how important institutions such as the legislature, provincial administration, and the constitution itself have evolved over time. Part IV turns our attention away from the state towards civil society and the media, and reveals the efforts of journalists, non-governmental organizations, and ordinary citizens to resist the abuse of power. In Part V we look at the role played by political parties, and how they seek to mobilize support through a range of strategies including clientelism, ethnic appeals, and violence. Following this, Part VI probes the capacity of the state to maintain law and order, addressing the role of the army and vigilante groups, among others. Part VII takes us in a different direction and looks at the politics of development and the roles played by the financial sector, government policy, and the informal sector in shaping the economic opportunities available to citizens. Given that both economic and political possibilities are also shaped by the nature of the international system and Kenya’s relationship with the wider world, the chapters in Part VIII consider the country’s engagement in the region, the continent, and with international bodies such as the International Criminal Court. Finally, Part IX turns to the localized nature of much of Kenyan politics, and the significance of the system of devolution introduced in 2010, by (p. 20) providing case studies of the way in which devolution has played out in every one of the country’s former provinces.

These nine sections and 50 chapters do not exhaust what there is to say about Kenyan politics, which remains dynamic and all-consuming for those who participate in and observe it, but we believe that they do provide a broad and important range of insights into its past, present, and future.


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