I’ve been in Nairobi this past week, where elections are pending in March. As you may remember, Kenya’s last election five years ago resulted in violence that nearly led to civil war. Since then, Kenya has a new constitution which significantly changes the shape of government. So not only is this the first election since the violence, it is also the first one conducted under the new constitution. Politics is everywhere and almost everything.
I would say the situation is hopeful, even though people are plenty nervous. Most people think that major violence will not recur. They typically say that having witnessed the horrors of the last election, people won’t behave that way again. That includes politicians, who unquestionably whipped up the violence.
There are many signs of political vitality– a lively free press, multiple parties contesting for power. The electoral commission which so botched the last election, aiding and abetting in rampant theft–has been strengthened.
Nevertheless the political culture still clearly has a long way to go. As one of my informants said, Kenyan politics remains tribal in shape but class based in reality. A tiny elite manipulates their tribal followers but uses politics mainly to enrich themselves. Kenyan Members of Parliament have made themselves the best paid parliamentarians in the world, and that doesn’t begin to count all the money that they steal.
Until that generation passes on and until voters focus on issues more than tribal factionalism, things will only slightly improve, I think. That said, with a few more elections–peaceful ones–Kenya really could change in a dramatic way.