In December 2007, Kenya held its fourth multi-party election. When the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was announced as the electoral winner, Kenya went into one of the most serious political crises the country has experienced in its 47-year history. The riots and violence that ravaged the country until mid-February 2008 left around 1,200 killed and around 400,000 internally displaced.

In 2010, the situation on the surface has improved significantly. There has been political calm for two years and no major episodes of violence have taken place. But even though Kenya appears calm two years after the violent unrest, the country is in a tense situation where several different scenarios can lead to new conflicts and unrest. And 400,000 Kenyans are still registered as internally displaced.

Unity government

An international negotiating team with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as the main broker led the work in early 2008 to find political solutions that could curb political unrest and end the violence. After over a month of negotiations, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement. Odinga was named the country’s first prime minister in over 40 years.

However, many believe that the power distribution agreement does not entail an equal distribution of power between the two blocs and the two parts of the political authority. The weighting is probably near 70-30 in favor of President Kibaki. The part of the population that voted for Odinga is very dissatisfied with this. The political climate under the unity government is more characterized by ethnic tension than what the situation was before the elections. There is a clear tendency for everything to be read through an ethnic lens.

Land and ethnicity

The issue of land distribution and the process of constitutional reform have been the two hottest political issues in Kenya since the early 1990s. In 2010, these issues still characterize the political map and constitute much of the underlying framework for political block formation.

The political tensions associated with the issue of land distribution have deep historical roots. The white settlers had occupied many of the most fertile parts of the country since the early 1900s. When Kenya gained its independence in 1963, most of the settlers left the country, and their lands have subsequently been distributed in a number of so-called settlement schemes. Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was himself a kikuyu, and many believe that the kikuyu in this process were unfairly favored. In the Rift Valley, where the biggest riots took place in 2008, there are many kikuyu living in such areas, which the Kalenjin people believe originally belonged to them.

New Constitution

Until the referendum on a new constitution in 2005, two issues were particularly dominant: One was the choice of parliamentary system versus a maintenance or even a further strengthening of today’s strong presidential rule. The second was the political and administrative division of the country, and the question of how many political levels and units one should have. In Kenya, this has been very controversial ever since independence.

On November 21, 2005, the first referendum in Kenya’s history was held, but the government’s proposal for a new constitution was rejected by the people. After the unifying government was established in the aftermath of the riots in 2008, work on a new constitution began again and it is expected that a new referendum on the constitution will be held in 2010.

A preliminary draft of the constitutional document to which the Kenyan people will vote is available. Through this draft constitution, the executive power will be shared between a president, a prime minister and the government. Delegating executive political authority to regional and local political levels will only be done in the context of the implementation of centrally planned projects, allocated budgets and distributed resources; but will not give regions the authority to act independently, as a federal system does.

Corruption

Kenya has long been on the lists and rankings of the world’s most corrupt countries ranked by Abbreviationfinder. The NARC government was elected on promises to clean up the corruption, but has not been able to clean up or change the impression of the situation among most people. Under the unifying government, things have not improved, and the people have largely lost faith in politicians doing anything other than “eating their share of the cake.” According to Transparency International, Kenyan police are the most corrupt institution in East Africa, and bribes in every part of society are increasing every year. This has created a fundamental lack of confidence in the political power elite among the Kenyan people.

Kenya has since independence been the most industrially prosperous and economically developed country in East Africa. It is also first and foremost Kenya that has managed to exploit the new export opportunities created through the regional market in the East African Union. Kenya’s exports to Europe continue to consist of agricultural products such as vegetables, fish, tea, flowers and coffee. To other African countries, Kenya exports processed products such as dairy products, vegetable oil, soap, cement and pharmaceutical products.

Tourism has long been a cornerstone of the economy, and the sector has experienced annual growth over a long period. However, the tourism industry got a crack after the unrest in 2008. The situation has begun to improve, and if Kenya manages to keep the peace through the 2012 elections, tourism will once again become a financial pillar.

Kenya has long struggled with a situation where over half of the population lives below the poverty line. To the extent that there is any development in this situation, the figures go in the wrong direction. This situation, with huge and ever-increasing differences between poor and rich, is one of the biggest challenges Kenya faces.

The close links and the approximate overlap between the political power elite and the economic elite that control the country’s resources have not helped motivate voters’ judgments and behavior. Instead of mobilizing broadly against this elite, Kenya’s poor majority is trapped in a political game where political rhetoric and ethnic contradictions are used to oppose groups.

Kenya is facing two or three very crucial years for the country’s future. A referendum will be held on a new constitution, and in 2012 a new parliamentary and presidential election will be held. The election campaign ahead of the 2007 elections had a distinctly ethnic character, with heated atmosphere and alternating alliance constellations. Hopefully, 2012 will not be a repeat of 2007, but until the 2012 elections, there will probably be an intricate political game about bloc formation, alliance partners and a hard fight to become presidential candidate.

Country facts:

Area: 580 367 km2 (22nd largest)

Population: 38.8 million

Population density: 67 per km2

Urban population: 21 percent

Largest city: Nairobi – approx. 3 millions

GDP per capita: USD 788

Economic growth: 2 percent

HDI Position: 147