Polity: Presidential-parliamentary democracy
Population: 31,100,000
GNI/Capita: $1,022
Life Expectancy: 48
Religious Groups: Protestant (45 percent), Roman Catholic (33 percent), indigenous beliefs (10 percent), Muslim (10 percent), other (2 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Kikuyu (22 percent), Luhya (14 percent), Luo (13 percent), Kalenjin (12 percent), Kamba (11 percent), Kisii (6 percent), Meru (6 percent), other African
Capital: Nairobi

Political Rights Score: 4
Civil Liberties Score: 4
Status: Partly Free

Ratings Change
Kenya's political rights rating improved from 6 to 4, its civil liberties rating from 5 to 4, and its status from Not Free to Partly Free, due to increased pluralism reflected by the 2002 national election campaign and the resulting rotation of power, and to the greater ability of civil society to affect public policy processes.


Kenya boiled with political change in 2002 which led to the defeat of longtime President Daniel arap Moi and his party, the Kenyan African National Union (KANU). The run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in December reflected the full play of Kenya's freewheeling political culture. Intense political maneuvering accompanied longtime President Daniel arap Moi's decision not to attempt to change the constitution to permit a third term. Instead, Moi sought to hand-pick Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the country's first president, as his successor; a choice which resulted in considerable criticism from both the opposition and within KANU.

Opposition leader Mwai Kibaki was elected president and his National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) won the majority of seats in parliament. The new leadership's ambitious reform program includes tackling corruption, economic and social issues and undertaking institutional reforms designed to promote democracy.

Britain conquered Kenya in the late eighteenth century in order to open and control a route to the Nile River headwaters in Uganda. In 1963 Kenya achieved its independence. The nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta was president until his death in 1978, when Moi succeeded him. Moi's ascent to the presidency kept KANU in power, but gradually diminished the power of the previously dominant Kikuyu ethnic group.

In 1992, after a lengthy period as an effectively one-party state and as a result of domestic unrest and pressure from international aid donors, Kenya held multiparty elections. Moi was reelected president in controversial polling. In December 1997 presidential and parliamentary elections took place, and Moi again secured victory over a divided opposition. Moi's reelection was ensured by his massive use of state patronage and the official media to promote his candidacy and by harassment of the divided opposition.

Kenya's economy has been in long-term decline. Most of Kenya's 29 million people are poor and survive through subsistence agriculture. Nepotism and fraud inhibit economic opportunity and discourage greater foreign investment. Kenya was rated 96th out of 102 countries in Transparency International's 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index.

In 2002, as national elections approached and President Moi made clear his preference for Kenyatta to succeed him, other potential successors within KANU and the opposition sought to position themselves for the upcoming polls. KANU dissidents joined with opposition parties to create the NARC and nominate veteran Moi opponent (and former vice president) Mwai Kibaki as their presidential candidate.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Until 2002, Kenyans had been limited in their right to choose their leaders in genuinely open and competitive elections. President Daniel arap Moi's election victories were achieved through political repression, media control, and dubious electoral procedures. Physical violence, an often-docile judiciary, police powers, and executive decrees were used against political opponents and in efforts to undermine the wider civil society. Power was heavily concentrated in the executive branch of government. This reality may well be changing with the December 2002 NARC electoral victory, but it remains to be confirmed.

Although NARC is a multiethnic movement, Kenya's politics have traditionally been divided along ethnic lines. KANU maintained power through the support of the president's own minority ethnic grouping, the Kalenjin, while combining an alliance of other minority groups and playing two of the largest ethnic groups, the Kikuyu and the Luo, against each other. The country is divided into seven provinces run by provincial commissioners appointed by the president.

The right of citizens to effectively participate in the political life of the country has been limited, but there are now some emerging positive elements. Despite Kenya's history of authoritarian rule, many basic elements necessary for the development of a democratic political system exist. Political parties are active and vocal. Parliament is the setting for much of the nation's political discourse. A varied and energetic civil society plays an important role in public policy debates.

A constitutional review process headed by Dr. Yash Gai, a respected academic, included the participation of a wide range of civic and associational groups. Its report, issued in September 2002, calls for the creation of a senate and an executive prime minister to be elected by parliament; presidential and parliamentary electoral reform; decentralization; and other changes designed to limit the power of the presidency, including giving parliament the power to impeach the president.

During President Moi's rule the press, parliament, and the judiciary did at times highlight examples of government corruption and malfeasance. In 2001, for example, parliament provided evidence of rampant graft and cronyism pervading state-run institutions. A report from the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee presented numerous credible and detailed examples of government corruption and gross mismanagement. The report was particularly critical of "slow investigation by the police and lack of sanction against the force for disobedience." The parliament had previously published a "list of shame" identifying by name a number of high-ranking government officials who were implicated in corruption. These included Vice President George Saitoti, Trade and Tourism Minister Nicholas Biwott, and nearly a dozen cabinet members. Under governmental pressure the report was subsequently revised and the names deleted.

A 2002 judicial report recommended that prominent current and former Kenyan ministers be investigated for their alleged roles in tribal clashes organized by powerful individuals to force opposition supporters to flee constituencies where KANU faced close election contests. The clashes took place in the run-up to elections in 1992 and 1997 and left thousands dead. The report was submitted to the government in 1999, but only released in October 2002 after a court ordered the government to make its findings public. The judicial report identified by name KANU ministers Nicholas Biwott, Julius Sunkuli and Maalim Mohamed.

Until 2002 the ability of pluralistic forces in society to actually effect public policy remained limited. The security forces regularly violated constitutional guarantees regarding detention, privacy, search, and seizure. Groups such as the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the National Council of Churches of Kenya publicized abuses and demanded respect for civil and political liberties, but the KANU government's attitude towards civil society was generally hostile and suspicious. Courts were still influenced by the executive and could not be relied on to protect constitutional rights or offer fair trials. Local chiefs still continue to exercise sometimes arbitrary and violent power. Prison conditions are harsh and often life threatening.

Although the press at times adopted independent and probing stances, freedom of expression has been limited by lack of access to the dominant state broadcast media. The country's few private radio and television stations were generally either pro-KANU or carefully apolitical. Journalists have been charged with criminal libel, and independent publications have been subject to harassment in their business operations. President Moi decreed that it was a crime to "insult" him, and sedition laws have been employed in efforts to silence criticism.

Trade unions generally follow government policy on key issues. For example, in 2002 the general secretary of the Central Organization of Trade Unions instructed members not to support calls by opposition parties and civil society groups for demonstrations over constitutional reform. Unions have occasionally defied a 1993 Ministry of Labor decree that forbids all strikes, despite constitutional guarantees to the contrary. A nationwide teachers' strike occurred in 2002 when the 240,000 teachers' umbrella organization demanded that the government implement the remaining part of a deal signed in 1997. In that deal the government promised to raise salaries for teachers by between 150-200 percent. Civil servants and university academic staff may join only government-designated unions. Approximately one-fifth of the country's 1.5 million industrial workforce is unionized.

Ethnically based tension continues. Competing land claims often provide the spark. Approximately 60 people were killed in eastern Kenya in 2001, in one example of ethnic violence based on limited land and livestock resources. In November, tribal clashes sparked by a land dispute in southern Kenya left more than 30 people dead or seriously injured. Pro-KANU elements have at times been accused of instigating ethnic cleansing for political purposes, especially in the Rift Valley area.

In general there is freedom of religion, although uneasy relations between Muslims and those of other faiths at times result in violence. In 2000, rioting between Roman Catholics and Muslims occurred in central Kenya.

The annual population growth rate is 2.4 percent. Approximately three-quarters of the population is confined to 10 percent of the land area, as most of the country is semi-arid or arid. Life expectancy is less than 50 years and the infant mortality rate is 74 per 1,000 live births. Kenya's child mortality rate has been increasing since the early 1990s, mainly as a result of the spread of HIV and AIDS infections.

Women in Kenya continue to face serious obstacles in the exercise of their freedoms. A draft gender equity bill created considerable public controversy, with some Muslims protesting that it was too sweeping in scope. Some evidence suggests that violence against women in increasing. A survey carried out by a women's rights group states that more than 49 women were murdered by their spouses in 1998 alone, a 79 percent increase in cases since 1995. Many of the cases have gone unpunished, despite repeated complaints by women's groups that Kenyan laws remain too lenient in sentencing offenders in cases of violence against women. Women are also seriously underrepresented in Kenya's politics and government.

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