The Cost of the Third Wave Democratization in Africa: Some Perspectives from Kenya

By Mikhail Nyamweya

One of the events in Africa that marked the significant shift from autocratic systems of governance to democratic multi-party governance systems within the continent was the ushering in of multi-party politics in Benin by President Matthièu Kèrèkou in 1991. It was from this among other external global factors that a wave of democracy spread across Africa. The end of the Cold War in the late 1980s signposted global reforms such as the Mikhail Gorbarchev’s reforms of ‘demokratizatsiya’, which emphasized the need for political reforms in Soviet Russia. This later came to be known as the third-wave democratization. The same was characterized by the end of ‘big-man’ regimes in Africa that exhibited patron-client relationships as well as the inception of political party plurality, where the incumbent governments at the time were compelled to seek amendments in their respective constitutions to welcome opposition parties ahead of multiparty elections.

Africa has so far experienced nearly three decades of democracy, however, the question is whether people are enjoying these gains. Most African states are currently experiencing a democracy retreat in the sense that since their inception of multiparty elections, there has been a shift of the legitimization of the continent’s authoritarian civilian regimes as witnessed in countries such as Kenya, Burundi and Cameroon. Other regimes that welcomed democracy and sought to change their Leaders have eventually adopted the style of leadership that was demonstrated by their former authoritarian predecessors, implying that change leads to things remaining the same. This particular democratic rollback has further been viewed through institutional fragility, state capture, corruption and negative ethnicity. In this article I seek to demonstrate this using the case study of Kenya.

The various indicators of democracy include among others, the respect for the rule of law, respect for human rights, free, fair and regular elections, freedom of the press and independence of the judiciary. Kenya is a state that appears to have made significant strides in as far as governance and democratization is concerned. The same include the inception of a multi-party system of government after the repeal of Section 2A of the constitution in December 1991 to the culmination in the passing of a new constitution in 2010.  

Mary Kaldor, in her thesis, The New Wars, Old Wars posits that the nature of conflicts in Africa during the Cold War (1947-1989) was inter-state (involving more than one state) but a discernible behavioural shift was noted particularly after the end of the Cold War, where conflicts in Africa became intra-state culminating as identity based conflicts. It is of essence to note that this particular time was when many African countries were experiencing political reforms. For that reason, subject to the first multi-party elections in Kenya in 1992, clashes that erupted in various parts of the country particularly in the Rift Valley Province were ethnically motivated and the same would be witnessed after the subsequent 1997 General Elections. These particular events were marred by mass displacement of people and deaths.

Following a transition of power from Kenya National African Union (KANU) that had been in power since independence to the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) in 2002, the new regime promised to fight corruption as its key priority. In 2003, the new government consequently established a commission that would look into the conduct of judicial officers in what was to be known as the ‘Radical Surgery of the Judiciary’ and that would further come up with a comprehensive report inclusive of the list of names of the judicial officers that had been found, beyond reasonable doubt, to be linked to judicial misconduct. Later that year, the commission having conducted investigations published a list of 23 judges and 82 magistrates who were accused of graft and other related malpractices, and for that reason, recommended that these officers be forthwith sent home or face disciplinary action.

It is worth noting that these judicial officers were not given a chance to defend their positions as were accused and therefore, chose to go with the ‘go home’ alternative. The panel that executed this particular exercise eventually expressed regret on account of the fact that they would have approached the issue much more differently, this begs the question of how efficient are institutions established by democratic regimes. On an additional note, the rise in police brutality in the country is no different from the situation in Kenya during the 1980s and for this reason, questions surrounding the legitimacy of a liberal democratic society in Kenya are similarly asked.

The genesis of most problems Kenya is currently facing is traced to the idea that it is under state capture. This refers to the establishment of a mutually beneficial relationship between the legitimate state and a shadow state for the overall purpose of the state accruing personal benefits. In an effort to ascertain the prosperity of state capture, should there be an effectiveness of a few rich individuals to be able to subvert the activities of democratic institutions, while maintaining an overall image of an established and progressive democracy. State capture has led to the propagation of various social problems in Kenya that are ostensibly growing worse per the day and are largely attributed to the same. One of these include the vice of Corruption, which is a menace that has been deeply embedded in the Kenyan society since the country’s attainment of independence. Additionally, it is a paradox that corruption has been rife ever since the institution of a multiparty system in 1992.

There appears to be a positive relationship between increased democratization and an increase in the debilitating efforts by the government to fight corruption. Bodies entrusted with the responsibilities of investigating corruption cases such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), and the office of the Auditor General have done little to adequately address the scourge of corruption. Furthermore, various Commissions of inquiry established to look into various occurrences of graft have proposed reforms that seem to align with the powerful while similarly punishing their enemies, and made recommendations that are patchy. It should be noted that millions of money in form of taxes are channeled towards sustaining the operations of these commissions. For example, an AfriCOG report observes that these commissions were used to circumvent justice in Kenya. The report further breaks down the amount of funds channeled towards various commissions: The commission established to look into the Goldenberg affair cost Kenya shillings 503 million, the Kiruki Commission that was established to investigate the activities of the Artur brothers from Armenia, cost Kenya shillings 19.97 million and the Ndung’u commission, established in 2003 in a bid to investigate the irregular allocation of public land cost Kenya shillings 78 million. Nothing substantial has come out from the efforts of these commissions, despite the large amount of millions of Kenya shillings channeled towards the operations of these commissions.

The Anglo-leasing scandal of 2004, which came up right after the ascension of the NARC government demotivated the hopes that Kenyans held in lieu of the fight against corruption. 16 years down the line, Kenya is still witnessing similar events, only that this time, they are vividly demonstrated under the guise of lost/unaccounted funds which in real sense have undergone the greatest heists of the time. These funds are to be channeled towards the betterment of the citizenry and for that reason, fail to receive the benefits of these funds as a result of misappropriation.

Another issue that has affected the social fabric of Kenya is negative ethnicity. While ethnic groups should give individuals a sense of heritage aside from the colonial construct that eventually drew boundaries and classified them with their current nationalities, in Kenya, this particular factor of ethnicity is negative to the extent that in terms of granting opportunities, one is not able to see their neighbor beyond the ethnic community they hail from. Voting during elections is done along ethnic lines, with political parties bearing support from specific ethnic groups, of course with the realization that Kenya is currently a multi-party state. Claude Ake, in his article What is the Problem of Ethnicity in Africa asserts that the treatment of the factor of ethnicity has generally inclined individuals to problematize people and their culture, thus creating a complex of confusion in this particular event. The same can be demonstrated as earlier mentioned in events such as the ethnic clashes of 1992 and 1997 in the Rift Valley, in the 2007/2008 Election violence and in the 2017 tensions in different parts of the country as a consequence of the elections.

With respect to the above case studies, there should be a need for African states to reconsider and look into the governance structures within their respective states. Democracy should not merely be a word that African states throw around, but for them to walk the talk with regards to them harmonizing all that concerns democracy. It has separately been suggested that for democracy to succeed in Africa, the Africans need to establish home-grown models of democracy, if not, liberal democracy will continue to fail in the continent. There is a need to be intentional in as far as shrugging off colonial legacy, particularly in as far as the view on ethnicity is concerned. Similarly, African leaders should harmonize institutional structures that would essentially bring about sustainability of development after their stay in power, rather than development occurring for the sake of a particular individual at the helm of power. This is a major challenge that Africa is currently facing.

Mikhail Nyamweya is an International Relations Student at the United States International University – Africa (USIU-Africa). His study interests are in International Development, Political Economy and Foreign Policy. He is a Tutor at USIU-Africa and a current United Nations Academic Impact Fellow.