Centre for African Studies (LUCAS)

Centre for African Studies
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT

Tel: 0113 343 5069
Fax: 0113 343 4400
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Richard Borowski
R.Borowski@leeds.ac.uk

Kenya: The Struggle for Democracy

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Kenya: The Struggle for Democracy. Godwin R. Murunga and Shadrack W. Nasong’o. Zed Books, London and New York, 2007. Pp. 327. ISBN. 978 1 184277 857 9 (pb). £18.99.

This book is part of the Africa in the New Millennium Series, an initiative by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). It provides an in-depth look at the various stages in the struggle for democracy in Kenya, with essays focusing on a range of topics pertinent to the historical process from pre-colonial times to the present era. Subjects are divided into three categories: Part I, the introduction, looks at the prospects for democracy in Kenya; Part II discusses civil society and the politics of opposition, and Part III focuses on major constituencies in the democratisation process. In the introduction, Shadrack Wanjala Nasong’o and Godwin R. Murunga give an explanation for what they determine as “democracy” in the introduction, and they discuss three stages of democratic transition in Kenya: the opening, breakthrough and consolidation stages. The editors define democracy by the institutional guarantees it carries with it: free participation, freedom of expression and movement, universal adult suffrage, et al. Using these guidelines, the book contains essays by scholars from Kenya who attempt to gauge the level of democratic freedoms there.

Nasong’o and Adams G.R. Oloo begin by discussing opposition and social movements in Kenya’s political history, providing an informative explanation of the political parties and their ever-consistent transformations – shrinking and enlarging membership due to fund capacity and, at times, corruption. Nasong’o illustrates the eventual movement from a de facto to de jure one-party KANU state in Kenya, while Adams G.R. Oloo responds by highlighting the attempts to break through the KANU stranglehold by a multitude of opposition parties, and their internal and external struggles to achieve unity. Oloo explains internal struggles as party control by donors, party-switching and ethnic affiliation roadblocks; external roadblocks included imprisonment and torture for many opposition politicians.

Margaret Gathoni Gecaga discusses the significance of religious movements in her essay, describing how they turned political as a response to KANU repression. Gecaga also focuses in-depth on the history of the political-religious group Mungiki, whose roots began with the worship of Mugo wa Kabiru, the Gikuyu diviner who prophesied the colonial presence in Kikuyuland. Mungiki eventually shed its religious ties and grew into an armed urban militia, and was used to carry out political sabotage. Gecaga explains how the government sponsored ethnic violence in 2002, secretly deploying 300 Mungiki members to incite violence against the Luo community. Gecaga’s article is an absorbing look at Mungiki, as well as other religious-linked vigilante groups (the Kosovo Boys, Taliban, Baghdad Boys and Jeshi la Mzee [Elder’s Army]) operating within Kenya.

In Part II of the book, scholars focus on how the participation of youth, women and intellectuals has contributed to the struggle for democracy in Kenya. Mshaï S. Mwangola describes the difficulty and disillusionment of young people who wish to get involved in politics, explaining the African cultural tradition of barring political participation except to the oldest and (ideally) wisest. Mwangola also describes the three generations of Kenyan political history, the Lancaster House Generation, the Lost Generation and the Uhuru Generation, and the struggle to gain power between each generation.

Nasong’o and Theodora O. Ayot describe in their essay how women actually lost rights with independence, and the continued efforts to regain them in the oppressive years that followed. Nasong’o and Ayot maintain that the Kenyan constitution did not guarantee any rights for women and that discrimination based on gender is commonplace. Women running for political posts are harassed, threatened and beaten to intimidate them and discourage political participation. Even amid these conditions, women still find the courage to speak out and agitate for their representation.

Maurice N. Amutabi details the importance of the contribution of intellectuals in Kenya, who have had to face detention and torture for protesting the autocracy of the Moi regime. Edwin A. Gimode follows this with an in-depth description of the horrors of police brutality during the KANU decades, ending with the Kibaki transition and the new focus on civic protection. Part III takes readers into the realm of donor aid, and how Western funding had a hand in keeping Moi in power and later in his ousting. Godwin R. Murunga and Stephen Brown describe how the United States, the World Bank and IMF were fooled by the Moi regime, and how decades and millions of dollars were squandered on unnecessary purchases and personal gain while Kenyan citizens lived hand-to-mouth.

Kenya: The Struggle for Democracy is an enlightening read and it provides helpful historical knowledge to understand the issues concerning the 2007 Presidential election crisis. The book is an essential read for anyone looking to comprehend democracy in Kenya.

This book is
part of the Africa in the New Millennium Series, an initiative by the
Council for the Development of Social Science
Research in Africa (CODESRIA). It provides an in-depth look at
the various stages in the struggle for democracy in Kenya, with
essays focusing on a range of topics pertinent to the historical
process from pre-colonial times to the present era. Subjects
are divided into three categories: Part I, the introduction, looks
at the prospects for democracy in Kenya; Part II discusses civil
society and the politics of opposition, and Part III focuses
on
major constituencies in the democratisation process. In the introduction,
Shadrack Wanjala Nasong’o and Godwin R. Murunga give an explanation
for what they determine as “democracy” in the introduction,
and they discuss three stages of democratic transition in Kenya:
the opening, breakthrough and consolidation stages. The editors
define democracy by the institutional guarantees it carries with
it: free participation, freedom of expression and movement, universal
adult suffrage, et al. Using these guidelines, the book contains
essays by scholars from Kenya who attempt to gauge the level
of democratic freedoms there.

Nasong’o and
Adams G.R. Oloo begin by discussing opposition and social movements
in Kenya’s political history, providing
an informative explanation of the political parties and their
ever-consistent transformations – shrinking and enlarging
membership due to fund capacity and, at times, corruption. Nasong’o
illustrates the eventual movement from a de facto to de jure
one-party KANU
state in Kenya, while Adams G.R. Oloo responds by highlighting
the attempts to break through the KANU stranglehold by a
multitude of opposition parties, and their internal and external
struggles
to achieve unity. Oloo explains internal struggles as party
control by donors, party-switching and ethnic affiliation
roadblocks; external roadblocks included imprisonment and torture
for many
opposition
politicians.

Margaret Gathoni
Gecaga discusses the significance of religious movements in her
essay, describing how they turned political
as a response to KANU repression. Gecaga also focuses
in-depth on
the history of the political-religious group Mungiki,
whose roots began with the worship of Mugo wa Kabiru, the Gikuyu
diviner
who prophesied the colonial presence in Kikuyuland.
Mungiki
eventually shed its religious ties and grew into an
armed urban militia,
and
was used to carry out political sabotage. Gecaga explains
how the government sponsored ethnic violence in 2002, secretly
deploying 300 Mungiki members to incite violence against
the
Luo community.
Gecaga’s article is an absorbing look at Mungiki, as well
as other religious-linked vigilante groups (the Kosovo Boys, Taliban,
Baghdad Boys and Jeshi la Mzee [Elder’s Army])
operating within Kenya.

In Part II of the book,
scholars focus on how the participation of youth, women and intellectuals
has contributed
to the struggle for democracy in Kenya. Mshaï S.
Mwangola describes the difficulty and disillusionment
of young people
who wish to
get involved in
politics, explaining the African cultural tradition
of barring political participation except to the
oldest and
(ideally)
wisest. Mwangola also describes the three generations
of Kenyan political
history, the Lancaster House Generation, the Lost
Generation and the Uhuru Generation, and the struggle to
gain
power between each
generation.

Nasong’o
and Theodora O. Ayot describe in their essay how women actually
lost rights with independence, and the continued
efforts to regain them in the oppressive years
that followed. Nasong’o
and Ayot maintain that the Kenyan constitution
did not guarantee any rights for women and that discrimination
based on gender
is commonplace. Women running for political posts
are
harassed,
threatened
and beaten to intimidate them and discourage political
participation. Even amid these conditions, women
still find the courage to
speak out and agitate for their representation.

Maurice
N. Amutabi details the importance of the contribution of intellectuals
in Kenya, who have
had to face detention and
torture
for protesting the autocracy of the Moi regime.
Edwin A. Gimode follows this with an in-depth
description of the horrors of
police brutality during the KANU decades, ending
with the Kibaki transition
and the new focus on civic protection. Part III
takes
readers into the realm of donor aid, and how
Western funding had a
hand in keeping
Moi in power and later in his ousting. Godwin
R. Murunga and Stephen Brown describe how the United
States, the World Bank
and IMF were
fooled by the Moi regime, and how decades and
millions of dollars were squandered on unnecessary purchases
and personal gain
while Kenyan citizens lived hand-to-mouth.

Kenya: The Struggle
for Democracy is an enlightening read and it provides helpful
historical knowledge
to understand the
issues
concerning the 2007 Presidential election crisis.
The book is an essential read for anyone looking
to comprehend democracy
in Kenya.

Reviewed by: Shannon Oxley, University of Leeds.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 71 (Winter 2009/10), pp. 80-83]

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