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