Wednesday, 9 December 2015

"Democracy vs Diversity in Kenya"

First published on:

Dominic Burbidge, lecturer and researcher at the University of Oxford, presented his research on “Democracy Versus Diversity: Ethnic Representation in a Devolved Kenya” as a seminar organized by the NCID at the University of Navarre.

“This title was chosen to juxtapose democracy and diversity, the idea being that a large proportion of the international community assumes that both of these things are good and compatible and we only tend to say we wonder if diversity is a threat to western democracy (migration)”, explained Dominic Burbidge. However, according to his research in Africa, and especially in Kenya, there is fear of the contrary, that democracy can threaten diversity.

As Burbidge explains, people from minority communities fear that through a voting procedure citizens can put power in the hands of someone who mobilizes along ethnic lines, using the office as an instrument of exclusion. “Here is where the dilemma of politicization of ethnicity starts”, said the researcher from the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics & International Relations.

Historical Roots

In 2010 Kenya approved a new constitution that delegated decision-making power to 47 county governments. The geographic boundaries to the counties was based in part on the divisions colonial Britain had made in order to lower the costs of management, forming the boundaries mostly on along ethnic lines.

“British colonials didn’t want to enforce fair rules across the colony; rather they appointed people to sort out matters locally,” said Burbidge, “they did not care about inconsistencies.”

One key historical area of conflict was land distribution. According to British colonial law, people that were not originally from the area where they were living could not have land or partake in meaningful economic activity without the permission of local leaders.

“That started the politics of exclusion, where indigeneity was the means of guaranteeing rights,” explained Dominic Burbidge.

Exploring the issue

Burbidge researched the issue by tabulating the ethnicity of county executives to roughly measure representation in these important local bodies. In doing so he establishes a general index to identify those counties undergoing intense inter-ethnic political competition. For example, some counties have nearly all executives coming from one ethnic group, despite having a significant second ethnic group in the local population.

According to his presentation, a consequence of this situation could be ethnic tensions and political competition arising in hotly contested counties. In other words, devolution – a democratic policy – may encourage diversity to become politicized towards unwanted ends.

Useful research for legislators and judges

Although it is not a “silver bullet”, Burbidge demonstrated the importance of incorporating social science research into the legislation of a country. According to him, there is “a road for the social sciences to help put into context judgments so as to provide parties with awareness of what cases they can bring to court.” This is particularly the case with devolution in Kenya, where cases are being heard in court without any common understanding of whether the county governments involved are representative of their local populations.

“We create legal rules according to human rights, but then we don’t provide those people affected by those legal rules with the information to know the context,” said Dominic Burbidge. He added: “If a judge in Kenya makes a decision without the demographic context, it can be interpreted politically.” In this way, the social sciences can help ensure that policies are less likely to cause discontent or violence.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

New book - The Shadow of Kenyan Democracy

The Shadow of Kenyan Democracy: Widespread Expectations of Widespread Corruption

Published on Ashgate here, and on Amazon here.

50% discount flyer from my social networking page.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Democracy versus Diversity: Ethnic Representation in a Devolved Kenya

I've recently completed a working paper on ethnic representation and devolution in Kenya online here.


Under the 2010 constitution, Kenya devolved power to 47 county governments to provide more localised, inclusive and participatory governance. County governments are required to include members of local ethnic minorities; governors can be impeached for failing to do so. The paper offers disaggregated 2009 census data showing ethnic demographics for each of Kenya’s counties. These are compared against estimates of county government ethnic composition through a name-based analysis of all county executives. These sources allow for formulation of an index of county government ethnic representativeness, through which outlying cases can be identified. Survey responses drawn from county executives are additionally presented, detailing perceived fairness of their government’s ethnic representation and revealing a difficult disjuncture between politicians’ self-perceived representativeness and their actual representativeness. A historical conditioning of local administrative units towards ethnic homogeneity has resulted in severe challenges of identity representation. Governors’ democratic exercise of power often lies in tension with constitutional provisions for ethnic diversity, posing the question of which of the two should be preferred. The findings also open debate on the appropriate role of statistics for assessing the constitutionality of elected officials.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Devolution versus the old politics of majimbo

Re-reading Prof David Anderson's piece on the "majimbo" debate in Kenya between 1955 and 1964 (Yours in Struggle for Majimbo), I am struck by the similarity of those times to current efforts at devolution in Kenya.

"Majimbo" is Kiswahili for "regions", and refers to bringing power to the local level, rather than having everything determined by a centralised state based in Nairobi.

Majimboism was advocated by the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) as Kenya transitioned towards independence at the beginning of the 1960s. The sentiment driving it was the fear that many communities would be dominated by those politically better positioned when Kenya became independent. The aggrieved communities wanted assurance that they could administer things in their local area in a way that met local concerns.

The idea was initially supported by the British administration of the time, though was not liked by members of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), who instead wanted to see national unity through a strong central state.

Analysing these trends, Anderson makes a couple of comments that could almost interchangeably describe current debates about devolution, a key part of Kenya's 2010 constitution.

Constitutional provisions for devolution are being hotly contested in Kenya as they are being implemented, leading to divisions between state ministries and county governors most especially.

Anderson remarks that although the divisions between KADU and KANU had found partial compromise as they were debated in the Lancaster House talks of 1962, 'once back in Nairobi, KANU immediately mounted a political offensive in which it dismissed majimboism as anti-nationalist and KADU as "tribalists".' (p. 557)

How often have we heard the same thing being told to supporters of devolution, that they are going against national unity and are inciting tribal feelings?

Anderson describes Mwai Kibaki's response in 1962 to those in favour of a majimboist constitution: 'Kibaki first spoke of the need for unity and cultural integration, "otherwise we shall never at any time have one nation in this country". The burden of his argument, however, was economic. The existing provinces and districts already had a costly infrastructure which it would be expensive to replicate for any new arrangements, "particularly when there are no benefits other than the theories which have been put forward".' (p. 560)

As then, so now. The perspective of Nairobi is ever centred on complaining about the costs of devolving power, even though the state's finances has most of all been troubled by the corruption of Nairobi-based politicians.

There is, nevertheless, a big difference between the years surrounding independence and now. After Kenya achieved independence in 1963, KANU refused to implement the previously agreed upon regional provisions, and ceased authorizing funds from central government to local areas (p. 562). Now, however, the amount transferred from the centre to the counties is fixed constitutionally so that it is always at least 15% of national revenue. Those at the centre have still tried to meddle with the process of sending it, erecting various technical barriers and then claiming that county governments are not spending their own money. These are short term tussles, however. Nairobi-based politicians will, in the long term, be forced to acknowledge that decentralised government is here to stay.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Corruption perceptions index scores, sub-Saharan Africa, 2000-2010

(0 = completely corrupt; 10 = no corruption)

The graph shows perceived corruption of each sub-Saharan African country surveyed by Transparency International over a ten year period. Kenya's score lies flat across this period, at 2.1 out of 10. In 2010, Kenya's rating was above only four other countries, all of whom suffered intense civil wars after independence, threatening the state's very existence - Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan.

Source: Transparency International, ‘Corruptions Perceptions Index’ (1996-2013). (accessed 26/07/14). Results have been standardised around a 10-point scale. The index was not calculated for Tanzania in 1996 and 1997, nor for Kenya in 1997.