Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Kenya’s civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3 due to the reduced threat of ethnic and political violence demonstrated by a peaceful August 2010 constitutional referendum.
Kenyan voters in August 2010 approved a constitution that imposed new checks on the authority of the president and central government. The power-sharing arrangement between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga remained in place during the year, though political jockeying in advance of 2012 national elections limited the hybrid government’s effectiveness.
Kenya achieved independence from Britain in 1963. Nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta served as president until his death in 1978, when Vice President Daniel arap Moi succeeded him. While the Kenyan African National Union (KANU) party remained in power, Moi diminished the influence of the previously dominant Kikuyu ethnic group, favoring his own Kalenjin group.
In 1992, after a lengthy period of single-party rule, domestic unrest and pressure from international donors forced Moi to hold multiparty elections. However, he and KANU continued to win elections by using political repression, state patronage, media control, and dubious electoral procedures. Government corruption remained common, as did police abuses, political influence in the judiciary, and state efforts to undermine independent civil society activity. Political polarization increased amid government-sponsored ethnic violence, perpetrated in most cases by Kalenjin or Maasai KANU supporters against members of the Kikuyu and Luhya ethnic groups, who were believed to support opposition parties. Despite these problems, political space for opposition views continued to open, and many of the core elements necessary for a democratic political system developed.
The opposition united to contest the 2002 elections as the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). The bloc won a majority in the National Assembly, and its presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, emerged victorious. The new leadership’s ambitious reform program achieved some successes, but the effort was blunted by factors including the fragility of the governing coalition, a complex bid to overhaul the constitution, significant fiscal constraints, and the threat of terrorism.
The lively press and public investigative commissions became increasingly critical of the substance and slow pace of the government’s reform agenda, and in November 2005 referendum voters soundly rejected a draft constitution that failed to shift power away from the presidency.In January 2006, John Githongo, formerly Kibaki’s anticorruption chief, issued an authoritative report indicating that corruption had reached the highest ranks of the government. The findings implicated the vice president and prompted the resignation of several cabinet ministers.
Kenya’s democratic and economic development suffered a sharp reversal as a result of apparent manipulation of the December 2007 presidential election. While the concurrent parliamentary polls showed major gains for the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Kibaki was declared the winner of the presidential vote amid credible allegations of fraud. He had long been accused of favoring his Kikuyu ethnic group, and the presidential results sparked weeks of violence between the Kikuyu, the Luo, and other groups. More than 1,500 people were killed, and over 300,000 were displaced, though many eventually returned or were resettled by the government.In late February 2008, Kibaki and ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga, a Luo, negotiated a compromise agreement in which Odinga received the newly created post of prime minister and the ODM joined Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) in a coalition cabinet.
A Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence, also known as the Waki Commission, issued a report in October 2008 that identified systemic failures in Kenya’s security institutions, governmental impunity, and popular anger as the primary instigating factors in the crisis. The report called for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute crimes committed during the postelection violence, and stated that in the absence of such a tribunal, the names of organizers of the violence should be sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution.
In 2009, the government and legislature made little progress in addressing the postelection violence, which prompted former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who had overseen negotiations for the 2008 power-sharing deal,to provide the ICC with a list of alleged perpetrators, though the names were not made public. Also during the year, the parliament rejected Kibaki’s bid to reappoint the ineffective head of the anticorruption commission, and General Mohammed Hussein Ali was fired as chief of the police force in the wake of a highly critical UN report on police brutality. However, structural reforms to address the root of the brutality problem were not implemented.
In March 2010, having determined that Kenya was unable to bring perpetrators of the postelection violence to justice, the ICC initiated an investigation into crimes against humanity.In August, Kenyan referendum voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that delineated and checked the roles and powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The new arrangement particularly limited previously expansive presidential and other executive powers, and shifted some authority from the central government to local officials.Friction between the two sides of the power-sharing government increased as the 2012 national elections drew nearer, hampering its ability to function.
Kenya is not an electoral democracy. While there were few claims of irregularities in the December 2007 parliamentary vote, the flawed presidential poll featured apparent vote rigging and other administrative manipulations that favored the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki. In September 2008, an international commission found that the legitimacy of the election results had been undermined by several factors, including a defective voter registry and widespread fraud. The panel’s recommended electoral reforms have yet to be fully implemented. However, the conduct of the constitutional referendum held in August 2010 was considered legitimate and competitive, indicating an improvement in electoral transparency.