Freedom in the world 2002


Kenya made little headway in promoting political rights and civil liberties in 2001. The highly charged political environment was dominated by maneuvering for 2002 presidential election. Long-time President Daniel arap Moi has not said whether he plans to run again, although many observers believe that he will step down. An inconclusive and controversial constitutional reform process continued but made slight progress. Richard Leakey, whom President Moi had installed to tackle governmental corruption and mismanagement, resigned. Ethnic tensions resulted in a number of violent incidents. In a potentially important pre-electoral move, the ruling Kenyan African National Union (KANU) party fused with the National Development Party (NDP), led by Raila Odinga, a son of a former Kenyan vice president. Britain conquered Kenya in the late eighteenth century in order to open a route to control the Nile River headwaters in Uganda. In 1963 Kenya achieved its independence. The nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta was president until his death in 1978, when he was succeeded by Moi. Moi's ascent to the presidency kept KANU in power, but gradually diminished the power of the previously dominant Kikuyu ethnic group.

In 1992, after a lengthy period as effectively a one-party state, multiparty elections were held as a result of domestic unrest and pressure from international aid donors. Moi was reelected president in controversial polling. In December 1997 presidential and parliamentary elections were held, and Moi again secured victory over a divided opposition, gaining 40.1 percent of the vote; KANU won 107 of the 220 seats in the newly expanded national assembly. An additional 12 seats were appointed by the government, which in effect gave KANU a majority. Moi's reelection was ensured by massive use of state patronage and the official media to promote his candidacy and by harassment of the divided opposition. To date, there is no clear successor to the longtime president.

Kenya's politics are divided along ethnic lines. KANU has traditionally maintained power through the support of the president's own minority ethnic grouping, the Kalenjin, while combining an alliance of other minority groups and playing the two largest ethnic groups, the Kikuyu and the Luo, off against each other. The country is divided into seven provinces run by provincial commissioners appointed by the president.

The 1999 appointment of Richard Leakey, a respected public figure, and the adoption of an economic reform policy, resulted in temporarily improved relations with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In March, however, Leakey resigned in frustration at the opposition to reform within the government. The opposition was due to the political implications of the need to reduce the size of the government bureaucracy, enact anticorruption legislation, and reduce or eliminate extra-budgetary expenditures. Leakey's resignation effectively signalled an end to Moi's heralded anti-corruption campaign. In August a government-introduced anti-corruption bill, which many observers felt was not sufficiently strong, was defeated in parliament, and international aid has been limited. Kenya was rated 84th out of 90 countries in Transparency International's 2001 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Kenya's economy and infrastructure continued to deteriorate significantly. Most of Kenya's 29 million people are poor and survive through subsistence agriculture. Nepotism and fraud inhibit economic opportunity and discourage greater foreign investment.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Kenyans have been unable to exercise their right to choose their leaders in genuinely open and competitive elections. President Daniel arap Moi's election victories have been achieved through political repression, media control, and dubious electoral procedures. His shrewd ability to play upon divisions within the opposition and to use the form, but not the spirit, of democratic institutions to advance his own interests and those of KANU are legendary. Physical violence, a usually docile judiciary, police powers, and executive decrees have been used against political opponents and in efforts to undermine the wider civil society. Power is heavily concentrated in the executive branch of government.

The right of citizens to effectively participate in the political life of the country is limited. Legislation that had established the constitutional review process with the participation of a wide range of civic and associational groups was revised in 1999, and the process was channeled through the KANU-controlled parliament. Dr. Yash Gai, a respected academic, was appointed head of this Constitutional Review Commission. The commission continued its work throughout 2001, but the review process has proceeded slowly. Little specific progress is expected in the short term owing to the upcoming national elections.

In 2001, parliament provided evidence of rampant graft and cronyism pervading state-run institutions. A report from the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee presented numerous credible and detailed examples of government corruption and gross mismanagement. The report was particularly critical of "slow investigation by the police and lack of sanction against the force for disobedience." The parliament had previously published a "list of shame" identifying by name a number of high-ranking government officials who were implicated in corruption. These included Vice President George Saitoti, Trade and Tourism minister Nicholas Biwott, a son of Moi, and nearly a dozen cabinet members. Under government pressure the report was subsequently revised and the names deleted.

The security forces regularly violate constitutional guarantees regarding detention, privacy, search, and seizure. Groups such as the Kenyan Human Rights Commission and the National Council of Churches of Kenya have publicized abuses and demanded respect for civil and political liberties. The government's attitude towards civil society, however, is generally hostile and suspicious. In 1999, to cite one example, a senior government minister warned nongovernmental organizations who "meddle in politics" that they risked deregistration, although such an action would be of questionable legality. Courts are still heavily influenced by the executive and cannot be relied on to protect constitutional rights or offer fair trials. Local chiefs still exercise sometimes arbitrary and violent power. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening.

Despite Kenya's history of authoritarian rule, many basic elements necessary for the development of a democratic political system exist. Opposition parties are active and vocal. Parliament is the setting for much of the nation's political discourse. A varied and energetic civil society plays an important role in public policy debates. These elements, however, do not often succeed in achieving actual policy change.

Although the press at times adopts independent and probing stances, freedom of expression is severely limited by lack of access to the dominant state broadcast media and continued repression of the private press. The country's few private radio and television stations are either pro-KANU or carefully apolitical. Journalists have been charged with criminal libel, and independent publications are subject to harassment in their business operations. Moi has decreed that it is a crime to "insult" him, and sedition laws have been employed in efforts to silence criticism.

Trade unions generally follow government policy on key issues. For example, the general secretary of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) has instructed members not to support calls by opposition parties and civil society groups for demonstrations over constitutional reform. Unions have occasionally defied a 1993 ministry of labor decree that forbids all strikes, despite constitutional guarantees to the contrary. Civil servants and university academic staff may join only government-designated unions. Approximately one-fifth of the country's 1.5 million industrial workforce is unionized.

The economic situation has contributed to increasing crime and lawlessness. For example, in April fighting occurred in an impoverished section of Nairobi, resulting in the death of seven people and destruction of about 100 houses. In December thousands of inhabitants fled fighting in the Nairobi slum of Kibera after two days of ethnic-related clashes over rent left at least a dozen people dead. In addition, ethnically based tension continues in other parts of Kenya. Competing land claims often provide the spark. Approximately 60 people were killed in eastern Kenya in 2001, in one example of ethnic violence based on limited land and livestock resources. In November, tribal clashes sparked by a land dispute in southern Kenya left more than 30 people dead or seriously injured. Pro-KANU elements have at times been accused of instigating ethnic cleansing for political purposes, especially in the Rift Valley area.

In general there is freedom of religion, although uneasy relations between Muslims and other faiths at times result in violence. In 2000, rioting between Catholics and Muslims occurred in central Kenya.

Women in Kenya continue to face serious obstacles in the exercise of their freedoms. A draft gender equity bill created considerable public controversy, with some Muslims protesting that it was too sweeping in scope. Some evidence suggests that violence against women in increasing. A survey carried out by a women's rights group states that more than 49 women were murdered by their spouses in 1998 alone, a 79 percent increase in cases since 1995. Many of the cases have gone unpunished, despite repeated complaints by women's groups that Kenyan laws remain too lenient in sentencing offenders in cases of violence against women. Women are also seriously underrepresented in Kenya's politics and government. With only 7 women legislators in a 222-member parliament, Kenya ranks last among the 15 eastern and southern African countries, in number of women legislators.

2002 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)