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Reform and Political Impunity in Kenya: Transparency without Accountability
African Studies Review (2012)
  • Mwangi Githinji, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
  • Frank Holmquist

Kenya has been going through a period of political reform since 1991, when section 2A of the constitution, which had made Kenya a de jure one-party state, was repealed. This reform followed a prolonged struggle on the part of citizens both inside and outside the country, and their call for democracy was one that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was embraced by Western countries. Via diplomatic pressure and conditionality on aid, Western donors played an important role in the repeal of section 2A, the return of multiparty elections, and the creation and reform of a number of political institutions and offices via a separation of powers. But although these changes were supported by the political opposition and much of civil society in Kenya, they did not rise organically from the national struggle over political power. Nor did these reforms lead to a determination in the country to hold the political elite accountable for their transgressions. This article argues that modern Kenya’s history of economic and political inequality has resulted in a population whose very divisions make it difficult for politicians to be disciplined. Accountability has two dimensions: the horizontal accountability among branches of government that is assured by checks and balances, and the vertical accountability of the state to its citizens. Vertical accountability depends on a constituency of like-minded citizens defending broad national interests, or an electorate with a collective identity or set of identities attached to the Kenyan nation. But in the absence of such shared goals and demands, narrow personal and local interests prevail, and politicians remain unaccountable to the nation as a whole.

Publication Date
April, 2012
Publisher Statement
Published by Cambridge University Press DOI: 10.1353/arw.2012.0006
Citation Information
Mwangi Githinji and Frank Holmquist. "Reform and Political Impunity in Kenya: Transparency without Accountability" African Studies Review Vol. 55 Iss. 1 (2012)
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