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KENYA: The Party System from 1963-2000, by Christina Nyström*

In Political Parties the republic of Kenya was described in early 1979 as "a one-party state that is not without threats to its stability". (Janda, 1980: 992) For a long time this held true, but there has been some significant changes, especially since the early 1990s. Kenya has been, since its independence from the United Kingdom, a country with a capitalist oriented economy, a stable political system and in general been viewed as a friend of the West. Increasingly this view of Kenya has changed. Its economy is in shambles, the political system is repressive, and Kenya has been, and continues to be, criticized by its former Western friends. In general, Kenya has not performed economically nor politically as predicted when she gained her independence some 33 years ago.

Since Kenya gained its independence on December 12 1963, it has been shaped primarily by the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the de facto one-party system in place (which became a de jure one-party state in 1982). The one-party system was a trend that could be seen all over the African continent during the 1960s, and by the early 1970s, all but a few countries in Africa were one-party states. Of course, this did not mean that the one-party states mirrored each other, rather, there were important differences between the different countries. (Tordoff, 1997: 4) Furthermore, a trend that was obvious across the continent was one of personalizing power in the hands of the party leader, who also became state president. In the case of Kenya this power landed first in the hands of Jomo Kenyatta (1964-1978), and later with Daniel arap Moi, who is still in power today. (Tordoff, 1997: 4) Furthermore, there was a general move away from federal and quasi-federal systems of government to unitary systems, as in Kenya were federal elements of the constitution were removed in 1964. (Tordoff, 1997: 10) All of these trends point to centralization of power, personalized by the president. Very often this meant that power was diverted from party organs to the bureaucratic machine instead, as evidenced in Kenya. The main argument for retaining a one-party system was always for the sake of political stability.

Usually, in the one-party state context, elections are used to demonstrate that the ruling party has a mandate to continue ruling. In Kenya, competitive elections were held at least once within the one-party framework. Between 1969 and 1982, Kenya felt little need to adopt competitive elections within the one-party framework. As (at the time) a de facto single-party state, Kenya retained "a system of open party primaries, in which aspirant candidates were free to stand" which ensured a high level of competition within the party at the same time as KANU did not face any challenges at general elections held during this time period. (Tordoff, 1997: 122)

Kenya's one-party system had a weak ideological base and a weak party machinery. (Tordoff, 1997: 4, 134) Kenyatta had made sure that KANU did not play an important role in Kenyan politics. Instead, clientilism shaped and colored Kenyan politics, with Kenyatta himself as the patron. Political alliances became increasingly important, and politicians at the center relied on linkages and network for support. Many supposedly apolitical bodies were politicized, such as "trade unions, co-operative societies, and the army." (Tordoff, 1997: 134-5) Thus, Kenya relied on the administration rather than on the party for purposes of development, execution of policy, and control. This created a reaction from parliamentarians who publicly attached the bureaucracy. (Tordoff, 1997: 157) The administrative state that was created during Kenyatta's reign has persisted under Moi.

In June 1982, the National Assembly of Kenya officially declared Kenya a one-party state. This was followed by general unrest and a coup attempt in August, but Kenya was able to retain its civilian government. The Kenyan coup attempt to overthrow president Daniel arap Moi was enacted by the Kenyan air force. The attempt was put down by Kenya's own general service unit. (Tordoff, 1997: 180-2)

Continuity and Change in Political Parties, 1963-2000

The Kenya People's Union (KPU) emerged in 1966, a radical party ready to challenge the domination of KANU, until it was banned in October 1969. (Tordoff, 1997: 114) This party did not last long enough to qualify for study under the ICPP criterion of strength and stability. Apart from the KPU there were no other parties formed after 1962 that terminated before 2000. However, there has been a significant growth of parties during the 1990s, parties that are still continuing in 2000.

During the 1990s, a wave of democratization swept across the African continent. The wave took many different shapes and forms, and sometimes (as in the case of Kenya) international pressure was pivotal in bringing about change. In November 1991, Western donors acting through the World Bank halted foreign aid while demanding government reform. (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997: 182) Previous to 1991, the Moi government had since 1986 faced mounting criticism from Kenyan church groups, and there had also been a series of riots throughout the country in July 1990. (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997: 182)

Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was formed in May 1991 by six opposition leaders, including Oginga Odinga (ex vice-president 1964-66), and FORD was later officially announced in July 1991 and subsequently declared illegal by the Moi government. (Throup and Hornsby, 1998: 77-8) Several members of FORD were arrested in November 1991 prior to a pro-democracy rally, which despite having been banned by the government took place. The arrests caused the international community to react strongly with outrage and, more importantly, withdrawing of financial funds. On 26 November 1991 the West discontinued bilateral aid to Kenya.

These events later led to the legalization of opposition parties in December 1991. In a way this enabled Moi and KANU to control the legislative process by having seized the initiative for reform towards a multi-party system. (Throup and Hornsby, 1998: 86) Primarily because of international pressure, but due to domestic pressure as well, president Moi agreed to reforming the party system. A reform that would end the monopoly on political power that his party, KANU, held but also reforms that would address Kenya's record on human rights that had come under international scrutiny and increasing criticism. (Tordoff, 1997: 16) Furthermore, in December 1991, former vice-president Mwai Kibaki, then minister of health, resigned and founded the Democratic Party (DP).

Later in August 1992, FORD split into two factions, which were registered in October as two separate parties. First, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy -Asili (FORD-Asili) led by Kenneth Matiba (today by Martin Shikuku) and also Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (FORD-Kenya) led by Oginga Odinga. Oginga Odinga died in 1994 and was replaced by Michael Kijana Wamalwa. In 1995, Raila Odinga (son of Oginga Odinga) claimed to have ousted Wamalwa as chairman of FORD-Kenya. Strife broke out within the party and as of December 1996 Odinga was reportedly expelled from FORD-Kenya. Odinga announced that he instead had joined the National Development Party and that he had voluntarily resigned from FORD-Kenya. In October 1997 Matiba's faction of FORD-Asili registered as an independent party, Forum for the Restoration of Democracy for the people (FORD-People). Only FORD-Kenya gained enough votes in the two consecutive elections of 1992 and 1997 to qualify for study.

During the first half of 1992, around 2000 people were killed in tribal clashes in Western Kenya. Consequently, the government put a ban on political rallies, a ban that was later lifted after protests organized by FORD. In December 1992 both presidential and parliamentary elections were held, but because of the oppositions' lack of cohesiveness and inability to form an alliance against KANU, Moi and KANU were able to remain in control. (Tordoff, 1997: 16) However, it is contested how free and fair these elections really were, and to what extent Moi and his political machine used their incumbent status to control the results. (KHRC, 1998) Moi was elected to a fourth term as president with 36.3% of the vote ahead of Kenneth Matiba (26.0%), Mwai Kibaki (19.5%) and Oginga Odinga (17.5%). Of the 188 seats in the National Assembly, KANU won 100, FORD- Asili and FORD-Kenya gained 31 seats each and DP got 23 seats. (Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 2037)

After the 1992 elections tribal clashes continued. In May 1995 a new political party, SAFINA, was formed by opposition activists who claimed that the party intended to fight for human rights and against corruption. The chairman at the time was Mutari Kigano, a prominent human rights lawyer, and as secretary general SAFINA appointed Dr Richard Leakey, a prominent white Kenyan. Today SAFINA is led by Farah Maalim (chairman) and Mghanga Mwandawiro (secretary general). Again, even though SAFINA represents an important element in Kenyan politics, it did not meet the requirements to qualify for study.

The Kenya of today is marked by increased tension between ethnic groups. Tension that goes back to the days when Jomo Kenyatta was president (1964-1978) and the Kikuyu dominated Kenyan politics. The extent of Kikuyu domination came to alienate the Luo and other ethnic groups within the country. (Tordoff, 1997: 86-7) The Kikuyu is the largest ethnic group in Kenya, followed in size by Luhya, Luo, Kamba, Kalenjin and a host of other smaller ethnic groups. (KHRC, 1998: 11) Daniel arap Moi belongs to the Kalenjin group. (Tordoff, 1997: 166) In Kenya, "Democratization has resulted in reaffirmation of ethnic identities, with political parties emerging along ethnoregional criteria rather than ideological ones." (Bratton and van de Walle, 1997: 239)

The 1992 multi-party election did not change who was in power, and neither the level of corruption within the government. As before, the international community used its weight to put pressure on Kenya to take action against official corruption. However, this time pressure came from the IMF who suspended payments in August 1997 pending action on Kenya's part. Kenya promptly inaugurated an anti-corruption body. However, in late August serious strife erupted in and around Mombasa, essentially along ethnic lines.

Factionalism among the opposition prevented them from presenting a unified front against Moi and KANU in the 1997 elections as was the case in the 1992 elections. Furthermore, again there were widespread allegations of fraud surrounding the election. The December 29 1997 election reelected Daniel arap Moi as President. In the 1997 presidential election Moi gained 40.64% of the popular vote, Mwai Kibaki 31.49%, Raila Odinga 11.06%, Michael Wamalwa 8.40%, and Charity Kaluki Ngilu 7.81%. In the election to the National Assembly, KANU won 107 out of the now 210 available seats. Out of the opposition, DP gained 39 seats, NDP 21 seats, FORD-Kenya 17 seats, and SDP won 15 seats. (Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 2046) After the election in 1997, ethnic groups clashed again, this time primarily in the Rift Valley. With the 1997 election Moi was elected to his fifth and final term as president. Whether Moi will step down or not as the time for the next election (early 2003) comes is a question that depends upon what the international community will do, if the Kenyan opposition will be able to form a cohesive alliance, and above all, what Moi and KANU themselves decide to do.

Original Parties, from 1950-1962, still continuing to 2000

961 The Kenya African National Union (KANU) became the single party in the de facto one party state that emerged in Kenya after 1969, only to legally become the only party in 1982. (Tordoff, 1997: 114) KANU still remains in power, with president Daniel arap Moi as president and the head of state.

New Parties formed after 1962 and continuing to 2000

963 Democratic Party of Kenya (DP) was founded by Mwai Kibaki in December 1991. Kibaki being Kikuyu appealed greatly to this part of Kenyan society. DP is in general associated with big business and the Kikuyu power elite from the Kenyatta years. The formation of DP clearly undermined KANU's power among the Kikuyu group when many of them defected to DP from KANU. In many ways therefore, the DP leaders represented the interests of Kenya's indigenous bourgeoisie. DP favored economic liberalization and privatization of state-owned enterprises. Even though the DP claimed democracy as part of its party's name, it did not pay much attention to democracy, but concentrated on the old Kikuyu oligarchy.

964 Forum for the Restoration of Democracy - Kenya (FORD-Kenya) originally was formed in May 1991 as FORD, but later became FORD-Kenya when FORD split up in two factions in August 1992, FORD-Asili and FORD-Kenya. However, only FORD-Kenya has been able to sustain somewhat of a political presence in the two elections 1992 and 1997. It is seen as a radical party, in clear opposition to KANU. Oginga Odinga had been the former KPU leader and one of the most prominent left-wingers in Kenya's first government after independence. FORD-Kenya was by far the most nationally oriented and intellectual of the opposition parties in Kenya. However, this caused FORD-Kenya to concentrate on national issues and to conduct a Western style election campaign, in a country were grass roots mobilization and local issues are the key to success.

965 National Development Party (NDP) is led by Raila Odinga (President) and Dr. Charles Maranga (secretary general). The NDP was founded in 1994.

966 Social Democratic Party (SDP) was founded in 1992. The chairman is Mrs. Charity Kuluki Ngilu and the secretary general is Maurice Kamau Rubia.

Original Parties, from 1950-1962, terminating before 2000

962 The Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), sought to safeguard the interests of the country's minorities against the Kikuyu dominated KANU, dissolved voluntarily in 1964. (Tordoff, 1997: 114)


Bratton, Michael, and Nicolas van de Walle, 1997. Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press).

Central Intelligence Agency, 1997. World Factbook (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office).

Europa Publications Limited, 1999. The Europa World Year Book 1999: Volume 2 Kazakhstan - Zimbabwe (London, United Kingdom: The Gresham Press).

Kenya Human Right Commission Report, 1998. Killing the Vote: State Sponsored Violence and Flawed Elections in Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Human Rights Commission).

Throup, David W. and Charles Hornsby, 1998. Multi-Party Politics in Kenya: The Kenyatta and Moi States and the Triumph of the System in the 1992 Election (Oxford, United Kingdom: James Currey Ltd.).

Tordoff, William, 1997. Government and Politics in Africa (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press).

*Participant in Northwestern University's Summer Camp for Political Party Research, June-August, 2000