Social Movements and The
Democratization Process in Kenya
for democracy, whenever it arises, comes from people who believe that rulers are
neglecting the needs and aspirations of their subjects, and that this state of
affairs will continue for as long as they are not responsible to their subjects.
These persons who pursue democracy will oftentimes either seek to be
leaders themselves or want to establish a system where the people have
accountable and representable leadership.
history of Kenya, like that of any other modern state is a struggle for the
establishment of meaningful representative democracy.
Right from the pre-independence period in the late 1950s to the
post-multiparty era in late19 90s, Kenya’s political life has been an active
engagement in the democratization process.
Among the chief internal actors in this regard have been the Kenyan
masses, grouped in one form of association or another such as ethnic groupings,
cross-ethnic groupings; women’s pressure groups; and civil society.
dynamism of the Kenyan masses in the democratization process has largely been
expressed through social movements. Social
movements is seen in this context to imply a degree of self-generated and
independent action, leadership and a minimal degree of organization and
participation on the part of the members of a group (Blackwell, Encyclopedia
of Political Science, 1991: 569).
characteristics of social movements have been identified and these are: group
consciousness; a sense of group identity; and solidarity.
These are further integrated by a specific pattern of normative
commitments, ‘constitutive ideas’, or ideology (Heberle, Rudolf, 1951:2).
In the Kenyan socio-political set-up, it is possible to identify
historically, Max Weber’s three-fold categorization of forms of normative
commitment: the value-rational fellowship of believers; the emotional-effectual
following of the charismatic leader; and the purposive-rational association for
pursuing individual interests.
exists an overlap to a certain degree between the concepts of social movement,
political party, pressure group and voluntary association.
The Kenyan experience exhibits this phenomenon.
In this paper therefore, social movements will be applied broadly and
will thus refer to such political parties as have a movement dimension, that is,
those parties that tend to be mass parties with well-defined policies and
programmes, for example the Forum For the Restoration of Democracy, FORD. Mention will also be made here of those movements that use
political parties as the spearhead of their campaigns for political power and
this is best illustrated by the National Convention Executive Committee (NCEC).
This category also encompasses the category of civil societies.
Herein also falls such pressure groups as the Release Political
Prisoners, (RPP), and such ethnic affiliations as the Luo Thrift and Trading
Corporation (LUTATCO); Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association (GEMA) and the Akamba
Union. Some of the movements
mentioned here will be seen as eventual extra-parliamentary campaigns, or as is
so often the case, movements that resort to violence and subversion to overthrow
the political system.
study, we take cognisance of the heightened role of civil society in Kenya,
particularly in the period just preceding and after multipartism.
Historically, the expression civil society has been used in a number of
senses and these include civil society as opposed to savagery or anarchy; to the
church; and to the state (Gellner, 1991: 495).
Gellner defines civic spirit as the presence and authority of a moral
conscientiousness, which binds a man to his contractual and other obligations
without needing to be underwritten by a torrid network of virtually reinforced
social links (Ibid: 501).
appreciates the fact that civil society as a social movement has been
instrumental in not only precipitating multipartism but also in ensuring
meaningful democratization. Indeed
it persists in its thinking that democracy is the best form of government only
when certain conditions hold. Alone,
it is not legitimate.
political system is said to be democratic to the extent that it achieves certain
goals. Independence may usher in a
new regime with new structures, but if the political machinery is
unaccommodating of the participation of the masses, then independence remains
null and void. As Plamenatz holds,
there is democracy where rulers are politically responsible to their subjects
and he further notes that this is necessitated by two conditions: citizens must
be free to criticize their rulers and to come together to make demands on them
and to win support for the policies they favor and the beliefs they hold.
Secondly, supreme lawmakers must be elected to their offices at free and
periodic elections (Plamenatz, 1973:
184-185). Huntington reinforces
this view when he acknowledges that a 20th century political system is
democratic to the extent that its most powerful collective decision-makers are
selected through fair, honest and periodic elections, in which candidates freely
compete for votes, and in which the adult population is to vote (Huntington,
however qualifies this view of democracy to embrace civil and political freedoms
to speak, publish, assemble and organize as is necessary to political debate and
the conduct of electoral campaign. To
Huntington, therefore, true democracy means effective citizen control over
policy, responsible government, honesty and openness in politics, informed and
rational deliberation, equal participation and power and various other civic
democracy therefore, citizens have the right to meet and to act together to
further any purpose in mind so long as this falls within legal limits.
The Kenyan experience historically exhibits mass consciousness on
government failure to democratize the socio-political system, or even promotion
of such democratic virtues as popular participation and observance of human
rights. This has subsequently
culminated in an active social movement that has sought to redress the
democratization process in Kenya.
the political struggles in Kenya encompasses
the struggle for Independence which was ultimately gained in 1963, and then the
struggle to legitimize the government of the day.
It is within these two broad frameworks that the social movements in
Kenya must be seen in their bid to establish a democratization process that is
sustainable. Indeed, social
movements in Kenya succinctly illustrate the fact that the demand for democracy,
even where it does not bring democracy, often has profound and significant
the case of the pre-independence social movements which were eventually
ethnic-based and, these in the main included, the Luo Thrift and Trading
Corporation (LUTATCO), GEMA and the Akamba Union.
The LUTATCO was founded in 1945 and was the first pre-independence social
movement in Kenya, Founded by
Oginga Odinga, Adala Otuko, Okuto Balla and other.
It grew into a formidable organization which catered for the welfare not
only of the Luo but also the African peoples.
Its co-founders believed in Independence through economic liberalization.
essentially a welfare association, the Union also played the role of a political
vehicle which was used to mobilize the African peoples, especially the Luo.
They minced no words when it came to criticism of the government of the
day. Indeed it helped spread the
Kenya African Union, KAU, which had been dubbed by the colonialists a Kikuyu
Party, into Nyanza province. The
Union also spearheaded independence campaigns in the 1950s when most of the
African political leaders were arrested. The
Union however began to waver in its role in the democratization process in 1960
with the registration of the Kenya African National Union.
It however remained a potential force in the 1960s though not as much as
in the 1950s.
its economic establishments, the Luo Union had been a force in liberating the
peoples of Nyanza. More so, at the grassroots level, it made the masses more
politically conscious and instilled in them hope and courage especially during
the years 1945-1959. This was done
through such publications as the Ramogi, Sauti ya Mwafrika and Munyereri.
After Independence, however, the Union reverted to its economic
ideological inclination and for many years became a dormant welfare association.
It was ultimately overshadowed not only by the single party, KANU,
established forcefully after 1964 but also by such ethnic groups as GEMA.
independence, the government of Kenya became preoccupied with centralizing state
machinery supposedly to effectively utilize the scarce economic resources.
It was also argued that the republic was very young and could therefore
not afford disparate interests. Rather,
there was a need to centralize state operations and to rally around the one
party, KANU. After 1964, therefore,
the hitherto established federal system of government although retained was
reduced to mere state functionaries. Provincial
governors’ powers were subordinated to the state President.
This of necessity also called for a stronger party which in this case was
by such opposition figures as Oginga Odinga to found new parties were thwarted,
oftentimes ruthlessly. Of great
significance during this period too was the manipulation of the independence
constitution to fit into these new-found aspirations. Constitutional provisions
were amended or enacted to suit a more centralizing regime and this obliterated
any political dissent.
political opinion can hardly be suppressed in any society.
There are always underlying tremors within the establishment, however
oppressive a regime, and such was the case of the GEMA Movement. GEMA had sprung up to fill the vacuum created by the
proscription of the Kenya People’s Union, Odinga’s aborted party of 1967.
Bringing together four different ethnic groups, GEMA had the sympathy of
a cross-section of Kenyans and in this respect played a vital role in mobilizing
the community. One significant dynamism of GEMA was witnessed during the
change-the-Constitution movement of 1976.
observers, GEMA was a party within KANU. Drawing
its membership from key KANU personalities, this movement had strong links
within the single party establishment. While
this was its strength, it was also its undoing.
Indeed GEMA aspirations especially on economic and social advancement won
favor with the government of the day. This
was however not to be so with the political ambitions of the group which had
become very dominant to the point of almost
overshadowing the national party.
the 1970s GEMA was very strong, with the demise of the first President Jomo
Kenyatta and the rise to power of Daniel Arap Moi, its political power-broking
waned. With the enactment of
Section 2A of the Constitution of Kenya in 1982, the state became a ‘de jure’
one-party state thus blocked all avenues of political expression. Movements of
ethnic affiliation were thrown into oblivion as the state machinery suppressed
all forms of extra-governmental popular opinion.
saw Kenya reduced to an authoritarian system of government
and hence social mobilization of any sort was suppressed.
Indeed the ethnic movements of the pre-independence period and even those
of the immediate post-independence period were proscribed.
Civil society was completely suppressed.
Pressure groups that raised voices or whispered were ruthlessly crushed.
Detention without trial became rife as the state consolidated its
authority. Such Non-Governmental
Organizations and welfare groups as the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, a women’s
organization, while not proscribed, were duly incorporated into the ruling
party. Indeed, the latter has since
operated as the Party’s Women’s Wing. Any
form of social mobilization was subsequently mitigated. This kind of overt suppression and derailment of the
democratic process was however not to last long and fissures soon began to show
in the political fabric.
transformation of Kenya into a ‘de jure’ multi-party system following the
repeal of Section 2A of the Constitution in 1990 brought a lot of euphoria to
the masses who saw this as the right step towards a true democracy.
It could be said that most Kenyans envisaged a future democratic country
with a political system that would encourage and make possible free and
voluntary popular participation in the political system.
followed the repeal of Section 2A was a multiparty election that saw KANU return
to power with majority seats in the National Assembly.
Although the multiparty elections had opened up the environment for
political participation, especially in the legislative assembly, the freer
society that had been envisaged by the majority of Kenyans was not to be
realized. In response to this
disillusion, social mobilizations heightened to press for a more democratic
It is hard
to establish the point at which the road to pluralism began.
Several views abound with some people arguing that the massively rigged
elections of 1988 served as an eye opener to many Kenyans about the excesses and
abuses of power by the then single party KANU.
Others hold the opinion that the process had started even earlier, when
in 1982, the late Oginga Odinga and one Mr. George Anyona attempted to form a
political party, the Kenya African Socialist Alliance (KASA), an attempt that
was quickly repulsed by Parliament through the enactment of Section 2A of the
Constitution, transforming Kenya into a de jure one-party state. Throughout this period of the 1980s, political awareness
continued to grow despite the attempts by the government to resist criticism and
opposition through such draconian measures as detaining opponents without trial.