Fundamentals of Kenya Politics

In a formal sense, the system of government and Kenya politics isn't all that different from the political systems in North America and Europe. Like most countries in Africa, Kenya is a republic.

This means that there aren’t any hereditary positions of power. The people vote for representatives of their areas, and those representatives are the ones who make the decisions on national law and policy. Kenya also held a referendum in 2005 on a new constitution (which was rejected).

Political Parties in Kenya

Since 2005, many of the Kenya political parties have been re-formed due to internal political tensions and changing alliances. After the election problems in December 2007, the situation became worse. When president Kibaki returned to power at that time, the legislature had a majority of seats held by the oppositional Orange Democratic Movement. The next 3 most powerful parties were the Party of National Unity (PNU), the Orange Democratic Movement – Kenya (ODM Kenya) and the Kenya African National Union (KANU).

But in order to establish national order after the disputed elections, a power-sharing agreement was made that will likely change the make-up of the government. There’s now a joint leadership between Mwai Kibaki (who remains president) and his opponent Raila Odinga (who occupies the newly created post of prime minister).

Tribes and Politics in Kenya

One aspect of Kenya politics that we do not see in Europe or North America, is the role of tribal loyalties. Though the government is not officially structured around a tribal system, people still tend to support officials from their own tribe. And likewise, officials can sometimes play favourites along tribal lines. In practice, the Kikuyu tribe dominates the country.

This can create conflict and racial tensions when some tribes are more represented in the government than others. Conflicts between the Kikuyu tribe and the Luo tribe were at the forefront of the election violence in January-February 2008.

The Executive Branch of Government

Like many republics, the government is split into 3 branches: the executive, the legislative and the courts.

The executive branch consists of the president, vice-president and his appointed cabinet. The president is directly elected by the population of Kenya (if there’s no election fraud going on…), and he holds the roles of head of state and head of government, just like the US president does.

The Legislative Branch

The other half of the Kenyan political system is the legislature, which operates as a parliament, called the National Assembly. It's in the legislature that laws are passed. It has 224 members, or "seats". Most of them (210) are elected representatives from each constituency in Kenya, and the other 14 seats are appointed by the government.

Local Government

Kenya has 8 provinces, and they are further split up into a total of 69 districts. There is a commissioner appointed to each district. The system of districts is undergoing some changes, with another 37 districts being proposed by president Kibaki. Each district is broken down into divisions, and the divisions are further divided into locations and sub-locations.

From there, the regions are made up of municipalities and counties. The various councils and offices at this local level of government are managed by elected individuals.

However, the lower levels of government have little power in Kenya. Kenya is a unitary state (such as France), not a federation of more independent states (such as the USA, Germany or Switzerland). Commentators argue this makes tribal conflicts only worse, since tribes who live in other parts of the country have precious little to say over their own area.

Related Pages:

Results of the 2007 elections
The Kenya election violence explained

Tribes in Kenya

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