Political System Overview: Kenya is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The political system is in flux as contentious debate continues on drafts for a new constitution. The current constitution, heavily indebted to English law, was drawn up at independence. This constitution, although already amended more than 30 times, is widely agreed to be in need of a major overhaul. The constitution to be replaced gives the president wide-ranging powers, provides for no prime minister, and is ill-suited to multiparty politics, despite the 1991 repeal of a section that had formalized the one-party state. Key proposals in the draft constitution call for reducing the powers vested in the office of the president, providing for a prime minister, and ensuring the independence of the judiciary. The final draft that emerges, possibly in 2006, will be subject to a popular referendum.
Executive Branch: Under Kenya’s current constitution, the president is both the chief of state and head of government. The president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term, with the possibility of reelection to a second term. The presidential candidate must receive the largest number of votes in absolute terms, and also, in order to avoid a runoff, must win 25 percent or more of the vote in at least five of Kenya’s seven provinces and the Nairobi area. The president appoints the vice president and members of the cabinet, who must be members of the National Assembly. The president also exercises direct control over the key areas of security and defense and has extensive powers over the appointment of the attorney general, the chief justice of the Court of Appeal, and Court of Appeal and High Court judges.
Legislative Branch: Kenya’s National Assembly, or Bunge, is a unicameral legislature with 224 members, 210 of whom are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The president appoints 12 “nominated” members, who are selected by the parties in proportion to the votes the parties receive in parliamentary elections. Two members serve ex-officio.
Judicial Branch: Kenya’s court hierarchy consists of the Court of Appeal, High Court, resident and district magistrates’ courts, and kadhis courts, which adjudicate Muslim personal law concerning personal status, marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims. Kenya’s president appoints judges, including the chief justice, who presides in the Court of Appeal.The High Court is responsible for judicial review. Kenya accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction, with reservations. The judiciary is constitutionally independent, and judges have security of tenure. This constitutional status and the theoretical life tenure of judges have not, however, ensured immunity from executive-branch pressure.
Administrative Divisions: Kenya is divided into seven provinces and the Nairobi Area. The provinces are Central, Coast, Eastern, North-Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western. Lower-level administrative units include 40 districts and further subdivisions.
Provincial and Local Government: The seven provinces and the Nairobi Area are administered by provincial commissioners who are answerable to the president. Elective municipal, town, and county councils have limited powers delegated by the national government. Important council officials such as the town clerk and treasurer all are appointed by the central government in Nairobi.
Judicial and Legal System: Kenya’s legal system is based on Kenyan statutory law, Kenyan and English common law, tribal law, and Islamic law. Bias and corruption in the court system frequently compromise the right to a fair trial. In 2003, following the resignation of the chief justice, the anticorruption authority found credible evidence of corruption against five of nine Court of Appeal judges and proof of misconduct against 18 of 36 High Court judges and 82 of 254 magistrates. In October 2003, one-half of Kenya’s senior judges were suspended over allegations of corruption, and tribunals were established to investigate the charges against them.
Electoral System: Suffrage in Kenya is universal at age 18. National parliamentary elections are held every five years. Election is by a plurality of votes. The most recent elections for president and for parliament were held in December 2002 and will next be held in late 2007.
Politics and Political Parties: Multiparty politics reemerged in Kenya after December 1991, with the repeal of Section 2a of the constitution. In 1982 Section 2a had officially made Kenya a one-party state, with the Kenya African National Union (KANU) the sole legal party. Kenya had been a de facto one-party state since 1969. As of that date, all political candidates had to be members of KANU. The reemergence of a multiparty system in the 1990s initially produced a fractured opposition to President Moi and KANU. After 1991 an important new opposition party, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), soon split into factions, and numerous other parties emerged. After two national elections in which Moi won against divided opposition, various opposition elements formed the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), a coalition of a dozen parties, including the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). NARC ran Mwai Kibaki in 2002 and won a solid victory to become the governing party. Although NARC is expected to hang together, Kibaki is increasingly vulnerable to the shifting alliances that characterize Kenyan politics.
Mass Media: Kenya’s state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation remains the only broadcaster with countrywide coverage. A dozen private radio and television stations have ranges that are limited to the Nairobi area. A number of recently established private radio stations broadcast in local languages, including Kameme FM (Kikuyu), Metro East FM (Hindi), and Rehema Radio (Kalenjin). More than 100 applications for radio and television licenses are pending before the government-controlled Communication Commission of Kenya. Kenya’s print media are diverse, ranging from well-respected newspapers and magazines to an expansive tabloid press. Two independent national newspapers, the Daily Nation and the Standard, feature quality reporting, as does the weekly, The East African, which is published in Nairobi, as well as in Dar es Salaam and Kampala.
Under the Kibaki government, the media have demonstrated greater editorial independence than in previous years, and the number of press freedom abuses has declined. Still, some media policies and incidents continue to inhibit press freedom, e.g., the need to post a costly bond prior to publication and to register afterward. In 2003 the government invoked a restrictive constitutional provision on court coverage to intimidate journalists reporting on a possible political murder.
Foreign Relations: Under Kenyatta, one of the more pro-British of African leaders, Kenya was officially nonaligned but set a pattern of friendly relations with the West. Britain, the former colonial power, provided assistance to smooth Kenya’s transition to black majority rule by compensating white settlers. Kenya permitted the United Kingdom to use its hinterlands for military training. An important foreign relations development under President Moi was Kenya’s support of U.S. military commitments in the Indian Ocean. This support has gained renewed importance since the Horn of Africa became a front line in the fight against terrorism. The ongoing threat of terrorist attacks by Islamists in the area stands to cement the country’s close ties with the United States.
In addition to its ties with Western powers, Kenya is a major player regionally, taking an active role in the affairs of its neighbors. At various times Kenya has had conflicts with each of the five neighbors over, for example, boundaries, border incursions, harboring rebels, interfering with cross-border traffic flow, and the use Nile waters. Diplomatic and mediation efforts, often spearheaded by Kenya, typically have eased the conflicts. Most recently, for instance, Kenya helped in the peace talks that may end the civil war in southern Sudan, along with the war’s spillover effects in Kenya. The most intractable problems at present are with unstable Somalia, which claims a restive Somali-populated part of Kenya and is a source of outlaws, refugees, hostile craft, and, possibly, terrorists. More positive relations with neighbors, namely, Uganda and Tanzania, are currently developing through the relaunch of the tripartite trade bloc, the East African Community (EAC).
Membership in International Organizations: Kenya is a member of numerous international organizations whose focus is primarily Africa, including: the Africa Development Bank (AfDB); African Union (AU); Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA); Cotonou Convention; East African Community (EAC); Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR-ARC); and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Some of Kenya’s other major memberships, which have a broader international focus, include: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); Group of 15; Group of 77; International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD); International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol); International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); International Labour Organization (ILO); International Maritime Organization (IMO); International Monetary Fund (IMF); International Organization for Migration (IOM); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); United Nations (UN); United Nations Committee on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); Universal Postal Union (UPU); World Health Organization (WHO); World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); World Meteorological Organization (WMO); and World Trade Organization (WTO).
Major International Treaties: Kenya has acceded to major international treaties, accords, and conventions in many areas, for example, human rights, the environment, and nonproliferation. The environmental agreements include some 16 global and regional accords on the atmosphere, hazardous substances, marine resources, and living resources of the sea, freshwater, and land. Kenya has signed major conventions regarding nuclear safety and biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, as well as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and their Destruction. Kenya is a signatory to most of the major international human rights treaties, for example: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1972; Civil and Political Rights in 1972; Discrimination Against Women in 1984; Torture in 1997; and Rights of the Child in 1990.