Academic journal article African Studies Review

Land and the Quest for a Democratic State in Kenya: Bringing Citizens Back In

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Land and the Quest for a Democratic State in Kenya: Bringing Citizens Back In

Article excerpt

Abstract: Kenya's current constitutional moment has included both the first popularly ratified constitution and its first postindependence comprehensive land reform policy. The roughly temporally parallel processes that brought about these two signal achievements have inserted the interests of ordinary Kenyans into this constitutional moment in a way that elections and constitutional ratification alone would not have, reflecting more than two decades of civil society pressure. The new democratized land tenure policy removes land allocation decisions from pervasive executive branch abuse and vests them in a democratically elected Parliament. In this fundamental respect, the Kenya constitutional implementation process appears to privilege procedural and deliberative democracy as the source of substantive democratic land tenure outcomes, and by extension, the terms on which Kenyans relate to each other and their leaders. Upon the outcomes of these deliberations may well hinge the future stability as well as the democratic quality of the Kenyan state.

Résumé: L'état constitutionnel présent au Kenya résulte à la fois de la première constitution ratifiée par le peuple, et de la première réforme globale du territoire mise en place depuis l'indépendance. Le parallèle temporel existant entre ces deux événements importants semble être le résultat d'un engagement des intérêts des citoyens kenyans que les élections et la ratification constitutionnelle seuls n'auraient pas pu produire, reflétant ainsi plus de deux décennies de pressions populaires. La nouvelle politique démocratisée d'attribution des terrains protège les décisions d'allocation contre la corruption envahissante des pouvoirs exécutifs et les remet aux mains d'un parlement élu démocratiquement. Dans son aspect fondamental, le procédé d'implémentation constitutionnel au Kenya semble privilégier une démocratie procédurale et deliberative pour prendre des décisions concernant la répartition démocratique des terrains, et par extension, pour établir les termes des relations des citoyens entre eux et avec leurs représentants. La future stabilité et la qualité démocratique de l'état kenyan dépendront probablement des résultats de ces délibérations.

The central claim of this paper is that post-Cold War democratization in Kenya has engaged citizens in a debate concerning the very nature and structure of the state that is without precedent in the country's history (see Huntington 1991). What has been distinctive is the projection of the interests and desires of ordinary Kenyan citizens into this debate, not only through electoral processes, but also through an especially vibrant civil society that has raised long-stifled fundamental issues concerning land tenure. Because these land tenure issues involve the very livelihoods of millions of ordinary citizens, they have necessarily transformed the interests of these citizens in this constitutional moment from a determination to insure respect for their basic civil and political liberties to broader assertions that their socioeconomic and cultural requirements and roles within the Kenyan state be constitutionally recognized and upheld.

Until the beginning of Kenya's democratic opening in 1991, forced by the Paris Club, single-party and increasingly authoritarian rule suppressed any public debate about land issues, notwithstanding their inextricable embeddedness in Kenyan politics since the country's birth as a British colony more than a century ago. Extensive violence in the aftermath of the 2007 national elections required the involvement of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and a Panel of Eminent African Personalities, which resulted in a power-sharing agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition leader Raila Odinga that included a commitment to constitutional reform and also to addressing a range of socioeconomic issues, among them the need for land reform. In 2009 Parliament adopted the country's first postindependence comprehensive land reform policy, and in August 2010 the country ratified by popular referendum a new constitution that for the first time enshrined land tenure guidelines. …

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