Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Peace and Order Are in the Interest of Every Citizen": Elections, Violence and State Legitimacy in Kenya, 1957-74 *

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Peace and Order Are in the Interest of Every Citizen": Elections, Violence and State Legitimacy in Kenya, 1957-74 *

Article excerpt

"I would like to appeal again to all the people of Kenya-of whatever tribe or area-to maintain the peace during the next few days and to ensure that this period passes by without violence or disorder."

Sir Eric Griffiths-Jones, Acting Governor of Kenya, May 19631

"The Government will not tolerate any form of intimidation, political thuggery or any form of violence against any person or persons during the elections."

President Jomo Kenyatta, November 19692

"Appealing for peace during next month's parliamentary elections, [President Kenyatta] said that elections were proof to the world that Kenya was an outstanding example of democracy."3

The calls for peace, which routinely accompanied elections in late colonial and early independent Kenya, asserted a fundamental contrast: the ballot should be the antithesis of violence. That contrast-between violent disruption and the peaceful order of the election-was echoed in the bouts of self-congratulation following each of the six national (or near-national) elections held in Kenya between 1957 and 1974. A 1974 post-election editorial, phrased with an interesting concern for external opinion, noted approvingly that:

The people have decided. And in the process of indicating their decision, the people of Kenya maintained their good image. They voted wisely and calmly, showing remarkable political maturity, respect for the law and for democracy.4

Both pre- and post-election comments treated peace and order as synonyms, as well as evidence of electoral success. But neither the contrast between violence and elections, nor the association of peace and order, were entirely straightforward. As this essay will argue, violence was by no means entirely absent from any of these elections, and often appeared in the guise of order. Low-level violence was common, even endemic: the tearing of posters, intimidatory stone throwing or window breaking, shouted threats, the beating of candidates or their agents. And violence featured in a more subtle way, too: in multiple ways, some more striking than others, elections were dramatic performances of discipline and regulation, which constrained some kinds of political choices and political behavior while allowing others. These performances were linked-sometimes very apparently, sometimes in a more subtle way-to notions of legitimate violence.

"Today, the relationship between the state and violence is an especially intimate one," observed Max Weber, prefacing his argument that the distinguishing feature of "the state" is its "(successful) claim to a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force."5 His words suggest a certain wry weariness suitable to the Europe of 1919, but might also seem apposite for the late-colonial and postcolonial state in Africa. The assertion of a singular regime of violence was, after all, central to the idea of the rule of law that, as Richard Roberts and Kristin Mann have argued, "powerfully legitimized colonial rule" in Africa.6 But as Gregory Mann has shown for French West Africa, the idea of an "empire of law" co-existed uneasily with a "regime of exceptions," in which violence could be commonplace and effectively extra-legal.7 In Kenya, the ideal of a state monopoly of violence regulated by law came up against the extra-legal use of violence (whether by white settlers, chiefs' retainers, or labor recruiters) with uncomfortable frequency. Bruce Berman and John Lonsdale have suggested that officials in Kenya engaged in a lengthy struggle to replace "private oppression with state sanctions," in order to maintain the legitimacy of colonial authority.8 The challenge to colonial power (and to other kinds of power as well) posed by the Mau Mau insurgency of the 1950s tipped the balance in this struggle. The violence of the insurgents led directly to a massive increase in the resourcing of state violence-more police, more soldiers, more hangings, more prisons. And it led also to a particularly bloody period of extra-legal violence. …

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