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Experiences of Kenya's complicated political transition and possible lessons for Zimbabwe's democratic transition and consolidation
Cyprian Nyamwamu
October 20, 2010

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Presented by Cyprian Nyamwamu to the Zimbabwe's Transition in Comparative Perspective Conference


Zimbabwe and Kenya have for a long time been compared and contrasted in terms of their political history and post independence developments, even before the 2007/08 political crises in the two countries. Apart from Kenya and Zimbabwe sharing the destiny of being settler colonies which won their independence through armed struggles, the two countries seem to have inherited social and economic structures that have influenced the politics and transformations ever since. The post-election crises "bonded" the two countries further together and many Zimbabweans think that there is a lot to learn from the Kenyan post-crisis experience in all it's dimensions, but particularly the political management of the transition from crisis to where Kenya is at the moment.

Kenya has embarked on a new journey of opportunity towards solving its four principal challenges of her governance problematique. Institutional capture of the state led to the entrenchment of the culture of impunity. Impunity having pervaded the state and society, followed serious inequality that has led to great intolerance, violence and insecurity. The four I s problematique should inform the democratic project in Zimbabwe too.

Zimbabwe is undergoing a very complicated and slippery political transition not very dissimilar to that of Kenya. It is institutional capture of the state in Zimbabwe that has led to an entrenched culture of impunity in the sate and society. Impunity leads to lack of accountability and this leads to inequality in the nation. Those close to the state have access to economic, political and social goods that those who are outside the state may never access. These inequalities create a sense of grievance and injustice, which leads to intolerance and instability. This is the characteristic of a patrimonial state. Zimbabwe like Kenya and most African countries now live under the burden of patrimonial states which are largely deprived to political legitimacy given the narrow elite base they tend to serve at the exclusion of the majority of the population. The cost of sustaining such a state of affairs keeps increasing as its capacity to deliver on its social and political obligations diminishes.

Under such circumstances, it becomes necessary that an agenda of reforms, reconstruction and reconciliation is undertaken through national democratic projects. These are two challenges in constructing sustainable national democratic projects. The first challenge is on how to construct sustainable national democratic projects in situations where certain sections of the population have grievances against the ruling class where as the ruling class have fears of losing power and influence. The second challenge, which is related to the first, has to do with the absence of national elite consensus in most African societies. The lack of national elite consensus explains the reason why the actions of the ruling class most of the time threatens not only the very survival of the nation-states but also even the very economic and strategic interests of the elite.

The National accord in Kenya offered the basis of the Kenyan national democratic project in its imperfect form and progress has been made. However dealing with institutional capture, impunity, inequalities and intolerance in order to achieve national reconciliation, democratic governance and economic development remains a huge headache for Kenya as it is for Zimbabwe. Kenya has a new democratic constitution which in itself offers a firm foundation for Kenya's transition where as Zimbabwe is struggling with its constitutional reform agenda.

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