Kenya is one of the most interesting objects of historical, political, economic, and social research. With a strong colonial legacy and the growing diversity of local populations, Kenya balances at the intersection of the past, present, and future. Much has been written and said about the country’s colonial past. Unfortunately, less is known of Kenya after it gained its independence from Britain. This being said, the focus of the present work is to provide a deeper insight into the historical, political, demographic, and economic processes that have been taking place in Kenya after 1963.
The history of Kenya is full of bright achievements and tragic events.”Kenya was a colonial invention, and its history has been dominated by the disruptive changes that followed the British conquest at the turn of the twentieth century” (Hornsby, 2012, p. 1). In other words, the country’s colonial past transcends all aspects of its modern and postmodern history. Still, unlike many other countries of the African continent, Kenya has managed to escape many economic and political vices. Yet, it has failed to achieve the desired political, historic, and economic standards. Hornsby (2012) is right that the history of Kenya did not see any mass murders, wars, or major collapses; nor did it see any dramatic breakthroughs in economy and standards of living. Since 1963, the country has struggled to develop powerful political and government institutions, improve the lives of its people, and eliminate the most fundamental ills such as corruption and bureaucracy (Hornsby, 2012). Unfortunately, the historical evolution of Kenya in the latter half of the 20th century could be described as “continuity of failure”. It went through a sequence of historical changes, which were circular in nature. Kenya repeated the historical fate of many other African countries in its commitment to centralization that gave place to democratization, and vice versa. Today, it is still a deeply colonial state with the emerging signs of technological and economic changes. Not surprisingly, its political and social structures reflect the legacy of colonialism, which is particularly difficult to overcome.
The history and politics of Kenya are deeply intertwined. It is possible to say that the processes that took part in Kenya since it gained independence in 1963 have been largely political. Kenya began its story of independence with centralization, bureaucracy, and a one-party political system, which was far from meeting the standards of political freedom and democratic decision making accepted in the western world (Hornsby, 2012). The 1990s saw the rise of new political institutions and parties, which captured the spirit of liberalization and reform in Kenya (Hornsby, 2012). However, even democratization gave little to Kenya, which quickly fell into the hands of the ruling oligarchy (Hornsby, 2012). Ethnic tensions did not allow the emerging opposition to leverage the advantages of multi-party democracy and bring positive change (Hornsby, 2012). Since the very first year of its independence from the British rule, Kenya has been governed by the same ruling party. Its political institutions also have not changed. The presence of different political parties is merely a symbol rather than a political reality. Stability is both a blessing and a curse for everyone living in Kenya in the 21st century.
Not surprisingly, Kenyan economy also suffers. Like history influences politics, so does politics influence economic decision making in the country. In essence, Kenya is a country of disguised economic hardships. They are disguised, because the country looks better off than other states on the African continent. However, this wellness is on the surface. At a deeper level, Kenya’s economic wellbeing depends entirely on changes in its political climate. It is the country of poverty, unresolved ethnic tensions, and economic command and control. Today, Kenya is being torn apart by two major economic tensions – those which come from within the country and those which come from the Western world. Within Kenya, regulatory misbalanced, land-related violence, and the absence of a systemic macroeconomic policy hinder the implementation of the most promising initiatives (Hornsby, 2012). From the outside, Kenya enjoys the growing inflows of foreign investments, coupled with an ever increasing role of tourism in the national economy. These trends could be more pronounced, if the country followed a definite macroeconomic and political path. Yet, political tensions do not allow Kenya to become one of the centers of global tourism in the 21st century.
One of the biggest controversies lies in the demographic structure of the country’s population. Kenya is home to at least 40 different ethnic groups (Yin & Kent, 2008). The Kikuyu, Luhya, and Luo make up three largest groups in the country (Yin & Kent, 2008). Since 1963, with the gradual movement to political liberalization coupled with a dramatic population increase, ethnic groups have constantly battled for power and land (Yin & Kent, 2008). Today, Kenya remains one of the most demographically diverse countries in the world, but this diversity often works against its priorities. Ethnic conflicts are a persistent reality for the African country. Moreover, in the absence of strong political institutions, the patterns of population growth are difficult to control. Kenya needs a novel look at its politics and economy to make a leap forward on its way to happiness.
As a conclusion, the history, politics, economics, and demography of Kenya offer four major insights into the way the country is and will possibly be in the future. Firstly, Kenya’s colonial past is having profound impacts on its historical evolution. Secondly, the country’s politics can be described as a combination of stability and stagnation, when the same oligarchy has been ruling the country since its independence in 1963. Thirdly, Kenya keeps struggling to improve its economic wellbeing, but the politics of command and control leave little room for effective decision making. Fourthly, the country is home to at least 40 ethnic groups, and ethnic conflicts remain a gruesome reality for its people. Today, Kenya needs to review its past achievements and failures and develop a totally new strategy for creating a country of happy people.
- Hornsby, C. (2012). Kenya: A history since independence. London: I.B. Tauris.
- Yin, S., & Kent, M. (2008). Kenya: The demographics of a country in turmoil. PRB. Retrieved from http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2008/kenya.aspx.