World Watch List Challenge – #43 Kenya

November 3, 2014 by Open Doors in Africa

Currently, Kenya is not considered as a true electoral democracy and has seen a relative decline in political and civil liberties recently. This decline was paralleled by ethnic and religious tensions and incidents of violence across the country following the 2007-2008 elections and in advance of the elections held in 2013. In terms of its level of democracy, Kenya is considered on the lower end of the “hybrid regimes”, making it more democratic than authoritarian regimes, but not as democratic as “flawed democracies”. Overall, it seems that elections are typically not truly free or fair, and government pressure on opposition parties and candidates is common. The rule of law and civil society is weak, and the judiciary is not considered entirely independent.

In terms of constitution, several provisions have been amended recently to ensure civil liberties. Often these exist on paper, but are not practiced. For example, freedom of speech and press has been strengthened. Subsequently, Kenya’s press environment remains one of the most vibrant in all of Africa, and the thousands of privately-owned media outlets are known for routinely criticizing the government and officials. However, journalists have complained of an increase in harassment from the authorities in recent times. Then, the independence of the judiciary is strengthened, which previously had been subservient to the executive branch. Moreover, the Islamic (Kadhi) court system is subordinate to the superior courts of Kenya and is reserved for those who profess the Muslim religion and who voluntarily submit to the courts’ jurisdiction. Kadhi courts only adjudicate cases related to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance. Lastly, freedom of religion appears widely respected, although some Muslim groups complain about unequal development opportunities and religion-based discrimination. However, civil liberties and the rule of law are eroded by several factors, such as deeply entrenched official and societal corruption and an ineffective police force. This contributes to crime being seriously underreported, and domestic violent, trafficking and forced labor typically not investigated.

*Names, photographs and other information have been changed for security purposes