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Civil rights ‘threatened by State capture’

By Allan Mungai | September 17th 2021

John Wamagata National Coordinator Operation Ondoa Panya andMorris Odhiambo President  National Civil Society Congress during a press briefing. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

The capture of democratic institutions in Kenya has threatened civil liberties and inclusive development, a new report by a democracy and governance think tank has revealed. The report released on Wednesday notes that well-heeled individuals have taken away people’s power to determine who leads the country.

As a result, the country is stuck in a loop of elections that yield little change or development, courtesy of shadowy individuals who have infiltrated the State at all levels. 

The report by the Centre for Democratic Development focuses on the capture and subversion of democratic institutions in Kenya and eight other African countries.

Using evidence from new interviews, data collection and network mapping, the researchers report the extent to which political and economic decisions in African democracies are shaped by individuals or groups, often unelected and which work to subvert the formal institutions of the state to push their agendas.

They reveal that shadow states and democracy capture are the root causes of corruption, inequality and development failure. The countries covered in this project include Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The report specifically notes that in Kenya, a clandestine group of people have control of facets of the electoral process, including appointments of the electoral agency, the administration of elections and the adjudication of electoral disputes.

Further, the paper suggests that their influence extends to media and civil society, as well as independent institutions such as the Legislature, Judiciary and independent commissions such as Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and Director of Public Prosecutions.

These institutions, the paper says, have been turned into regime maintenance instruments. It claims that business titans and top government officials played a critical hand in 2013 and 2017 by funding the government’s campaigns.

“They do so primarily to protect vested interests and retain their influence over, and control of, the state,” the report states.

“This explains the need for firm control of the mechanisms of vertical and horizontal accountability, such as elections, civil society, political parties, legislatures and judiciaries.”

Prof Migai Akech, who wrote the paper examining Kenya’s situation, argues that the primary rationale of democracy capture is to facilitate the exploitation of state resources while muzzling dissenting voices. He says state capture is “legitimised through misleading communities that they will gain preferential access to state resources when one of their own is elected or through collusion of bureaucrats, businessmen and powerful politicians.”

The report suggests that the concentration of discretionary powers in the president empowers the Head of State to act as the grand patron, dispensing state resources to the chosen few, but keeping large chunks for himself and family – facilitates this extraction enterprise.

“Since the president has had unfettered powers over the distribution of national resources, the quest for the presidency has historically been a zero-sum game in which losing is not an option, as its capture guarantees almost exclusive access to national resources and public sector jobs,” the study finds.

It concludes that the unfettered powers to distribute resources have made elections exceedingly divisive rituals. The report also notes attempts to influence constitutional reforms, which the authors suggest was to butcher the 2010 Constitution that made the presidency less salient so that its capture will no longer be vital. 

“In practice, however, critical promises of the 2010 Constitution are yet to be realised a decade after its promulgation, thanks largely to machinations of the democracy capturers, including influencing the constitutional reform process to ensure it did not threaten their interests.” 

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