Kenya is undergoing a difficult process of transition, during which Kenyan society has repeatedly been confronted with the risk of massive violence. These are still very testing times for the country.
The effects of deep ethnic frictions have continued to be felt since Kenya gained its independence. Nonetheless, a democratic reform process began back in 1992 with the adoption of a multi-party system and the holding of free elections, marking the start of the transition from an autocratic system of governance. This produced successes but also major setbacks. International observers pointed to the peaceful transfer of power by the longstanding President Daniel arap Moi in 2002 as a break with authoritarian governance and a breakthrough for efforts to achieve a peaceful balance of interests among the various ethnic groups.
However, late 2007 marked a dramatic watershed in the country’s fortunes when violence broke out and escalated on a massive scale in protest at the rigged presidential elections, engulfing the entire country in a matter of days. It became apparent that the simmering conflicts and ethnic rivalry had not diminished; on the contrary, they had intensified despite the progress made within the formal political system. It was also evident that the internal dynamics and challenges associated with the reform processes had been misjudged. There was renewed hope in August 2010 when the people of Kenya voted in a referendum for a new constitution.
Key reforms must now be implemented within just five years. They include decentralisation of power and administration, judicial and security sector reform, and the staging of presidential and parliamentary elections in accordance with new electoral laws. However, Kenya’s elites – fearing the loss of privileges – have the potential to permanently derail these processes and become a disruptive force.
The Kenya round table established in 2008 focuses on achieving a better understanding of the internal dynamics and challenges associated with the reform processes and identifying the potential risks posed by individual reform measures. It promotes expert dialogue and aims to facilitate the development of strategies to support local partners in their efforts to mitigate the risk of further violence.