institutions that have let Kenyans down and why

Guest Post by Gilbert  Muyumbu who is a Kenyan working as a Regional Training Advisor with an international NGO based in Tanzania. 

Transparency International (TI) figures released recently indicate  Kenya is the fourth most corrupt country in the world, worse off than Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries whose institutions crumbled under vicious civil wars.

At about the same time when TI was releasing the corruption report, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure, Mr. Michael Kamau was quoted by one of the daily newspapers faulting the capacity of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to provide required strategic direction for securing the country’s interests.

 All this is a pointer to something seriously wrong with many institutions in Kenya. For instance, persistent corruption amongst certain institutions, the Kenya Police Service most definitely top among them, is not just an idle accident; it is a pointer to the incorrect make up of those institutions. In fact, there is a whole theory that has been developed to explain those kinds of institutions, what makes them fail and their role in impoverishing whole populations while enriching a few elites. 

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their book, ‘Why Nations Fail’ have divided institutions at the service of a country into two kinds – inclusive and extractive. Among many features, inclusive institutions are those that treat people equally and go by laid down rules and procedures.

Extractive institutions on the other hand are set up mainly to pursue and protect the interests of a narrow elite. They do not treat people equally, giving more advantage to a narrow group over others. They in essence are set up to extract advantage from one set of interests and confer it to another. For instance, the military in Africa is a major example of an extractive institution per excellence.

 In many African countries the military is used to protect the interests of the ruling elite over the rest of society. Most armies were set up during the colonial period to extract labour and taxes from Africans and confer them to the minority white colonial elite. In Kenya for instance, human rights activist Okiya Omtata has pointed out how the Kenyan military has ringed the Nairobi City Centre. All major roads leading to the Nairobi CBD have a military barracks acting as a protective barricade whenever this may be necessary.

The original idea that pushed the British colonial government to set up this kind of structure for protecting the city is not difficult to explain using the inclusive/extractive institutions theory. The Nairobi CBD during the colonial era was the recipient of all wealth extracted from all over the country. It was also the seat of the white minority that benefited from this extracted wealth. It was therefore attractive to those 

who wished to share in this wealth. However, since the minority benefiting from the wealth did not want to share it out with the rest, they tried to stop others from getting in. The barracks are therefore meant to stop those who belong to the excluded groups and who may want to make their way to the city’s centre without the express permission of the ruling minority. It is unfortunate and a pointer to the kind of armies Africa has that this arrangement has persisted to date.

Given that some of the features of extractive institutions include serving the interests of a narrow minority, extracting advantage from one group and conferring it on another, confining benefits to one group at the expense of others and treating people differently on the basis of race, ethnicity or geography, Kenya definitely has its fair share of these institutions.

Based on these features, I would count the following as the country’s leading extractive institutions ever since Kenya attained independence – the Presidency, Judiciary, Parliament, the Police Force, the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya, the Ministry of Land, the Civil Service, the NIS and Kenya Power and Lighting Company. My list is not conclusive and can be improved upon with facts and evidence of extractive behavior in Kenyan institutions, especially from the recently released Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report.

Persistence of extractive institutions is bad news for countries, Kenya included. Because they discriminate against others, they attract resentment and cause people to fight for their control. We have been informed Numerous times the post-election violence of 2007/08 was caused by the struggle to control the Presidency and its imperial powers. The imperial powers were nothing except the features of extraction that we have indicated above.

It is therefore important for every Kenyan to understand that persistent conflict in Kenya will never go away until all institutions treat all Kenyans equally and follow laid down rules. Before then, we may talk of Vision 2030 and growing GDP but as long as there is persistence of institutions that treat Kenyans differently on the basis of tribe, socio-economic class and geography, we are headed for trouble. 


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