Kenya has been the object of much controversy among students of African politics. Some view it as one of the greatest "successes" of the post-independence period; others see it as an example of all that is wrong with African development. Henry Bienen approaches this controversy by asking whether the concept of political participation has been properly understood in the African context.
His case study of political participation in Kenya discusses administration, party politics, ethnicity, and class. He suggests that in a system dominated by elites, individuals and groups exert influence primarily through patron-client networks and local administrative and party organs. Local politics is the most important arena for most people, it is argued. As long as the regime adopts policies which maximize economic growth and take account of peasant middle and small holders, and as long as individual representatives can be replaced even though no change of regime occurs, limited political participation leads to political stability.
Originally published in 1974.
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The Politics of Participation and Control
By Henry Bienen
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1974 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
Introduction: Kenya and the Problem of Political Participation
Kenya has been a country of great interest to students of African politics. Kenya and the Ivory Coast together have been to some observers signal "success stories" after independence. Kenya, like the Ivory Coast, has had more than a respectable rate of growth in gross domestic product Both countries have had neighbors to contrast them to. Ghana and the Ivory Coast is already the title of a book. Kenya and Tanzania is sure to follow and the comparisons between the two East African countries are many. And both Kenya and the Ivory Coast have opted for seemingly clear strategies of economic growth based on a determination to keep ties to western countries and gain foreign aid and investment; both have concentrated on growth rather than redistribution. Both countries have been controlled by a "maximum leader" and a small group around him who have strong ethnic ties with each other. Indeed, both countries could be characterized by an attitude among the ruling group of "benevolent elitism."
Some observers would say that the elitism is not so benevolent. Indeed, if Kenya and the Ivory Coast have been put forward as countries on the road to economic development and political stability through the pragmatic leadership of their founding fathers, they have also been picked out as symbols for all that has been wrong with African patterns of development since the end of formal colonial rule. They are seen to be countries where neocolonial influence is strong and where a parasitical elite of top politicians and civil servants squeeze the rural areas for their ill-gotten gains. They are seen to be without ideology, a sin in the eyes of those for whom the absence of a leader's writings in anthologies on socialism in developing countries or "ideologies of the Third World" is equated with the absence of any conception of development or even national interest and dignity or sense of nationhood.
In Kenya's case, the national movement has been said to have been betrayed. The sense of bitterness among Kenya's critics is the greater because Kenya had such a traumatic colonial past. Africans fought and died during Mau Mau only to have the loyalists and the Europeans win out in the end, it is argued. It is said that the African elite has accepted the norms of the old rulers. The critics of Kenya point to a faction-ridden party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), which remains an empty shell. They maintain that power resides in a small clique around President Kenyatta and is wielded through a Civil Service which is colonial in form and substance, down to its very pith helmets. Growth takes place at the expense of the poor: the rich get richer and the poor stagnate or worse. A privileged elite distributes the benefits of economic growth that it gains through alliances with Europeans and through expropriation of Africans and Asians to tribal clients unfettered by any of the formal mechanisms of control which reside in the Legislature and elections. In the process, it exacerbates tribal tensions and creates them where they did not exist before. This same elite arrogates to itself the wisdom to choose a path for development on the grounds that people do not understand developmental problems and will, if left to themselves, allocate resources on a short-run calculation for schools, clinics, roads, and other immediate benefits. Curtailing effective mass participation is thus justified. Organized dissent is not allowed and the heavy hand of civil administration and, if need be, police and riot squads are used to put down opposition. All this from the critics.
In the face of an economy which has grown at better than 61/2 percent per annum between 1964 and 1970, the critics insist that Kenya's strategies are at dead end. Unemployment is pointed to; the growing problem of secondary and primary school-leavers is underlined. Rapid rates of urbanization are noted as is the expanding population in the rural areas. What institutions, it is asked, can handle these problems? What strategies will this kind of elite develop which can deal with the structural problems? Kenya's growth, it is argued, is hostage to foreign investment, aid, and other external items like tourism.
The pros and cons of the argument are interesting in their own right and for what they may tell us about possibilities for the future in Africa. But the arguments are hard to get hold of decisively. For one thing, data on income distribution or corruption or even unemployment is not easy to come by or necessarily reliable when it is available. Moreover, Kenya as a case study of African problems of development is complicated by a number of things. It had a major land reform program in the 1960s which itself built on earlier land registration and consolidation and which has remained highly controversial. It is early to assess that land reform. The bitter colonial legacy and the salience of a particular tribal group, the Kikuyu, has marked independence politics. Party politics and the patterns of factionalism have been influenced by the fact that Kenya's ruler is an old man, Mzee Kenyatta, whose own style and role have been elusive to outside observers.
There are more general problems, which pertain to forming and operationalizing concepts.
If we eschew the term development itself and use a different nomenclature to ask questions like: Is Kenya a representative society? Or, how participant is Kenya? Or, what is the weight of class and ethnicity in Kenya politics? we still run into problems as to what we mean in these instances. We can have no decent measures of participation, or class, or for that matter economic development until we decide what it is we are talking about. Development economists may argue that per capita income and gross domestic product figures alone should not measure economic development and that employment and income distribution ought to be added in. Once it is agreed to do that, the measures can still be precise. Any discussion of how representative a ruling group is of society or how participant the society is involves thorny problems as to the way society is conceived and an understanding of who the ruling group is. We can, of course, define a particular concept clearly and use a definition consistently but at the same time miss what may be important in the process we hope to analyze, using our definition as a point of departure. Take the attempt to understand political participation as an example of difficulties both in conceptualization and data collection.
The issues surrounding political participation in the political science literature are not synonymous with all the concerns which fill the debate between the critics of the Kenyan way to development and those who see Kenya's example as a practical alternative under conditions of great constraint on leaders. The notion of political participation does, however, speak to many of the core issues in this debate. How elitist is Kenya? Who gets what, and when, and how? What do party and faction mean in Kenya and what are the consequences of party patterns and the importance of the Civil Service and individual leadership? Can all these ad hoc questions be subsumed under generalized questions of political participation?
Political participation has become a grab-bag concept in much the same way that political development became in the early 1960s. Just as studies titled "The Political Development of ..." were often political histories of a particular country, so there now abound studies called "Political Participation in ..." which are often descriptions and sometimes analyses of government and politics in a general way. At the same time, other efforts are devoted to defining political participation, just as much time and effort were spent in elaborating definitions of political development. Indeed, definitional distinctions have been even more involved in the literature on political participation since participation is often thought to be as much an attitudinal phenomenon as a structural and behavioral one. Many studies of political participation have come to be studies of all the politics of a society when participation has been understood in the broadest possible manner. At panels and colloquia on participation where most of the time has been spent trying to delimit the subject matter under discussion, the cry has gone out: What is not participation?
Why then has political participation become an organizing concept for so much contemporary work in developing countries? One reason probably has to do with available tools of analysis. Scholars interested in developing countries have been increasingly using techniques developed in the study of American and West European politics. Samples of populations in Third World countries can be surveyed to find out their attitudes about and activities in politics. The concerns as well as the techniques of the pioneering study The Civic Culture seemed obviously relevant to the politics of developing countries. What did citizens expect of the state? What was the locus of their loyalties? The very newness and weakness of many states gave added interest to these questions. If, as Almond and Verba put it, the heart of democracy had to do with citizen competence and participation, could not the politics of new states, the gap between state and society, be understood as a problem of political participation?
It was clear to observers that when new states were created out of colonial territories, nations did not necessarily spring into being. Much of the literature of the 1960s analyzed the problems of nation-building. Karl Deutsch and his students analyzed processes of social mobilization and the creation of new patterns of social interaction and political participation. Deutsch called attention to the expansion of politically relevant strata, those who had to be taken into account, as parochial loyalties broke down and social mobilization occurred. New social and economic patterns generated new political pressures, it was argued. In a similar vein, the Social Science Research Council's group on political development referred to crises of legitimacy, integration, and participation which did not appear sequentially in the Third World but came all at once.
Political participation remained center stage in the work of Samuel Huntington. He called attention to the dangers of increasing participation under conditions of weak institutions which obtained in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Huntington's explicit concern was for stability. Increased participation meant expansion of effective demands in societies where demands could not be accommodated easily. He, like many other scholars, stressed the short-run destabilizing effect of increased political participation. By the late 1960s, the early association of participation with democracy had given way to this concern for stability.
Perhaps, out of our awareness of and concern for the weakness of institutions in developing countries, we are relatively neglecting the nature of support for regimes. Certainly, we must keep analytically distinct political participation and political demands. We want to look at the relationship between them, not to define the concepts contingently. It may be that if certain demands are met or anticipated by a political leadership, certain kinds of political participation can be foreclosed. People may get what they want with relatively low levels of participation. It is also true that many ruling groups are very narrowly based and continue to exist because they are irrelevant to the lives of most of the people they ostensibly rule while they can coerce the relatively few groups that would contend with them. There are other countries where Government is in touch with its people in many ways: through series provided, taxes extracted, controls imposed on political life, and opportunities opened for participation over new issues or in new ways or in new arenas. Kenya is such a country.
An examination of participation and control in Kenya may be useful for calling attention to the aspects of participation which pertain to support for a regime and not merely to their destabilizing effects. Kenya also shows that leaderships have alternatives in the kinds of participation they try to encourage and curtail and that they can make choices in the arenas for participation which they try to provide or withhold. It is necessary to be explicit about what is meant by participation.
I do not want to review once again the literature which concerns itself with how we best can conceptualize political participation but I must do this a bit since there is a problem about what we mean by participation. We cannot measure increases in participation without having a definition which makes sense. Discussions of the definitional problem have often centered on the following questions: Does political participation have to do with shared political activity? If individual participation ought to count, should we also be examining activities not necessarily designed to influence anyone; that is, ought we to look at noninstrumental, expressive activity? By political participation do we mean political activities that do influence others' conduct in fact? What about failed attempts to do so? Are we referring to capacities for action or only actual behaviors? Are we to concentrate on forms of participation, e.g., institutional action, direct or indirect, violent or nonviolent? Are we going to turn the problem around and ask a contextually rooted question such as: What do the people concerned consider most important? What are their own definitions of participation? Do these change over time? Or does participation matter? That is, if people get what they want, do they care about whether or not they can trace their own influence to any output?
It does not suffice to recognize that these questions exist and then say: we can only measure voting or have crude measures of interest-group activity so we "will call these phenomena political participation. It would be better to simply call them voting behavior and interest group activity. Indeed, political participation may itself be so broad a notion that unless we break it up we have nothing much at all. Even if we take behaviors rather than attitudes as the defining elements of political participation, if political participation refers to the behaviors of individuals designed to affect either directly or indirectly the outcome of political decisions in their society, we are in a very broad realm indeed. And when participation is used to refer to the incorporation of more and more of the population into modern forms of economic and social activity we run the risk of obliterating all meaning. It may be that commercialization of agriculture, shift of labor into industry, rural and urban migration are critical processes going on in a society and that they have important political consequences. But to call them political participation is to eschew any hope of looking at relationships between social, economic, and political phenomena.
Sidney Verba and his colleagues exclude psychological orientations like efficacy as measures of participation and also exclude activities like "following politics" or discussing politics with one's neighbors because they have in mind a core definition of participation as the means by which interests, desires, and demands of the ordinary citizen are communicated with a view to more or less directly influencing the selection of government personnel and/or the decisions they take. Yet these notions raise difficulties as to how direct is "more or less" direct. Verba wants to exclude acts that manifest symbolic support for government as acts of participation but such symbolic acts may be translated into influence at some later date. And what of citizens who want to avoid being acted on but who do not initiate action to influence? The argument can be made that peasant politics is often the politics of avoidance of government edict without much sense on the part of the participants that they can affect Government policy in the future by some present act. Thus the actors may spend most of their effort insulating themselves from Government or removing themselves from Government's reach.
It is also one-sided to focus on the participation of ordinary citizens when the actions of elites are such a critical aspect of participation. We want to know what dimensions of participation and modes of participation count for different layers of the population, different ethnic and economic groups, for actors in different institutional settings.
Excerpted from Kenya by Henry Bienen. Copyright © 1974 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
- Frontmatter, pg. i
- Acknowledgments, pg. vii
- Contents, pg. ix
- List of Tables, pg. x
- Abbreviations, pg. 1
- I. Introduction: Kenya and the Problem of Political Participation, pg. 3
- II. Describing Kenya: Administrative and Political Control, pg. 25
- III. Describing Kenya: Party Politics, pg. 66
- IV. Ethnicity and Class, pg. 131
- V. Conclusion: Support for the Regime, pg. 183
- Selected Bibliography, pg. 197
- Index, pg. 213