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Working paper

WP33: A new dawn? Popular optimism in Kenya after the transition

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Key findings
  • More than half of respondents report going without food (56 percent) or medical care (68 percent) at least occasionally during the past year, and nearly as many have gone without water (45 percent) and cooking fuel (44 percent).
  • Kenyans consistently express some of the highest levels of commitment to democratic principles and institutions across 15 countries, and they rate the quality of their own democracy quite highly as well.
  • As in a number of other countries, we find that Kenyans appear to be somewhat uncertain or ambivalent about economic reform. On the one hand, they soundly reject a number of specific reform policies
  • Contrary to conventional wisdom, Kenyans’ self-defined identities do not derive primarily from their ethnic membership, nor does ethnic identity appear to be a significant source of grievance, at least in the abstract
  • Two particular challenges facing NARC when it entered office were fulfilling its campaign promise to complete the constitutional reform process, and in particular deciding whether a prime ministerial position will indeed be created, and deciding how to handle the possible crimes of the previous KANU government(s).

The first Kenya Afrobarometer survey was conducted in August-September 2003, just eight months after the first electoral transfer of power in the country’s history. This national sample survey included 2398 interviews in all eight provinces of the country. Overall, the survey findings clearly capture the palpable sense of almost unbounded optimism and hope that permeated Kenya in the days and months following the election.

On item after item, Kenyans give some of the most positive assessments of their government’s performance, the quality of their democracy, and even the condition of the national economy, of any of the countries included in the Afrobarometer. They also stand out as having one of the highest levels of commitment to democracy and democratic institutions, and their confidence in a more bountiful future is overwhelming. But the obvious question is whether the goodwill and optimism measured in this survey, including especially the commitment to democracy as a system of rule (in contrast to mere support for the current government), demonstrate lasting, deeply-rooted democratic values along with careful assessments of the new government’s performance, or merely reflect a much more transient, post-transition euphoria

Thomas Wolf

Thomas Wolf is an independent consultant based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Carolyn Logan

Carolyn is the director of analysis and capacity building at Afrobarometer.

Jeremiah Owiti

Jeremiah Owiti is the Executive Director of the Center for Independent Research (CIR), Nairobi, Kenya.

Paul Kiage

Paul Kiage is Data Manager at Center for Independent Research (CIR), Nairobi, Kenya