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Working paper

WP70: Kenyans and democracy: What do they really want from it anyway?

Carolyn Logan, Thomas Wolf and Robert Sentamu 2 Apr 2007 Kenya
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Key findings
  • Support for democracy is down by just 5 percent, but support for the constitution has collapsed, dropping by 24 percent.
  • In 2005, over three-quarters still said that freedoms of speech, association and voting were better protected in 2005 than they had been a few years before;
  • Extremely positive evaluations of the government’s handling of education are down, but not by much (94 to 85 percent).
  • The worst declines in government performance ratings, however, concern the fight against corruption, which saw a collapse of 45 percentage points (85 percent down to 40 percent).

Between 2003 and 2005, satisfaction with “the way democracy works in Kenya” dropped a full 26 percentage points, plummeting from 79 percent in 2003, to just 53 percent by 2005. This does not appear to bode well for democracy in Kenya. But there are numerous practical and analytical questions about what “satisfaction with democracy” really means, what it measures, and whether it matters. Some analysts have argued that the very concept and meaning of satisfaction with democracy is ambiguous, and that the measure should be abandoned. Others regard it as a useful summary indicator of support for a regime.

To answer some of these questions, we analyze links between declines in satisfaction with democracy and indicators of system support, system function, and incumbent performance. We find that satisfaction with democracy is actually a very useful indicator, revealing important things about what Kenyans expect democracy to do for them and their society. Arguing that we should abandon this indicator in part because it is linked to people’s varying hopes and values concerning their political system therefore overlooks one of its key strengths. In particular, it helps to show which of the many “promises” of democracy Kenyans are most interested in seeing fulfilled. Among other things, we find that having “the right institutions” matters to Kenyans, but they want outputs even more, both political ones as well as more instrumental or material ones. And the democratic output that is most on Kenyans’ minds is equality, both political and economic. More than anything else, Kenyans hope that democracy will bring about a more equitable distribution of opportunity and resources in their society. Growing dissatisfaction with the current constitution and disappointment in the government’s handling of the reform process also played a key role in declining satisfaction.

Carolyn Logan

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

Thomas Wolf

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

Robert Sentamu

Robert Sentamu is Executive Director, Wilsken Agencies (Uganda) Ltd.