Kenya’s complicated transition and the lessons for Zimbabwe

Published on Pambazuka News, by Cyprian Nyamwamu, Nov. 10, 2010.

When it comes to Zimbabwe’s transition, the experience in Kenya shows that reforms must be on paper and in the real world. And the logic of reform must be for the people and not to maintain power for the ‘big boys’, Cyprian Nyamwamu says.

Zimbabwe and Kenya have for a long time been compared and contrasted in terms of their political history and post independence developments, even before the 2007/08 political crises in the two countries. Apart from Kenya and Zimbabwe sharing the destiny of being settler colonies which won their independence through armed struggle, the two countries seem to have inherited social and economic structures that have influenced their politics and transformations ever since. 

The post-election crises ‘bonded’ the two countries further together and many Zimbabweans think that there is a lot to learn from the Kenyan post-crisis experience in all its dimensions, but particularly the political management of the transition from crisis to where Kenya is at the moment.

Kenya has embarked on a new journey of opportunity towards solving its four principal challenges. Institutional capture of the state led to the entrenchment of the culture of impunity. Impunity having pervaded the state and society, there followed serious inequality that has led to great intolerance, violence and insecurity.

Zimbabwe is undergoing a very complicated and slippery political transition not very dissimilar to that of Kenya. It is institutional capture of the state in Zimbabwe that has led to an entrenched culture of impunity in the state and society. Impunity leads to lack of accountability and this leads to inequality in the nation. Those close to the state have access to economic, political and social goods that those who are outside the state may never access … //


Monitoring and enforcing accountability in government must be made a systematic process that is carried out by political non-state actors. The state cannot be left to reform on its own. It is the role of forces outside and inside the state to escalate the demands for reforms. This requires a deliberate construction of a democratic movement that galvanises the energies to force democratic negotiations about the future of our democracies, be it in Kenya or in Zimbabwe. Innovative strategies for ensuring sustainable reforms can only be realised if reforms are held within a political and transitional justice framework where reforms are broad rather than confined to some formal changes that do not open up the state to concerted reforms.

In Zimbabwe, like in Kenya, democratic reforms and political transition shall not be sustainable without a transitional justice agenda where public and private citizens, officers and groups get to account for violations and injustices that may have been committed in the past. A new democratic state and cohesive nation cannot be expected in countries where victors’ justice is the order of the day and where impunity has taken root. There is need for the inclusive government of Zimbabwe to be sustained even with its inherent limitations until the national democratic project is delivered.

It is our view that elections in Zimbabwe before 2013 shall not add value to the Zimbabwe democratic deficit. It is feared that elections before 2013 may precipitate a return to the multiple socio-economic, humanitarian and political crises that were witnessed in the aftermath of the 2008 elections. It is hoped that the democratic forces in ZANU-PF, MDC, civil society, the private sector and other sectors of the political economy shall adopt an attitude of ‘no reforms no elections’. Reforms here must mean both reforms on paper and in the real world. Reforms cannot happen if the only logic of the political actors is power for the big boys. Those in power must be convinced, including through positive sanctions, to embrace and champion reforms for the sake of the people and the nation.

SADC must construct a better national democratic reform framework for Zimbabwe than the current one. In the 1989 Polish political transition, the President was offered assurances and immunities and Western European countries invested economic incentives into the reform pact that saw the end of the monolithic one-party state rule. This is important seeing as is the case that unlike Kenya, the international community seems ready to leave Zimbabwe to suffer on the ropes for longer. In the Kenyan case in the wake of the post election crisis, the international community made it clear that Kenya was too important to be left to Kenyans alone. (full long text).

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