Kenya: Government

Principal Government Officials

Chief of State: President Uhuru Kenyatta
Head of Government: President Uhuru Kenyatta

The unicameral National Assembly consists of 210 members elected to a term of 5 years from single-member constituencies, plus 12 members nominated by political parties on a proportional representation basis. The president appoints the vice president; under the power-sharing agreement, the president with the agreement of the prime minister makes the initial appointment of cabinet members from among those elected to the assembly. Subsequent cabinet appointments are made by the president in consultation with the prime minister, in accord with the power-sharing agreement's proportional division of cabinet positions. The attorney general and the speaker are ex-officio members of the National Assembly.

The judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and Magistrates’ Courts. The Chief Justice is the highest-ranking judicial official. The Supreme Court was established pursuant to the new constitution.

Local administration is divided among 140 rural districts, each headed by a commissioner appointed by the president. The districts are joined to form seven rural provinces. Nairobi has special provincial status. The Ministry of State in charge of Provincial Administration and Internal Security supervises the administration of districts and provinces.

Once implemented, the new constitution will result in significant changes to this structure, including greater devolution of power to 47 counties and creation of a second legislative chamber with responsibility for representing the interests of the counties and regions. Implementation of the new constitution will take several years, but these key changes in the structure of government should be in place in advance of national elections, which were slated to be held March 4, 2013.  Kenya has since abolished the post of Prime Minister.

Until potentially destabilizing, widespread violence erupted following the disputed December 2007 presidential elections, Kenya had, since independence, maintained considerable stability despite changes in its political system, localized violence surrounding elections, and crises in neighboring countries. This had been particularly true since the re-emergence of multiparty democracy and the accompanying increase in freedom (including freedom of speech, the press, and assembly).

In December 2002, Kenyans held democratic and open elections, which were judged free and fair by international observers. The 2002 elections marked an important turning point in Kenya's democratic evolution as the presidency and the parliamentary majority passed from the party that had ruled Kenya since independence to a coalition of new political parties. The government lost a referendum over its draft constitution in November 2005. This vote too was widely accepted as free, fair, and credible.

Under the first presidency of Mwai Kibaki, the NARC coalition promised to focus its efforts on generating economic growth, improving and expanding education, combating corruption, and rewriting the constitution. The first two goals were largely met, but progress toward the second two goals was limited. President Kibaki's cabinet from 2002-2005 consisted of members of parliament from allied parties and others recruited from opposition parties who joined the cabinet without the approval of their party leaderships.

In early 2006, revelations from investigative reports of two major government-linked corruption scandals rocked Kenya and led to resignations, including three ministers (one of whom was later reappointed). In March 2006, another major scandal was uncovered involving money laundering and tax evasion in the Kenyan banking system. The government's March 2006 raid on the Standard Group media house conducted by masked Kenyan police was internationally condemned and was met with outrage by Kenya media and civil society. The government did not provide a sufficient explanation. No one has been held accountable.

The December 2007 elections were marred by serious irregularities, and set off a wave of violence throughout Kenya. Following the February 2008 signing of a power-sharing agreement, incumbent President Kibaki retained the presidency and opposition candidate Raila Odinga was given a newly created position of Prime Minister. A new coalition cabinet was sworn in April 2008. The 42-member cabinet became the largest in Kenya's history, including new ministries for cooperative development, Northern Kenya development, and Nairobi metropolitan development. Several ministries were also subdivided, creating a number of new cabinet positions.

Constitutional reform that addresses the structure of government to create a more effective system of checks and balances is a key element of the reform agenda agreed as part of the power-sharing agreement. Following the process for producing a new draft constitution that was set out in the December 2008 Constitutional Review Act, Kenyans went to the polls on August 4, 2010 to vote on the new constitution. Reflecting broad support for fundamental change, 66.9% of those who voted endorsed it. The new constitution retains Kenya's presidential system but introduces additional checks and balances on executive power and greater devolution of power to the sub-national level. Fully implementing the new constitution will require passage of several dozen pieces of legislation over a 5-year period. The 2013 national elections will be the first conducted under the new constitution.

The International Criminal Court summoned six Kenyans (five high-ranking government officials and one radio executive) to The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged roles in the 2007-2008 post-election violence. They appeared at The Hague in April 2011 to be informed of the charges. Confirmation of Charges hearings were held in September 2011, and in January 2012 the pre-trial chamber of the Court confirmed charges against four of the individuals for allegedly committing crimes against humanity: Uhuru Kenyatta, Frances Muthaura, William Ruto, and Joshua Sang. The next step is for the Court to set a trial date.

Despite internal tensions in Sudan and Ethiopia, Kenya has maintained good relations with them. Relations with Uganda and Tanzania are strengthening as the three countries work for mutual economic benefit.

Kenya's economy, infrastructure, and relative stability make it an influential player in the region. Kenya played an active role in the negotiations to resolve the civil war in Sudan and has long been engaged in working to address instability in Somalia. On January 9, 2005 a Sudan North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi. In July 2011, South Sudan became an independent state. Negotiations in the Somali National Reconciliation Conference resulted at the end of 2004 in the establishment of Somali Transitional Federal Institutions (Assembly, President, Prime Minister, and Government). Until early 2005, Kenya served as a major host for these institutions. Between May and June 2005, members of the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions relocated to Somalia. Faced with what it perceived as an untenable threat to its security and economy as a result of high-profile incidents involving kidnap and murder of European tourists, on October 16, 2011, Kenya sent military forces into Somalia seeking to push back extremist elements. Kenya has long borne a significant security and humanitarian burden resulting from two decades of instability in Somalia. Kenya is host to more than 600,000 refugees, most of whom are from Somalia.

Kenya's relations with Western countries are generally friendly, although current political and economic instabilities are sometimes blamed on Western pressures.


CIA World Factbook (May 2012)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( May 2012)