New Study on Democracy Assistance in Kenya

The Spanish think tank FRIDE (Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior) has published a series of 14 case studies of international and bilateral democracy assistance efforts under an initiative for “Revitalizing Democracy Assistance” from the World Movement for Democracy, aimed at providing advice to both donors and recipients.

The Kenya paper was prepared by Jeroen de Zeeuw of Cordaid and is quite useful–download it here.

The paper provides some detail on the amounts of Democracy and Governance support and the funding mechanisms used by the major bilateral and international donors and critical assessment of programming and methods over time.

The report makes three key points. First of all, it shows that strong fluctuations in the level of critical engagement and assistance from the international community have given a mixed message to consecutive Kenyan governments, each of which has failed to follow through initial democratic reforms due to an absence of political will. Secondly, it argues that the focus of international assistance programmes on Nairobi-based elites and specialized NGOs has come at the expense of more community-oriented, traditional civil society actors with large memberships. Finally, the report argues that the current design of aid modalities (such as basket funding) and organizational profiles of many aid agencies fall short of what is required in terms of the flexibility and political savvy needed to support democracy in Kenya today.

A few key takeaways from anonymous interviews:

We have seen that donors are paying more attention to aligning their aid with a recipient country’s ‘national agenda’. But in many countries, including Kenya, the agenda that is put forward is the government’s agenda, which is not necessarily the same as the people’s agenda. In Kenya this has resulted in the strange situation that donor money has helped the police to become more effecient and effective, not in normal policing, but in the putting down of protests, harassment of human rights defenders and extra-judicial killings of criminals and other supposed law breakers.

Regarding corruption and the lack of political will: “everybody has something on everybody. As people are afraid that if they touch one person, the situation will escalate, nothing is being done. The result is political deadlock.” As for donors, they also lack political will “because of the high level of regional instability and the ongoing war in Somalia, ‘keeping Kenya stable’ is seen as a main security priority by most international actors based in Nairobi. Donors therefore feel they cannot push the government too hard as this might alienate their Kenyan partners.”

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