Institutional performance, public appraisals, and electoral governance in Kenya (2002-2017)
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date28/06/2023
Brobbey, Patrick Kwasi
After Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010, the country embarked on extensive citizen-oriented reforms targeted at improving the performance of key public institutions and Kenyans’ opinions of it. Much scholarly effort has gone into understanding the effects of these changes. This attention has disproportionately been on state institutions and political elites. The Kenyan public’s attitudes and behaviours have not been sufficiently explored. The few studies devoted to systematically studying Kenyans’ political attitudes employ a quantitative approach, which is ill-suited to unravelling complex realities. This limitation drives this thesis to adopt a qualitative approach to examine Kenyans’ appraisals of institutional performance. Specific institutions studied are the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), and election courts. The goal is to determine the extent to which Kenyans’ appraisals reflect the actual performance of institutions. Questions informed by theories of institutional performance (Mutua 2001; van de Walle 2001; Bierschenk & Olivier de Sardan 2014) and public attitude formation (Southwell & Yzer 2007; Shah 2015; Nyabuga & Ugangu 2018; Orji 2019) guided the investigation. One is, how has the social and political environment within which institutions are embedded shaped ECK, IEBC, and courts’ performance from 2002 through 2017? Another is, how have the internal structures, norms, and processes of ECK, IEBC, and courts affected their performance from 2002 through to 2017? Finally, I ask, how have Kenyans’ sources of information influenced their appraisals of the performance of ECK, IEBC, and courts from 2002 through to 2017? Fieldwork was conducted in Nairobi and Nyamira counties, Kenya. Mixed qualitative methods comprising one-on-one and group interviews of over 150 people of diverse backgrounds, observations, and analysis of the content of organisational, social and traditional media, and scholarly materials were employed during data collection. Findings from the analysis of election management, electoral dispute resolution, and Kenyans’ appraisals of them enable the understanding of the research problem. The actual performance of institutions and citizens’ appraisals of it are reflective of each other insofar as we consider that: both are characterised by successes/positives and failures/negatives emanating from the fusion of institutional and environmental influences; secondary or peripheral appraisals are rooted in citizens’ unmediated experiences/observations of institutional performance; and citizens can infer their primary or overall appraisals from their own interactions with, or observations of, institutions under the conditions in which they may deviate from their preferred candidates/parties’ stance on an institution’s work. Since partisan sensitivities primarily direct citizens’ overall appraisals, the thesis asserts that the actual functioning of institutions and the public’s overall appraisals of it are fundamentally unreflective of one another. A shift in a political party/candidate’s position on the overall quality of an institution’s work is likely to induce a corresponding shift in their supporters’ ideas of the quality of that institution’s work. While supporters of election and electoral petition winners tend to judge election management and electoral dispute settlement processes and outcomes favourably, supporters of election and electoral petition losers are disposed to adjudge these contests unfavourably. The thesis concludes that partisan considerations mainly underlie the apparent inability of institutional reforms to uniformly improve citizens’ attitudes towards the work of public institutions.