Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: August 2019

9 - Protecting Education from Ethnic Politics

from Part II - Policies and Institutions for Social Cohesion


By comparing the educational attainment of Kenyans whose years of primary schooling did and did not correspond with the tenure in office of a president from their own ethnic group, we provide evidence suggesting that Kenyan presidents have favored their coethnics in the allocation of educational resources. We discuss the implications of such bias, emphasizing that the main impact is to reinforce perceptions of ethnic favoritism in government allocation decisions that, in turn, fosters resentment across group lines, undermines trust in government, and raises the stakes of elections. We suggest that protecting education from ethnic politics might be achieved by three means: devolution, which may limit executive power and discretion over the distribution of resources; fostering public awareness and social mobilization in favor of more equity in the education sector; or the promotion of private schools as an alternative to the state-sponsored educational sector.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Afrobarometer Data, [Kenya], [Round 3, 4, 5], [2005, 2006, 2008, 2008, 2012]. Retrieved from
Amutabi, M. N. 2003. Political interference in the running of education in post-independence Kenya: A critical retrospection. International Journal of Educational Development. 23(2): 127144.
Angrist, J., Bettinger, E., Bloom, E., King, E., and Kremer, M. 2002. Vouchers for private schooling in Colombia: Evidence from a randomized natural experiment. American Economic Review. 92(5): 15351558.
Barro, R. J., and Lee, J. W. 2010. A New Data Set of Educational Attainment in the World, 1950–2010 (NBER Working Paper No. 15902). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Bertrand, M., Duflo, E., and Mullainathan, S. 2004. How much should we trust differences-in-differences estimates. Quarterly Journal of Economics. 199(1): 249275.
Beugelsdijk, S., de Groot, H., and van Schaik, A. 2004. Trust and economic growth: A robustness analysis. Oxford Economic Papers. 56(1): 118134.
Bleck, J. 2015. Education and Empowered Citizenship in Mali. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Brady, H.E., Verba, S., and Lehman Schlozman, K. 1995. A Resource Model of Political Participation. American Political Science Review. 89(2): 271294.
Bruns, B., and Luque, J. 2015. Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Cheeseman, N., Lynch, G., and Willis, J. 2016. Decentralization in Kenya: The governance of governors. Journal of Modern African Studies. 54(1): 135.
Chege, M. 2008. Kenya: Back from the brink?Journal of Democracy. 19(4): 125–39.
Clemens, M. A. 2004. The Long Walk to School: International Education Goals in Historical Perspective (Center for Global Development Working Paper 37). Retrieved from or Accessed18 September 2018.
Dahl, R. 1971. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Diamond, L. 1999. Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Evans, D., Kremer, M., and Ngati, M. 2008. The Impact of Distributing School Uniforms on Children’s Education in Kenya. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Friedman, W., Kremer, M., Miguel, E., and Thornton, R. 2016. Education as liberation? Economica. 83(329): 130.
Franck, R., and Rainer, I. 2012. Does the leader’s ethnicity matter? Ethnic favoritism, education and health in sub-Saharan Africa. American Political Science Review. 106(2): 294325.
Gakidou, E., Cowling, K., Lozano, R., and Murray, C. 2010. Increased educational attainment and its effect on child mortality in 175 countries between 1970 and 2009: A systematic analysis. Lancet. 376(9745): 959974.
Gallego, F., and Woodberry, R. 2010. Christian missionaries and education in former African colonies: How competition mattered. Journal of African Economies. 19 (3):294329.
Gellner, E. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Grossman, M. 2006. Education and nonmarket outcomes. In Hanushek, E., and Wlech, F. (eds.), Handbook of the Economics of Education, vol. 1. New York: Elsevier, 577633.
Hanushek, E., and Woessmann, L. 2007. Education Quality and Economic Growth. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Harding, R., and Stasavage, D. 2014. What democracy does (and doesn’t do) for basic services: School fees, school inputs, and African elections. Journal of Politics. 76(1): 229245.
Hornsby, C. 2013. Kenya: A History Since Independence. London: I.B. Tauris.
Keefer, P., and Vlaicu, R. 2008. Democracy, credibility, and clientelism. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization. 24(2): 371406.
Kingdon, G., and Teal, F. 2010. Teacher unions, teacher pay, and student performance in India: A pupil fixed effects approach. Journal of Development Economics. 91(2): 278288.
Knack, S., and Keefer, P. 1997. Does social capital have an economic pay-off? A cross-country investigation. Quarterly Journal of Economics. 112(4): 12511288.
Kramon, E., and Posner, D. N. 2011. Kenya’s new constitution. Journal of Democracy. 22(2): 89103.
Kramon, E., and Posner, D. N. 2013. Who benefits from distributive politics: How the outcome one studies affect the answer one gets. Perspectives on Politics. 11(2): 461474.
Kramon, E., and Posner, D. N. 2016. Ethnic favoritism in education in Kenya. Quarterly Journal of Political Science. 11(1): 158.
Krueger, A. B., and Lindahl, M. 2000. Education for growth: Why and for whom? (NBER Working Paper No. 7591). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Lipset, S. M. 1959. Some social requisites of democracy: Economic development and political legitimacy. American Political Science Review. 53(1): 69105.
Miguel, E. 2004. Tribe or nation? Nation building and public goods in Kenya versus Tanzania. World Politics. 56 (3): 328362.
Miguel, E., and Kremer, M. 2004. Worms: Identifying impacts on education and health in the presence of treatment externalities. Econometrica. 72(1): 159217.
Mueller, S. 2011. Dying to win: Elections, political violence, and institutional decay in Kenya. Journal of Contemporary African Studies. 29(1): 99117.
Nungu, M. 2010. Universalizing access to primary education in Kenya: Myth and realities. Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education. 3(2): 110.
Nunn, N. 2014. Gender and missionary influence in colonial Africa. In Akyeampong, E., Bates, R., Nunn, N., and Robinson, J. (eds.), Africa’s Development in Historical Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 489512.
Oketch, M., and Rolleston, C. 2007. Policies on free primary and secondary education in East Africa: Retrospect and prospect. Review of Research in Education. 31, 131158.
Oyugi, E. 2000. The Legacy of Colonialism. Nairobi: Kenya Coalition for Social Watch.
Padro i Miquel, G. 2007. The control of politicians in divided societies: The politics of fear. Review of Economic Studies. 74(4): 12591274.
Reinikka, R., and Svensson, J. 2004. Local capture: Evidence from a central government transfer programme in Uganda. Quarterly Journal of Economics. 119(2): 679705.
Robinson, A. 2014. National versus ethnic identification in Africa: modernization, colonial legacy, and the origins of territorial nationalism. World Politics. 66 (4): 709746.
Rothchild, D. 1969. Ethnic Inequalities in Kenya. Journal of Modern African Studies. 7 (4):689711.
Sen, A. K. 1999. Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.
Schultz, P. T. 2004. School subsidies for the poor: Evaluating the Mexican PROGRESA Poverty Programme. Journal of Development Economics. 74(1): 199250.
Sifuna, D. N. 2005. The illusion of universal free primary education in Kenya. Wajibu. 19(2): 58.
Taylor, N., Muller, J., and Vinjevold, P. 2003. Getting Schools Working: Research and Systemic School Reform in South Africa. Cape Town: Pearson Education South Africa.
The Star. 2016. Secondary education to be free in 2019, Says Uhuru. 22 June 2016.
Uwezo. 2014. Are Our Children Learning? Literacy and Numeracy across East Africa 2013. Nairobi: Twaweza.
van de Walle, N. 2007. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? The evolution of political clientelism in Africa. In Kitschelt, H., and Wilkinson, S.I. (eds.), Patrons, Clients, and Policies: Patterns of Democratic Accountability and Political Competition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 5067.
Vermeersch, C., and Kremer, M. 2004. School Meals, Educational Attainment, and School Competition: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. WPS3523). Washington, DC: World Bank.
Widner, J. 1992. The Rise of a Party-State in Kenya: From “Harambee!” to “Nyayo!” Berkeley: University of California.
World Bank (2018). World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Wrong, M. 2009. It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower. New York: Harper Collins.