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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

6 - Taming Oppositions: Kenyatta’s “Secluded” Politics (1964–1966)


Chapter 6 investigates how Kenyatta established an institutional order that kept his political authority insulated from potential challengers. It argues that by controlling the funds and distribution of land resources, Kenyatta successfully isolated competing political actors and institutions, thus preventing various political grievances to spill over into his government. The chapter first highlights the continuity between colonial and post-colonial land politics, but also emphasizes the Kenyan government’s agency in facilitating land accumulation by the elite. Exploring land files from the British and Kenyan National Archives, it shows that Kenyatta had concerns about certain sensitive land settlement schemes, but preferred to secure political order by marginal and well-timed adjustments, instead of profound reforms to change colonial economic structures. The chapter then shows how the quasi-limitless presidential powers established an institutional imbalance, which Kenyatta cultivated very carefully, sparsely meting out personal promises and favours. The competition between parliament and civil administration shows how Kenyatta used informal, yet far-reaching powers to prevent both institutions from escaping his presidential authority, all while remaining unexposed. This subtle imbalance may also explain why the landless and poor remained locked into kafkaesque bureaucratic procedures.