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How to make negotiated democracy work

Policymakers had sought to avoid giving significant decision-making power and resources to large regions built around the more populous communities.

By Rashid AdanKhalif

The concept of negotiated democracy was formally introduced in Kenya in the peace agreement brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2008 following the devastating post-election violence.

It was specified in the National Accord, which legalised the coalition government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga that was in office until 2013.

The National Accord recognised that the 2007/2008 crisis was the manifestation of long-standing problems created by the concentration and abuse of power and the corresponding group-based exclusion.

As a solution to these problems, structural and institutional reforms, building on ideas related to power sharing, were introduced to disperse and control power and promote accountability and inclusivity.


One such reform brought about by the 2010 Constitution, itself an outcome of the National Accord, was the devolution of power and resources from the national government to 47 counties that were to become operational after the 2013 General Election. That saw northern counties embrace negotiated democracy.


Democracy, we are told, is a system of governance where the minority has its say and majority its way. We are also told that democracy is not the best form of governance, but is better than its alternatives.

That is why, in the run-up to the 2013 and 2017 elections, the pastoral communities of the North embraced a traditional mechanism for nominating leaders and cuddled up with negotiated democracy to share political seats among clans.

Policymakers had sought to avoid giving significant decision-making power and resources to large regions built around the more populous communities.

They opted for counties, whose boundaries were drawn based on spatially concentrated ethnic groups, not around them, dividing up the big communities into different counties.

This was to prevent territorially united sub-national ethnic blocs and encourage county-based multi-ethnic politics regulated by traditional power rotation.


But although the system took root in 2013, it failed in the 2017 elections as incumbents ran against it despite having come to power through the method.

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The changing dynamics in governance have partially contributed to the competition for scarce resources. The traditional councils of elders were not aligned with governance structures and had no influence on political processes. Bur devolution introduced a new role for traditional elders, who have become deeply involved in the sharing of positions.

The system was praised among the big clans in 2013 for ensuring fair allocation of political representation to sub-clans, bringing about peace within the clans. But negotiated democracy has been criticised for excluding young people who harbour political ambitions by favouring “nominees” fronted by well-heeled individuals against the wishes of the masses.

For negotiated democracy to work, communities must free the elders from dependency on moneyed elites who bankroll candidates for selfish gain. They must resist negotiated democracy that is not for the public good and accountability.

Though not enshrined in the Constitution, the concept is gaining root in our electoral system. But again, communities are adopting it not so much for accountability, but inclusion and access to resources.

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Mr Adankhalif is a disaster, risk and policy consultant. ibrahimrashid07

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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