Sample Political Science Paper on Political Corruption in Kenya

Corruption is a global pandemic that threatens international economics, politics, and security. The scourge of corruption is a massive problem in developing countries, particularly in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Political corruption is a huge contributor to the poor economic performance and proliferation in political instability in the developing world. Kenya, a developing country in Africa, is ranked highly among the world’s most corrupt nations. Corruption in Kenya has resulted in the misappropriation of vast amounts of the nation’s resources by members of the political and economic elite thus contributing to massive poverty and economic hardships in the country. Political corruption in Kenya is deeply rooted in the nation’s administrative and political structure and buttressed by tribalism. The problem can thus be addressed through wholesome changes in Kenya’s politico-economic and social institutions.


The Republic of Kenya is a developing nation located in East Africa with its capital in Nairobi. According to statistics from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KBS), the nation has a population of more than 48 million (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). Kenya is a regional economic behemoth with the nation having the largest economy in East and Central Africa and the third-largest GDP in sub-Saharan Africa (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). The nation is also a significant player in global politics as it is a member of the United Nations (UN), World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) among other international organizations. Currently, Kenya is a non-permanent member of the powerful United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Kenya is made of several divergent communities and tribes resulting in diverse indigenous cultures; factors that make the nation a top tourist destination globally.

Corruption in Kenya is a big socioeconomic, and political quagmire that has beleaguered the nation since gaining independence from the British in 1963. The roots of corruption in Kenya are quite ubiquitous and can be traced to the top levels of government. The ill of corruption in Kenya is worsened by the diverse tribal affiliations and groupings that constitute the nation and promote tribalism and cronyism (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). The nexus of tribalism and corruption has resulted in the creation of an entrenched culture of corruption in Kenya that has permeated both the public and private sectors of the nation. The contemporary concept of globalization has only worsened corruption in the nation as it has created more avenues for corrupt dealings (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). Political corruption has resulted in serious negative consequences in the nation ranging from poor economic performance to political violence and instability. For example, the 2007 post-election violence that resulted in the death of more than 3000 Kenyans and the displacement of hundreds of thousands was a direct result of top-level political corruption in the nation.

Literature Review

Corruption is an expansive social ill that encompasses several vices and facets. The divergent facets are based on how it is defined by both national and international laws, how it affects the public, and how it is understood and relayed in the domain of public opinion (Woo & Choi, 2018). The expansive notion of corruption complicates the fight against corruption and is an impediment to its global elimination. According to Harvard political scientist, Joseph Nye, corruption is a behavior that deviates from the normal duties of a public role because of private, pecuniary, or status gains (Rose-Ackerman & Palifka, 2016). Corruption is a deviation from one’s expected duties and obligations and is influenced by the need for private gain. Through the introduction of the notion of public role, Joseph Nye focuses more on political corruption that is concerned with the abuse of political power for private gain. Political corruption is the genesis of all forms of corruption as it is a huge challenge in public administration and fosters the development and spread of other miniature forms of corruption such as bribery, extortion, and cronyism (Rose-Ackerman & Palifka, 2016). The numerous facets of corruption are further widened and entrenched in heterogeneous societies characterized by divergence in religious, tribal, ethnic, and political affiliations (Hiller, 2010). The concept of heterogeneity and the competition for scarce resources explain the deep-rooted nature of corruption in several nations globally.

Political corruption has existed in Kenya since the nation gained both territorial and political sovereignty from Britain in the early 1960s. The first independent government of Kenya, led by President Jomo Kenyatta, was characterized by top-level corruption, cronyism, and tribalism. According to Muna and Koma (2013), the post-colonial government of Jomo Kenyatta was meant to be a starting point for Kenya’s economic growth and development. However, it witnessed abuse of power and misappropriation of public funds. Five years after independence, President Kenyatta amended the independence constitution and consolidated the head of state and head of government positions into a single office termed the presidency (Muna & Koma, 2013). The creation of the presidency provided Kenyatta’s government with massive discretionary powers that could not be checked or balanced by any other arm of government. This enabled the president and his cronies to misappropriate public resources for their benefit without any repercussions. For example, the political elite in Kenyatta’s government seized thousands of acres of land in the Rift Valley province and looted public resources in the Turkwel Hydroelectric power station project that was built at three times the estimated cost (Muna & Koma, 2013). President Jomo Kenyatta also fostered tribalism by using divide and rule tactics to administer the country with his tribe (Kikuyu) being given all plum positions in government.

More than fifty years after independence, the scourge of political corruption has only grown deeper in Kenya. According to data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, the nation losses more than 42 percent of its national budget to corruption and other related forms of wastage (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). This is worsened by the fact that more than half of Kenya’s annual budget is funded through external borrowing (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). In 2016, Kenya ranked number 139 out of 176 countries globally in the Corruption Perception Index with least corrupt nations being at the top of the ranking (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). Kenya’s poor ranking in terms of corruption is largely due to two factors; tribalism and political interference. Tribalism contributes to corruption in Kenya as the corrupt seek support from their communities whenever they are charged with corruption. According to D’Arcy and Cornell (2016), tribalism has created a situation where individuals are elected into public office to not only represent their community’s interests but also illegally acquire resources for their tribes through corruption. The lack of political will to tame corruption in the nation is also a huge contributor to the entrenchment of the vice in Kenya. In Kenya, individuals with political influence are rarely brought to justice in corruption cases due to political interference with the nation’s judiciary (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). This has resulted in a compromised judiciary that is not wholly independent and corrupt.

The heterogeneous nature of the Kenyan society has been exploited by corrupt political leaders and this has fostered impunity in the nation. Kenya is made up of 44 different ethnic tribes that possess unique cultural practices and religious beliefs. Out of the 44 tribes the Kikuyu, Luo, Kalenjin, and Luhya ethnic groups are the most populous and therefore dominate other communities in matters politics and access to national resources (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). Kenyan political leaders exploit the tribal differences in the nation to engage in corrupt deals. The majority of politicians in Kenya misappropriate national funds and then when their corrupt deals are revealed claim that they are victims of ethnically instigated political witch hunts. For example, in the 2016 Afya House scandal, where Kshs. 3 billion was misappropriated from the Ministry of Health, the then minister for health Cleopa Mailu refused to resign stating that she was a victim to political and tribal witch hunt (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). Therefore, Kenya’s heterogeneity has created a suitable environment for the spread of corruption and impunity in the nation.

The corruption and tribalism nexus has fostered the intractable nature of political corruption in the country. Former American president Barack Obama, while addressing corruption in Africa and particularly in Kenya, termed corruption in the nation as a deeply rooted culture that is worsened by tribalism (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016).  Tribalism in Kenya is politically inclined and is a tool used by the Kenyan political elite to divide their subjects along tribal lines to enable easy domination and exploitation of the masses (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). With a populace divided on the basis of social constructs such as tribe, Kenyan people cannot unite to challenge politically retrogressive ideologies and their perpetrators (Muna & Koma, 2013). The deeply integrated political corruption and tribalism nexus have resulted in the slow death of meritocracy in Kenya as economic opportunities are granted based on tribal affiliations. The 2007 post-election violence was created by the political corruption and tribalism nexus. This is because the national elections were based on tribal affiliations and corruptly rigged to maintain the political dominance of a few tribes while excluding others (Lawson, 2009; Muna & Koma, 2013; D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). To completely dismantle the political corruption and tribalism nexus in Kenya, a comprehensive truth and justice commission must be set up to investigate all incidences of corruption. Intervention must also be put in place aimed at resolving all corruption-related cases to the satisfaction of all Kenyans.

Political corruption has resulted in numerous adverse consequences for Kenya, with the most affected being the poor and those hailing from minority communities. Corruption in Kenya has resulted in the loss of billions of Kenya shillings in the hands of a few politically connected individuals. For example, the Goldenberg and Grand Regency scandals cost the nation an estimated $1.5 billion and $60 million respectively (Lawson, 2009: D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). These are public funds that could have been used to develop public infrastructure such as hospitals and roads to the benefit of the masses. The wastage of massive amounts of the nation’s budget through corruption has heightened the nation’s reliance on foreign aid and loans, with Kenya currently having a foreign debt of more than $6 billion (D’Arcy & Cornell, 2016). Moreover, the poor ranking of Kenya in the annual global corruption rankings has resulted in reduced foreign investments in the nation; thus, leading to the nation’s poor economic growth. The political corruption and tribalism nexus have also negatively affected the inviolable nature of human rights in the country particularly of both the poor and minority individuals (Rotberg, 2009). Through the abuse of power human rights ranging from proprietary rights to basic freedoms such as those of association and expression are constantly infringed upon by the government of Kenya, particularly those who are resentful of the Kenyan government.


The systems theory can be used to explain the causes of corruption not only in Kenya but also globally. Corruption does not take place in a vacuum and is reliant on a network of organizational structures in society that interlink politics, economics, and social issues.  The systems theory thus explains the origin and causes of corruption through an analysis of corruption via the lenses of social networks and structures. Systems theorists such as Petra Hiller and Patrick Von Maravic hold that corruption occurs through the exercise of influence and the assertion of interests at the organizations and networks level (Hiller, 2010). Political corruption is a major problem not only in Africa but globally due to the numerous and intricate links, structures, and networks that inundate the political domain. Due to the innumerable structures such as law, economics, and power that buttress the political field, politics remains highly susceptible to corruption (Lawson, 2009; Hiller, 2010). For example, in Kenya, the ruling elite has expansive networks and social connections due to the number of privileges such as economic and legal power that they are exposed to by virtue of their position. Generally, societal systems, structures, and networks are characterized by competing interests resulting in a high probability in the occurrence of political corruption (Lawson, 2009). This situation is worse in countries with weak administrative structures such as Kenya and other developing nations.

The systems theory further argues that the moral framework of any given society plays a huge role in the comprehension and management of corruption. Apart from the expansive social networks that characterize the political domain, the concept of morality and how it is observed in societies also determine the causes of corruption (Hiller, 2010). Therefore, morality in complex systems such as contemporary societies determines not only the definition but also the scope and facets of corruption. Observation of corruption in society is a matter of moral communication and in the average society, most moral discourses occur within the domain of politics (Lawson, 2009; Hiller, 2010). This further explains the existence of politics and corruption nexus in contemporary Kenya and other nations globally.

Based on the systems theory and relevant literature, testable hypotheses are thus developed regarding the causes and consequences of political corruption in Kenya. First, Kenya can only genuinely tackle the scourge of corruption by strengthening its political institutions. The political concept of separation of powers and independence of the Judiciary are not properly being implemented in Kenya and this has enabled the entrenchment of impunity in the nation. Kenya should ensure that its Judiciary is independent from manipulation by particularly enacting laws that inhibit the Executive from engaging in the operations of courts in the nation. Second, Kenya needs proper media laws particularly those that protect whistleblowers. Currently, Kenya has invested poorly in the protection of whistleblowers and this has discouraged both individuals and the media from making corrupt deals public. Through the enactment of a comprehensive legislation to protect the identities and freedoms of whistleblowers the Kenyan government will empower the media to adequately hold accountable corrupt individuals in the nation.



Corruption is a global threat to economic, political, and social peace. Political corruption is entrenched in the developing world largely due to the lack of proper political structures to tame its spread. Kenya, a developing nation in East Africa, is beleaguered by a deeply entrenched corruption culture that is buttressed by pervasive tribalism. The political corruption in the nation can be traced back to Kenya’s independence and has been promulgated by the ruling elite. Kenya thus needs proper and timely interventions aimed at harmonizing the nation’s politico-economic and social structures so as to eradicate the evil of political corruption in the country. Failure to adequately deal with the issue of corruption in Kenya will only result in political instability and the economic ruin of the nation.




D’Arcy, M., & Cornell, A. (2016). Devolution and corruption in Kenya: Everyone’s turn to eat?. African Affairs115(459), 246-273.

Hiller, P. (2010). Understanding corruption: How systems theory can help. Retrieved from

Lawson, L. (2009). The politics of anti-corruption reform in Africa. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 47(1), 73-100.

Muna, S. M. W. K., & Koma, G. P. (2013). Leadership and Political Corruption in Kenya: Analysis of the 2010 Constitutional Provisions on the Presidency. Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies38(3), 263-286. Retrieved

Rose-Ackerman, S. & Palifka, B. J. (2016). “Bureaucratic Corruption.” In Corruption and government: Causes, consequences, and reform (2nd Ed., pp.51-92). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rotberg, R. I. (2009). Governance and leadership in Africa: Measures, methods and results. Journal of International Affairs62(2), 113-126.

Woo, J. & Choi, E. (2018). “Political Corruption in Contemporary Politics.” In Political corruption and democratic governance. New York: Lexington Books.