Compared to most newly independent African countries, Kenya in the 1960s and 1970s evolved relatively slowly toward full-blown autocracy, even though its identity as a de facto one-party state was established early on. Only in the 1980s were party, government and civil service essentially fused into a single hierarchical structure of power under the personal control of a president determined to thwart all real or imagined opposition. This engrossing study by Harvard political scientist Jennifer Widner presents a nuanced and generally plausible analysis of the gradual shrinking of the Kenyan political arena, highlighting the impact of shifting incentives on the behavior of political players. Some readers might wish the author had not so assiduously eschewed moral judgments, while others might wish more explanatory weight attributed to the contrasting personalities of Kenya's two post-independence presidents. The strength of this study lies in the impressive degree to which the author has been able to wring her suggestive analysis out of the meager data available on the opaque inner dynamics of Kenyan politics.
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