Does urbanisation change the political order in Africa? Reflections on cities, middle-classes and political processes in Kenya
Keywords:middle-class, Kenya, urbanisation, social movements, protest, cities
Most African countries have seen in the last decades a significant growth of cities. Political systems rely, however, frequently on the networks of societies with a rural majority. This article uses the example of Kenya to illustrate how urbanisation influences political processes. Kenya is particularly suited to discuss this connection because it is a constitutional democracy with formally free elections, a multi-party system and political parties with an ethnic foundation. Parties do not rely on political-ideological programmes but are based, by and large, on mono- or multi-ethnic-regional affiliations. With growing migration into cities, the existing political balance could come under pressure as ethnic-regional affiliations weaken. This article examines if there are indicators for the change of the political order. Are there signs that the urban population stops accepting the distribution of resources and power to the political-economic elite and its rural basis? A crucial role in the ongoing changes play new urban middle-income groups (often called “middle-classes”), who are no longer embedded into regional ethnic networks.
There is an analytical advantage to consider certain types of protest in the context of urbanisation and not only as outcomes of the political and societal sphere. Instead of studying isolated events and movements, this text suggests examining these in a long-term view and in the light of socio-structural change. Moreover, the argument assumes that there is a tension between the growing significance of cities and socio-political structures that build on rural society. Historical background information on Kenya and empirical examples of middle-income strata, protests, and activism demonstrate the impacts of urbanisation´s increased significance for political processes.
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