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Podcast: 'In Chains' Episode 3

In the third episode of our new themed series In Chains, we speak with Dr. Alexis Aronowitz from University College Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands, who is the author of the article, “Regulating business involvement in labor exploitation and human trafficking” published in Journal of Labor and Society.

Brill Publishes Two New Book Series in the Social Sciences

Brill is pleased to announce the addition of two new peer-reviewed book series to its Social Sciences publishing program: International Studies in Maritime Sociology and Studies in Political Economy of Global Labor and Work. The series will be published online and in print.

Brill adds Two New Journals to Its Social Sciences Publishing Program

Two journals, the Journal of Labor and Society (JLSO) and Protest, have been added to Brill’s expanding publishing program in the Social Sciences. Both journals will be published online and in print. Previous volumes of JLSO are already available on Brill’s website, the first issues of Protest are planned for publication in 2021.


Acquisitions Editor


Jason Prevost

V&R unipress

Julia Schwanke


On the political front, 2004 started in as stormy a manner as 2003, albeit in a diametrically different mood. The early months of 2003 had witnessed the much-welcomed coming to power of President Kibaki and the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) and the ending of the uninterrupted rule of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) since independence in 1963. In 2004, tensions increased within the NARC coalition, a grouping of 13 parties and two civil-society organisations, negatively impacting the initially hopeful start.


Developments in 2013 were dominated by general elections in March and the proceedings against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto at the ICC. Although many elements of the electoral process failed, prompting the losing party to reject the results, the polls passed peacefully. The election of Kenyatta and Ruto, combined with their criticism of the ICC proceedings, led to deteriorating relations with key donors, but succeeded in forcing the ICC into a series of concessions throughout the year. Despite high levels of political uncertainty, the economy continued to grow, although it remained too early to assess the political and economic impact of the introduction of devolution, which came into effect following the election of 47 new county governments.


Dominant issues in 2014 were insecurity, devolution and the icc. Insecurity led to a significant loss of life and property, and slowed an otherwise buoyant economy. It also exacerbated political divisions, as the Jubilee Alliance called for unity and blamed local opposition forces for increasing tensions and encouraging violence, and the principal opposition coalition and prominent activists argued that the government was using insecurity as an excuse to limit political freedoms. The government and opposition also came into direct conflict over devolution, which remained broadly popular and introduced new levels of political competition, but also proved expensive and exacerbated inter-ethnic tensions. Finally, the year was characterised by uncertainty about whether President Uhuru Kenyatta would have to stand trial at the icc. This was clarified in December, when the icc withdrew charges against him. The year therefore ended with only two Kenyans facing charges of crimes against humanity at the icc: Deputy President William Ruto and the Kalenjin vernacular radio presenter Joshua arap Sang.


Dominant issues in 2015 were corruption, devolution and insecurity. Spiralling corruption was fuelled by the internal dynamics of the Jubilee Alliance government, and by the devolution of power to 47 new county governments – the latter providing new opportunities and incentives for graft. This crisis was a source of popular frustration and anger. It also further strained relations between the government and the political opposition, prominent civil society organisations and the media. These relations had already been severely tested by ongoing claims that the government was using the threat of insecurity and terrorism to delegitimise criticism, close the political space and undermine the gains of a reformist constitution – from the devolution of power and reform of the judiciary and police service to a new Bill of Rights. Certainly, a number of terrorist attacks were claimed by al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist group based in Somalia, although most now occurred in northern Kenya, rather than in Nairobi or at the Coast. However, while northern Kenya had long been regarded as politically and economically marginal, attempts to open up the northern corridor for the exploitation of new resources – together with incursions by al-Shabaab and the establishment of new county governments – ensured that insecurity in the region now had significant implications, not just for local residents, but for the country and the larger region.


Dominant issues in 2016 were electoral management, the formation and consolidation of political coalitions, and spiralling corruption. Although not scheduled until 8 August 2017, the forthcoming polls overshadowed political debate and activities during the year. Opposition leaders pushed for electoral reforms and new commissioners for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and mooted a National Super Alliance, and the ruling Jubilee Alliance sought to establish a new Jubilee Party. The forthcoming elections also fuelled corruption, as incumbents and aspirants at all levels – from those running to be members of county assemblies up – sought to fund their campaigns, and devolution continued to provide new opportunities for accumulation. Unprecedented corruption – in the context of high levels of inequality, costs of living and salaries for elected officials – constituted a source of popular frustration and anger, and strained (already tense) relations between the government and prominent civil society organisations and the media. Relations with these key actors were then further undermined by the government’s use of a history of ethnic violence within the country, and of an ongoing external threat from al-Shabaab (the radical Islamist group based in neighbouring Somalia), to insist upon the need for unity and cohesion in the interests of stability and development.


Kenya was dominated by news related to the general election. Tension over the polls had built up throughout 2016 and finally came to a boil around the disputed August poll, which saw Uhuru Kenyatta declared the winner in questionable circumstances, immediately triggering protests and violent police reprisals. In the three days after the result was announced, the police killed at least 37 people in opposition strongholds in Nairobi and western Kenya. Tensions also spiralled in places like Laikipia, where the election reignited tensions over land ownership between the local communities and the significant community of European origin. The opposition filed a petition challenging the result, as was widely expected – all Kenyan multi-party elections except in 1962 and 2002 having been subject to legal review. The result of this petition was unprecedented: in a 4–2 vote, the Supreme Court annulled the August result, declaring that the elections had not been conducted in the spirit envisioned by the Constitution, returning Kenyans to the polls in November. Intrigues around the vote edged out equally important stories such as the calamitous two-year drought that sent food prices skyrocketing throughout the country, as well as increasingly alarming incidents of mass corruption, including the plunder of the National Youth Service.


The secondary effects of the contentious 2017 general election in Kenya spilled over into the next year as the opposition escalated confrontations with the government only to abruptly call for a ceasefire under the auspices of a handshake between the principals on both sides of the political divide. In the aftermath, the ‘Building Bridges’ initiative was launched as a peacemaking campaign that only served to heighten the entropy within the political system as deputies who had fought passionate rhetorical and physical battles during the election year suddenly had to make sense of the new political dispensation. These peacemaking efforts did little to address the economic uncertainty that followed both the election and the calamitous drought, as both taxes and consumer prices spiralled, and individual spending contracted. Public debt also ballooned as the unfeasibility of the recently commissioned single-gauge railway (sgr) connecting Nairobi to the coastal city of Mombasa finally became evident. At the same time, Kenya’s regional diplomatic efforts were tested through the unexpected political transition in Ethiopia and the continuing crisis in South Sudan.


The Building Bridges Initiative, a reconciliation process to bring political elites together after the contentious general election in 2017, dominated Kenya’s political discourse. In 2019, the initiative was characterised by mass meetings across the country to collect views from members of the public and key stakeholders on the content of the proposed final document. At the same time, the ‘Punguza Mizigo’ (‘Reduce the Load’) initiative led by the Thirdway Alliance political movement was also on a nationwide tour to promote proposals to reduce the public wage bill through constitutional reforms. Both groups aimed at marshalling support for a referendum and constitutional change in 2020, but both processes struggled to gain traction in the context of a struggling local and international economy. In February, the government introduced the ‘Huduma Namba’ initiative to reform Kenya’s identity systems, producing a ‘single source of truth’ digital identity to replace various identity documents. The process was marred by threats and ambiguity, eventually leading to a court case challenging the government to enhance its protections against discrimination and change the legal landscape on data protection in the country. Meanwhile, environmental activists scored a major victory as the National Environmental Tribunal suspended construction of the Lamu Coal Plant, finding that the procurement process for the project had been irregularly conducted and did not meet the thresholds required by law.


The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects dominated Kenyan politics, its foreign relations, and its socioeconomic developments. Kenya registered its first case of the novel coronavirus on 13 March 2020. The pandemic led to significant loss of life not only from health complications but also as a result of police brutality and health issues arising from the attendant loss of livelihoods in an economy that is largely informal and dependent on tourism. Dominant political issues in 2020 were nation-building, devolution, corruption, terrorism, and economic downturn due to the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic had far-reaching political consequences. The pursuit of a united Kenya continued through the proposed Building Bridges Initiative (bbi), resulting in new elite alliances and divisions. These divisions were exacerbated by the devolution disagreements that emerged from the planned revenue-sharing formula among different counties. On foreign affairs, Covid-19 strained and promoted relations between Kenya and other states in equal measure. Relations with neighbouring Tanzania were strained over different pandemic containment measures, while relations with the US and China were strained by the increasingly nationalist and protectionist policies of the great powers. Macroeconomic indicators weakened as the economy took a downturn, along with other development indicators.


Political divisions and new configurations ahead of the 2022 elections dominated Kenyan politics in 2021. In a surprise turn of events, the pursuit of the Building Bridges Initiative (bbi) ended dramatically after a five-judge high court bench termed the process unconstitutional. The Kenyan judiciary further boosted its image with the appointment of Martha Koome, the first female chief justice in the history of the Kenyan justice system. The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects continued to have a huge impact on the economy, though this lessened after enhanced vaccination of 16.7% of the population, with 21 m remaining unvaccinated by 31 December in the context of global vaccine apartheid. The economic downturn resulting from Covid-19 continued, with ongoing unemployment as microfinance institutions attempted to recover. While macroeconomic indicators strengthened slightly, overall the economy struggled to get back on its feet, with a rising debt burden, and other development indicators battling to regain pre-Covid levels. Kenya’s foreign relations improved: specifically, relations with neighbouring countries improved considerably, with rapprochements with both Tanzania and Somalia. In November, Kenya finally passed the Refugees Bill into law, which will have an impact on the right of the 539,766 refugees in Kenya to access the labour market.