Publications Notes de l'Ifri
Hand holding several bills of Kenyan shilling
Alexia VAN RIJ

Corruption in Kenya. Understanding a Multifaceted Phenomenon Notes de l'Ifri, September 2021

In Kenya, corruption results from a confusion of public and private interests that is specific to the neo-patrimonial logic in place since British colonization. The strong moral and political ethnicity that characterizes the country fuels an ambiguous relationship between the population and the elite.


While the abuses of leaders are widely condemned by citizens, many of them show resignation and even tolerance in the face of the phenomenon, from which they paradoxically sometimes feel the beneficiaries. In this context, the fight against corruption appears above all as a means of discrediting political opponents by the citizens–to maintain power–, and to reassure international investors–to maintain wealth.

The Kenyan case study allows us to distinguish two main levels of corruption in the public sector: (i) politico-administrative corruption, involving high-level public officials (ministers, members of parliament, local governors, etc.) and other public officials or private actors, and (ii) everyday corruption, involving frontline public officials (police officers, customs officials, airport employees, etc.) and ordinary citizens.

This note refers to the concept of neo-patrimonialism, developed by J.-F. Médard in 1991 to characterize sub-Saharan African governments, and describe a situation where the State, while claiming to be modern, combines public and private norms, as opposed to the Weberian bureaucratic State that is based on impersonal rules. The result is the personification of power and the accumulation of resources (power and wealth) for private purposes by a small group of influential people in pursuit of their personal interests rather than the common good.

The objective of this paper is to highlight the complexity of corruption by analyzing its various forms in a specific case, contemporary Kenya, where it is part of a neo-patrimonial political system characterized by strong moral ethnicity and intense political struggles.


Corruption in Kenya. Understanding a Multifaceted Phenomenon
Corruption embezzlement of public funds neo-patrimonialism Eastern Africa Kenya Sub-Saharan Africa