Journal Article
Formalizing clientelism in Kenya

From Harambee to the Constituency Development Fund

Why does clientelism persist? What determines how politicians signal responsiveness to voters and exert effort towards fulfilling campaign promises? This article explores how state capacity, legislative institutional strength, and established ideas about what politicians can do structure the political market in legislative elections.

The argument herein is that campaign promises must be credible to have any currency. Therefore, programmatic campaign promises are likely to be more credible in countries with strong states and legislatures, while clientelism predominates in weak states whose legislatures cannot compel the executive branch to implement legislators’ campaign promises. Historical experience also matters in shaping shared expectations of what politicians can do and the feasible set of credible campaign promises.

I support these arguments with a historical institutionalist analysis of Kenya’s Harambee Movement and the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), as well as evidence from a nationally representative survey. Findings corroborate the claim that clientelism persists when it is the most credible means of fulfilling campaign promises.

This article also shows that rising costs can precipitate legislative reforms away from clientelism – as happened with the creation of Kenya’s CDF in 2003. Overall, this article increases our understanding of the origins and persistence of clientelism in low-income states and potential avenues for reform towards programmatic politics.

Journal Article
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