In Summary
  • The political philosopher Hobbes memorably described the natural condition of man outside a civilised society as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. 
  • Very soon the Kenyan people will decide which road they will follow – irrespective of the electoral outcome. 
  • The inflamed rhetoric of politicians, on both sides, is in real danger of seriously destabilising Kenyan society.

Shakespeare sagely noted in Hamlet that ‘to be honest as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand’. 

As Kenya edges closer to a historically momentous second presidential election, it is tempting for the Kenyan people to put their trust in such honest individuals in the hope that all will be well.

Vitally important as such exemplary individuals are, they alone cannot be the answer.  Those 'one in ten thousand’ cannot be the answer to the current crisis, or to the longer term health of Kenya. 

In the 17th century, the political philosopher Hobbes memorably described the natural condition of man outside a civilised society as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.  This is the natural condition that confronts every country. It is as true today as it was in the 17th century. 

Unless we find a solution to our highly competitive desire to look after number one at all costs, we can quickly descend into a Hobbesian nightmare.  A dystopian world where only those with access to power and wealth can feed on the resources of the nation.

Hobbes had a solution.  His solution was a Leviathan, an all-powerful force that would compel everyone to act in the interest of the community and not simply to put their own nose into the trough to eat as much as possible. 

In the 21st century we rightly reject Hobbes’ solution because of its totalitarian overtones.  However, in essence Hobbes was correct.  What Kenya needs at this point in its history is a Leviathan. 

Not another African strong man.  Not a one-party state of Jubilee or Nasa.  What it needs and what, hopefully, is emerging, is a cultural Leviathan.


Although the decision of the Supreme Court was highly controversial, Justice Maraga’s courageous insistence that the rule of law must be the Leviathan of Kenya was immensely important. 

In their highly commendable book Why Nations Fail, Acemoglu and Robinson set out very clearly why some nations prosper while others, often with as many resources, slide into poverty, chaos and despair. Their verdict is simple, that those that prosper have an ingrained culture where the rule of law is the Leviathan that dominates all aspects of society.

Those locked into a tribal or an idealistic mindset that believe all Kenya needs is either a fresh party or a principled individual as president are going to be sadly disappointed yet again.  Kenya has walked that road before. 

When Daniel arap Moi came to power in 1978, many were convinced that things would be better now that the Kikuyu stranglehold on power was gone.  Goldenberg put an end to that dream.  Likewise, when the Catholic Mwai Kibaki came to power there was an avalanche of hope that he would be able to cleanse Kenya of its corruption and set the country on a road where the prosperity of the nation could be shared in a much fairer way. 

Anglo-Leasing, followed by John Githongo, the anti-corruption tsar, having to flee the country and the suppression of the great Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, killed off any lingering hope that the road to political, economic and social salvation was to be found in the promises of any individual or party.

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