Rule of Law: History


The Code of Hammurabi

The earliest written legal code for a government was the Code of Hammurabi, dating from 1750 BC. Hammurabi, the King of Babylon, needed to unite his disparate realm, and decided to establish common rules of conduct, commerce, and devotion to the king under a system overseen by judges. In comparison with contemporary standards, much of the code is severe: many crimes were punishable with death or corporal punishment. Nevertheless, it was remarkable for introducing the ideas that government should be subject to the law; that laws should be based on public rules, not secret or divine ones; and that law should be efficiently and fairly applied by judges. (These are all principles that the scholar Rachel Kleinsfeld Belton mentions as being essential to establishing the rule of law: see Essential Principles.)

The Modern Understanding of Athens

In the area of the rule of law, ancient Athens is best known for its prosecution and execution of the great philosopher Socrates in 399 BC on charges of treason and corrupting the youth of Athens. But this case, usually presented as an example of injustice, masks the contributions of ancient Athens in the development of rule of law principles. In the Athenian system, for example, magistrates and jurors were drawn by lottery from the Assembly, which was composed of all citizens, since it was believed that judgment should be by one's peers. All citizens had the right to bring both private and public matters before the courts. In commercial law, Athens introduced the principle of binding and enforceable contracts among equal citizens. This meant that law, not brute force, determined the resolution of commercial disputes, a principle which helped to make Athens the region's center for trade. Its large juries were a common subject of mockery by critics at the time (they could number as many as 5,000), but overall the Athenian system appears to have worked efficiently and citizens safeguarded this legal system jealously. Judgment by juries composed of peers and the equal access of citizens to courts are just some of the characteristics of Athenian law included in most contemporary justice systems.

Roman Law

Most scholars cite the Roman system as the most important tradition influencing Western law. Roman law was less egalitarian than Athenian law, since its first purpose was to protect aristocratic landholders. Furthermore, the spread of Roman law occurred through empire and military dominance. Yet, the Roman tradition also implanted several basic principles of the rule of law, including the need for public knowledge of civil law and judicial procedures, that the law should be stable and evolve according to precedent and circumstances, and that natural law (the universal rights of man) can provide the basis for positive (man-made) law. The Roman tradition was maintained under the Byzantine Empire and over time was incorporated into much of European law and practice throughout the Holy Roman Empire.

The Anglo-Saxon Tradition

The Magna Carta, signed by King John of England in AD 1215, established one of the most basic concepts of governance, namely that the power of the head of state, the monarch, was limited in relation to his subjects. Among the provisions of the Magna Carta was:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way,
nor will we [the King] proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. English Bill of Rights recognized the importance of positive rights, which were being asserted by Enlighten-ment thinkers.

The battles between parliament and the Stuart Kings of England led to the adoption of other landmarks in the rule of law. The Petition of Grievances (adopted in 1610), established the right of citizens to petition government to seek redress for abuses of power. The Petition of Right (adopted in 1628) more firmly grounded in law that the monarch could not arbitrarily violate basic civil liberties or raise taxes without parliament’s approval. The Habeas Corpus Act in 1679 formalized and strengthened the existing legal principle that anyone arrested by the king’s authority had the right to be presented to a judge to determine if there was legitimate cause for arrest so that people were not held in secret. (The law ordered "all sheriffs, jailers, and other officers" holding citizens in custody to "yield authority" to all writs of the court, also called “great writs.”)

The Glorious Revolution of 1688, which placed Protestants William of Orange and Mary on the throne, required that they accept the newly adopted English Bill of Rights, which reiterated these basic principles and also formalized other foundations in the Anglo-Saxon constitutional tradition, such as the right to trial by jury and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Act of Settlement of 1701 later established Parliament's power to determine succession to the monarchy, effectively abolishing the “divine right of kings.” All of these landmark documents were part of the foundation for the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Rule of Law as Bulwark Against Government Tyranny

The English Bill of Rights recognized the importance of positive rights, a concept asserted by Enlightenment thinkers. Positive rights refer to a moral obligation that is owed to someone, as opposed to negative rights, which require only the absence of interference. According to many Enlightenment philosophers, these positive rights were natural rights, meaning that all persons were entitled to them and that the state could not violate them. Such rights were an indispensable accompaniment to representative government and were adopted by supporters of both the American and French Revolutions. In addition to the basic principles of rule of law adopted in British practice, the American Bill of Rights expanded constitutional protections to include the right to a fair and speedy trial, the right not to incriminate oneself, the right to confront one's accuser in court, and the right to protection against unwarranted search and seizures. In the US Constitution, these standards of rule of law — encompassed within the phrase "due process"— are considered the main bulwark against any threat of tyranny by the government. Of course, the universal understanding of and full respect for natural rights to include all persons — regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity or even property-owning status — took until the 20th century (see below). The concept of universality, however, was an extension of the original assertion of human rights during the Enlightenment.

The Separation of Powers

Who enforces the standards of the rule of law? In modern democracies, the rule of law relies on a judiciary or court system that can act independently of executive and legislative powers and thus rule on the basis of established law and precedent, not arbitrary or politically motivated considerations. In describing the idea of the separation of powers Baron de Montesquieu wrote in Spirit of Laws (1748):

Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. Were it joined with the legislative,
the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to the
executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor. succeeded in forcing the British government to abide by its own principles.

The independence of the federal judiciary in the United States was established through the "advise and consent" powers of the Senate in approving presidential nominees for federal judges and in the House and Senate's authority to impeach and remove judges from their lifetime appointments for reasons of incompetence or malfeasance. The independence of the judiciary was further strengthened in Marbury v. Madison (1803), decided under Chief Justice John Marshall, which asserted the Supreme Court's power of judicial review, meaning that the Court became the final arbiter of whether or not laws and the government's actions are constitutional.

The Expansion of Rule of Law

The incorporation of the rule of law and the separation of powers in British and US law had a great influence over the next two centuries, first as a result of the expansion of the British Empire, and second as a result of the growing influence of the United States as a world power. Rule of law principles came to symbolize the expansion of rights and liberties around the globe, including in British colonies. More significantly, natural law arguments in favor of due process, human rights, and self-governance became the instruments for many independence and democracy movements worldwide. Mahatma Gandhi is one of the best-known and most successful of the advocates for combining claims of legal rights with civic resistance against unjust laws. Gandhi succeeded in forcing the British government to abide by its own principles. This strategy has attracted many followers. In the United States, followers of Gandhi, such as Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr., used the instruments of protest and civic resistance, together with legal challenges to unjust laws, to empower African Americans to act against Jim Crow laws and legalized discrimination.

Karl Brandt, a Nazi physician and member of Hitler’s inner circle, being sentenced at the Nuremberg Trials.

The Contraction of Rule of Law

As noted earlier, the rule of tyranny stands in opposition to the rule of law. In dictatorships, the institutions of the rule of law become instruments of oppression. Indeed, dictators recognize the power of law as a foundation for governance and develop their own perverted claims to the rule of law. Nazi Germany and other Fascist states, for instance, imposed legal systems based on the supreme power of the leader and the superiority of one race over all others. Communist regimes superimposed the class struggle over "bourgeois" concepts of human rights for attaining a classless egalitarian society. Constitutions in communist countries frequently “guaranteed” basic human rights but then established the absolute authority of the Communist Party, governed by “democratic centralism,” to decide on all aspects of law and life. Many intellectuals were seduced by the idea of a higher form of justice or morality based on "national" or "socialist" law. In fact, there was no rule of law, only legalistic justifications for the most brutal actions: torture, mass imprisonment and murder, forced labor, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

Universality of Rule of Law

The defeat of fascism and Nazi Germany propelled the establishment of universal standards of human rights and the rule of law through agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Convention Against Genocide (1948), the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the Convention Against Torture (1984). The collapse of communism and the Soviet Union in 1989–91, the end of apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s, and the collapse of military and fascist regimes in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s further reinforced the rule of law as a universal principle not only of justice but also of governance. (The history of the adoption of these standards is discussed more fully in Human Rights. The adoption of an international court system to apply those standards is discussed in this section’s Essential Principles.)

Islamic Law

There is an Islamic tradition of law developed over many centuries that competes with the Western definition of the rule of law based on individual rights. The Islamic system of justice (or Shari’a) involves the application of principles Muslims believe were related to the Prophet Muhammad by Allah (the Arabic word for God) and that they therefore hold as sacred. In many Muslim countries, Islamic or Shari’a courts are complementary or superior to state courts in civil and religious matters or, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, serve as state courts on all matters.

Such courts are presided over by clerics who interpret the Koran for its application in specific instances of claimed injustice or appeals for mediation in civil disputes. Sometimes, such religious courts follow established procedures and act as a mediator within society. Many times, however, Islamic courts or Sharia courts are both extreme and arbitrary, based on originalist interpretations of religious texts (these interpretations vary, there being several schools of Islamic justice). In such cases, Shari’a courts operate outside of the concepts of the rule of law discussed in Essential Principles that stress a government established based on consent of the governed, guarantees of human rights, equal application of the law, and uniformity of expectations, among others. Thus, it must be noted that in Muslim countries where democracy has been established (as well as in some other predominantly Muslim countries), state courts generally supersede religious courts and the latter deal mainly with civil matters (marriage and divorce, inheritance, among others).

Members of the Taliban

In countries such as Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, Islamic “justice” is a tool for imposing a harsh dictatorship based on restrictive interpretations of Islamic law and texts. In recent decades, a form of radical Islamism based on Wahhabism or Salafism has spread to other countries and is used as a tool for seeking power or imposing the will of the majority over the minority. Fanatical movements such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS have arisen seeking to achieve a radical vision of Islam in order to establish a universal theocracy. In this vision, the use of violence against innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike is justified to fulfill radical Islamist goals (see, for example, the Country Study of Nigeria). Such views have gained strong followings in northern Africa and the Middle East, but are antithetical to any ideas of the rule of law and are contrary to the understanding of Islam for a majority of Muslims.


Rule of Law: Essential Principles

Essential Principles

". . . the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America
THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free
countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other."
Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

"Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority." 
Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 1 

"Government in Saudi Arabia derives power from the Holy Koran and the Prophet's tradition." 
The Basic Law of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Article 7 

The Rule of Lawlessness 

Many Crimean Tatars, a small Muslim group that settled on the Crimean peninsula originally in the 14th century, had loyally joined the Red Army in the Soviet Union's battle against Nazi Germany. Yet, during the course of World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began to question the Tatars' loyalty as an entire community because a very few had collaborated with the Nazi occupation. After the Soviet Red Army retook the Crimean peninsula in 1944, Stalin ordered the summary deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population to Central Asia without any legal proceeding or process.

"We Are All Equal." 

On May 18, 1944, the Soviet secret police (at the time known as the NKVD) began rounding up Crimean Tatars and deporting them by train to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Within three days, approximately 238,500 Tatars had been exiled. A third to half of those forced from their homes to live in Central Asia died from hunger, exposure, and disease. Using the same pretext, Stalin's regime undertook similar actions against other small ethnic groups in the Caucasus in an attempt to rid the region of its historical minority communities. 

The ethnic cleansings that occurred under Stalin are an example of the consequences of unchecked power. Overall, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people throughforced collectivization, ethnic cleansing, mass imprisonment, penal labor, and executions. The Soviet regime is itself an example of the ultimate breakdown of the rule of law, namely the rule of lawlessness. 

Rule of Law: A Necessary Accompaniment for Democracy

The use of arbitrary power is anathema to the rule of law. In democracies, constitutional limits on power require the subjugation of state authority to a country's laws as established through popular consent and adopted by the people’s representatives as determined in free elections. This is the meaning of the oft- cited phrase "a government of laws, and not of men" (it was originally used in the Constitution of Massachusetts, quoted above, drafted by John Adams). Under such a system, the rule of law should be supreme to the capricious authority of any individual. The rule of law is the supreme check on political power used against people's rights. Without the regulation of state power by a system of laws, procedures, and courts, democracy could not survive. And just as the rule of law protects the majority from arbitrary power and tyranny, it must also protect the minority from arbitrary power and the "tyranny of the majority" (see also "Majority Rule/Minority Rights"). use of arbitrary power is anathema to the rule of law. In democ-racies, constitutional limits on power require the subjugation of state authority to a country’s laws as established through popular consent. This is the meaning of the phrase, “a government of laws, not of men.”

Without the rule of law, there is likely to be either a dictatorship or mob rule. Some revolutionary thinkers have extolled mob rule, or anarchism, as the highest form of political and social justice. In reality, mob rule has meant violence and political chaos; indeed, it creates the very conditions that give rise to dictatorship, the exercise of arbitrary power, and the wholesale denial of individual rights. 

The Rule of Law: Contrasting Principles 

Much of what Americans consider to be the rule of law is derived from Anglo-Saxon legal traditions (see History). But there are many variations in how different countries organize legal and political institutions and apply the rule of law. These differences can often be confusing when talking about basic principles. For example, the basic principles of "innocent until proven guilty," the right not to incriminate oneself of a crime, and the right to be tried by a jury of one's peers are so deeply ingrained in the fabric of American and British law and society that they might be considered absolute principles. Yet the rest of Europe, most of which follows a Roman law tradition, does not operate by any of these tenets. The French legal system has the presumption of guilt over innocence and allows indefinite periods of incarceration. These practices violate American and British standards of justice but do not negate the claim that France also operates by the rule of law. 

The Rule of Law: Common Definitions

Still, the adoption and practice of some basic principles of the rule of law are clear barometers for the practice of democracy. While there is no set definition of the rule of law encompassing all of its characteristics, there is a basic realm of common principles. The scholar Rachel Kleinfeld Belton identified five: 

1. a government bound by and ruled by law;
2. equality before the law;
3. the establishment of law and order;
4. the efficient and predictable application of justice; and
5. the protection of human rights.

These principles are common sense. A government that is not bound by its own laws is by definition lawless. Without equality before the law, the rule of law has meaning only for the few. Without political or social order, the law cannot be applied. Slow and arbitrary application of the law means a breakdown of rule of law. If the law is neither efficient nor predictable no one can trust its application nor abide by its rules. The essential principle that the rule of law must protect human rights was not always accepted, but has become an obvious precondition for any democracy that establishes human rights as a foundation for its constitutional principles. One might add that in a democracy, the Western concept of the rule of law should also include the separation of religion and state as a basic constitutional principle, since no specific religious institution should establish general law for the entire community.

Apparent contradictions in principle or practice do not negate the rule of law’s essential importance. The awful consequences of the breakdown of the rule of law in dictatorships, as recounted above and in innumerable other historical circumstances, make self-evident the importance of adhering to the rule of law. In democratic societies, deviations from the principles of the rule of law, such as slavery, systematic discrimination, or the unequal treatment of women, serve as powerful arguments in favor of the fulfillment of those principles rather than as legitimate justifications for invalidating them. 

Institutions of the Rule of Law 

Belton also identifies the necessary institutions of the rule of law. These include: 

1. a set of comprehensive laws or a constitution based on popular consent;
2. a functioning judicial system; and
3. established law enforcement agencies with well-trained, professional officers. 

Absent any of these features, the rule of law may arguably break down. A constitution without legitimacy will not be respected by the people, and thus its principles cannot be upheld. If there is no constitutional check on the misuse of power, a corrupt judiciary or police force can manipulate the laws to their advantage. Incompetent lawyers cannot adequately represent their clients, and so on.

The Watergate scandal of the early 1970s — when former president Richard Nixon tried to cover up the involvement of his administration in illegal activities aimed to ensure his reelection — illustrates how the institutions of the rule of law act together to protect its principles. The media and public, exercising their right to free speech, uncovered and publicized the Nixon administration's illegal activities. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its decision in United States v. Nixon (1974), established that executive privilege was not absolute and that Nixon was required to release tapes he made of conversations in the Oval Office. In this ruling, the Supreme Court was also enforcing Congress's authority to investigate "high crimes and misdemeanors." The House of Representatives, in turn, impeached the president for breaking the law and violating his oath of office. These actions forced Nixon to resign, the first time a president had done so in U.S. history. These democratic institutions acted to ensure that even the president was not above the law. This principle will certainly be put to the test again.

The Will of the Society 

Another factor is necessary to achieve the rule of law, namely the will of society to enforce basic principles of equality, fairness, and justice when these are not enforced by the courts or other institutions of law and are violated in the practices of the state or citizenry. The British abolitionist movement, for example, brought an end to the British slave trade in the early 19th century.  Indeed, it caused the British government to take military action to end the slave trading internationally, at high cost of British lives.  (Such action, and the general introduction of an Anglo-Saxon court system within its colonies, did not prevent the British Empire from generally trampling the democratic rights of the indigenous inhabitants in many countries. It would be more than a century later before the United Kingdom granted independence to most of its colonies.)
Thurgood Marshall (center) after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the most sweeping of the Supreme Court’s renunciation of the previous “separate but equal” doctrine that had permitted systematic discrimination of African Americans.

In the United States, the periods of slavery and segregation are perhaps the most flagrant example within a democratic society of the breakdown of the principle of the rule of law. Federal and state Constitutions and democratic institutions at both levels upheld this nation’s “peculiar institution” — the barbaric practice of slavery. It was only through prolonged political struggle and ultimately the prosecution of a bloody civil war that the nation’s foundational principle as set forth in the Declaration of Independence — that “all men are created equal” — was incorporated in the US Constitution through the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Even after the Civil War and Reconstruction, the US Supreme Court repeatedly ruled to protect Jim Crow laws that were enacted in the South (and other laws in the North) that imposed a system of discrimination and segregation for black Americans. These laws and Supreme Court rulings turned the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal treatment before the law on its head. Yet it was precisely through a commitment to the rule of law that African Americans were able to slowly win back their rights. The sustained efforts to challenge legal segregation in the courts (most persistently by Thurgood Marshall) resulted in a series of US Supreme Court rulings that declared all previous Court doctrines protecting racial segregation and discrimination unconstitutional. In the end, it was the dramatic struggle of the Civil Rights Movement beginning in the 1950s that helped to convince American society to put an end to legal segregation and the systematic denial of equal rights for African Americans. Sweeping civil rights legislation was enacted in the 1960s to put an end to this legal wrong. The Supreme Court decisions and civil rights laws reflected evolving standards within society in favor of equal rights. Even so, of course, equality remains elusive more than 50 years after their enactment. There continue to be many examples not only for African Americans but also other minorities where the principles of the rule of law outlined above are still betrayed. New civic and legal actions are attempting to re-engage “the will of society” in favor of greater equality for all Americans. it was precisely through a commitment to the rule of law that African Americans were able to slowly win back their rights.

International Rule of Law 

In response to the gross lawlessness and violations of human rights perpetrated by Nazi Germany and other Axis powers, after their defeat in World War II a new international system of the rule of law began to be established. The first precedent was set through the ad hoc Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials; the second was established through the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the United Nations. Most importantly, these precedents held that no government is above the universal laws of nations and that the international community may act to prevent and respond to acts of genocide and violations of sovereignty. They also established that individuals responsible for violating basic international standards of human rights should be held accountable for their actions.

At the time, however, there were no permanent international judicial institutions to ensure that states would adhere to these international principles. This task was left to the UN General Assembly and Security Council, whose ability to act was stymied by conflicting ideologies and interests among UN members. Consequently, ethnic cleansing and genocide continued to occur without an effective international response to end the killing. Horrific crimes have occurred, most recently, in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Syria (see Country Study), and the Darfur region of Sudan (see Country Study), among other places. In the mid-1990s, the United Nations established courts to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda with the aim of preventing similar atrocities from occurring again. The Rome Convention established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It is not formally part of the UN and its jurisdiction applies to cases occurring after its adoption in situations where national judicial systems do not or cannot assume jurisdiction. The innovation of the ICC is that it has the power to prosecute individuals who commit abuses within a signatory state (see, for example Country Studies of Sudan and Kenya). More recently, mixed or hybrid tribunals, established through the joint efforts of the United Nations and national governments, have been established in Cambodia, East Timor, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone. In some countries, such as Guatemala and Iraq, the prosecution of crimes against humanity has been conducted through domestic courts. It is open to debate whether or not domestic or even mixed criminal tribunals are more successful than the International Criminal Court in establishing consistent principles for an international rule of law. The trend towards pursuing such cases in both forums, however, is clear. In both venues, it is hoped that through such institutions the rule of law may be clearly applied so that the type of lawlessness represented by Stalin’s Soviet Union described at the beginning of this section or that represented by the more recent cases listed above may be deterred and that violators of basic international standards are brought to justice.

Economic Freedom: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignment. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


How do Adam Smith’s ideas affect national economies today? Does laissez-faire mean complete economic freedom? Are there any reasons to limit laissez-faire? What are they? How do Adam Smith’s ideas correlate with modern laissez faire theorists like Milton Friedman? Use selections of The Wealth of Nations (especially Books I, IV, and V) and The Road to Serfdom for the discussion.

Do you agree with the Heritage Foundation's definition of economic freedom (see Essential Principles)? Why or why not? Is this definition consistent with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations? Some define economic freedom as economic rights (see UN Covenant on Social and Economic Rights)? How would you define economic freedom?


Some argue there are "twin" — political and economic — characteristics of democracy? Discuss the ideas of political and economic democracy. How does one differ from another? When is it permissible to limit political liberty? Individual liberty? Economic liberty? How do different political philosophies come to different answers to the last question and how do these justify such limitations.

Compare the Essential Principles sections for Economic Freedom and Freedom of Association. Does economic freedom preclude freedom of association? Is freedom of association an unnecessary or necessary constraint on economic freedom “in order to protect liberty itself.” Review different economic periods in which trade unions acted to constrain business practices towards labor and workers. Discuss the interrelationship between economic freedom and freedom of association in terms of Ezra Solomon’s definition of economic freedom.



Why was Estonia able to improve its economy so quickly after independence from Soviet rule? What do independence leaders Tunne Kelam and Mart Laar attribute the success to? Are there any lessons that other developing countries could learn from Estonia and apply themselves?


Compare the economic experiences of Estonia and Cuba as described in the Country Studies. Both have experienced communist dictatorships and economic policies. What factors influenced the different routes that the two countries have taken since the fall of the Soviet Union? Discuss why Estonia changed and Cuba did not after the fall of the Soviet Union?



What factors contributed to the economic decline of Kenya, and when did it begin? What is the correlation between political and economic freedom in Kenya? How do these relate to the legacy of British colonial rule?


Freedom House lists Kenya as a Partly Free country. Assign a paper to research and compare Kenya's economic history with those of neighboring African countries (e.g. Uganda — see Country Study). Briefly compare the Freedom House ratings are for Kenya's neighbors and what are their economic situations (using IMF GDP rankings, UN Human Development Index, and Heritage Foundation survey). What is the methodology that Freedom House uses to determine economic freedom? What correlations are there between economic and political freedoms as measured by Freedom House?

The most recent elections in Kenya resulted in the inauguration of Uhuru Kenyatta as president and William Ruto as vice president, both of whom were indicted by the International Criminal Court for their role in the ethnic violence that erupted after the 2007 elections. Have students research New York Times and Economist articles on the 2013 elections to review and discuss whether these were free and fair. Organize a students’ debate: The 2013 elections were a step forward for Kenya’s democracy (Yes/No).



What countries affected Cuba’s history? Which had more impact: Spain, the US, or the USSR? How are principles of economic freedom and political freedom treated in Cuba under the communist dictatorship?  Are social and economic rights respected?


Cuba has followed a communist policy for more than five decades now and the United States has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba for almost as long. Have students discuss: Which has affected ordinary Cubans more: the communist government’s economic policies or the trade embargo? Should the embargo be lifted? Have students read articles related to President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba in March 2016 and discuss: did the trip help or hurt human rights and economic freedom in Cuba?

Have students go to Yoanni Sanchez’s web site Generation Y (see link in Resources) and read recent blogs by her as well as other independent bloggers linked by her site through Voces Cubanos (Cuban Voices). What are the most important issues reported on by Sanchez and these independent journalists? How are human rights reported on? Economic policy and changes? How do they assess Cuba’s current situation? To what can these independent journalists exercise freedom of speech and media?

The Cuban Revolution promised to improve the situation of Afro-Cubans, who have suffered a four-century legacy of slavery and discrimination. Has the revolution improved the situation of Afro Cubans? Look at the New York Times article “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.” How does it describe the current situation of Afro-Cubans? How are Afro Cubans active in the opposition?

Economic Freedom: Resources


Essential Principles

Economic Policy Institute (home page).  

Heritage Foundation. Index of Economic Freedom: (link) 

Lipset, Seymour Martin
Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.”
The American Political Science Review. 53, 1 (Mar., 1959). pp. 69-105. (link)
The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited: 1993.” American Sociological Review. 59, 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 1-22. (link) 

Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776. Full text available at

Solomon, Ezra. "The Economy in a Free Society." The Free Society Papers. American Federation of Teachers: Washington, 1989. Introduction on Gozaar web site. 

Transparency International (home page). 

UN Development Report 2015 (link).  


The New York Times: World: Times Topics: Estonia.

Estonica, a web encyclopedia produced by the Estonian Institute.

The Wall Street Journal. See, e.g.:
     “An American Ally in Putin’s Line of Fire,” April 4, 2014.
     “Estonia Taps Youth for Next Premier,” March 12, 2014.
     “Estonia: The Role Model for Tech-Enabled States,” August 13, 2013.

The Washington Post
      “New Estonian Government Sworn In,” March 26, 2014

Uncaptive Minds, a journal of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (1987-98, 2015).
     “25 Years After 1989–91: The Case of Estonia.” Tunne Kelam. pp. 22-28. (link). 

US Department of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Estonia). 


Achebe,  Chinua.  Things Fall Apart (1994) and Anthills of the Savannah (1997). Anchor Books: New York.

Barkan, Joel. “Kenya’s 2013 Elections: Technology Is Not Democracy.” Journal of Democracy, July 2013 (link).

Economist magazine. Topics Index: Kenya. See, e.g.:
     “Kenyan Politics: Rift in the Rift,” January 23,, 2016.

Human Rights Watch, World Report: 2016: Kenya. See also previous year reports

Journalists for Justice (home page). 

Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC). 

Maathai, Wangari
     2004 Nobel Peace Prize Award Speech (December 2004).
     Unbowed: A Memoir. Knopf: New York, 2006.

Ngegwa, Stephen N., "Kenya: Third Time Lucky?" Journal of Democracy, vol. 14, no. 3 (July 2003).

U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Kenya). 


Economist magazine: Topics Index: Cuba. See, e.g.:
     “Cuba’s Economy: Picturesque but Doing Poorly,” May 16, 2015.
     “Investment in Cuba: Strait Talk,” April 5, 2014.
     “Huber Matos: Revolutionary-Turned Political Prisoner,” March 15, 2014.

The New York Times. World: Times Topics: Cuba. See, e.g.:
     “A Year After Cuba-US Thaw, Obama Says Change Will Take Time,” December 16, 2015.
     “Cuban Vendors, in Rare Move, Stage a Protest,” January 23, 2014.
     “For Black in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” Sunday Review, March 24, 2013.

Arenas, Reinaldo. Before Night Falls. Translated by Dolores Koch. Penguin: New York, 1994.

Cuba-Europe Dialogues: a publication of the Czech organization People in Need and its International Committee for Democracy in Cuba. Past issues can be found at link.

Generation Y by Yoanni Sanchez.

Ms. Sanchez’s blog (available on the Huffington Post ) is one of the best sources of independent information in Cuba. Her web site is a portal for other independent bloggers. See also: Translating Cuba, a web page translating independent bloggers from Voces Cubanos, as well as 24ymedio, a new online newspaper in Spanish 

Human Rights Watch. World Report: 2015: Cuba.

National Geographic. “Cuba’s New Now” by Cynthia Gorney, November 2012.

US Department of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Cuba).

Valladares, Armando. Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag. (Encounter Books: San Francisco, 2001.

World Affairs Journal. “The Once Great City of Havana” by Michael Totten.

Economic Freedom: Country Studies — Cuba

Cuba Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 6.5; Political Rights: 7; Civil Liberties: 6.



Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean Sea, was claimed by Christopher Columbus for the Kingdom of Spain in 1492 on his first transatlantic voyage. The island was under Spanish rule for more than 400 years until 1898, when it was ceded to the US as a result of the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish-American War. Cuba gained independence in 1902 but the island's politics and economy remained intertwined with those of the United States until the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in 1959 by the July 26 Movement led by Fidel Castro. Under his leadership, Cuba became a repressive Communist dictatorship allied with the Soviet Union. In consolidating power, the Castro dictatorship carried out summary executions, instituted a massive police state, and nationalized nearly all property. Despite the loss of large subsidies after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 and a continuing economic embargo by the US, Cuba remained politically unchanged and adopted only minor economic reforms. The Communist Party remains in control of all of Cuba’s political and state structures.

Cuba has been ranked “not free” in all of Freedom House’s world surveys since 1973. Cuba is also consistently ranked by the Heritage Foundation's index as among the least economically free countries in the world. Despite some policy changes allowing specified economic activities and limited property ownership, state structures still employ 80 percent of the workforce and continue to control most economic activity. The independent economy remains highly constrained and subject to severe state controls. The usual economic rankings are difficult to ascertain.

Cuba’s population of 11 million is 65 percent white, 25 percent mestizo (mixed race), and 10 percent Afro-Cuban. Since 1959, more than one million Cubans have left the island for political and economic reasons. Most of them landed in the United States by boat. The World Bank and IMF no longer estimate Cuba’s GDP either by nominal or PPP (purchasing power parity) measurements. The last IMF estimate in 2013 ranked Cuba’s nominal GDP at 65th in the world (around $71 billion in total output) and the World Bank estimated its nominal per capita income at 92nd ($6,501 per annum) for 2012. These measurements, however, do not accurately depict Cuba’s economy, which has been aided until recently by a large oil subsidy from Venezuela. State employees average around $25 per month in salary, while state benefits are generally exaggerated in value.


Spain established its first permanent settlement in Cuba in 1511. From that time, Cuba was under continuous Spanish colonial rule until 1898 (with the exception of 1762–63, when the British briefly occupied the island during the 7 Years’ War before returning it to Spain). The indigenous peoples on the island (estimates of their number range from 16,000 to 200,000 people) were quickly decimated by disease, forced labor, and dislocation. From the outset, Spanish colonists imported large numbers of African slaves to carry out agricultural labor. In the 18th century, slavery expanded with the increased cultivation of sugar cane and production of sugar. Aided by French colonists fleeing the slave revolts in Haiti, Cuba became the world's largest sugar producer as well as a major tobacco and coffee exporter.

Jose Marti

Abolition of Slavery and Independence

The path to independence began in 1868 when Carlos Manuel de Cespedes and some other landowners freed their slaves and organized an armed rebellion against Spanish control. Their ten-year struggle to establish a republic failed, but the conflict led to the eventual abolition of slavery in 1886. In 1895, Jose Marti, whose writings in support of freedom made him a symbol of the Cuban independence struggle, led fellow exiles in an armed attack to end Spanish rule on the island. He died a month after the landing, but the uprising gained strength in the countryside. Even so, the rebel forces failed to take any major cities until the United States intervened in 1898 as part of the Spanish-American War. After the US armed forces won a quick victory, Spain ceded control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Cuba gained independence from Spain, but as a protectorate under US occupation.

Independence and the Platt Amendment

Cuba declared its independence in 1902, when US authorities formally ceded power to newly elected Cuban leaders under a constitution modeled on that of the United States. As part of the handover of power, the US Congress adopted the Platt Amendment, which required Cuba to lease Guantanamo Bay to the US on an open-ended basis and granted the US the power to intervene in Cuban affairs. (The amendment had to be made part of the new republic's constitution.) US forces reoccupied the country from 1906 to 1909 in order to put down a rebellion against the US-backed government. After returning control to Cuban leaders, the US remained highly involved in Cuba and US investors dominated many aspects of the island's economy, including sugar production, industry, and tourism.

Democracy, Dictatorship, and the Sergeants' Revolt

Cuba had a fitful electoral democracy with competing political parties (although the one Afro-Cuban party was banned in 1912). In 1933, the increasingly dictatorial Gerardo Machado, first elected president in 1924, refused to leave office and resigned only after a general strike and army revolt. A short-lived provisional government was then toppled in a coup led by Fulgencio Batista, an army sergeant. Assuming the title of army chief of staff, Batista wielded power behind the scenes before he ran for president himself in 1940. Although he retired to the US after losing his re-election bid in 1944, he returned to run for president again in 1952 on a platform to end corruption. Trailing in opinion polls, he seized power in a coup three months before the elections. After initially suspending the 1940 constitution, he held elections in 1953. He won the presidency despite strong opposition to his political manipulation.

Fidel Castro

The Overthrow of Batista

Batista's leadership provoked opposition from various political parties. When he failed to win a legislative seat in elections, the young lawyer and activist Fidel Castro organized an unsuccessful attack by armed guerillas on the Moncada army barracks on July 26, 1953. After being jailed for two years, he was amnestied and went into exile in Mexico. He returned in December 1956 with another small rebel force called the July 26 Movement. The group's initial landing was also a failure, with most of the fighters killed or captured. But Castro and several associates escaped to the Sierra Maestra highlands, recruited new guerrillas, and allied themselves with several other anti-Batista groups. By late 1958, the rebellion was gaining ground and he had lost US support. In the face of increasing military defections and civilian resistance in the cities, Batista fled on January 1, 1959. Castro seized control with his guerrilla force and formed a provisional government with other groups.

Consolidation of a Communist Regime and the Embargo

Castro consolidated power quickly by marginalizing other revolutionary leaders and imprisoning one-time supporters who broke with him over his dictatorial methods (one, Huber Matos, served nearly 20 years in prison before agreeing to exile in the US). Castro signed a trade agreement with the Soviet Union in early 1960 and seized the facilities of US oil companies that refused to process Soviet crude oil at their Cuban refineries. After further expropriation of assets of US companies, the US government imposed a trade embargo on exports to Cuba in October 1960 and soon afterwards broke off diplomatic relations. In April 1961, an armed force of Cuban exiles, sponsored and trained by the CIA, landed at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba's southern coast. The uprising was quickly defeated by government forces, after which the regime intensified police repression of the population. By the end of 1961, Castro had collectivized agriculture and publicly defined himself, and the Revolution, as Communist. Castro began repressing the Roman Catholic Church by taking over its schools and imprisoning or expelling clergy members. The trade union federation was taken over and made into a monolithic structure to control the workforce.

Missile Crisis

In October 1962, the US government confirmed that the Soviet Union was establishing intermediate-range nuclear missile bases in Cuba. President John Kennedy ordered a naval blockade to prevent the transfer of missiles to the island. After a tense standoff that included threats to use nuclear weapons, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the weapons and dismantle the bases in exchange for a US pledge not to invade Cuba in the future and to remove nuclear missiles from Turkey. Considering the Cuban regime an ongoing threat, however, the US government maintained a full trade embargo.


The regime required exit visas to leave the country, but in 1965 agreed for a time to allow the US to provide air transport for people seeking to leave. Around 250,000 Cubans emigrated to Florida between 1965 and 1973 under this agreement, mostly small business owners whose property had been seized. In 1980, when Castro briefly relaxed exit requirements again, 125,000 people fled Cuba in the so-called Mariel Boatlift. Castro used the boatlift to expel violent criminals and psychiatric patients in violation of humanitarian law. A surge in attempts by Cubans to reach the US on flimsy rafts led to a US-Cuban agreement in 1994. The US would admit 20,000 people a year through normal immigration channels but agree to return refugees caught at sea making an illegal crossing. Cubans who set foot on US shores are still granted asylum. Altogether since 1959, an estimated one million Cubans have fled the island.

Refugees from the Mariel Boatlift

Economic Freedom

Since 1959, the Castro regime adopted a Communist model of dictatorship. Under the constitution, the Communist Party controls the political structures of the state and through these all of Cuba’s social and economic structures. Much of the state-directed economy is devoted to the military and security forces, which exercise dominant control over the society and oversee key economic sectors. Since the Cuban Revolution, assets of foreign companies were expropriated, private property owned by Cubans was seized without compensation, and the state undertook to direct all economic activity, including production, distribution, and purchase of all goods and services. Food rationing was imposed in 1962 and has continued to the present day. Each household is restricted to a minimal amount of basic foods through use of coupons, although reforms eased some controls on distribution and private sales of goods.

Until 1991, Cuba depended on the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries for massive subsidies in exchange for sugar and other agricultural products. As part of its alliance with the USSR, Cuba supplied troops and medical personnel to conflicts in Africa. In addition, Cuba sponsored numerous revolutionary groups in Latin America with arms and money in order to establish other Communist and Soviet-allied states in the Western Hemisphere. Since 2000, Venezuela has provided Cuba substantial oil subsidies, loans, and investments in exchange for the involuntary services of security, medical, educational, and other personnel. That subsidy — estimated at 8 percent of the state budget — has recently been halved and is likely to be ended entirely due to Venezuela’s economic collapse and the opposition victory in 2015 elections (see Country Study). The confiscation of assets of US companies and Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union resulted in the breaking of diplomatic relations and a US economic embargo, which remains in place despite resumed diplomatic relations in 2014 (see Current Issues).

The False Dichotomy

The communist regime imposed strict political controls, instituted a nationwide system of surveillance through neighborhood vigilante groups (known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), and severely repressed opponents of the regime and those considered social deviants (mostly drug addicts, prostitutes, and homosexuals).  Initially, the regime executed and imprisoned citizens on a massive scale. Since consolidating power, the regime has engaged in more targeted and systematic repression.

Sympathizers with the Cuban revolution or Fidel Castro's vocal opposition to the United States have often pointed to the regime's so-called protection of “social and economic rights” as justification for its lack of political or economic freedom. While this poses a false dichotomy (see Essential Principles), the social achievements of the Cuban Revolution are highly overstated. In education, there are chronic shortages of textbooks and basic materials (not to mention newer technology such as computers). The regime uses education as a vehicle for indoctrination and limits learning by strictly controlling access to literature, other books, and the internet. Higher education is limited and entrance depends on political loyalty to the state. In health care, there is a chronic shortage of medical supplies, drugs, and now medical personnel (due to their involuntary service to countries like Venezuela in exchange for oil and other subsidies). Most hospital facilities serving the general population are dilapidated and Cubans often pay bribes for basic treatment. (The best health care facilities are typically reserved for the ruling elite and paying foreign guests, who are led to believe that ordinary Cubans receive the same care.)

Overall, social and economic well-being and inequality have worsened. Today, the population has a lower standard of living than in 1959; the average state wage is $25 per month. Ongoing racial discrimination has left most Afro-Cubans living in severe poverty. Meanwhile, favored groups loyal to the regime (such as military officers and party officials) live in better housing, have higher salaries and benefits, and receive luxury goods.

Communist economic policies resulted in severe impoverishment of a country that was once the most prosperous in Latin America.  

The “Special Period”

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost an estimated $5 billion a year in economic subsidies and the country's gross national product fell by nearly half between 1989 and 1993. Cuba entered what Fidel Castro called the “special period” and he announced the need for additional revolutionary mobilization and sacrifice, such as forcing students and government workers to plant and harvest crops and further rationing of all necessary goods. In 1994, the regime adopted economic reforms to allow foreign investment, especially in telecommunications and tourism, a limited degree of independent economic activity, and use of the US dollar as legal currency alongside the peso. Joint ventures were formed by foreign companies and Cuban state entities. Small, semiprivate cooperative farms were established and permitted to sell surplus agricultural products on the market. Private restaurants opened, as did special state-sponsored dollar stores (usually run by people close to the regime). In 1994, US President Bill Clinton allowed the possibility for family remittances and limited travel to the island. But after the Cuban military shot down two unarmed civilian airplanes operated by a US-based exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, the US Congress adopted the Helms-Burton Act, which extended the embargo to penalize foreign firms doing business in Cuba. Travel and family remittances to the island were restricted by US President George W. Bush in 2004 but eased by President Obama in 2010.

Resilience of the Regime

While some predicted the fall of the Castro regime after the Soviet Union's collapse, it has proven resilient. Since the reforms of the 1990s, the economy depends in part on a foreign tourist industry financed by European and Canadian investment. Since the early 2000s, Venezuela's socialist president, Hugo Chavez, has also provided a substitute energy subsidy, bartering oil for the free services of Cuban medical personnel, teachers, and others sent involuntarily to Venezuela. Overall, Chavez provided an estimated $14 billion in loans, investment, and grants.

In July 2006, expectations for change in Cuba were raised when Fidel Castro, nearing 80, transferred presidential and other powers to his brother Raúl, the Minister of Defense, before undergoing intestinal surgery. Failing to return to health, the elder Castro resigned in February 2008, making Raúl’s titles as President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers permanent. The regime has continued to operate smoothly under Raúl’s leadership with no sign of a political crisis. In February 2013, the National Assembly, made up solely of Communist Party-approved members, elected Raúl Castro to a second term as president of the Council of State at the age of 81. He continues to also serve President of the Council of Ministers, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and First Secretary of the Communist Party. Announcing that this would be his last term as state president, Raúl selected a younger candidate for first vice president of the Council of State, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who began his career as head of the Young Communist League.

Current Issues

In December 2014, US President Obama announced the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba and eased travel restrictions as part of an overall agreement with the Cuban government involving the exchange of American and Cuban nationals held as prisoners and the release of 53 political prisoners by Cuba. Embassies were reopened in 2015. The president also increased the cap on remittances to Cuban nationals to $8,000 annually, eased some export restrictions, and called for an end to the trade embargo, which must be removed by act of Congress. President Obama stated that the policy of isolating Cuba over 50 years had not resulted in desired change and argued that engagement with Cuba would better encourage political and economic reforms. Leading members of Congress from both parties, however, continue to support maintaining the embargo as pressure on the regime to improve human rights.

The regime is still under the firm control of Raúl Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba. It remains resistant to change. Economic reforms, which began in 2008, have been small and often depend on use of convertible pesos, which are available by exchange in foreign currency and are 25 times the value of ordinary pesos that most Cubans earn in wages. In 2013, the regime announced the possibility to travel without an exit visa and to buy and sell homes and cars on a limited basis. It also extended the number of allowable private economic activities (from 178 to 203). Cubans are now able to earn income privately and even to hire non-relative employees, but all such private economic activity remains under strict state supervision. The government must approve all professional licenses and property sales, which are routinely denied those considered dissidents or not loyal to the regime. Profits are subject to high tax. And state security harassment of entrepreneurs is common. A new foreign investment law provides incentives that continue requiring a majority Cuban partner, usually a state-enterprise or institution associated with the military or security services (which together control two-thirds of the Cuban economy). All foreign investment must be approved by the Council of State or Ministers. In practice, the reforms allowing buying and selling of goods and property do not benefit ordinary Cubans but rather the nomenklatura (the communist state hierarchy), whose members are more likely to own goods and property. The reforms largely bypass Afro-Cubans, who are less likely to receive remittances or be hired in the tourist industry, where foreign and convertible peso currency is used.

The government's control of all media and its sweeping restrictions on free expression means that the public has no reliable information about the political and economic situation in Cuba and the world.

The basic political and economic structure remains wholly unchanged. The Communist Party controls all state power and most economic enterprises. Access to housing, jobs, or state privileges depends on political loyalty or serving as an agent or informant to the police. Independent political activity is subject to severe reprisal, including harassment by state vigilantes, unending unemployment, and worse: imprisonment and extra-judicial killings. In one day in 2003, the regime arrested 75 leading dissidents. They were released over the course of the next ten years but only if they agreed to being exiled from Cuba. Since then, the regime has continued to imprison dissidents and pressure them into exile. The police routinely use “preventive detention” against civic and political activists. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights reported a record number of 9,000 detentions in 2014 and a similar number the next year, including hundreds of persons held during Pope Francis’s trip to Cuba in September 2015. The practice continued in 2016 and escalated prior and during President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March. During his trip, President Obama met with a representative group of dissidents on his trip and specifically called for the Cuban government to repression. Such appeals have not altered government behavior. Police and state-sponsored vigilantes routinely attack independent demonstrations, such as the weekly protests of Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of current and former political prisoners, and cultural events organized by independent performance artists and musicians.

Despite such repression, many Cubans bravely organize opposition to the regime and promote democracy and human rights. Organized opposition to the regime was almost eradicated in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but a revived democracy movement emerged in the mid-1990s to organize a variety of initiatives: human rights organizations, political groups, home libraries, self-employment centers, independent trade unions, among others. Musicians and artists have attempted to organize alternative culture. All such groups and initiatives are considered illegal and involvement in them is the basis for imprisonment.

In general, the government's control of all media and its sweeping restrictions on free expression means that the public has no reliable information about the political and economic situation in Cuba or the world. But among the most significant independent activities on the island are efforts to break through the information blockade. Within Cuba, a movement of independent bloggers, led by Yoanni Sanchez, including her Generation Y blog and now the daily news outlet she and her husband edit, 14yMedio, is now tolerated. Their web pages are blocked to Cuban residents by government control of the internet, but many Cubans are able to read them, although often at high cost, with the increase in access to satellite Wi-Fi.

Economic Freedom: Country Studies — Kenya

Kenya Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Partly Free. Freedom Ranking: 4; Political Rights: 4; Civil Liberties: 4.



Kenya, home to the earliest hominids, was mostly a pastoral land, inhabited by Nilotic and Bantu speaking peoples. Starting in the 1st century AD, its coasts were colonized by Arabs, and its port cities served as Arab trading centers, ultimately under the control of the Great Omani dynasty. In the late 19th century, Great Britain took over Kenya as a colony. As part of the post-World War II period of decolonization, the country achieved independence in 1963. Kenya's early period of democracy devolved into a one-party state after 1969. Multiparty elections were re-introduced in 1992, but the authoritarian ruling party retained power until being defeated by the National Rainbow Coalition in 2002. Since then, there have been two changes of government through elections. In May 2013 elections, Uhuru Kenyatta, leader of the National Rainbow Alliance, was elected president. He faced trial in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity on charges that he financed ethnic cleansing campaigns after earlier elections in 2007. The charges were dropped in 2014, but his vice president, William Rutu, still faces charges in the ICC.

Kenya, with an area of 550 million square kilometers, has a population of 47 million people. Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta (the father of Uhuru), adopted a mixture of free market and state interventionist policies that improved  land distribution while also allowing white colonial residents to retain property rights. After Kenyatta declared a one-party state in 1969, members of the president's Kikuyu ethnic group received preferential treatment in the distribution of wealth, land, and offices. Under Kenyatta's successors, the economy deteriorated as corruption flourished. Once one of Africa's economic success stories, Kenya fell into dire poverty. Under recent democratically elected governments, the economy has improved. For 2014, the International Monetary Fund puts Kenya’s nominal GNP at $60 billion (74th in the world). Nominal per capita GDP had improved from 175th in the world in 2006 to 143rd in 2015 ($1,432 per annum). The tourism industry has been hard hit due to terrorist attacks by the Somali extremist group Al-Shabaab. Surprisingly, recent reports indicate that a part of the Kenyan Defense Forces is tied to illicit trade in cooperation with the Shabaab. Kenya is ranked among the more corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International, 145th out of 176 countries in 2016.


Home to fossil evidence of some of the oldest known hominid species, Kenya owes most of its modern population to Nilotic and Cushitic speakers who migrated from the north in the second millennium BC and to Bantu speakers from the south who arrived roughly 2,000 years later. Trade with the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf was already flourishing in the first century AD and migrants from those regions established port cities along the coast during the first millennium. The residents in these areas were gradually converted to Islam starting in the 8th century AD.

In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama visited the main coastal city, Mombasa, on his famous voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to India. Subsequent explorers seized the port and the Portuguese exercised control over the Kenya coast for much of the 16th and 17th centuries. Beginning in the 1650s, the ruler of Oman sent naval forces to help free the Muslim city-states. The Portuguese were expelled from Mombasa for the last time in 1729 and the coast enjoyed a relative degree of independence under Omani dynasties until 1832, when the Omani sultan of Muscat began to rule his empire from the island of Zanzibar off of present-day Tanzania. He ousted a rival dynasty from Mombasa and secured control over the coastal area.

Supporter of Jomo Kenyatta

Colonization by Great Britain

Great Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and began to suppress the practice throughout its empire in 1833. The Omani ruler of Zanzibar, a British ally, gradually shut down the thriving slave trade in his domain. Other commerce flourished as European, American, and Indian merchants arrived in greater numbers. As Christian missionaries and explorers made their way into the interior, competition between Britain and a newly unified Germany led the two powers to delineate their spheres of influence in East Africa in 1886 between modern Kenya and Tanzania to the south. In 1886, the sultan of Zanzibar transferred his territories on the mainland north of the colonial line to what was later chartered as the British East Africa Company. The British government replaced the struggling company in 1895 with the East Africa Protectorate.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the British constructed a railroad from Mombasa to Kisumu on Lake Victoria and encouraged white settlers to begin large-scale farming in the highlands of the interior. Their expanding presence met with resistance from the main Bantu-speaking nations, the Kikuyu and the Nandi, who were displaced to make way for these settlers and in some cases forcibly confined to reserve areas. The indigenous people had no formal landownership (land was typically held collectively by the tribe or ethnic group), so the British legal system simply granted title to settlers. After 1920, the territory was divided into the Kenya Protectorate (the coastal area that was still nominally under the sovereignty of Zanzibar) and the Kenya Colony (encompassing the interior). Only the white settlers were represented in the colony's legislative council.

Kenya Moves to Independence and One-Party Rule

The first indigenous political movement within the Protectorate was the Young Kikuyu Association, which started in 1921. Along with other similar but smaller groups, the Kikuyu Association initially sought African representation in the colonial legislature and improved economic and cultural rights for Africans. But even these modest demands were resisted by the colonial government and white settlers.

Instead of nationalizing or seizing the property of settlers, [President Jomo] Kenyatta recognized their property rights and arranged an inventive deal with the British government to finance the purchase of white-owned land for redistribution to

Under the banner of the Kenyan African Union (KAU), Africans finally gained limited representation in the legislative council in 1944. As international and African pressure on Great Britain to decolonize increased after World War II, a Kikuyu insurgent group known as the Mau Mau launched a rebellion against colonial rule in 1952. The British declared a state of emergency that lasted until 1960 and brutally suppressed the rebellion in a four-year military campaign that killed about 13,000 people. Jomo Kenyatta, the head of the KAU, was accused of orchestrating the Mau Mau Rebellion and jailed with other nationalist leaders. After the state of emergency was lifted, a new Kenya African National Union (KANU) was formed and Kenyatta was elected its leader after being released in 1961. Negotiations between the British and a coalition headed by Kenyatta resulted in adoption of a constitution, the holding of initial elections, and finally a declaration of independence on December 12, 1963. Kenyatta was the prime minister in the first post-independence government, but assumed the office of president when the country converted to a presidential system under a new constitution adopted in 1964.

Jomo Kenyatta consolidated power by dispensing privileges and economic favors to members of the country's various ethnic groups and by using authoritarian methods to silence critics and potential rivals. Opponents perceived favoritism toward the Kikuyu and relegation of non-Kikuyu leaders to minor posts. In 1969, Kenyatta banned the main opposition party and Kenya became a de facto one-party state.

Economic Freedom

For more than a century, Kenya was under British colonial administration and its non-coastal economy was dominated by white settlers who owned and operated large estates for agricultural production and other purposes, although there was application of British law that allowed some Kenyans to benefit from economic activity. Since independence, Kenya’s economic freedom and well being has been integrally tied to its struggle for political rights and civil liberties. At first, economic freedoms allowed the rise of private ownership of property and development of the economy by Kenyans. The one-party state that was declared in 1969 turned into a full-fledged dictatorship that resulted in widespread economic poverty and the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few. The re-emergence of democracy in 2002 started to reverse Kenya’s decline and the resolution of the 2007–08 political crisis (see below) led to the establishment of a unity government, a new constitution, and free elections. Within that framework, the economy started to recover and Kenya adopted some measures allowing greater economic freedom, however it still has not addressed the issue of land displacement and the concentration of wealth within elite groups of ethnic communities. More recently, the victory of two prominent politicians accused by the International Criminal Court in being directly involved in the 2007-08 ethnic violence as president and vice president, along with the rise of terrorism, has resulted in increased political instability, police and government abuses, and a decline in economic progress due to decreased foreign investment and the decline in one of Kenya’s major industries, tourism.

An Early Model

Kenya’s early independence period was marked by general economic freedom. Kenyatta rejected socialism, which was adopted by many other post-colonial independence leaders in Africa. He was mostly pro-Western and supported the legal features of a free-market system as established under British rule. Instead of nationalizing or seizing the property of white settlers, Kenyatta recognized their property rights and arranged an inventive deal with the British government to finance the purchase of white-owned land for redistribution to Africans. Many settlers left the country voluntarily, while others stayed and aided in the country's economic growth. Kenya's initial economic success, built on this consensus approach, made the country an economic model for Africa and a target for foreign investment. The economy grew at an average annual rate of 6 percent from 1971 to 1981, outstripping most other countries on the continent.

Over time, however, Kenyatta adopted contradictory governing policies that blended economic liberalism, political authoritarianism, and corruption. While many poor Kenyans received small farms as part of the land redistribution effort, large blocks of land went to a privileged Kikuyu elite. At the same time, Kenyatta also spent a third of the budget on education for development of human resources. Despite wide disparities in wealth, most Kenyans benefited from overall economic growth.

In 1988, Moi instituted mlolongo (queuing), a voting system in which voters literally line up behind an image of their chosen candidate or

Authoritarianism’s Rise and the Economy’s Decline

Kenyatta, who died in office in 1978, was succeeded by his vice president, Daniel Arap Moi. Under Moi, the country descended into a full-fledged dictatorship. The constitution was amended in 1982 to make Kenya a formal one-party state with KANU as the only legal political party. The courts and the media were tightly controlled by the government and political repression intensified. Corruption spread widely throughout government. Members of Moi's Kalenjin ethnic group displaced many of Kenyatta’s favored Kikuyu in prominent positions. Foreign aid and investment declined as political conditions worsened. As part of a policy he called “Africanization,” Moi actively sought to limit foreign ownership of industry. Economic growth rates fell and were worsened by drought, declines in world prices of key agricultural exports (such as coffee), and large population growth (from 8 million people at independence to 22 million in 1988).