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‘Can someone get me outta this middle class zone?!’ Pressures on middle class Kikuyu in Kenya's 2013 election*

  • Dominic Burbidge (a1)

Whilst the middle class are often heralded as forerunners for consolidating democracy, the experiences of Kikuyu in Kenya's 2013 election reveal how under-problematised the socio-economic group is for understanding the pressures faced in voting. The article presents evidence from diary entries of young middle class Kikuyu residing in Nairobi who recorded their feelings and impressions across a period of one month surrounding the country's elections. The diary writers describe the key moments at which they felt the need to switch from supporting third-placed presidential hopefuls to supporting one of the two favourites. Topics felt to pressure voters most keenly were ethnicity, social media, debate surrounding the International Criminal Court and the lack of confidence in others of the middle class. Unlike election analyses which assume static preferences and voting blocks, this methodology allows exploration of the ongoing negotiations and deliberations that influence voting intentions over time. The tensions felt by middle class Kikuyu during the election period made them wish they were members of either of the two other classes, who were in turn viewed as able to influence politics through money or popular power. These feelings of disempowerment ensured voting attitudes fell closely in line with ethnic affiliations, despite members of the middle class remaining wholly dissatisfied with ethnic labelling throughout. It is argued that the economic autonomy of middle class voters did not help disengage them from political tribalism in assessing how to vote.

Corresponding author
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I am immensely grateful for the research assistance provided by Victoria Gathogo of Strathmore University. I am also thankful to Nic Cheeseman and Andrea Scheibler at the University of Oxford for their comments on earlier drafts.

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Respondent 1, female, student, 20 years.

Respondent 2, female, businessperson, 30 years.

Respondent 3, male, financial services professional, 28 years.

Respondent 4, male, IT consultant, 29 years.

Respondent 5, female, student, 23 years.

Respondent 6, male, actuarial consultant, 26 years.

Respondent 7, female, banker, 26 years.

Respondent 8, female, lab assistant, 24 years.

Respondent 9, male, student, 21 years.

Respondent 10, female, student, 22 years.

Respondent 11, female, business advisor, 26 years.

Respondent 12, female, student, 25 years.

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The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
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