I can’t say anything about the situation in Kenya beyond what I read in the papers but it does speak in some ways to the misguided embrace of “democracy” as the key indicator for political development. The idea of an effective democracy presupposes the idea of a broad consensus about the legitimate decision-making unit. Viewed in those terms, the noteworthy thing about Kenya isn’t so much that there was a closely contested election marred by credible allegations of fraud followed by something of a popular uprising against the regime, but the fact that there’s such substantial support for the incumbent anyway: “Gangs of young men have built roadblocks between the neighborhoods of the Kikuyus, Mr. Kibaki’s tribe, and the Luos, the tribe of Raila Odinga, the top opposition leader, who narrowly lost the election […] the no man’s land between them is often a single lane of potholed asphalt, patrolled by men holding huge rocks in their hands.”

If Kikuyus feel that their main loyalty should be toward the Kikuyu then there mere fact that the Kikuyu may be outnumbered by the Luos isn’t going to carry much weight. In the US, pretty much everyone thinks of themselves as owing primary allegiance to the United States. But it wasn’t always thus. During the Civil War, at least some Southerners agreed to abide by the decisions of their respective state governments to secede without necessarily believing that secession was the best move on the merits. These days, the number of Americans who seriously contest the legitimacy of the United States of America as a decision-making unit is trivial, which is what makes things like Orson Scott Card’s Empire so preposterous.

But that sense of agreement about the legitimate level of decision-making doesn’t just happen inevitably because you live in the same borders with some other people. In Iraq, clearly, you don’t have it just as Chechens seem disinclined to treat “Russia” as a legitimate unit and just as how the Irish in the early 20th century didn’t view their right to elect members of parliament in Westminster as adequate compensation for the absence of national self-determination.