This article uses the concept of ‘political society’ as unfolded by the ‘subaltern studies’ in India to shed new light on present-day political actors and democratic transitions in Africa. It discusses the political practices and discursive terrains of organizations within ‘really existing’ civil society that are based on identities and regarded as outside legitimate civil society. It looks at politics from below, taking the example of the 2007 elections in Kenya, and the role of Mungiki, an organization characterized by the intersection of class, generation, religion and ethnicity. Mungiki builds on Kenya's history and rich archive of indigenous popular culture. It originated in the early 1990s’ turmoil of ‘ethnic clashes’ and population displacement and now operates in rural and poor urban areas, providing income opportunities, service delivery and extortion/protection. During elections, sections of Mungiki have been recruited by political leaders and functioned as violent militia; concurrently, it seeks representation in formal and parliamentary politics. The organization is distinct from ‘respectable’ segments of Kenya's civil society who participate in NGO activities and mainstream churches. The article ends by calling for an inclusive and non-normative approach to the study of state–civil society engagement that recognizes culturally based discourses and organizations when analysing the transitions to and the broadening of democracy in post-colonial societies.