Fascinating Bird Nests

Because it is Monday and you need a break from Kenyan politics:

Awesome bird nests brought to you by the sociable weaver bird in the Kalahari. Simply amazing (h/t @vkwhatt).

Image

More here.

Sloppy Reporting on the Kenyan Elections

Dear readers, it has been a while since I did a rant and rave post. Here is one to end the long drought. Today we look at a couple of pieces done by Al-Jazeera and the New Yorker.

First The New Yorker.

I love the New Yorker. Everyone does. Unless you are weird. Or do not like their politics.

But the New Yorker should get a better writer than James Verini on the upcoming Kenyan elections. Reporting on the first presidential debate, Verini made several unforgivable errors. I mean, I know it is hard to find information on countries that you may or may not have visited, or have only visited for a few days.

But Kenya is one of the most studied countries on the Continent. You can wikipedia or google your way to a decent article that passes a laugh test. Sadly, Verini’s does not. Here are the necessary corrections to his (original) piece (and certainly not the only ones):

  • First of all, there were two moderators, not one. Unless Verini only caught the first half of the debate. I will admit that the second half could have been better. But it wasn’t bad enough to forget that there were two moderators. Julie Gichuru moderated the second half.
  • Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta was not a “Mau Mau rebel.” Also, the Mau Mau are popularly known in Kenya as freedom fighters. Dedan Kimathi, a leading light in the independence movement and Mau Mau leader, has a statue in his honor on Kimathi street in downtown Nairobi.
  • Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga is not “a human rights lawyer.” He is “an engineer by profession.” Odinga says so when he introduces himself at the beginning of the debate. What makes Verini think Odinga is a human rights lawyer? (Might be because, as he admits, he was at Njuguna’s – perhaps chasing down goat meat (nyama choma) with Tusker. The New Yorker should institute strict sobriety requirements when sourcing stories, but I digress.)
  • Nairobi is not in Central Province. Nairobi is a Province on its own. Kenya has eight provinces (now called regions) – Rift Valley, Eastern, North Eastern, Coast, Western, Central, Nyanza and Nairobi. Nairobi borders Central. But it is not in Central. I swear. You can google it.
  • The post-election violence in 2007-08 was not mainly a Kikuyu-Luo affair. Most deaths occurred in the Rift Valley in clashes between Kikuyus and Kalenjins, over land. Police brutality was number two in cause of deaths. Kikuyu-Luo clashes were horrific. But they were not the defining feature of the PEV.
  • The 2010 Constitution did not make the position of Prime Minister permanent. It abolished it. You can also google a copy of the Kenyan Constitution. There is a pdf online. I swear. Or you could just read the Wikipedia entry here.

And then Al-Jazeera:

For a news organization that claims to counter the dominance and supposed orientalist biases of CNN International and the BBC with nuanced on-the-ground reporting, this is unforgivable. Here’s is how Peter Greste opens his report on the Kenyan election:

Political science is an imprecise discipline at the best of times. But in Kenya, it feels more akin to witchcraft.

In most established democracies, astute analysts can have a reasonable stab at predicting the outcome of elections. The regular if well-spaced drum-beat of polls gives anyone who cares to look, a decent set of historical data to work with.

It’s usually possible to check the voting patterns of a particular electorate; assess the impact of demographic changes; and with the help of some intelligent opinion polling, have a good understanding of the way a country might swing.

But in Kenya, this election is stacked with so many unknown factors that a witch throwing newt’s eyes into a bubbling cauldron might have as good a chance at predicting the outcome as the political scientists.

Really Mr. Greste, really?

Witchcraft? Why that term? Why not just say that you do not have a grasp of the political reality and so don’t know how the election will turn out? Are you trying to say something about your readers (that they easily resort to witchcraft to explain things they do not comprehend) or Kenya?

I put it to you that there are three firms that have been polling the Kenyan public on their political preferences since the last election in 2007. These firms accurately predicted the outcome of the messy 2007 election (and pretty much matched the exit polls conducted by UCLA academics) and the 2010 referendum. Kenya has demographic data that politicians make very good use of. For instance, we know the ethnic composition of Nairobi, the most cosmopolitan PROVINCE (hear me, Mr. Verini) in Kenya.

Also, a few political scientists, including yours truly, have done some predictions as to the potential outcomes of the election (see blog posts below).

Why did these two do this?

To me it looks like a bad case of trying to exoticize the Kenyan elections for their audiences – what with the references to witchcraft by Mr. Greste and Mr. Verini’s over-simplification of the election to a Kikuyu-Luo tribal contest.

It is also disrespectful to Kenyans, who they seem to think will not do any fact-checking to correct their sloppiness.

Nominate the best blogs of 2012

A View From the Cave blogger Tom Murphy is holding the annual Aid Best Blogger Awards (ABBA). I don’t consider my blog to be an “aid blog” per se but I think I fit into the general category that Tom intended to include in his awards.

If I may toot my own horn a little, I even once got a shout out from one of the better know aid bloggers out there, Chris Blattman (Blogger of the Year last year).

So if you like what you read on this blog please go ahead and nominate the blog for this year’s awards here.

Some of my better posts in recent months have been on the topics of the upcoming elections in Kenya and the conflict in eastern DRC.

Penpals: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln

I just came across this fascinating letter that Karl Marx wrote to Abraham Lincoln, following the latter’s re-election in 1864.

We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery. From the commencement of the titanic American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class. The contest for the territories which opened the dire epopee, was it not to decide whether the virgin soil of immense tracts should be wedded to the labor of the emigrant or prostituted by the tramp of the slave driver?

… The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.

On a related note, my girlfriend and I recently watched Lincoln while on a short work/fun trip to Ghana (posts on Ghana coming soon). The controversies over the historical accuracy of parts of the film aside, Lincoln is a must-watch. The movie does a brilliant job of portraying the complexities that inhabit all humans – good or bad, or somewhere in-between.

The abolitionists in 19th century America were no altar boys. Their triumph against slavery was also a triumph against parts of themselves.

Another interesting thing about the movie is how Obama-esque the Lincoln in the movie is, or it might be that Obama has read so much Lincoln that he emulates the man from Illinois. The truth is probably a mix of both. It is almost impossible to imagine that the first black president would have no influence on the production of a movie about the president who signed into law an act abolishing slavery.

Go watch Lincoln.

And Django Unchained which is also awesome – but which I had to finish watching alone at the hotel because of a skype appointment with my adviser (and the Tarantino violence which in the end was too much for my girlfriend).

An infinitely more sophisticated review of the two films (Django Unchained and Lincoln) by a scholar of their subject matter can be found here.

The State of the 2013 Presidential Race in Kenya

 (1) The Presidential Debate:

On Monday Kenyans witnessed, for the first time ever, a live presidential debate. I must say I was surprised by how well this went. The moderators, at least in the first half of the debate, had very pointed hard-hitting questions – especially on ethnicity and the ICC question.

The top two candidates, Mr. Raila Odinga and Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, were taken to task about the apparent ethnic arithmetic behind their campaign strategies and the perceived animosity between their respective ethnic groups, the Luo and Kikuyu. Both flatly denied the charges. But it nonetheless provided a moment of open discussion of negative ethnicity, which remains as the key organizing principle of Kenyan politics – with disastrous security and economic consequences.

Mr. Kenyatta was grilled on how he planned to govern from The Hague while on trial at the ICC; or whether it was legally or ethically tenable for him to be running in the first place. Mr. Odinga did not miss the moment and chimed in by stating that it would be logistically challenging to run a government via skype from The Hague. Many of those on stage – with the exception of Martha Karua and Abduba Dida – concurred that the trials should be held in Kenya and that Uhuru should be allowed to run (Today Kenya’s high court ruled that Uhuru and Ruto can run for office despite the charges at the ICC).

So who won the debate?

The simple answer is Mr. Kenyatta.

On negative ethnicity he shared the blame with Mr. Odinga. Mr. Odinga, as the Prime Minister, was often questioned, and himself answered questions like he was the only one on stage currently in government – Kenyatta and Mudavadi are his deputies, and Kenyatta was at one time Finance Minister. As a result he took a lot of flak for the failures of the current government.

Ironically, Mr. Kenyatta’s best moment in the debate was on the topic of the ICC charges against him and his running mate Mr. William Ruto. Because of the sovereignty overtones (Kenyans can “tribal”, but are also nationalist) in admitting that Kenya could not handle the cases, many on stage, including Odinga, said that Mr. Kenyatta should run – adding that the trials should be brought back to Nairobi.

One of the biggest obstacles to Kenyatta’s candidacy has been the ICC question – indeed he almost quit the race over the issue. Donors have given veiled threats of sanctions. Many Kenyans thought (or hoped) that the courts would bar him. But the way the ICC issue played out in the debate reduced its significance as a wedge issue, and may influence a few undecideds. I get the sense that many left the debate with an excuse to vote for Kenyatta despite the ICC charges.

(2) The Numbers:

The numbers have not changed much since my last analysis, save for the fact that Kenyatta’s and Odinga’s numbers have begun to converge.

race

In the presidential debate Mr. Odinga complained that it smirked of ethnic dog whistling to try and predict the outcome of the election based on ethnic blocs (The combined ethnic blocs of Kenyatta and Ruto make up about 43% of Kenyans). His complaint exposed his biggest fear. His party did a poor job of mobilizing voters to register.

While I disagree with the quality of punditry around this issue so far (the talking heads on TV often merely use raw voter registration numbers to predict outcomes) I don’t see anything wrong with trying to predict the outcome based on polling data.

In essence the outcome of this election will not only hinge on how many people registered where but also on how many of them actually turn up to vote. As I have argued before, this will mainly be a turnout election. Mr. Kenyatta leads by between 650,000 – 740,000 votes based on my turnout models. But Mr. Odinga can seriously dent this lead by simply matching Mr. Kenyatta’s stronghold turnout rates. If he does that and has a good day in Western region on March 4th he will win in round one. Otherwise we are most likely headed for a runoff, after Kenyatta wins the first round.

Either someone in Mr. Odinga’s campaign reads my blog (wishful thought of the day!) or they are sober with the numbers and have realized that they need a high turnout on voting day. Mr. Odinga this week launched a countrywide get out the vote drive.

The latest opinion poll (Friday 15th Feb) show a dead heat between Odinga and Kenyatta at 46% and 43% respectively. Such close numbers, coupled with Mr. Kenyatta’s head-start in voter registration and historically relatively higher turnout rates in his strongholds, do not bode well for Mr. Odinga’s chances.

 (3) On the Consequences of a Uhuru Victory:

In the last two weeks the diplomatic community in Nairobi have had a mini freak-out after coming to the realization that Mr. Kenyatta has a good chance to be Kenya’s 4th president. Many embassies insisted that they are neutral, but some also warned that the outcome would have consequences.  Barack Obama, the US President, even made a youtube video urging Kenyans to vote peacefully. France bluntly stated that they would only have essential contact with a Uhuru government if he wins.

Their freak-out betrays the knowledge that there is little they can do either before or after the election. Kenya gets about 5% of its development budget from donors; the rest comes from domestic taxes.  Nairobi can tell them to take a hike. Plus there’s China. And Somalia and South Sudan to be taken care of by a big international community based in Nairobi. The country is the diplomatic hub of the region, and indeed the continent. Nairobi houses the biggest US embassy in Africa and UNEP headquarters, the only UN office of its kind in the global south. In short Western leverage is limited both before and after the election.

In any case, the ICC case against Uhuru and Ruto appears to be crumbling. The prosecution significantly altered the charges, leading to a request yesterday for more time from the defense teams. The cases may start well after the elections in Kenya are over and done. Or they may be taken back to the pre-trial chamber and dismissed.

All things considered, I would not wish to be in Mr. Odinga’s or his strategists’ shoes right now.

Who will win the Kenyan presidential election? A look at the numbers

With elections less than a month away many in Kenya are reading the tea leaves and making predictions as to who they think will win the March 4th presidential election. Unfortunately, many of these self-styled political analysts – including the most celebrated one Mutahi Ngunyi - are merely using the raw IEBC voter registration numbers and assumptions about ethnic bloc voting.

The reality, however, is that there will be differential voter turnout in the many ethnic zones regions of the country in a manner that will have a non-trivial impact on the outcome of the election. As I highlighted in a previous post, this will be a turnout election. Everyone knows who their voters are. The swing voters will be few. And the two major contenders don’t appear to have any intention or strategy to eat into each other’s perceived strongholds.uhuru

And so just as I did last time, I ran the numbers from the latest opinion poll from Ipsos Synovate with regional breakdowns to estimate the winner of the presidential election. This time round my turnout model also includes variables on income, voter registration, and whether a region has a top presidential contender or not.

So what do the numbers say?

Well, if the polls are right Uhuru Kenyatta still leads Raila Odinga by about 740,000 votes.  I estimate that Mr. Kenyatta will get 48.87% of the votes cast to Mr. Odinga’s 41.72%, which means that a run-off is almost inevitable. I don’t expect Mr. Kenyatta to hit the 50% mark since my model is slightly biased in his favor (especially coming from the Rift Valley turnout figures from 2007 that I use as a basis of estimating turnout in 2013).  Below I show the regional tallies according to my turnout model.

A few caveats to go with my estimates: 

  • Of course the polls could be all wrong, in which case none of what I say here matters. 
  • The result of the election will hinge on the turnout in the respective candidates’ strongholds. As it is my model estimates a turnout rate in Mr. Kenyatta’s strongholds at 77.33 to Mr. Odinga’s 66.68. Mr. Odinga can easily erase Mr. Kenyatta’s lead by matching his stronghold turnout rate and having a respectable showing in Western region (by eating into Mr. Mudavadi’s vote share) on March 4th.
  • In the event of a run-off, all bets are off. Most likely the election will then centre on Mr. Kenyatta’s ethnicity (which is the same as that of the outgoing president) and his tribulations at the ICC thereby handing Mr. Odinga a lead straight off the gates.
REGION Uhuru Kenyatta Raila Odinga
Coast 64,064 410,012
North Eastern 103,978 115,531
Eastern 865,432 732,612
Central 1,623,483 113,266
Rift Valley 1,655,262 695,972
Western 58,040 444,974
Nyanza 282,626 1,299,053
Nairobi 406,099 507,624
TOTAL 5,058,984 4,319,044

For those interested in looking under the hood of Ipsos Synovate’s polls go here.

Will turnout disappoint Odinga tomorrow?

Travel, conference and more travel have kept me from blogging in the last few days. I am back online. Kenyans go to the polls tomorrow. This is a post from a few days ago.

I am in New Haven (great to be back!) for a conference and visiting with friends before going back to Nairobi for Monday’s election and wanted to make a quick post on the latest in the upcoming Kenyan elections.

1. The Second Presidential Debate:

The second presidential debate was rather dull, to be honest.

The entire first half was supposed to be dedicated on the economy but mostly dwelt on the specific subject of corruption at the expense of other more pressing concerns like jobs and the modernization and formalization of the Kenyan economy (Not to trivialize Kenya’s obscene levels of corruption, but apparently the moderators do not read Blattman’s blog. The problem is huge, but there were other pressing economic issues that could have been addressed.)

The candidates were, as expected evasive over the matter – mostly giving vague answers to pointed questions on scandals they were rumored to have been involved in; from Goldenberg to Anglo Leasing to Maize to typos at the treasury.

The jester Candidate Dida provided a light moment when he asked the moderator if she expected thieves to admit that they had stolen.

The second half was better. It dealt with the issue of land. Again, no real answers emerged but it put Mr. Kenyatta – who’s family owns large tracts of land – on the hot seat. Land is an issue that has been the cause of ethnic clashes in every Kenyan election since 1992. Voters may just have got one more thing to think about before casting their votes on Monday.

Overall, I cannot say that any one candidate won the debate. However, Mr. Kenyatta lost a few points due to the amount of time spent on the land question. His main opponent Mr. Odinga even came to his rescue at one point, reminding viewers to cut Mr. Kenyatta some slack since he only inherited land that may have been dubiously appropriated by his father while he was president.

2. Election Day’s Big Unknown: TURNOUT

As I have pointed out before, the outcome of the presidential election in Kenya next Monday will hinge on turnout. Whether we shall wake up on March 5th with a president-elect or have to go for a runoff will depend on regional turnout rates.

As it is most public opinion polls point to a runoff.

However, the polls do not give us a sense of what proportion of registered voters are likely to vote.

One private poll that I have seen suggests that 98.3% of those polled said they would show up to vote. Such turnout numbers belong in Belarus. I expect average turnout to be between 75-85%.

Below is a table with the turnout rates in the last three presidential elections. (The 2007 figures should taken with a pinch of salt, for obvious reasons). As you can see history seems to be on Mr. Kenyatta’s side. Central Kenya and the Rift Valley, the two most populous regions of the country both support him overwhelmingly (according to the latest Ipsos Synovate poll) and have the highest average historical turnout rates.

Region/Turnout 1997 2002 2007 Kenyatta Support Odinga Support
Central 74.1 66.1 82.1 88.1 6.4
Rift Valley 75.9 60.8 72.8 69 23.3
Eastern 72.6 60.9 65.9 41.8 52.7
Nyanza 67.2 55.6 76.2 9.8 83.8
Western 68.1 57.1 62 3.4 53.6
North Eastern 55.9 57.8 61.3 37.9 44.1
Coast 50.6 42.1 57 18.3 73
Nairobi 50.2 42 51.5 39.6 51.9

Could turnout rates be different this time?

The answer is maybe, due to the following new variables:

  • New positions created in the constitution – governor, senator, and women rep – might attract new voters in addition to those who have in the past voted for the three other posts – president, MP and councillor (now county rep). This might increase turnout across the board, but since Mr. Kenyatta is already “maxing” his turnout rates Odinga might benefit from an overall increase in turnout rates.
  • The dropping of calls for “six piece” vote. Earlier in the cycle both candidates had insisted that voters should vote one straight ticket for the party for all six posts. However, since the nominations for both leading parties/coalitions were a total mess many popular candidates did not get nominated on the “right parties.” Insisting on a six piece vote would have lowered turnout. However, without it everyone has a candidate to vote for in their preferred presidential candidate’s stronghold. This may increase turnout since it gives incentive for say someone running in an Odinga stronghold, who supports Odinga, but is not in Odinga’s party to still mobilize his supporters to the polls in competition with the candidate in Odinga’s party. Again, a higher average turnout rate will benefit Mr. Odinga.

3. The Numbers:

The last polls before the election (about five of them) show a slim national lead for Mr. Odinga over Mr. Kenyatta, 45% to 43% on average. But since we do not know the make up of likely voters I would be reluctant to declare Mr. Odinga a favorite going into Monday. Mr. Kenyatta’s strongholds have historically had better turnout rates than Mr. Odinga’s.

And on the matter of polls, the following factors may lead to surprises on Monday night:

  • Desirability biases in the survey: We do not know to what extent those interviewed lied about who they support. And on this count Mr. Kenyatta runs the highest risk. Because of the ICC cases he and his running mate face, many higher income and educated Kenyans have had concerns about their ability to run the country “via Skype.” If such people residing in the Rift Valley and Central regions lied to pollsters because they were expected to like Kenyatta then we may be in for a surprise on Monday night. If Mr. Odinga gets more than 35% of the votes in Rift Valley and about 15% in Central Kenya he will win the presidential election in the first round. 
  • Strategic voting: One of Mr. Odinga’s many challenges has been the Western Kenya region where Musalia Mudavadi comes from. Mr. Mudavadi is the third candidate, getting 6% on most polls nationally and about 34% in Western region. Mr. Odinga gets 53% in the region and Kenyatta 3%. In the event of a runoff, most of Mudavadi’s voters will break for Odinga. Mr. Mudavadi’s candidature centres on becoming a King maker and elevating his stature as a serious contender in the next elections (2017). But if Western voters who would support Odinga in the second round decide to do so in the first round Odinga will have an outright victory in the first round.

Barring any surprises on Monday (esp with regard to turnout) the state of play is that the first round will be a close contest between Kenyatta and Odinga, with one or two percentage points separating them.

Mr. Kenyatta is a slight favorite to win the first round, but will be short of the 50% required for an outright win. In the second round, however, I expect Mr. Odinga to be a clear frontrunner since most of Mudavadi’s voters in Western Kenya will break for him. I also expect a little bit of anti-Ruto (Kenyatta’s running mate) votes in the Rift Valley going to Mr. Odinga. I am very curious as to what President Moi’s promised major announcement on March 5th will be…. perhaps an endorsement?

All in all I would put my money on Mr. Odinga becoming Kenya’s fourth president.