Some thoughts on the Okoa Kenya campaign to amend Kenya’s Constitution

I just posted a piece over at ConstitutionNet on the politics of popular constitutional amendment provisions, with Kenya as an illustrative case.

The Kenyan Constitution allows for popular (extra-legislative) amendment initiatives, as long as the petitioner can collect at least one million signatures. The Okoa Kenya campaign is one such initiative, but driven primarily by the main opposition alliance, CORD. In the piece I seek to answer two key questions:

…….. (i) how do constitutional popular amendment provisions impact institutional stability?; And (ii) can such provisions maintain their legitimacy when captured by mainstream political parties already represented in key state institutions?

The answers to the first question speak to the dangers of populism. Democratic stability necessarily requires institutional barriers to regular changes of the basic rules of the game (i.e. constitutions), as well as checks on populism. Therefore, by exposing constitutional changes to “every-day politics”, extra-legislative origination of constitutional amendments (under ordinary circumstances) may pose a risk to the very foundations of democratic stability.

The answers to the second question speak to the original intent of popular amendment provisions. Given their extra-legislative character and the notion that they are supposed to preserve popular sovereignty, it is unclear whether popular amendment provisions maintain their integrity when captured by mainstream political parties that are supposed to operate within the legislature. In other words, the potential exploitation of such provisions to circumvent the outcomes of legislative elections may derogate the electoral process itself. Elections should have consequences for both the ruling and opposition parties.

More on this here.

Thoughts on the Uhuru Kenyatta Administration in 2016

This is from Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, addressing the president:

We acknowledge the fact that it has been a tough year for leaders across the world — what with global economic upheavals and terrorists wreaking havoc everywhere.

However, we reject the almost criminal resignation and negligence with which your government has responded to our national crises this past year. We need not recount the number of lives lost, the losses incurred by businesses and opportunities wasted for millions of Kenyans due to the incompetence of the Executive.

With the exception of a few family businesses and tenderpreneurs who raked in billions of shillings — thanks largely to political patronage — everyone is losing money in this country.

More on this here. Read the whole thing.

This is pretty direct, and articulates a narrative of the middle class’ general dissatisfaction with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.

It will also have very little political impact.

First, the Kenyan middle class (the primary audience of the Nation) is tiny. Second, the same middle class is as much a hostage of identity politics as is the rest of the country (this is true of even for the Nation‘s editorial team) — and on this score Kenya’s demographic profile favors Mr. Kenyatta in the next election scheduled for August next year (All indications suggest that a breakup of the Jubilee Alliance ahead of 2017 is a low probability event). Third, there still exists a wide chasm between the middle and upper middle classes and the vast majority of working class and rural Kenyans (with the former group perpetually wondering why the latter group doesn’t vote for its interests). This is why identity politics continue to dominate even cosmopolitan counties like Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, and Mombasa.

That said, here are some quick thoughts on the Jubilee Administration as it enters its fourth year:

  1. President Uhuru Kenyatta is a politician: That means that he will invariably only take action that is consistent with his perceived political interests — getting reelected in 2017; keeping his political lieutenants and the wider Jubilee coalition happy; taking care of his core base; et cetera. Reformists who imagine that the president can operate outside of Kenya’s political system are bound to be disappointed. And those who equate Uhuru Kenyatta to Daniel arap Moi are missing the point by miles. Moi micro-managed. Kenyatta II delegates (Kibaki and Kenyatta I delegated, but with relatively better monitoring).
  2. The Kenyatta Administration’s biggest problem is too much delegation without sufficient monitoring: Much of the criticism of the Administration tends to be packaged in the language of “political will” — if only Kenyatta REALLY wanted to change things. The truth, however, is that the president faces both political and organizational obstacles to reform. Administrators continue to stonewall reform at will; and the administration remains too top heavy for its own good. What needs to happen is a radical restructuring to empower the equivalent of “mid-level managers” in the Civil Service. This should be accompanied by a shift from an internal police patrol system of monitoring (characterized by an extreme form of siege mentality) to a fire alarm system — Civil Servants should be judged by what the public thinks of their work. And those found wanting should be fired. Incentives matter. Focusing on these administrative and organizational reform agendas, rather than the politics of “political will” might be more amenable to the president (see 1 above) and could yield good results — especially if they come with sufficient political cover for the president.
  3. State House is not focused on any key signature policies: Most governments tend to be judged by a few signature achievements. President Kibaki will forever be remembered as Mr Infrastructure. Thus far Mr. Kenyatta has not staked his legacy on any pet projects or policies — most of the big investments he has made (in rail, roads, and power) are on Kibaki legacy projects. This makes it very hard for him to sell any “successes.” Back in 2013 I proposed housing, agriculture, and education as possible areas in which the president could make significant improvements while building on Kibaki’s legacy. The lack of focus at State House creates the impression of an administration that dabbles in everything but closes on nothing. It also allows Civil Servants to shirk a lot. They are doing everything, but have nothing to show for it. The president would be better served if he told his staff that he will no longer show up at the launching of anything, and instead will only be available for commissioning of fished projects. Incentives matter.
  4. Perception is everything in politics: Narratives matter in politics. They also tend to be sticky and self-fulfilling. It is going to be hard for the president to sell his successes — including in energy and electricity access and continued investment in Kibaki legacy projects — if the public is convinced that his administration is failing on every front.
  5. What is William Ruto’s strategy? President Kenyatta has had a rough three years. By his own admission the war on corruption and malaise in the public service has proven to be a lot harder than he imagined it to be. But he is a Kenyatta, and will most likely be reelected next August. Ruto, the Deputy President, hopes to succeed Kenyatta in 2022. However, Ruto’s electoral success will hinge on the Administration’s performance over the next seven years. Also, Vice Presidents typically take the fall for the boss if things go wrong. It is not clear to me how Ruto would be a successful candidate in 2022 if the Kenyatta II era is judged to have been a failure (especially since it will be judged against the Kibaki era). Given this reality one would expect Ruto to do his all to make the administration work for Kenyans, instead of relying solely on patronage. Kenya has changed a lot since 2010; and will have changed even more by 2022. Performance will matter a lot more then that it does now, even for rural Kenyans. I am constantly surprised that this fact does not seem to bother the man from Eldoret.
  6. What to look for in 2016: The management of Kenya’s public debt (which will impact movements in domestic interest rates, with knock on effects on growth); continued investment in key infrastructure, including transportation and power generation (by year end nearly all primary schools in the country will be on the grid, a pretty big deal); a rebound in tourism (he has his faults, but CS Najib Balala is probably the best man for the job at tourism); and continued growth in construction (which grew by 14.1% in Q3 of 2015). I remain cautiously optimistic about the handling of monetary policy. The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Patrick Njoroge, is probably the most respected technocrat in the country.

Historically, growth in the Kenyan economy tends to slow down by about 0.5 percentage points during election years. This time is probably not going to be different. That said, I expect the economy to remain on a positive growth trajectory (above 5% growth p.a.) going into 2017.

On the political front, the role of the Governors of Kenya’s 47 counties will the biggest wildcard. Many of these mini-presidents have amassed financial war chests and created networks that will prove consequential in 2017. True to Kenyan form, a number of them are already founding their own parties (the true District Parties are back, with cash). The balancing effects of governors (vis-a-vis established national politicians) creates a reality in which no one is fully “in charge” in the Jamuhuri, a fact that comes with all sorts of frustrations and fears. But sometimes that is a good thing. Especially when Kenyans and their indefatigable biashara habits are involved.

Lastly, expect to see more hard-hitting criticism of Mr. Kenyatta in the Kenyan press in 2016, much of it inspired by Kenya’s deep-seated Tanzania envy. If Tanzanian president John Magufuli maintains his reformist zeal there will be a lot of pressure on Mr. Kenyatta (#WhatWouldMagufuliDo?). Very few Kenyans will care to remember that the two presidents serve under two completely different constitutional and party regimes.

Happy New Year!

How Kshs. 38.5 billion ($385m) of borrowed money “disappeared” from Kenya’s budget

… the June 2013/14 bond issues were moved to the 2014/15 opening balances carried forward from 2013/14 at that time, while the November bond issues were recorded as 2014/15 revenues. If so, we would have a balance of Ksh38.5 billion in the bank, and the full Ksh75 billion (what we had estimated at Ksh67.5 billion) coming onto the budget in 2014/15.

There are no further changes in these numbers in the final fourth quarter COB report for 2014/15, suggesting that by the end of that year, all but Ksh38.5 billion of the Eurobond had come onto the budget and been spent.

The Ksh38.5 billion balance was not brought onto the budget for 2015/16 at the beginning of the year. The August 31 Statement of Actual Revenues shows no budgeted carryover from 2014/15 and an actual balance carried forward of only Ksh204 million. There is a budgeted revenue of Ksh72 billion in further commercial loans for the year, and nothing collected as of August.

So… what happened to the Ksh38.5 billion balance? If it was not spent, it is hard to see why the government wouldn’t be using it now to smooth liquidity during an apparent cash crunch. If it was spent, when did it come onto the budget, for what purpose and why isn’t it visible in public reports? Cabinet Secretary for the Treasury Henry Rotich recently claimed that all of the Eurobond money was spent, but I have not found any official documents showing when the final balance came on budget.

Why should basic facts about billions of shillings require us to sift through vague reports and still come up short?

Lakin’s excellent accounting narrative of budget figures from FY2013/14-FY2015/16 is available here. 

So where did the money really go? Only Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich can tell us what happened, with certainty. In the meantime Kenyans can only speculate. Which is why it is very odd that CS Rotich so far has barely bothered to explain himself.

How tragic would it be if it emerged that someone (or a group of people) stole Kshs. 38.5b ($385m) of borrowed money?

The confusion over the Eurobond cash has elevated public uproar over corruption in the public sector to new levels. The only problem is that blame has been spread thin, with everyone in government being blamed (and no single officer really feeling the pressure, with the possible exception of CS Waiguru).

In my view the two people that should be forced to explain themselves (regardless of whether they are individually corrupt or not) are CS Henry Rotich at Treasury; and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Budget Committee, Hon. Mutava Musyimi. These two men should shoulder any blame arising from any emergent violations of the Public Finance Management Act.

A focus on specific officers and their specific failures will perhaps give the president political cover to get rid of offending public officials. The fundamental challenge of the anti-corruption drive in Kenya at the moment is that it continues to be blind and deaf to political realities. The president is a politician, with an eye on reelection in 2017. The challenge for reformers is therefore to come up with incentive-compatible means (for the president) of dealing with corruption and incompetence in the public sector before then. (The president himself admitted on record that a significant number of public officials are corrupt). Mere calls for public officials, including the president, to act nice will not work. That is the tragedy of politics.

Netflix is making thousands of Americans flunk geography

You can’t make this stuff up:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.01.17 PM

The show began to air in 2010. This is its description as of February 3rd, 2015.

That said, if you have to visit Africa, the place to go is KENYA!

Because of this:

[youtube.com/watch?v=hPtBnhehPOU#t=54]

HT Hayes Brown

Top posts of 2013

Borrowing from Jay Ulfelder here is a list (by total views) of the top ten posts on An Africanist Perspective in 2013. Incidentally, Jay was the inspiration behind four of the top ten posts of the year – he nudged me to stick my neck out and predict the outcome of the Kenyan election. Also, this month the blog turned six. Many thanks to Chris Blattman and other academic bloggers out there for inspiration back in the day when as an undergrad in New Haven I kept writing even though no one was reading the blog.

10. Who is the African child on the cover of William Easterly’s new book? (as I noted in the post below this one was a hit on twitter, and earned a spot on the top ten list even though I only posted it this month).

9. Sloppy reporting on the Kenyan elections (some of you might remember that Kenya had elections earlier in the year in which Kenyans, including yours truly, criticized some of the coverage by the international press).

8. What next for Kenya’s policy on Somalia? (this was a reflection on what Kenya might do in reaction to the Westgate terror attack that killed dozens of Kenyans and foreign nationals).

7. Corruption under apartheid South Africa, 1976-1994 (and its present institutional legacy) (this was my attempt to link present corrupt practices in the government of South Africa to their historical institutional basis – a running theme in my thinking and writing, you may have noticed, is that discontinuities are often a mirage; things only change marginally most of the time. INSTITUTIONS RULE!).

6. Kenyan Elections 2013 Polling Trends (Presidential Race) (Posts on the Kenyan election were a hit earlier in the year).

5. Why Raila Odinga Lost (For many observers the 2013 election was Raila Odinga’s to lose. So why did he lose?)

4. Who will win the Kenyan presidential election? A look at the numbers (Just for the record: (i) I got Kenyatta’s margin of victory right; (ii) I still do not think he got passed the constitutionally required 50%+1 votes; (iii) I was wrong in predicting an Odinga victory in round 2, Kenyatta would have won a round 2 easily because of Odinga’s woeful performance in the Rift Valley and failure to match Kenyatta’s turnout rates – see number 5 above).

3. KCSE results to be released monday (National exams at the end of secondary school are a big deal in Kenya – they determine one’s placement and major in the public universities; notice that the post is from 2011 but got hits from Google searches this year).

2. The Presidential Race in Kenya’s 4th of March 2013 Election (More on the Kenyan election; again I was wrong on the possibility of an Odinga victory in the second round).

1. Uhuru Kenyatta Emerges as 1st Round Favorite in Kenya’s March 4th Poll (Did the outcome of the presidential election reflect the will of the Kenyan people, i.e. the majority of voters? My answer is yes. I still think that there were shady tricks involved in pushing Kenyatta past 50% – he got a mere 9000 votes out of over 12 million votes cast past 50%. But he was on course to win the second round. I still wish the Supreme Court had ordered a runoff in order to give Mr. Kenyatta a cleaner mandate than he presently has and to dampen the feeling among the vast majority of Odinga supporters (and the wider left in Kenya) that the election was stolen by the conservative establishment).

If you ask me, this was my favorite post of the year.

Happy Holidays! 

 

Why are Kenyan politicians politicizing the military?

Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the only continental sub-Saharan African states to have never experienced military rule. Each country has managed to do so via well orchestrated coup-proofing strategies of ethnic balancing and material payoffs to the men and women with the guns and tanks. 

Kenya, in particular, has perfected this art. Because of its fractious ethnic politics, ethnic balancing within the officer corps has been key to Kenya’s coup-proofing. Kenyatta (who spoke Kikuyu) had a bit of a hard time in the beginning with a Kamba and Kalenjin speakers dominated military but eventually succeeded in having his co-ethnics in key positions. But before he did so he ensured Kikuyu dominance over the paramilitary force, the General Service Unit (GSU) to balance the military. Through the 60s and 70s, Kenyatta ensured that the GSU and police could handle their own against the military in case stuff hit the fan. Moi continued along this path, so much so that for a while in the media the typical accent of a security officer – whether police or military – became an accent from the North Rift. Under Moi the Kenyan army became “Kalenjin at the bottom, Kalenjin at the middle, and Kalenjin at the top.”

Beyond the ethnic balancing, Kenya has also coup-proofed by keeping the generals wealthy and OUT OF POLITICS – at least not overtly. The generals in Kenya are probably some of the wealthiest on the Continent. I went to high school with the son of an Air Force Major General whose family was always taking foreign trips to exotic places and always made a big splash on visiting days. The only estimates I could find are from the 1960s when nearly “two thirds of the military budget went to pay and allowances, most of it to officers.” A lot of them also got free land for cash crop farming and lucrative business deals (some illegal) from the Kenyatta and Moi governments. Keenly aware of West Africa’s junior officer problem following 1981 Moi extended land grants to junior officers as well. 

But despite their importance as leaders of a key national institution, most Kenyans, yours truly included, do not know much about the top generals in the army. The one chief of staff that I remember hearing a lot about in my childhood days was Gen. Mahmood Mohamed, the man who played a big role in quelling the 1982 coup attempt. For the most part I only saw these guys in the media on national holidays when they rode on the president’s Land Rover. 

In other words, I think it is fair to say that, contrary to arguments made by N’Diaye, for the most part the Kenyan military has historically been fairly professionalized and depoliticized relative to other countries in the neighborhood. There is no evidence to suggest that ethnic balancing has severely interfered with the process of professionalization. Kenyan presidents’ preferred agents for dirty political work have always been the intelligence service, the police and paramilitary units, but never (to the best of my knowledge) the military. Indeed the US and British militaries have had very close technical cooperation with the Kenyan military through training, material assistance and more recently joint operations, resulting in a relatively highly trained force that has for the most part stayed clear of politics.  

But this consensus appears to be slowly eroding. Before the 2013 General Elections the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga accused the military and the intelligence service of colluding with his opponent, Uhuru Kenyatta, to rig the presidential election. And now the heads of the military and intelligence service are reportedly contemplating suing a former aide to Mr. Odinga for defamation. Increasingly, the military is being dragged down to the level of the marionette-esque GSU and Police, perennial hatchet men for whoever occupies State House.

This cannot end well. 

Coup proofing is hard. And the thing with coups is that once the genie is out of the box you can’t take it back. Coups just breed more coups.

This is why the generals must be left fat and happy and in the barracks, or busy keeping the peace (and hopefully not facilitating charcoal exports) in Somalia’s Jubaland State. Do your ethnic balancing and all, but by all means KEEP THEM OUT OF POLITICS (I am glad the current Defense Minister has no political constituency).

The last thing Kenya needs is a Zimbabwe situation in which there is open bad blood between the military and the opposition. 

Plus Kenya, based on its per capita income, ethnic politics, and minimal experience with genuine democratic government, is still not beyond the coup trap to be able to safely play politics with the military. If you doubt me, go find out the last time Brazil, Thailand and Turkey had generals in charge. 

A look into Kenyatta’s new cabinet

President Kenyatta has announced 16 of 18 cabinet secretaries in his administration. The list of names has elicited mixed reactions. On the one hand the manner of the announcement – on the steps of State House – was different, and dignified. It was much less pedestrian than what Kenyans had become used to – presidential cabinet appointments via press releases to newsrooms. Six women made the list, including in the powerful Defense and Foreign Affairs dockets. With the exception of Balala and Ngilu, all the nominees so far are not politicians.

But on the other other hand grumblings emerged on the lack of regional (read ethnic) balance in the appointments. Kenya is an ethnically fragmented country, with 11 (out of 42) ethnic groups with populations over 1 million (Kikuyu/GEMA, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba, Somali, Kisii, Meru (part of GEMA), Mijikenda, Turkana, Maasai). For most of the country’s history ethnicity has been a key organizing principle of politics, with people largely voting along ethnic lines for various instrumental reasons.

So what is the ethnic breakdown of Kenyatta’s cabinet so far? Here is my guestimation based on their last names: Kikuyu (3), Kalenjin (4), Somali (3), Luo (1), Meru (1), Kisii (1), Kamba (1), Luhya (1), Arab (1). Two slots remain unoccupied.

Only two groups (Kalenjins and Somalis) are clearly overrepresented in the cabinet appointments in proportion to their relative ethnic group size in the country (Kalenjin 25% vs 13.2%; Somalis 18.75 vs 6.3%). Those groups in the top ten that are underrepresented missed their “objective proportion” of the cabinet by about one slot, on average.

On an aside, historically African presidents have actually been pretty good at ethnic balancing in the appointment of cabinet ministers – as Francois, Rainer and Trebbi show in this paper. They claim to “show that African ruling coalitions are large and that political power is allocated proportionally to population shares across ethnic groups. This holds true even restricting the analysis to the subsample of the most powerful ministerial posts. We argue that the likelihood of revolutions from outsiders and the threat of coups from insiders are major forces explaining such allocations.

If the ethnic composition of the cabinet is anything to go by, it shows the extent to which deputy president William Ruto is more of an equal than deputy to President Kenyatta. His part of the Jubilee coalition dominates the list of cabinet nominees. Or it might just be a case of Mr. Kenyatta, being president, having opted to have his half of the cabinet “represent the face of Kenya” (Kenyatta and Ruto had a 50-50 pre-election appointments sharing agreement at the formation of the Jubilee coalition).

Despite Kenyans’ relief at the end of Odinga and Kibaki’s coalition government, the era of nusu mkate might still be among us.

In related news, president Kenyatta broke one of his campaign promises by not appointing an ethnic Turkana as secretary in charge of Energy and Petroleum. Kenya’s oil discoveries have been mostly in Turkana County. The Standard reports:

Uhuru [President Kenyatta] repeated he will appoint a Turkana to head the Ministry of Energy portfolio should he take over the next Government.

Kenyatta said his Government would give first priority to locals to manage the oil resources that were discovered in the area.

“Our mandate is to ensure that every Kenyan gets equal share of national cake. But locals where such resources are found should benefit more as a right stipulated in the Constitution,” he said.

Deputy President William Ruto also broke a promise he made yesterday. He said at a presser that the cabinet will not have any politicians, yet Charity Ngilu and Najib Balala have been nominated.

Kenyatta’s Cabinet Nominees:

  1. Fred Matiang’i (Information, Communication and Technology) – Kisii
  2. Henry K. Rotich (The National Treasury) – Kalenjin
  3. James Wainaina Macharia (Health) – Kikuyu
  4. Amb Amina Mohamed (Foreign Affairs) – Somali
  5. Adan Mohammed (Industrialisation) – Somali
  6. Ann Waiguru (Devolution and Planning) – Kikuyu
  7. Davis Chirchir (Energy and Petroleum) – Kalenjin
  8. Amb Raychelle Omamo (Defence) – Luo
  9. Eng Michael Kamau (Transport and Infrastructure) – Kikuyu
  10. Phyllis Chepkosgey (East African affairs, Commerce and Tourism) – Kalenjin
  11. Prof Jacob Kaimenyi (Education) – Meru
  12. Felix Kosgey (Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries) – Kalenjin
  13. Prof Judy Wakhungu (Environment Water and Natural Resources) – Luhya
  14. Dr Hassan Wario (Sports, Culture and Arts) – Somali
  15. Najib Balala (Mining) – Arab
  16. Charity Ngilu (Lands, Housing and Urban Development) – Kamba
  17. Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services (Vacant)
  18. Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government (Vacant)

Will Kenya’s civil society survive Kenyatta’s presidency?

This is the question – what’s civil society to do if it feels so strongly about the Kenyatta regime? There’s no doubt Mr Kenyatta and his government have the support of a lot of Kenyans. That’s unarguable. But there are many Kenyans who are apathetic.

Take it from me – apathy is strongest in civil society. It’s an “existential moment” for some of the leading lights of civil society.

They feel betrayed by a population they’ve always fought for. In fact, most of the freedoms Kenyans enjoy today were made possible by civil society, including the 2010 Constitution.

Many are questioning the ability of the human rights movement to uproot embedded tribalism and the money corruption of the wealthy.

No one knows whether civil society will survive the Kenyatta regime and, if so, in what shape. We are in uncharted territory. But I can point to some possible routes. I believe Mr Kenyatta understands that his regime suffers from a “legitimacy deficit”.

That’s because of the charges against him at The Hague and the contested nature of the election. He may try to co-opt some civil society leaders into his regime to shore up his credibility.

That is the Chair of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, Dr. Makau Mutua writing in his Sunday Column on the challenge ahead of civil society under the Kenyatta administration. He goes on to add that:

….others may accept the outcome of the election and “move on,” as has been urged. This cohort would simply go back to the trenches and continue their fight for human rights – much in the same way they did under former President Kibaki.

….there is a group that’s likely to disengage, and “divorce” the human rights movement. This chunk may “resign” from civil society. A number may even “divorce” Kenya. Some may go for further studies, or join the private sector. This group took Mr Kenyatta’s election the hardest, and cannot reconcile itself to the choice of a supposed plurality of Kenyans.

Mr. Mutua is one of the few civil society members who have come out strongly against the election of President Kenyatta. His views represent those of a significant proportion of Kenyans who feel that much of the democratic gains of the last 20 years have been lost with the election of Kenyatta and Ruto, scions of former President Moi.

The progressive forces in Kenya are presently in a state of shock. This was their election to lose. Having managed to get a favorable constitution in 2010, many had banked their hopes in Raila Odinga to implement it. Instead, Mr. Kenyatta captured the State House and control of both houses of Parliament.

Mr. Odinga’s loss has left many disillusioned with the Kenyan political system. Once again, despite valiant attempts to even the playing field, money and entrenched interests triumphed over progressive ideals. 

Why Raila Odinga Lost

Why did Raila Odinga, the man to beat in the 2013 Kenyan presidential election, end up losing by up to 7 percentage points? Here are some quick answers:

I. Bad campaign management:

Back in 2009 James Orengo, one of Raila’s closest operatives said this about Mr. Odinga:

“Odinga has done nothing to reorganise his office to make it more effective. Odinga is a poor manager who does not follow up, and he is primarily focused on preparing for his presidential run in 2012, Orengo said. Odinga has avoided bold moves because he is hostage to his difficult political constituency”

The constituency mentioned must comprise of politicians and not the residents of Kibera because Mr. Odinga’s ODM/CORD secretariat was run by old/disconnected politicians. Yes he may have had administrators running the back office but the face of the ODM operation was one Franklin Bett, a veteran politician that elicited a lot of distrust from voters and presided over a sham of a nomination process. President Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition was the polar opposite. Youthful Johnson Sakaja and Onyango Oloo presented a face of professionalism in the management of TNA affairs.

TNA also had a rather chaotic nomination process, but Sakaja and Oloo seemed to be in charge and gave the impression of being fair arbiters. For instance, they allowed Ferdinand Waititu, a stone thrower, to run against Evans Kidero for the governorship of Nairobi when they could have rigged in Jimnah Mbaru, a much better candidate. Over at ODM Raila Odinga’s brother and sister were fighting nasty nominations in Siaya and Kisumu respectively, which gave people the impression that the party wanted to rig in Raila’s relatives.  

Mr. Odinga’s lack of managerial abilities was also displayed in the choice of his son (Fidel) as controller of the purse for some campaign operations. An ODM operative in the Kidero campaign intimated to me that some of the money was never used and that t-shirts intended for campaigns were kept in storage in readiness for Raila’s swearing in! Mr. Odinga’s wife also ruffled a few feathers during the campaign period. The heavy visibility of his family made it much harder to avoid seeing Mr. Odinga’s campaign as a family affair. 

II. Strategic blunders: 

Raila Odinga’s campaign had several strategic blunders, going back a few years. 

  1. The Mau Forest Issue: 

    If Raila Odinga had garnered at least 20% of the vote in Kalenjin land in the Rift Valley province we may be having a different discussion today. His dismal showing in the Kalenjin heartland was partly because of his strategic myopia with regard to the eviction of squatters in the Mau forest. The cabinet, which at the time included William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki, approved the plans to preserve the Mau forest water tower by evicting those who were squatting in the protected areas. Yet, Raila Odinga managed to allow himself be left holding the political bag for the evictions (Many of those who lost land in the process were actually wealthy land owners with thousands of acres). 

    Come election time four years later, one of the issues that arose was why the poor who were evicted had not been resettled. At the time Mr. Odinga, through James Orengo, was in charge of the lands ministry. Instead of addressing the issue head on politically, the Odinga camp kept saying that treasury (run by Kenyatta then later by his allies) was witholding funds to resettle the evictees, thereby walking right into the political trap. What stopped Orengo, the lands minister, from allocating land to the evictees, thereby forcing treasury to rescind this offer or worse to evict the people from their newly allocated land? 

  2. Voter registration:

    TNA completely outmaneuvered ODM in registering voters in their strongholds. Local political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi (of the tyranny of numbers fame) was partly right when he said Kenyatta won the election on December 18, the day voter registration closed. Again here Odinga could have done better. Many youth in his strongholds did not register for lack of national identification cards. Yet Mr. Odinga controlled the ministry in charge of issuance of IDs through Otieno Kajwang’. Why didn’t Odinga mobilize his base to register?

    My theory is that his lieutenants’ incentives were misaligned with his. While Mr. Odinga needed massive grassroots mobilization, his old and disconnected close associates dreaded this. Many of them were very good at playing politics at the national stage but did very little for their constituents upcountry. Massive voter registration would have undoubtedly meant defeat for this lot (quite a few of them won nominations under dubious circumstances). Mr. Kenyatta on the other hand was less encumbered by old established politicians since he had a brand new popular party (TNA) in which everyone who wanted to be elected in central Kenya had to join.  

    The same Odinga lieutenants also appeared to be ever too eager to pursue their own interests at the expense of the former Prime Minister. Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o threatened to fire 3,000 nurses close to the election, and called them zombies. One Jakoyo Midiwo, a vocal MP from Nyanza province and Odinga’s nephew, said that ODM had its owners and that Mr. Odinga’s brother (Oburu Odinga) was the designated nominee for governor of Siaya. He advised those who did not like this idea to look for other parties

  3. Giving up the ICC fight:

    Many analysts concluded following the election that Kenyatta and Ruto won partly because of their strategic use of the cases they face at the ICC. I hold the position that the ICC only made it more likely that Uhuru would team up with Ruto. The advantage here could have gone either way. Late last year opinion polls were still showing at least 50% of Kenyans wanting perpetrators of the 2007-08 violence to be prosecuted at the ICC. 

    Mr. Odinga could have used this to his advantage by going directly to the voters most likely to be sensitive to international trade restrictions – many of whom were in Kenyatta and Ruto’s strongholds (mostly commodity exporters) – and making the case to them that electing the duo would negatively impact their businesses. Instead he completely gave up on this and allowed Kenyatta to own the issue and set the tone on how the ICC would be talked about in the campaigns. As a result in the first debate Mr. Kenyatta masterfully neutralized the ICC cases as an issue by forcing all serious contenders on stage to denounce the trials and pledge to try the suspects of the 2007-08 violence domestically. 

III. Money:

Uhuru Kenyatta is one of the wealthiest people in Africa (probably worth hundreds of millions of dollars). He was therefore able to pour money into his campaign without reserve. Red t-shirts, caps, reflector jackets, lesos, etc were everywhere. ODM on the other hand had the reputation of being stingy throughout the campaign. They had less money to work with and even then managed to mismanage the little they had. Mr. Odinga’s dependence on wealthy party financiers may have also hampered his independence leading to the many strategic blunders he made throughout the campaign. 

IV. Demographics: 

In the final analysis democratic elections are about numbers. And sometimes a candidate just doesn’t have the numbers. Kenyans vote along ethnic lines. And on this score Mr. Kenyatta had a head start. The two core communities of the Jubilee Alliance (Kikuyu and Kalenjin) make up 36.5% of Kenyans. The two core communities in the CORD Alliance (Luo and Kamba) are only 21.1%. Add this to the fact that Mr. Kenyatta completely out-registered Mr. Odinga and also had a better turnout on voting day (I hinted at this here before the election) and it becomes clear why Mr. Kenyatta’s margin of victory was so big.  

Mr. Odinga’s party needs to do a lot of soul searching and be honest in its assessment of the conduct of the last election. They were caught flatfooted, playing the politics of yesteryears – mass rallies and whipping up emotions – instead of meticulously planning and targeting voters for registration, turnout, and with specific messages. Mr. Kenyatta, perhaps because he had a lot more to lose if he lost, or because he had a newer party with immense resources, or both, was able to do these things very well. 

Elections in Kenya will forever be different. And a lot more expensive. 

 

Kenyan Politics Reading List

Several readers that came to this blog for information on the elections have asked for suggested readings on Kenya’s political history. Here is a short, and so in no way exhaustive, list of books that I think might provide a good introduction. Other suggestions are welcome in the comments section. 

  1. Facing Mount Kenya, by Jomo Kenyatta: Many forget that Kenya’s first president was an Anthropologist (who studied under Malinowski, no less). In Facing Mt. Kenya, Kenyatta attempts to document and explain Kikuyu cultural practices. The book is not a politically neutral ethnography (and to be honest most, at least the ones I have read, never are); and is an apologist account of pre-colonial Kikuyu political system(s) and some practices that some may find questionable. Ultimately, the book is about what Kenyatta wanted the British to think of Kenyans, and that is why it is such a great piece of work. 
  2. Not Yet Uhuru, by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga: Mr. Odinga was Kenya’s first Vice President and father to Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The book highlights the post-independence disillusionment with the administration of President Kenyatta (with whom he fell out in 1966) through the tribulations of the elder Odinga. It is a poignant reminder of the extent to which economic motivations shape and define the cleavages in Kenyan politics, despite the manifestations of the same along ethnic lines.
  3. Defeating the Mau Mau, by Daniel Branch: Was the Mau Mau rebellion an anti-colonialism insurgency, a Kikuyu civil war, or both? Branch delves into the complexities that motivated and defined the Mau Mau rebellion. A fantastic read. 
  4. Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, edited by Bethwell Ogot: The book provides an excellent account of the Kenyatta and Moi years until the early 1990s. The reader might find it interesting to compare their projections on Kenya’s political future with the actual trajectory since the book was written. 
  5. Kenya: A history since independence, by Charles Hornsby: This is a sweeping account of the major political events in Kenya since independence. It is a good introduction to the historical dynamics and themes that have continued to influence Kenyan politics from independence to the present.
  6. The Rise of A Party State in Kenya, by Jennifer Widner: Although slightly more academic, this book is a good introduction to Kenyan politics for those who want to get more detail. It is especially helpful in understanding how the independence party KANU under former President Moi emerged as the “Baba na Mama” of Kenyan politics. 
  7. I would also recommend Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Detained, Michela Wrong’s It Is Our Turn to Eat, for an indirect peek into Kenyan politics, and and Angelique Haugerud’s Culture of Politics for an anthropologist’s take. 

Read on.