Mitigating violence in Kenya’s 2013 elections

Joel Barkan has a CFR contingency planning memorandum on the Kenyan elections in which he notes that:

The United States and others may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis. However, with little more than two months before the elections, Washington must intensify its engagement or forsake its opportunity to make a difference.

But the window might be closing fast on the international community to help Kenya avoid a repeat of 2007-08, when 1300 died and 300,000 were displaced after a bungled election. According to a report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (yours truly was a research assistant for the commission), evidence suggests that international interventions to encourage reasonably free and fair and peaceful elections are most effective when done well in advance to the polling day. In the Kenyan case, the structural causes of previous rounds of electoral violence were never addressed, and may yet lead to the loss of life this election cycle.

What can now be done to avoid large scale organized violence is to credibly convince the politicians and those who finance youth militia (chinkororo, taliban, mungiki, jeshi la mzee, baghdad boys, etc) that they will be held accountable. So far, as is evident in Tana River and the informal settlements within Nairobi, the lords of violence appear to be operating like it is business as usual.

what if ruto and uhuru were jailed by the icc?

Kenyan politics is currently in flux. Two key presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto may be barred from running for public office next year on constitutional grounds. The key beneficiaries of such an eventuality will most probably be Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, the Premier and Vice President respectively.

But what would such an eventuality mean for Kenya?

I’d say not much.

Over the last few weeks Uhuru and Ruto have been crisscrossing the country and holding chest-thumping rallies to prove to someone – either the ICC or the Kenyan political and economic elite – that they have the support of the grassroots. They have also issued thinly veiled threats that violence may erupt in the country if they are whisked to the Hague and barred from running for president in next year’s general election. Why does Uhuru and Ruto feel the need to do this?

In my view, and according to the rules of power politics, a tiger need not shout about its tigritude [I believe it is the great son of Nigeria, Wole Soyinka who coined this phrase].

That Ruto and Uhuru have felt compelled to shout about their support-base and issue threats tells me that they are feeling the heat. The fact of the matter is that the key backers of the duo are the ones who would lose the most in case of a resurgence of violence – think of Kenyan retail, banking, insurance, media and transport barons. These are the people that will lose the most when the Mombasa-Kampala Highway is impassable and Equity Bank closes everywhere. They know this and Uhuru and Ruto also know this. Furthermore, igniting further violence would most certainly attract sterner reaction from international watchdogs like the ICC and the UN Security Council.

There is also the [small] matter that now ordinary Kenyans will also know where exactly the violence is coming from.

Violence is therefore not an option. Not for Ruto and Uhuru. Not for their backers. And most certainly not for the rest of Kenya.

I suggest that the rest of Kenya call their (Uhuru and Ruto’s) bluff about violence next year.

Their battles with justice should not derail the much needed institutional reforms that will take the country out of the miasma of mediocrity that continues to engulf most of the Continent.

In the final analysis, the words of former VP George Saitoti will ring true: There comes a time when Kenya gets bigger than any single individual. Ruto, Uhuru and the wider political class are about to be schooled on this maxim the harsh way.

Potholes potholes potholes!

It is a key road that links western Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the eastern DRC to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. But the state of the Kisumu-Busia “highway” does not exemplify its economic importance to the wider east African region.  Potholes, dangerously narrow stretches, and encroachment by vendors are some of the many things that are wrong with the Kisumu-Busia highway. The many accidents that occur on the road tell it all. Last Tuesday I witnessed the aftermath of an accident in the town of Ugunja in Ugenya when on a visit to my aunt’s in Got Osimbo. A tanker swerved while trying to avoid oncoming traffic. As always happens, locals rushed to the scene with containers to siphon away fuel. The fuel caught fire and burnt many stalls that line the road in Ugunja town and a section of the famous St. Michael’s Hotel. As far as I know there was only one fatality – thanks to the fact that the tanker was carrying diesel and not the more inflammable petrol. It is not that long ago when similar accidents in Sidindi and Sachangwan caused the death of dozens of people who were trying to loot fuel.

I can’t stop asking myself: HOW HARD CAN IT BE? How hard can it be for the four countries that depend on this key road to get their act together and construct a proper road?

those opposed to the creation of an unrepresentative senate have a point

The Kenyan Draft Constitution seems to have hit a snag. A section of parliamentarians are opposed to the section of the proposed constitution that gives all counties equal powers via their elected senators. I agree with them. The to-be-formed senate, as currently constituted, grants too much power to sparsely populated counties. Theoretically, this should not make any difference because people could just move to better served, over-represented counties thereby balancing everything. But we all know that this does not happen in Kenya. The country remains divided into various “ethnic homelands” that are more often than not inhabited exclusively by a single ethnic group.

I hold the opinion that part of the reason why we currently have a corrupt and unresponsive political class is that those who actually pay taxes – and therefore feel the pinch of mismanagement of public funds – are grossly under-represented. For instance, Nairobi only has eight members of parliament even though it generates a huge chunk of Kenya’s tax revenue. Let us not worsen this by creating an even more powerful senate whose members will bribe their way into office with a few bags of sugar and flour per voter and then proceed to steal millions of urban Kenyans’ hard earned cash. I am not advocating for an urban-biased senate. What I am saying is that the constitution should, at a minimum, respect the principle of equal representation. Nairobians and other Kenyan urbanites should make it clear that they are not into the idea of taxation without equal representation.

The alternative would be to have independent incorporate urban districts that elect their own governments and have greater control over the collection and expenditure of their tax revenue. I don’t particularly like this idea though because places like Suba and Maragua still need Nairobi, Eldoret, Kisumu, Nyeri,Mombasa and others, to pull them up.

That is my peni nane opinion on this.

time to get serious on the contraception debate

Kenya is a country of duplicitous people. It is a country in which the masses have been bullied into pretending that they do not have sex outside of marriage and therefore do not need contraceptives – condoms included. But sex-related statistics continue to expose them for who they are. The country has an AIDS infection rate of almost six percent. Unintended pregnancies account for 45% of total pregnancies, at least according to the ministry of medical services (someone tell me, what is the difference between this ministry and that of health?). Further evidence of the enormity of the problem comes from recent news reports that women are using unverified herbal contraceptives – mainly out of ignorance because the concept of contraception is not yet mainstream – that have left some of them and/or their children permanently deformed.

Meanwhile, the church in Kenya continues to be an ostrich – and I have complained about this before. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a sexually active populace in need of a less closed-minded approach to contraception, the only advice coming from the pulpits is that abortion is immoral and evil and that nobody should be having sex until they get married.

I am not saying that liberal sexual attitudes should be forced on Kenyans. I personally believe that cultural changes should be incremental and reflective of the will of the people. But we cannot hide from the evils of non-contraception. Illegal abortions kill countless women every year. And a lack of family planning is a direct contributor to economic hardship for many Kenyan families. I am reminded of a comment made by a close friend of mine who is working with communities in Manyatta (an informal settlement in Kisumu)  that one of the things she noticed about the place was that there were masses of children everywhere. I can bet that a good chunk of these kids will not get enough food, clothing or education in their lifetimes. A horrifying percentage of Kenyan kids do not make it to five. A little birth control would free up resources to ensure that Kenyan children have a better chance in life – beginning with the chance to stay alive into old age.

Now do not get me wrong. I am not for reducing Kenya’s population figures. As I have stated before, I believe that Africa – as a continent – is woefully underpopulated. That said, I think that the Continent’s – and in particular Kenya’s – population expansion should be better managed. It is time we stopped burdening the daughters of the continent with, on average, almost one and a half decades of childbearing. It is time the government acted on the need to better educate Kenyan families on the means of contraception. And about the church, they should get real.