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. 

Do African leaders have a voice?

That is the question asked by Africa Is A Country:

These days, well-behaved African heads of state are rewarded by Barack Obama with the chance to meet with him in groups of four and have their picture taken with him. It’s like meeting Beyonce, but you get to call it a state visit. That’s what happened on Friday when Malawi’s Joyce Banda, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Cape Verde’s José Maria Neves and Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma were paraded before the White House press corps, sitting in star-struck silence as Barack reeled off a kind of wikipedia-level roll-call of their accomplishments. They beamed like competition winners. It was all very feudal.

….. The East African called it as they saw it: “The meeting was to reward them for their support for US interests in Africa.” Though some others wanted to be there. In Uganda, some sites were wringing their hands over why Museveni hadn’t been invited.

The post raises an important question especially with regard to the recent rise in African assertiveness. Most of this has been restricted to elite circles with regard to the ICC and general Western meddling presence on the continent. 

Among the many posts I hope to write soon – the dissertation and life permitting – is one on African IR (yes, African International Relations). For a very long time the Continent has engaged the world in disaggregated terms – mostly as a result of individual weakness. But recently some countries have realized their power (For instance Uganda and Kenya in their military and diplomatic usefulness, respectively) and are more than willing to exercise those powers. The realization of individual power has also catalyzed a tendency to use the regional bloc – the AU – as a leverage in wider international engagements (I expect Kenya’s president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta to use the AU a lot in dealing with the charges he faces at the ICC). 

And among the African elite I expect a new sense of self-confidence, with calls like these to become louder and more common. Whether the Western governments (and regular Western Africa watchers) will adapt fast enough or be caught flat-footed is still unclear, especially after the ill-considered and tactless obvious attempt to influence the outcome of the Kenyan election. Also worth considering is whether this new-found African assertiveness will result in actual progress and attempts at catching up with the developed world or turn out to be a mere echo of the empty rhetoric of African pride – a la Zaireanization – that was championed by a kleptocratic navel-gazing African elite of decades past.

Quick hits

HIV self-testing showing promising results in Malawi.

Kenyan legislators, who make upwards of $175,000 a year, now have $3000 chairs to snooze on.

Jina Moore on the white correspondent’s burden in “Africa.”

This sad event in Zambia adds significance to my planned fieldwork there in the coming year on Chinese-African relations.

And lastly, celebrating the informal economy on the Continent:

Will Joyce Banda become Malawi’s next president?

UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that Malawi’s vice president, Joyce Banda, was sworn in as president on Saturday, ending a tense 36 hours of speculation and confusion about the future of one of central Africa’s most enduring democracies after the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika on Thursday.

UPDATE: government broadcaster MBC officially declared his death in the past hour. The Office of the President and Cabinet has also stated that the constitution will be followed with respect to succession (H/T dada Kim Yi Dionne over at Haba na Haba).

The passing on of President Mutharika in Malawi raises important (and interesting) constitutional questions surrounding the issue of succession. The constitution says that the Vice President should take over in the case the president is dead or incapacitated. This means that Ms Joyce Banda is entitled to the presidency.

Source: The Maravi Post

But Ms Banda fell out with President Mutharika in 2010 and has since been kicked out of the ruling party. Mutharika then imposed his brother (legal academic Peter Mutharika) on the ruling party and declared him the party’s candidate in the 2014 election. The younger Mutharika has been the one stepping in for the president instead of the VP. As a result the delay in declaring the death of Mutharika in Malawi has been rumored to be because the cronies of the president are looking for ways to deny Ms Banda automatic ascendancy to the presidency, and a head start in the upcoming presidential race.

So will Ms Banda be able to ascend to the presidency? My answer is Yes. And I have two reasons.

First, the fact that Mutharika could not fire Banda is evidence that the idea of an intra-family succession was not completely accepted by the Malawian political elite, including those from the president’s own DPP. The president’s party got 59% of the vote in the 2009 legislative elections and could have easily engineered a vote of no confidence (impeachment) against the VP or a constitutional amendment to deny the VP automatic succession (Mutharika and/or his brother should have acted on the inside information on his health situation).

Second, the DPP is more divided than Mutharika’s almost auto-coup led on. For instance, part of the reason why the constitutional route was not taken to fix Ms Banda is because the speaker of Parliament, Hon. Henry Chimunthu Banda (no relation to Ms Banda) has ambitions for the presidency.

The government of Malawi has not officially declared Mutharika dead yet. But when they do I suspect that Ms Banda is most likely to ascend to the presidency.

H/T  Lonjezo Hamisi.

Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawian President, is dead

The Daily Nation reports the passing away of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika (May he rest in peace).

Vice President Joyce Banda is next in line to run the country, according to the constitution.

But her succession to power could create new political tensions, because Mutharika kicked her out of the ruling party in 2010 as he chose to groom his brother as heir apparent instead of her.

The official silence has heightened anxieties in Malawi, which has seen growing discontent with Mutharika’s government over the last year. Rights groups have accused Mutharika of mismanaging the economy and trampling on democracy.

Mutharika’s death is a trend that will continue in the next couple of years; of Africa independence-era leaders passing on due to natural causes.

The last time I counted about six current African presidents were born after 1959. This number will only go up in the next couple of years. Hopefully, this will mean a new crop of competent leaders without  the baggage of the anti-colonial movement and with enough confidence to chart a new course for their respective countries rather than merely trying to recreate what their dad’s bosses had back home.

This is not to say that younger leaders will automatically be better. Gambia’s Jammeh and the DRC’s Kabila are constantly redefining the possibilities of youthful mediocrity in important leadership positions.

The looming generational change of guard will mostly benefit the few African states (like Malawi, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia, etc) that avoided the scourge of the junior officers in their political history.

President Macky Sall of Senegal could prove to be the first of this new generation of leaders.

Effects of Conditional Vs. Unconditional Cash Transfer

Baird, McIntosh and Ozler have an upcoming paper in the QJE investigating the differential impacts of conditional and unconditional cash transfer in Malawi:

Starting with schooling outcomes, we find that although dropout rates declined in both treatment arms, the effect in the UCT arm is 43% as large as that in the CCT arm. Evidence from school ledgers for students enrolled in school also suggests that the fraction of days attended in the CCT arm is higher than the UCT arm. Using independently administered tests of cognitive ability, mathematics, and English reading comprehension, we find that although achievement is significantly improved in all three tests in the CCT arm compared with the control group, no such gains are detectable in the UCT arm. The difference in program impacts between the two treatment arms is significant at the 90% confidence level for English reading comprehension. In summary, the CCT arm had a significant edge in terms of schooling outcomes over the UCT arm: a large gain in enrollment and a modest yet significant advantage in learning.

The paper then gets nuanced:

When we turn to examine marriage and pregnancy rates, however, unconditional transfers dominate. The likelihood of be- ing ever pregnant and ever married were 27% and 44% lower in the UCT arm than in the control group at the end of the 2-year intervention, respectively, whereas program impacts on these two outcomes were small and statistically insignificant in the CCT arm.

……….. Our findings show that UCTs can improve im- portant outcomes among such households even though they might be much less effective than CCTs in achieving the desired behav- ior change.

Check it out here.

Quick hits

The world marathon record is back in Kenya, where it belongs.

Zambian Economist has nice maps showing the results of the just concluded general elections.

(Dada) Kim on Haba na Haba has a story on the continuing decline of Malawi into overt and brutal dictatorship. President Bingu wa Mutharika recently appointment his wife and brother to the cabinet. This reminded me of this paper on the inefficient extraction of rents by dictators.

President Zuma of South Africa still hasn’t established his dominance within the ANC (and probably never will).

The drought in the Horn has thus far claimed 10,000 lives. The Bank is increasing its aid package to the region.

quick hits

Mau Mau veterans allowed to sue the UK government for atrocities committed during Kenya’s independence rebellion. The court might have just opened a pandora’s box for a whole lot of lawsuits.

Kim on the ongoing protests in Malawi. Kenya’s Daily Nation reports that at least 12 people have died in the protests over the last two days.

Pardhan on the limits of the NGO movement in global development.

Some cool graphics showing the cellular connection map of the US.

The US will, after all, be sending humanitarian aid to Al-Shabab controlled areas suffering the ongoing famine in Somalia. I hope this does not turn into a farcical repeat of Ethiopia in the 1980s. Back then food aid was used as a weapon of war by both government and Meles Zenawi’s rebel forces.

Lastly, remember Glencore? The firm that has been involved in not so clean mineral deals in the DRC? Well, they are now in South Sudan. I hope Juba doesn’t go this route. You can’t stay clean while playing with someone covered in mud.

africa is not a country

The Economist reports on a project hatched to rebrand sub-Saharan Africa. Nobody can dispute the need to revamp the image of the Continent to make it be more than just about warring Congolese, corrupt Nigerians, or starving Ethiopians. That said, I am not too excited about the idea of packaging the entire continent as one brand for the following reasons:

1. This effort creates incentives for free-riding. Reforming is hard and therefore Chad will not reform if it can get away with attracting marginal investments because a reforming Central African Republic, through the neighborhood effect, has given it a better image.

2. It is the same Africa-is-one-country paradigm that denies the better performing states in Africa foreign investment and good press. Giving the whole continent a single brand does not solve this problem. Each African country should own up to its failures and not be given incentives to hide under an African umbrella.

For instance, ONLY South Africa deserves to bask in the glory of having hosted a successful World Cup tournament. Chad, CAR, Niger, Somalia, the DRC, etc,  had nothing to do with it. In the same vein, only Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi and other reforming African states should tout their respective successes. It is by highlighting these countries’ competencies, without diluting them with the others’ mediocrity, that the image of the Continent will be improved.

au sending more troops to somalia, defends Sudan’s al-Bashir

The African Union Summit in Uganda resolved to send an additional 2000 troops to Somalia. 5000 Ugandan and Burundian troops are already stationed in Mogadishu to prop up the beleaguered transitional government. The same summit resolution also sought to change the rules of engagement to allow AU troops to preemptively attack suspected terrorist al-Shabab strongholds.

Nice and dandy, except so far we can’t make much of Museveni’s threat to take the fight to the Somali insurgents. There are no details as to where the additional 2000 troops will come from within the region. Ethiopia and Kenya share porous borders with Somalia and have large populations of ethnic Somalis and so are highly unlikely to send troops. Tanzania’s large Muslim population may not take well the idea of their troops in Somalia. My guess is that the additional troops will come from either Uganda, Rwanda and/or Burundi or some country from farther afield.

At the same summit current AU chairman President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi took fault with the ICC’s indictment of the genocidal Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. This is yet another proof of what kind of club the AU is. I may not fully agree with the political wisdom behind the indictment of a sitting president (because sadly, justice is highly political) but the likes of Mr. Mutharika should visit Darfur and UN camps in eastern Chad before defending al-Bashir.