Thoughts from Sierra Leone

“Many Westerners I met in West Africa took it as an article of faith that all of the region’s woes were the result of outside malfeasance – someone else’s fault, going back to colonialism and the slave trade. After two years in Freetown I not only cannot agree, but I think such views – promulgating as they do an abdication of responsibility – are bad for Africa. The Western world undoubtedly committed atrocities to the continent. But today it is up to Africans to carve out a brighter future for themselves.”

That is Simon Akam in a piece reviewing his time in Sierra Leone that has sort of gone viral.

It is the kind of thinking that I wish informed all of the West’s engagement with Africa. Most of Africa’s problems are African. Period.

Africa does not need Oxfam to tell the world to forget about its wars and famines and instead focus on its natural beauty or whatever else that is more positive. It is not the responsibility of Oxfam to feed Africans but that of the kleptocratic African ruling elite. The Oxfams of this world only serve to let Africa’s Mobutus off the hook.

When an African head of state appoints his son as defense minister and then cannot beat back a ragtag rebel alliance armed with AKs on jeeps we should not send troops to help him. He should be left to stew in his own soup.

For far too long the predominantly humanitarian approach in dealing with Africa has allowed the absolute triumph of absolute mediocrity in much of the continent. This must change if Africa is to consolidate the political and economic gains made over the last two decades.

Institutions and Political Change in Kenya

These are interesting times in Kenya. The Deputy Chief Justice and Vice President of the Supreme Court, Nancy Baraza, stands to lose her job for harassing a female security guard on New Year’s Eve.

Ms Baraza’s ordeal is interesting because it captures the momentous changes taking place in Kenya’s institutions of governance. The idea that a public official of such high stature could get in trouble for the “simple act” of threatening a security guard was laughable only a few years ago. Not long ago Kenya was divided between wananchi (loosely translates to citizens) and wenyenchi (owners of the country), the latter being virtually above the law. That has since changed. Even the president has in the recent past been forced to reconsider his actions whenever they were deemed to be in contravention of the supreme law of the land.

But the progression towards this state of affairs has not been straightforward – which is why I think that the Kenyan case is a good lesson in contemporary evolution of limited government.

Academic discussions of limited government revolve around the question of how to achieve credible commitment among the veto players within a polity. That is, how competing factions within the state can agree to a modus operandi that makes their interactions predictable and objectively justifiable based on a predefined idea of what actions are legitimate. The most common way to do this is usually to have institutions of state defined in constitutions and to regularly elect public officials.

But as Stasavage has argued, the mere existence of institutions and veto players is not a sufficient condition for credible commitment. There must be a guarantee that specific important veto players will have de facto veto power. In other words, it matters that various factions within society CAN balance each other.

How does this map onto the Kenyan case?

Contrary to the popular view, the story does not begin with the 2007-2008 post-election violence and the formation of the Grand Coalition Government. The story begins with the pro-capitalist policies of president Kenyatta that created room for the emergence of a wealthy upper class within Kenyan society. At the beginning, this class was totally dependent on the state for its reproduction. But over time, segments of the class acquired independence. Under Moi and now under Kibaki there is a sizeable chunk of the economic upper class that makes its money without a personalist connection to the state [You have to take my word on this, for now.]

The fact that both Odinga and Kibaki have had public fall-outs with wealthy co-ethnics who have then decamped to the other side is illustrative of this fact.

It is this emergence of “independent wealth” that provided the foundation of the strong opposition that emerged after Moi retired. Led by Raila Odinga and his allies, these politicians had the money and social capital to challenge the president and his men on equal terms. That is why when stuff hit the fun in 2007-08 Kibaki had no option but to agree to share some of his power with Odinga. The two men knew that neither of them could win the game of “my street against your street.”  It is also why the negotiated settlement that is Kenya’s new constitution was an exercise in give and take, with an absurd emphasis on procedure and self-executing clauses.

The implementation of the new constitution has not been any different. Which takes us back to Ms Nancy Baraza.

It is common knowledge that Ms Baraza was not an establishment appointment to the Supreme Court. She was part of the civil society coup in judicial appointments which also included the Chief Justice. Having “lost the court” the establishment ensured it had control by insisting on maintaining control over the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General. The establishment also controls the Police Force. Their challengers (who are no angels themselves) had the goodwill of civil society and big enough constituencies in key organs of the state – including the military. They also had a plurality in parliament.

So when Baraza got in trouble due to what appears to be a lapse in judgment, the establishment saw a chance to get her out. But they had to do it within the bounds of due process. And so they have been quick at it. The police (whose top brass will be fired soon by a panel laden with civil society types) conducted a quick investigation and concluded that the DCJ had a case to answer. The Judicial Service Commission has since arrived at the same conclusion, and recommended the Justice’s suspension to the president. The process has thus far been transparent, with very few questioning the legitimacy of the inquiry into the behavior of Ms Baraza.

Meanwhile the civil society has been dead quiet. Many fear that their hard fought gains of having two of their own (The Chief Justice and his deputy) in the Supreme Court will be eroded after Ms Baraza’s departure. I bet that when the dust settles and the debate over who should replace Baraza gets heated civil society (and the Odinga camp) will want to replace her with one of their own. It will be interesting to see if the establishment will move to alter the balance of power by challenging this implied consensus.

The long and short of it all is that it matters that competing forces in society credibly balance each other. In those countries (like in most of Sub-Saharan Africa) where presidents and their men have overwhelming power advantages over their opponents, it will be doubly hard for limited government to come about. If the Kenyan experiment succeeds it will be proof that you need not have an inter-ethnic love-fest or the lack of factions for limited government to emerge.

This is mostly a story about the Kenyan political and economic elites. What about the wananchi/masses? That will be the subject of a future post.

The decline of odious ODA?

The Economist has a piece outlining the paradox of Indian overseas development assistance (to the tune of 11 billion over the next 5-7 years). With figures from the CIA factbook I have calculated that about 300 million indians live below the poverty line. The Economist piece also touts the emergence of middle income donors, especially among the BRICs.

In this world Europeans and Americans no longer dominate aid. China is the biggest source of investment in Africa and the Gates Foundation is as important as many donor governments (and much more innovative). Private capital flows to Africa outstrip aid flows, contradicting an old justification that aid is necessary because investors hold back.

For the poorest, the new donors are more important because Western aid is shrivelling. Congress is proposing to chop American aid by a fifth. Brazil is giving more to the Somali famine than Germany, France and Italy combined. There are exceptions: Britain and Australia promise to boost aid spending. But they seem like a last hurrah of Western generosity.

Adding that:

In this new world the justification for aid and the behaviour of donors must change. For India and others, it is far from clear why the government should send aid abroad when it has so many poor people at home. No doubt, aid will be defended as a boost to global influence. The risk for India is that, just like the West did in the 1960s, it will pour money into grand projects which fail—and encourage bad government.

I disagree with this latter assessment. It is not aid per se that caused the epic governance problems facing most of the low-income countries of the world. Sure it stunted the co-evolution of accountable government and domestic revenue generation. But the biggest failure of aid was what it was spent on.

Aid being highly fungible meant that most of the money wound up in the private accounts of venal leaders and gun-runners.

Things have since changed a bit. For instance, China’s resources-for-infrastructure deals can be a model for Aid 2.0 (this no doubt needs some tweaking too, as this damaging expose on Sino-Angolan oil deals shows). Plus this time the infrastructure investments are different. In an earlier period most of the investments were overtly white elephant projects (like Moi’s infamous hydro-electric dam in Turkwel). Most of the current projects are in roads, telecoms, and to some extent agriculture – investments that will have a much bigger impact because of their broader reach.

You can find a related earlier post here.

blurring the line between church and state

The Catholic Church has urged Parliament to interrogate the moral values and family principles of two judicial nominees before approving them.

The Church came short of rejecting the nomination of Dr Willy Mutunga and Ms Nancy Barasa for the positions of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice respectively, over questions raised about their controversial moral standing.

“The excessive emphasis on academic excellence and radical reformism is not sufficient. Justice fundamentally involves moral order,” said the Church in a statement signed by all the bishops and read by Cardinal Njue.

That is Cardinal John Njue as quoted in the Kenyan daily the Standard.

As part of the implementation of the new constitution the Judicial Service Commission recently nominated Willy Mutunga, a card carrying liberal and reformer. Many in the Kenyan right, including the Church, have come out against Dr. Mutunga – some even pandering to Kenya’s overall conservatism by claiming that Dr. Mutunga might be gay (notice Njue’s comment about “moral order”). Weird stuff.

A part of me thinks that the church is being used by people who know they will lose big time if Kenya’s judiciary gets cleaned up. This talk of morality is horse manure mere hot air. Dr. Mutunga is not a threat, at all, to the country’s conservative character – wrongly conceived or not. He is, however, a nightmare from hell for those who have benefited from corruption since 1963.

The church was on the wrong side of the constitutional debate in 2010 – and lost. It appears that they have not woken up to reality yet. Kenya is changing. If it wants to remain relevant it must change, too.

perspective: land issues in Kenya and zimbabwe

This quote made me pause for a moment:

“As seen in this work, the naked exploitation of land rights has a far longer and more illustrious history in Kenyan than in Zimbabwe. Further, the human cost of such exploitation of land rights in Zimbabwe pales in comparison to Kenya. Human Rights Watch, which is not known to underestimate rights abuses, reports that, by the year 2000 seven white farmers and several tens of black farmers had been killed in Zimbabwe in such violent exploitation of land rights. By the year 2000, these activities in Kenya had resulted in the deaths of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands”

That is Onoma in his book on the Politics of Property Rights Institutions in Africa.

Notice that the figures quoted do not include the victims of Kenya’s 2007-08 post election violence. 1300 died, and just over 300,000 were displaced.

In 1980 6000 (white) Zimbabweans owned 42% of the land in the country. How anyone, including the white farmers, thought this was sustainable in the long run beats me.

In some sense Zimbabwe was inevitable. South Africa is next.

cult of personality

Coronation of Emperor Bokassa I

Most African dictators, past and present, shot to preeminence through reality-bending personality cults. Kenya’s Moi was “teacher, farmer, and everything number 1.” Bokassa became “Emperor of Central Africa” (see picture). Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia “cures AIDS” on Thursdays and plans to soon crown himself “King of the Gambia.” Francisco Macias Nguema, first president of Equatorial Guinea and card-carrying crackpot dictator, named himself the “Implacable Apostle of Freedom” and “The Sole Miracle of Equatorial Guinea.”

I remember as a child drinking “Nyayo” school milk, pledging allegiance to the president and “the Nyayo philosophy of peace, love and unity” and seeing the president at the beginning of every newscast. On most Sundays the KBC newscaster would announce that the president went to church at the African Inland Church in Milimani, Nairobi.

Abandoned footnotes tries to elaborate on the logic of personality cults.

To be sure, in order for a cult of personality to work, you must start small, and you must be willing to both reward (those who denounce) and punish (those who do not praise) with sufficient predictability, which presents a problem if control is initially lacking; there must be a group committed to enforcement at the beginning, and capable of slowly increasing the threshold “signal” of support required of citizens. (So some dictators fail at this: consider, e.g., Mobutu’s failures in this respect, partly from inability to monitor what was being said about him or to punish deviations with any certainty). But once the cult of personality is in full swing, it practically runs itself, turning every person into a sycophant and basically destroying everyone’s dignity in the process. It creates an equilibrium of lies that can be hard to disrupt unless people get a credible  signal that others basically hate the dictator as much as they do and are willing to do something about that.
The post concludes…
The only bright spot in all this is that dictators can become unmoored from reality – they come to believe their own propaganda – in which case they can be surprised by eruptions of protest (e.g., Ceausescu).

Kadhi’s courts and abortion revisited

It appears that after more than 20 years of waiting Kenyans will finally have a new constitution after August 6th. The Attorney General Amos Wako (I can’t believe this man is still in office) published the document today. The electoral commission will formulate the referendum question and announce the campaign period for the August 6th referendum. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the document will be passed by a majority of Kenyans. The latest poll indicated that 64% of Kenyans support the document compared to 17% who oppose it.

The Church and a section of politicians are opposed to the document because of its wording in relation to abortion and Kadhi’s courts (see below) and on matters of resource allocation.  With regard to abortion, my stand is that the constitution does nothing against Kenya’s conservative bend. If anything it still needs some doses of liberalism on family law and social justice in order to protect our mothers and sisters and other marginalized peoples from the rather dated views of the Kenyan patriarchy.Our mothers and sisters are not crazy child-killers. They too are very conservative when it comes to abortion. In this case the law will only serve to bring out of the shadows the thousands of illegal abortions that result in the death of many women in our towns and cities. Also, if the church is so concerned with abortion, how about doing so by promoting birth control? I still don’t get the church’s justification for its consignment of millions to an early grave (thanks to HIV/AIDS) and orphanhood because of its bizarre policies on the use of contraceptives.

And on the Kadhi’s courts: the wording speaks for itself. It only applies to Muslims’ personal issues and even then only with their consent. No Christian will ever have to face a Kadhi. Plus as I have pointed out before, the church’s attempt to impose Christian morality on Kenyans through the constitution is not consistent with their opposition to Kadhi’s courts.

On Abortion:

Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.

On Kadhis’ Courts

(1) There shall be a Chief Kadhi and such number, being not fewer than three, of other Kadhis as may be prescribed under an        Act  of Parliament.
(2) A person shall not be qualified to be appointed to hold or act in the
office of Kadhi unless the person—
(a) professes the Muslim religion; and
(b) possesses such knowledge of the Muslim law applicable to any  sects of Muslims as qualifies the person, in the opinion of the
Judicial Service Commission, to hold a Kadhi’s court.
(3) Parliament shall establish Kadhis’ courts, each of which shall have the jurisdiction and powers conferred on it by legislation,   subject to clause (5).
(4) The Chief Kadhi and the other Kadhis, or the Chief Kadhi and such of the other Kadhis (not being fewer than three in number) as may be prescribed under an Act of Parliament, shall each be empowered to hold a Kadhi’s court having jurisdiction within Kenya.
(5) The jurisdiction of a Kadhis’ court shall be limited to the determination of questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion and submit to the jurisdiction of the Kadhi’s courts.

stop the blame game and move on

I am no apologist for colonialism. I am also not a fan of blaming everything on colonialism. Arbitrary borders, neocolonialism, assassination of presidents, unfair farm subsidies etc etc are the usual things we hear as explanations to why most of Africa remains economically backward. I say it has been more than 50 years and its about time we moved on. Colonialism had its evils, no doubt about that. However, it’s enduring legacy on the Continent has been the fault of Africans and their leaders. There are numerous other countries that have managed to take off even though they were also colonized and for some time were heavily dependent on the industrialised West.

Mobutu, Amin, Bokassa, Moi, Mugabe, Nimeiry, Gaddafi, Doe etc etc were all Africans who deliberately chose to mess up their countries. Nobody held guns to their heads to force them to do what they did. Guinea – at independence – is a clear case that it was quite possible to break free from the former colonizers. All the above mentioned men presided over wasted dictatorships. They killed and maimed and jailed thousands of their citizens but never attempted to do what Pinochet did for Chile or the dictators of the Asian tigers did for their countries. Instead they stole everything they could from their treasuries.

The reason I bring this up is because I just attended a talk on the legacy of colonialism in Africa where the general consensus seems to have been that European colonizers were to blame for most ills on the continent. I find this track of thought wanting. African failure should squarely be blamed on inept African leadership.

is it time we had fresh elections?

So the weekend retreat in Tsavo of the big-wigs in Kenya’s coalition government failed. Instead of addressing real issues (reforms, corruption and Kenya’s land problem), the discussions veered into side-shows – like the Premier’s salary and the opening remarks of the president and his prime minister.

I am beginning to think that the coalition government has outlived its purpose. I am beginning to be persuaded by those who have been calling for fresh elections – most notably the clergy. The coalition government, as currently constituted, is dysfunctional at best. The prime minister and the president (and their respective camps) seem to be pulling in opposite directions on just about every issue. May be it’s time we went to the polls and gave a mandate to a single party instead of having the collective tyranny of ODM and PNU. I think we have a better chance with just one of these parties in power. May be then the government can act more responsibly on reforms instead of having cabinet ministers constantly pointing fingers at each other and blaming the other party.

On a different note, I hear rumours that Martha Karua might quit the government if she is not given more space in the Justice ministry. I hope she gets what she wants, i.e. more space to implement her brand of reforms in the judiciary. Hate her or love her, I think Martha Karua is one of the few Kenyan leaders who speak their mind and who have the balls to implement what they believe in. I remember reading somewhere that the problem with African politics is the lack of ideology. Many leaders act like blind men in the dark, constantly wandering around without any direction.

African social organization and politics have mostly been driven by contingency rather than ideology. The only country that ever produced a true ideologue on the continent was Tanzania. And for all its faults, Ujamaa helped Tanzania a great deal. God knows where the country would be had it not been for the commodity crises of the seventies and mandated structural adjustment programs of the eighties (yeah Gordon Brown, down with the Washington Consensus). I think Martha Karua may be Kenya’s real ideologue, and for that she is increasingly becoming one of my favorite politicians, even though she and I may not see eye to eye on her actual policies.