kenya: a model of conservative revolution?

An ambitious project is in the works to build a new city from scratch in Kenya, a sign that things are indeed changing in the economic engine of the wider eastern African region. The stock market voted for the new constitution with a bullish run on the eve of the ratification of the document. Investments in property – the property class has outdone most asset classes in the last two years – serve as a sure marker that Kenyans are confident in government’s commitment to protection of property rights. I am one of those who remain optimistic that Kenya is on the verge of take-off. And here is why.

Not long ago the idea of a cabinet minister resigning in Kenya was a pipe dream. Even more improbable was the idea of parliament defying the president. But these days ministers resign and the Kenyan parliament routinely defies State House. More importantly, the august house has continued its march towards independence from the executive – both functionally and financially. By controlling their own budget and calendar and building a functioning committee system, members of The House have acquired enough muscle to expose lapses in the management of public affairs – including the present scandals involving the Kenyan foreign ministry and the Nairobi City Council.

The biggest question, however, is whether the reforms embodied in the new constitution will last. My answer is yes they will, for two reasons. Firstly, the reforms are not as radical as some commentators think they are. The Kenyan establishment still stands to gain the most from the institutional reforms embodied in the new constitution. Land ownership, taxation, regulation of business, among other topics of interest to the elite are still firmly in the hands of the conservative centre and their provincial allies. Secondly, the emerging culture of bargaining, as opposed to Nyayo era “wapende wasipende (like or not) politics,” provides opportunities for amicable settlement of disputes resulting in self-reinforcing deals. No single political grouping can force its will on Kenyans. Mr. Kenyatta needed to only convince the Kiambu mafia for his policies to fly. Moi only needed a small group of collaborators. The new dispensation, however, requires that a significant number of elites, with varied political interests, buy into an idea before it can fly. This is progress. It is stable and sustainable progress.

Kenya’s dark hour in early 2008 was an eye-opener to the political and economic elite. The more than 1300 deaths will forever be a reminder of the evils of strongman rule. The broader legacy of the 2007 election will however be positive. The elections showed the core conservative establishment that they cannot run the country on their own, and that the peripheral elites also have significant de facto political power. By forcing the elite into agreeing to a self-enforcing arrangement, the regrettable events of 2007-08 facilitated elite compromises culminating in their new Kenyan constitution. The yet to be established supreme court will provide the final piece of the foundation needed for sustained institutional development in a predictable environment. Paradoxically, the biggest plus of Kenya’s new constitution is its conservative bent. And for that reason it will endure beyond the current teething phase. A more radical document would have been eviscerated just as the Kenyatta and Mboya amendments decimated Kenya’s independence constitution.

Quick note: wetangula resigns

Kenyan foreign minister Moses Wetangula has resigned over corruption allegations. Mr. Wetangula’s ministry was exposed to have engaged in fraudulent property deals in foreign capitals to the tune of Kshs. 1.1b (US $13.75 m).

More at the Daily Nation.

fixing somalia

The Kenyan foreign minister has some ideas….

Kenya’s foreign minister said Saturday the millions being spent to fight pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia should be spent instead on helping the country become a functioning state.

Adding that

“Piracy is not born at sea. It’s born on land. And if you are able to patrol and protect your coastline, it’s unlikely that pirates will find a way to the high seas to cause the menace,” Wetangula said. “Instead, what are we seeing? 52 warships patroling … the waters of the Indian Ocean, but piracy is still going on.”

I say it is about time we exorcised the ghosts of black hawk down and meaningfully intervened in Somalia. Such an intervention should be realistic enough to allow al-Shabab those who can monopolize violence to control Mogadishu and surrounding areas in the short term before attempts are made to rebuild a functioning Somali state.

h/t Cyn

al-bashir and the ugly truth

August 27th was the day Kenyans founded their second republic. Having woken up early to watch the festivities on tv I was rather surprised to see Sudan’s president Bashir ushered onto the dais by tourism minister Najib Balala. Subsequently members of parliament, the government and Kenya’s civil society started pointing fingers and expressing dismay over the decision to invite the genocidaire president. The international community – through the UNSC – also condemned the decision to host al-Bashir, a man wanted by the ICC for the most heinous crime under international law: genocide.

Kenya’s Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula defended the decision citing regional security concerns. I must admit that I sort of bought his story. Even Southern Sudan’s envoy in Nairobi – speaking with Jeff Koinange on K24’s Capital Talk – seemed to buy Mr. Wetangula’s assertion that the realities of maintaining peace in the region demanded that al-Bashir not be isolated. Like the envoy I am hopeful that Nairobi will get concessions from Khartoum with regard to the implementation of the CPA, most crucially on the holding of the secession referendum scheduled for early January 2011.

That said, president Bashir should not be allowed to get away with the murder of more than 200,000 Darfuris. He may have considerable leverage now by threatening to reignite violence in Southern Sudan but this is a card that he can only play for so long.