What’s African about unalloyed misogyny?

The just passed marriage bill is unambiguously the most offensive idea to come out of the 11th Parliament yet. According to the BBC:

MP Samuel Chepkong’a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reports.

Mohammed Junet, an MP representing a constituency from the western Nyanza province, agreed.

“When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa,”

This is Grade A horse manure.

President Kenyatta should veto this bill. And the group of Kenyan MPs who think that disempowering women is a smart idea are advised to watch the video below of President Kibaki at a press conference ostensibly to confirm to Kenyans that he has ONLY ONE WIFE, following rumors to the contrary [More here].

Also, Mr. Kenyatta should require that before he assents to the bill it must expressly forbid dabbling in both civil and “customary” marriages because the resultant legal arbitrage only benefits men. SOMEONE TELL ME, WHY DO WE NEED A DUAL SYSTEM ANYWAY??? A woman entering a civil marriage should have the guarantee that it will always remain so, with stiff penalties for men who violate the contract. The provisions for Muslims have always been clear and should remain so.

And just for good measure, they should also hear what Chimanda has to say about gender relations:

More on the unbelievably sophomoric debate on this matter in the National Assembly here.

Mapping Nairobi’s Informal Transit System

Researchers and students at the University of Nairobi, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University, and the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT produced the map below – and the underlying data behind it – after carrying cell phones and GPS devices along every route in the network. Result? There is order to Nairobi’s seemingly chaotic matatu industry.

Pretty cool stuff. 

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 More here.

H/T Amanda R.

A very short political history of Kenya: HAPPY JAMUHURI DAY!!!

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Financial Times reporting on the creation of the Kenya Colony

Kenya is 50 today. Or 93 if you take the Order in Council of July 1920 creating the Kenya Colony to be the founding instance of the geographical entity that became Kenya (well, most of its land anyway. The coastal strip was then still a property of the Sultan of Zanzibar). I would actually suggest a different date, 1907, to be the instance when the Kenyan state opened shop. This is when the first rudimentary legislature was established (in Nairobi) within the East African Protectorate, thereby enabling settlers, and by extension indigenous Kenyans, a little more say on government policy. Yes, you are very right in thinking that this view has nothing to do with the fact that I am writing my dissertation on African legislatures.

Direct representation came in 1944 with Eliud Mathu, but settler demands brought to the fore issues of the welfare of indigenous Kenyans as well. It was unlike the IBEAC days when the locals had almost no say at all. Speaking of the IBEAC, you could make the argument that Kenya is actually 118 – going by the date, 1895, when IBEAC officially handed over the managed of British East Africa to the Foreign Office.

Anyway, since much of the period between 1895 and 1963 was marked by the exclusion of the vast majority of indigenous Kenyans form the political process let’s take 1963 as the starting point. However, the significance of the other dates shouldn’t be lost on us. Kenyan history did not begin in 1895 or at midnight on December 12th 1963. This account will be brief. Feel free to add to it in the comments section.

Independence in 1963 came on the heels of a brief period of partial self-government. Official history taught in schools puts President Jomo Kenyatta as the first indigenous leader of government. Most Kenyans don’t know that Ronald Ngala was official leader of government business in the LEGCO and even became Chief Minister. At the time Kenyatta was in prison, KANU had just won elections but refused to form a government until Kenyatta was released from prison. Back in 1958 Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had adamantly insisted in the LEGCO that “Kenyatta Tosha” [my own rendition] and that a precondition for independence and self government was the release of Kenyatta from prison.

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Kenyatta with Odinga and Mboya

When Kenyatta was released from prison he found two dominant parties, KADU and KANU. Both tried to persuade him to be their chairman since it was clear that whoever had Kenyatta on their side would win the independence elections (Daniel arap Moi, a KADU man, had even visited Kenyatta in Kapenguria). Because of interests (especially around land; KADU was then perceived as a tool of the settler community) and historical reasons (James Gichuru, a KAU man, was a founder member of KANU) Kenyatta chose KANU over KADU. At independence he inherited a state that was dominated by the Civil Service and Provincial Administration. Kenyatta kept this intact. Sons of collaborators who hunted down the Mau Mau inherited the colonial state. Unlike in many African countries where independence brought about a steep discontinuity – think about Guinea, for instance – in Kenya there was a good amount of continuity.

It was almost as if the Ashanti aristocracy and colonial era collaborators had inherited the reigns of power in the Gold Coast in 1957 and not the outsider mass mobilizer, Kwame Nkrumah; Or the Kabaka, instead of Obote, had inherited power in Uganda in 1962.

The nature of colonial transition explains Kenya’s political stability and reasonable economic success since independence (at least compared to its African peers). It is Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest non-mineral economy and has never experienced a successful military coup (though attempts were made in 1971 and 1982).

Kenya is a lesson on the difference state capacity can make. Any attempts at separatist armed struggle - from the Shifta War, to the Sabaot Land Defense Force, to the Mombasa Republican Council – have been crushed (sometimes with foreign help). Civilian insecurity is a serious problem that is getting worse. But the state is not one that can be toppled by bands of armed men on technicals (see here (pdf) for reasons as to why).

The country got a stable start (and many may argue normatively unjust system) because the indigenous upper class inherited the economy and a strong and moderately developed state (largely because of the need to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency) almost intact. Individuals close to Kenyatta took over settler farms almost intact. The last British Officer in the Kenyan military left in the 1970s. The social foundation of the state ensured continuity (redistribution of land to the masses was a non-starter) and the inherited strong bureaucratic-state had the capacity to suppress any form of dissent (of course starting with ex-Mau Mau freedom fighters who demanded for a greater degree of land redistribution). It also helped that Kenyatta and his close associates were from Central Kenya, the economic heart of the country.

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Snapshot of the triumph of conservatism: Kenya’s Four Presidents, Kenyatta I, Kenyatta II, Kibaki and Moi

The confluence of economic and political power (in Kenyatta and his close co-ethnics) made redistributive policies unworkable. As Bates has ably argued, this explains the great investments that the Kenyan state made in agriculture. This also explains why Kenya never flirted with socialism, unlike nearly all of its African (Ghana again being a good example) peers. Leftist elements within KANU lost out in 1966.

Even among the Kenyan public, the idea of individual ownership of property – and especially land – had become accepted as sacrosanct. Many had come to a pragmatic acceptance of inequality as a feature of life. It was OK for the big men to appropriate thousands of acres of land as long as ordinary families got a few acres for their own use. Right from the beginning, prevailing socio-economic conditions and the attitudes of politically relevant groups made it easy for the conservative ruling class to pursue right of center economic policies. There was no land revolution in the 1960s.

When Kenyatta died in 1978 a lot of things had gone wrong. Many freedom fighters had been neglected by the very people who collaborated with the colonial administration and who now had control over the state. Negative ethnicity had irredeemably corrupted the state and made Kenyatta’s co-ethnic unwilling to share state power or wealth with non co-ethnics. Pio Gama Pinto, an active backbencher in Parliament was assassinated in 1965. Tom Mboya, a charismatic likely successor to Kenyatta was assassinated in 1969. Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, a populist co-ethnic of the president who advocated for more redistributive policies, was also assassinated in 1975. The main opposition party had been banned in 1969. A raft of constitutional amendments had destroyed the regionalist structure of the Kenyan government and centralized power in the hands of the president.

But even at the most trying of times, twice in 1969 (the assassination of Mboya, the riots in Kisumu during a Kenyatta visit and the subsequent banning of the main opposition party KPU) and again in 1975 (following the murder of J. M. Kariuki), the Kenyan state held strong. Order was restored. For better or worse conservatism triumphed over populism and radicalism.

Moi’s succession brought new hope; like all good future dictators he started off by releasing political prisoners of his predecessor. But his security of tenure was never a given. He barely survived attempts to exclude him from succeeding the president as required by law. My own reading of the situation is that a key factor in the lawful succession in August 1978 was Charles Njonjo, the unashamedly Anglophile son of a colonial era chief from Kabete (some call him Sir Charles, others the Duke of Kabeteshire). As the Attorney General Njonjo probably eyed the presidency. Yet he wanted to get there lawfully. Moi was his way of outfoxing the Mungai-Koinange. Njonjo, like all good Kenyans, had internalized whatAtieno-Odhiambo calls the country’s pervasive “ideology of order.” Moi probably knew this. And the fact that there was an intra-Kikuyu split along the flow of River Chania. The Kenyatta presidency was a mostly Kiambu affair. Nyeri Kikuyu (who bore the brunt of the Mau Mau insurgency and counterinsurgency were largely excluded). Moi appointed a Nyeri man, Mwai Kibaki as Vice President. For good measure, he kept Njonjo – well until he got rid of him in 1985.

Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, a man that many in Kenyatta’s inner circle had viewed as a passing cloud, then went on to rule Kenya for 24 years. As an outsider his rule was marked by redistribution (as in the District Focus for Rural Development, gated); an attempt at greater control of the political sphere (he turned Kenya into a party-state); and poor economic performance (Kenya’s dominant economic group was excluded from political power). The coup attempt in 1982 was a reaction to Moi’s controlling tendencies. Earlier in the year he had engineered a change in the constitution to make Kenya a one party state. By 1990 a combination of economic collapse and increasing popular resentment made political liberalization inevitable (it also helped that democracy promotion by Western governments became sexy).

The most high profile political assassination during Moi’s rule was that of Robert Ouko in February 1990. Initially the government tried to suggest that the Foreign Minister committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, breaking his legs, and setting himself on fire. He then somehow found himself atop Got Alila where his remains were recovered by a herds-boy. Like all the high profile  political assassinations before it, it is not clear whether this was a result of intra-palace rivalry or whether it was conducted on the orders of the Big Man.

Despite his many faults, Moi maintained the hold of the center. He saved the elite around Kenyatta from self-destructing by refusing to share power and wealth. More crucially, under Moi order continued to be a key pursuit of the state. In other words Kenya did not fall apart under the pressure of demands for political reform like most of its African peers did.

Multipartyism was reintroduced and elections held in 1992. Moi survived with 36% of the vote. The opposition was divided. Their only victory was getting Moi to concede to term limits. Worst case scenario the man would only be in power until 2002.

ImageMoi retired after the 2002 election. In that year Mwai Kibaki won in a landslide, defeating current President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Kibaki presidency brought success and decline in equal measure. The economic consequences of the Kibaki presidency were largely positive. Kenyans acquired greater freedoms. It became OK to hurl abuses at the head of state without risking torture. The 2010 Constitution was enacted under Kibaki. But it is also under Kibaki that the country almost descended into civil war in 2007-08 following the rigged 2007 elections. Corruption and the ethnicization of state administration continued unabated. The euphoria and hope for genuine reform that marked the 2002 transition varnished. Earlier this year Kibaki retired to be succeeded by Uhuru Kenyatta, effectively bringing to power a significant portion of the group that lost the 2002 presidential election.

Moi was Kenyatta’s vice president, Kibaki was Moi’s vice president. President Uhuru Kenyatta is the son Kenya’s founding father.

As is implied by this account, the political history of Kenya has tended to revolve around key personalities, and the presidency. One defining characteristic of the Kenyan saga is the invariable triumph of conservatism over radicalism and progressivism. Great progressives from Pinto to Oginga Odinga, to Bildad Kaggia to J. M. Kariuki to Raila Odinga have fought hard and long to improve the lives of ordinary Kenyans. But the empire always strikes back. And wins. The Kenyan story is one of the triumph of conservatism over progressivism.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the new institutions created by the 2010 Constitution evolve. The Kenyan legislature is strong and continues to evolve (be sure to read my dissertation and book on this); the system of county governments will definitely chip away at the hitherto cohesive bureaucratic-administrative state; and the desire for rapid development and the management of economic equality will raise new problems of the conservative core of the Kenyan state. Will the centre continue to hold? Will Kenya continue to be economically center-right despite freer elections?

On Kenya’s diplomatic delusion

So far the ICC question has been the singular preoccupation of the Kenyatta administration. It appears that the Kenyan government is willing to pull out all the stops to halt the cases against the president and his deputy. Sadly, instead of a sober approach to the process of doing so, Nairobi has chosen to antagonize both the Hague Court and the West.

As I have argued before, Kenya has leverage vis-a-vis the West (security in the Horn and Somalia in particular; its status as host to regional diplomatic and aid efforts; and role as the biggest economy and potential gateway to the region) that it can use in a smart way to get concessions from Washington, London and Paris on key issues. Rather than wish for a restructured P5 (see post below), Nairobi should think of how to get its way with the current one.

Instead of the misguided chest-thumping about hollow sovereignty in a Chinese built conference hall in Addis under the banner of an organization partly funded by the EU, Nairobi could have chosen a different path.

Writing in the Daily Nation, Paul Mwangi, in a nutshell describes what is wrong with Kenya’s current approach to international diplomacy (Must read, more here):

The reality is that gone are the days when we were the “island of peace” in an unpredictable and violent part of the world. Over time, the world around us has changed, but we are yet to wake up and smell the coffee. Ethiopia is no longer in civil war and is quickly becoming a better investment opportunity for manufacturers both due to the low price of its electricity and the size of its population, about 90 million people. It is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Tanzania is no longer socialist and is now the darling of America. Apart from its own vast mineral, oil and gas deposits, Tanzania is the new gateway to the DRC and is receiving mammoth investment from both China and America. China is building what is being called a “mega port” for Tanzania at Bagamoyo, which is more than 30 times the size of Mombasa, as part of a $10 billion investment package for Tanzania. When completed, it is bound to take away all central Africa business from Mombasa port, which will be left to serve only Kenya and Uganda.

……. Let us stop comparing ourselves with other countries. The painful truth is that Kenya is not Syria. In the Middle East, Syria is the only foothold for China and Russia. The rest of the countries are either fundamentalist or pro-Western. In Africa, China and Russia are spoilt for even better choices.

They will only go so far to help us out [Indeed some have started asking of the Afro-Chinese engagement has peaked].

The complete madness lack of tact that Mr. Mwangi points out will no doubt be on display this afternoon as the National Assembly debates Kenya-UK relations (Recently Kenyan MPs allied to the president have chosen to prove their loyalty by taking extreme positions on the ICC issue). This comes in the wake of the UK’s support of an amendment of the ICC statutes to allow President Kenyatta and his deputy to attend their trials via video-link; and stated opposition to granting sitting presidents full immunity from any prosecution under international law while in office as has been demanded by Kenya. The hurdle remains high for the Kenyan (AU) amendment proposals to the Assembly of Member States, especially after it emerged that 9 African states may not be illegible to vote on account of not having paid their dues.

According to a recent poll, 67% of Kenyans are of the opinion that President Kenyatta should attend trial at the Hague in person to clear his name.

Making sense of the Kenyan government’s reaction to UNSC vote on ICC deferral

The UN Security Council has rejected Kenya’s (and the African Union’s) request for a one year deferral of the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy at the Hague. The two stand accused of crimes against humanity committed following the disputed elections in 2007. More than 1300 people died, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

The US, UK, France, Australia, Guatemala, Luxembourg, South Korea and Argentina abstained to stop the deferral request. China, Russia, Togo, Morocco, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Rwanda voted for a deferral. African leaders have in the last two years been on an ill-advised crusade against the ICC, terming it as a “race hunting” tool of “declining” Western powers.

Kenyatta and Ruto are innocent until proven otherwise, but their attempts to make their personal cases at the ICC a regional struggle of Africans against imagined neo-colonialists bent on usurping African sovereignty is a little misguided. The Kenyan case is different (Kenya is not Sudan or the DRC) and ought to have attracted special consideration from the court (see closing remarks below). However, despite its faults the ICC is all the continent has in the quest to hold its leaders accountable. I reiterate, murderous dictators in Africa and elsewhere should never be allowed to have internal affairs.

Here is the government’s total freak out response following the UNSC vote, with some comments from yours truly.

STATEMENT FROM THE FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTRY IN KENYA

Kenya takes note of the outcome of the United Nations Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa, and specifically on the subject of the request for deferral of the Kenya ICC cases. Kenya wishes to thank China and Azerbaijan who, during their stewardship of the Security Council, have been professional and sensitive to the African Union agenda.

Wow, this is how bad things have become. That Kenya finds friends in states like Azerbaijan. Yes, this is the place in which the president recently announced the election results even before the polls opened. These are our new committed friends. We are going places. 

Kenya wishes to thank the seven members of the Security Council who voted for a deferral and is particularly grateful to Rwanda, Togo and Morocco – the three African members on the Security Council – for their exemplary leadership.

Again, the only country we should be associated with on this list is perhaps Rwanda. I wish we could do what they have done with their streets, and corruption, and ease of doing business. But by all means we should not borrow their human rights record. Oh, and please let’s stay away from their variety of democracy.

This result was not unexpected considering that consistently some of the members of the Security Council, who hold veto powers, had shown contempt for the African position. The same members and five others chose to abstain, showing clear cowardice in the face of a critical African matter, and a lack of appreciation of peace and security issues they purport to advocate.

Letting the trial go on does not threaten peace and stability in Kenya. This is an empty argument. There will not be any spontaneous violence. Furthermore, the president is not the operational commander of the KDF. He is the Commander in Chief. He gets to issue orders from some room somewhere. Orders can be issued from anywhere. And remind me again how this trial impacts security ALL OVER AFRICA, other than by raising the cost of genocidal activities by African presidents?

Oh, and did I mention that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is almost entirely paid for by the European Union?

Inevitably, it must be appreciated that the outcome of this vote demonstrates that the Security Council does not serve the interests of a majority of its members and is clearly in need of urgent reform. It cannot be that a few countries take decisions that go against reason and wisdom in a matter so important to nearly one billion Africans.

One billion Africans. Really? I had no idea our president was this important of a man. One billion Africans. Many of whom starve to death; or die of treatable illnesses; or never make it to their first or fifth birthday because their leaders steal all the money meant for medicine. These Africans? Why should their names be invoked to protect the same leaders that have confined them to degrading penury for the last half century? Why, I ask? 

Also, the claim that Africa is united against the ICC is false. We all know about the divisions that stalled the silly idea of a mass walkout from the ICC by African states.

The African Union, in one voice, took the unprecedented step of making a simple request to the Security Council, bearing in mind the security and stability it seeks to achieve on the continent. But the Security Council has failed to do this and humiliated the continent and its leadership.

Ahh. Now the truth comes out. It is not about the one billion Africans after all. This is about the humiliation of the African leadership. It is about protecting the sovereignty of a few inept rulers. Forget the one billion Africans. It is about their big men rulers who steal tax money and stash it away in bank accounts in the same Western countries they like to call names.

The Security Council has failed the African continent, which will have to make its own judgment in the coming days and weeks about how it wishes to engage with the Security Council, which obviously does not believe the voices of more than one quarter of its members is significant enough to warrant its serious and purposive attention.

The security council has failed African leaders. Not the African people en masse. Africans want to have elections without having to worry that voting one way or the other will result in their houses being torched or their mothers, sisters and brothers murdered or raped. They also want freedom from ignorance, disease and material want. Is that too much to ask?

The African Union’s request to the Security Council included its key resolutions at the Special Summit on the ICC. The important one for the Security Council to note was the one that categorically says that no sitting Heads of State or Government may appear before the ICC. Kenya regrets failure of important members of the UN Security Council to have due consideration of Kenya’s critical role in stabilizing the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions, and their reckless abdication of global leadership.

Wait, are these important global leaders in the UNSC the same ones President Kenyatta termed as “declining powers”? What makes them important now? 

Just for the record, I am part of the 67% of Kenyans who in a recent poll were in favor of the president attending court at the Hague. Having both the president and his deputy on trial will serve a great symbolic task of demystifying the Kenyan political leadership. The demonstration effect to all politicians, voters and criminal gangs alike will be clear: You cannot kill innocent civilians and get away with it.

In my view, the best case scenario is having both men attend trial and then get a not guilty verdict.

Kenyans are nowhere near ready to discuss frankly what happened in 2007-08 or the deeper issues of ethnicity and economic disparities that often mirror ethnic lines and how to deal with these issues at the national level. A forced conversation, especially one that has a foreign touch in the form of a court verdict, may result in unpleasant consequences. This would be a less than ideal outcome, but one that would not necessarily be catastrophic for the country. The constitution is clear on succession should either one or both leaders be found guilty and jailed.

Will rampant corruption jeopardize Kenya’s ability to prevent future terror attacks?

There is an interesting debate on this question over at the Guardian. Following the terror attack at Westgate Giles Foden made the following claim:

In Kenya crime and terrorism are deeply linked, not least by the failure of successive Kenyan governments to control either……… These attacks are part of a spectrum of banditry, with corruption at one end, terrorism at the other, and regular robbery in the middle. Some Kenyans will feel that the conditions in which the attacks have happened have arisen because of economic growth in a vacuum of governance. Money that should have been spent on security and other aspects of national infrastructure has been disappearing for generations.

Two days ago the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, responded to Mr. Foden with a denial of the charge that corruption in the country was in any way related to the failure of security forces to thwart the attack at Westgate. She reminded readers that:

The disasters of 9/11 or the more recent Boston marathon in the US and 7/7 in the UK – both highly developed countries – could hardly be blamed on corruption, so why Kenya? We do not recall Foden blaming corruption within the security agencies involved.

So what is the relationship between corruption and the likelihood of successful future terror attacks in Kenya?

There is no denying the fact that corruption is a huge soft underbelly in the Kenyan state’s fight against al-Shabaab. As I have pointed out before, the attack at Westgate  showed Kenyans that AK-47s are not a menace only in the hands of cattle rustlers or carjackers. They can also be weapons of mass murder. So reports of police reservists renting out their AKs to criminals or being paid by the same criminals to look the other way do not inspire confidence in the government’s ability to prevent future attacks. Indeed last Friday Reuters reported that:

security officers, diplomats and experts describe a security apparatus that may be squandering skills built with the help of U.S., British and other trainers because suspects can buy their way through police checks and poor inter-agency coordination means dots are not joined up.

Add to this the fact that the country has about 600,000 light weapons and small arms in civilian hands (pdf) - including 127,000 illicit guns in Turkana County alone - and you begin to get the picture of why lax law enforcement, partly fueled by lack of funds and poor training and pay of regular police, but also by higher-ups’ venal proclivities, does not bode well for the likelihood of future Westgate-style attacks.

That said, to put terrorism on the same scale as carjacking would be a mistake, especially with regard to how the Kenyan state is likely to react to future threats of terrorism in the wake of Westgate. Obviously, due to entrenched interests and the administrative power (pdf) of the Civil Service the president cannot simply wish away corruption with a stroke of a pen. But he will be under tremendous pressure from the business community (which, in my view, is his number one constituency) to make sure that things that are singularly bad for business – like Westgate-style terror attacks – do not happen in the future.

Regularized murderous banditry in the less governed spaces in Kenya or carjackings in Kileleshwa are different from terror attacks in that the former are often localized “micro-events” on the national stage (even when they are of Baragoi or Tana River or Bungoma proportions) that rarely ever have systemic effects. Westgate, on the other hand, did have a systemic effect. And in a big way. As such I expect that the government will follow the trail and start closing loopholes wherever they are that might be exploited by terrorists in the future. This includes reforming the Kenya Police Service, to the extent that is necessary. It is hard for me to imagine that the president would risk failing to secure reelection just to keep a few corrupt officials happy.

So on balance Westgate might actually lead to a major push to rid critical state institutions of the scourge of corruption and to strengthen them with a view of increasing state capacity.

I could also be totally wrong.

There is a scenario in which the response to Westgate is al-Shabaab-focused and purely driven by the military (which presently has a huge PR problem with the Kenyan public and would want to save face) and other security agencies with little input from the political class. Such an eventuality would be a double bad because of the risk of erosion of civilian control of the military in Kenya (at least at the policy level) as well as a failure to reform critical domestic institutions to reduce the likelihood of future attacks (or attempts to bring back the bad old days…)

All this to say that on the off chance that someone asks you the question in the title of this post, the simple answer would be probably.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s statement following Westgate terror attack

Fellow Kenyans,

This morning, a group of armed terrorists forcefully entered the Westgate Mall in Nairobi’s Parklands area and unleashed senseless violence upon customers and workers. They have killed at least 39 innocent people and injured more than 150 others. With the entire nation, I stand with the families of those who have lost their lives and extend every Kenyan’s deepest condolences. (I know what you feel having personally lost very close family members)

I ask God to give all of you comfort as you confront this tragedy. My Government will provide the support you will need in the days to come. To those who were injured, I wish you a quick recovery from the physical and other shocks you underwent today. The Government will be at hand to ensure that your lives return to normal as quickly as possible. The people of Kenya have been wonderful, as always. With your support we safely evacuated hundreds of people from the Mall. I salute your conscientious and selfless acts of solidarity in response to the terrorist attack. 

Your courage and sympathy saved lives and reassured countless people.

I commend those who volunteered by giving first-aid, transporting the injured to hospital, donating blood, locating and contacting loved ones and making it easy for rescue, medical and security personnel to do their work. I appreciate those who have used media to rally help of all kinds, condole with and comfort the affected and thank all those responsible citizens who have desisted from spreading panic and despondency. Please continue helping, and continue praying.

The despicable perpetrators of this cowardly act hoped to intimidate, divide and cause despondency among Kenyans. They would like us to retreat into a closed, fearful and fractured society where trust, unity and enterprise are difficult to muster. An open and united country is a threat to evil doers everywhere. With our values of solidarity and love for our homeland, we fought proudly and bravely to secure the freedom to lead our lives as we choose. Our choice is codified in our Constitution. 

We have overcome terrorist attacks before. In fact, we have fought courageously and defeated them within and outside our borders. We will defeat them again. Terrorism in and of itself, is the philosophy of cowards. The way we lead our lives; in freedom, openness, unity and consideration for each other represents our victory over all those who wish us ill. We are as brave and invincible as the lions on our Coat of Arms.

My Government stands ready to defend the nation from internal as well as external aggression. I urge all Kenyans to stand together and see this dark moment through. Donate blood. Provide information to the authorities. Comfort and reassure the affected families. Let us ashame the Devil and his works by demonstrating our timeless values of love, compassion and solidarity. Our security forces are conducting a multi-agency response to this attack as we speak and are in the process of neutralizing the attackers and securing the Mall. 

It is a very delicate operation as our top priority remains to safe guard the lives of innocent people held up in this unfortunate incident. But let me make it clear. We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run to. We shall get them. We shall punish them for this heinous crime. 

I have directed security agencies to be decisive in their response to this or any other threat. They must and will do this to demonstrate our constitution’s categorical guarantee of Kenyans’ indefeasible rights to life and property.

Across the country, we have tightened security but I urge all of you to remain calm and vigilant.

God bless you. God bless Kenya.

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. 

So Tanzanians drink more than Kenyans?

Kenyans pride themselves in their ability to consume machozi ya simba (lion’s tears) and have a good time, more so than their regional neighbors, especially the polite Tanzanians to the south. But the data, at least between 2003-05, says something different. Kenyans drink the least in the EAC (which is a testament to the strong conservative undercurrents in Kenyan society despite the outward liberalism that we (almost exclusively Nairobians) all like to wear on our sleeves).

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Source: The Economist
It is also in Kenya that there is an anti-drinking law forbidding the sale of alcohol before 5 PM on weekdays and 2 PM on weekends and after 11 PM. Of course the law is almost never enforced and seems to only benefit the police whenever they need extra cash from bar operators. That said, sections of Kenyan society have a serious drinking problem that the government continues to ignore at enormous social and economic cost. Incidentally, like all good Commanders in Chief, ours is no stranger to booze, although he must’ve ditched the habit now that he is lives in the House on the Hill.

Africa’s newfound love with creditors: Bond bubble in the making?

I know it is increasingly becoming not kosher to put a damper on the Africa Rising narrative (these guys missed the memo, H/T Vanessa) but here is a much needed caution from Joe Stiglitz and Hamid Rashid, over at Project Syndicate, on SSA’s emerging appetite for private market debt (Africa needs US $90b for infrastructure; it can only raise $60 through taxes, FDI and concessional loans):

To the extent that this new lending is based on Africa’s strengthening economic fundamentals, the recent spate of sovereign-bond issues is a welcome sign. But here, as elsewhere, the record of private-sector credit assessments should leave one wary. So, are shortsighted financial markets, working with shortsighted governments, laying the groundwork for the world’s next debt crisis?

…….Evidence of either irrational exuberance or market expectations of a bailout is already mounting. How else can one explain Zambia’s ability to lock in a rate that was lower than the yield on a Spanish bond issue, even though Spain’s [which is not Uganda…] credit rating is four grades higher? Indeed, except for Namibia, all of these Sub-Saharan sovereign-bond issuers have “speculative” credit ratings, putting their issues in the “junk bond” category and signaling significant default risk.

The risks are real, especially when you consider the exposure to global commodity prices among the ten African countries that have floated bonds so far – Ghana, Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Angola, Nigeria, Namibia, Zambia, and Tanzania.

In order to justify the exposure to the relatively higher risk and lending rates on the bond market (average debt period 11.2 years at 6.2% compared to 28.7 years at 1.6% for concessional loans) African governments must ensure prudent investment in sectors that will yield the biggest bang for the buck. And that also means having elaborate plans for specific projects with adequate consideration of the risks involved.

Here in Zambia (which is heavily dependent on Copper prices), the Finance Minister recently had to come out to defend how the country is using the $750 million it raised last year on the bond market (2013-14 budget here). Apparently there was no comprehensive plan for the cash so some of the money is still in the bank awaiting allocation to projects (It better be earning net positive real interest).

“They are fighting each other. By the time they have projects to finance, they will have earned quite a lot of interest from the Eurobond money they deposited. So, all the money is being used properly,” he [Finance Minister] said.

Following the initial success the country’s public sector plans to absorb another $4.5b in debt that will raise debt/GDP ratio from current ~25% to 30%. One hopes that there will be better (prior) planning this time round.

Indeed, last month FT had a story on growing fears over an Emerging (and Frontier) Markets bond bubble which had the following opening paragraph:

As far as financial follies go, tulip mania takes some beating. But future economic historians may look back at the time when investors financed a convention centre in Rwanda as the moment that the rush into emerging market bonds became frothy.

The piece also highlights the fact that the new rush to lend to African governments is not entirely driven by fundamentals – It is also a result of excess liquidity occasioned by ongoing quantitative easing in the wake of the Great Recession.

I remain optimistic about the incentive system that private borrowing will create for African governments (profit motive of creditors demands for sound macro management) and the potential for this to result in a nice virtuous cycle (if there is one thing I learned in Prof. Shiller’s class, it is the power of positive feedback in the markets).

But I also hope that when the big three “global” central banks start mopping up the cash they have been throwing around we won’t have a repeat of the 1980s, or worse, a cross between the 1980s (largely sovereign defaults) and the 1990s (largely private sector defaults) if the African private sector manages to get in on the action.

African governments, please proceed with caution.