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.

Fraud and vote patterns in Kenya’s 2013 election

Update: The video link now works. Many thanks to SAIS for fixing it and letting me know.

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The video below has been making the rounds in the Kenyan online community. The Daily Nation even reported on the claims by UCSD Professor Clark Gibson and James Long, Asst. Prof. and University of Washington, that President Uhuru Kenyatta may not have crossed the 50% threshold in the March 4th election. The duo conducted an exit poll (N = 6000) on election day that showed both candidates in a statistical tie at 40.9% for Odinga and 40.6% for Kenyatta. In the presentation Clark and James make the case that exit polling is superior to PVT because it is immune to things like ballot stuffing and tallying fraud. NDI sponsored ELOG conducted a PVT that confirmed the results announced by the Kenyan EMB, the IEBC.

I do not really know what to make of this poll finding by James and Clark at the moment. I am waiting for the actual MP and Governor elections results to be published by the IEBC so I can try and see if the results in these local races were in line with the presidential results.

A look into Kenyatta’s new cabinet

President Kenyatta has announced 16 of 18 cabinet secretaries in his administration. The list of names has elicited mixed reactions. On the one hand the manner of the announcement – on the steps of State House – was different, and dignified. It was much less pedestrian than what Kenyans had become used to – presidential cabinet appointments via press releases to newsrooms. Six women made the list, including in the powerful Defense and Foreign Affairs dockets. With the exception of Balala and Ngilu, all the nominees so far are not politicians.

But on the other other hand grumblings emerged on the lack of regional (read ethnic) balance in the appointments. Kenya is an ethnically fragmented country, with 11 (out of 42) ethnic groups with populations over 1 million (Kikuyu/GEMA, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba, Somali, Kisii, Meru (part of GEMA), Mijikenda, Turkana, Maasai). For most of the country’s history ethnicity has been a key organizing principle of politics, with people largely voting along ethnic lines for various instrumental reasons.

So what is the ethnic breakdown of Kenyatta’s cabinet so far? Here is my guestimation based on their last names: Kikuyu (3), Kalenjin (4), Somali (3), Luo (1), Meru (1), Kisii (1), Kamba (1), Luhya (1), Arab (1). Two slots remain unoccupied.

Only two groups (Kalenjins and Somalis) are clearly overrepresented in the cabinet appointments in proportion to their relative ethnic group size in the country (Kalenjin 25% vs 13.2%; Somalis 18.75 vs 6.3%). Those groups in the top ten that are underrepresented missed their “objective proportion” of the cabinet by about one slot, on average.

On an aside, historically African presidents have actually been pretty good at ethnic balancing in the appointment of cabinet ministers – as Francois, Rainer and Trebbi show in this paper. They claim to “show that African ruling coalitions are large and that political power is allocated proportionally to population shares across ethnic groups. This holds true even restricting the analysis to the subsample of the most powerful ministerial posts. We argue that the likelihood of revolutions from outsiders and the threat of coups from insiders are major forces explaining such allocations.

If the ethnic composition of the cabinet is anything to go by, it shows the extent to which deputy president William Ruto is more of an equal than deputy to President Kenyatta. His part of the Jubilee coalition dominates the list of cabinet nominees. Or it might just be a case of Mr. Kenyatta, being president, having opted to have his half of the cabinet “represent the face of Kenya” (Kenyatta and Ruto had a 50-50 pre-election appointments sharing agreement at the formation of the Jubilee coalition).

Despite Kenyans’ relief at the end of Odinga and Kibaki’s coalition government, the era of nusu mkate might still be among us.

In related news, president Kenyatta broke one of his campaign promises by not appointing an ethnic Turkana as secretary in charge of Energy and Petroleum. Kenya’s oil discoveries have been mostly in Turkana County. The Standard reports:

Uhuru [President Kenyatta] repeated he will appoint a Turkana to head the Ministry of Energy portfolio should he take over the next Government.

Kenyatta said his Government would give first priority to locals to manage the oil resources that were discovered in the area.

“Our mandate is to ensure that every Kenyan gets equal share of national cake. But locals where such resources are found should benefit more as a right stipulated in the Constitution,” he said.

Deputy President William Ruto also broke a promise he made yesterday. He said at a presser that the cabinet will not have any politicians, yet Charity Ngilu and Najib Balala have been nominated.

Kenyatta’s Cabinet Nominees:

  1. Fred Matiang’i (Information, Communication and Technology) – Kisii
  2. Henry K. Rotich (The National Treasury) – Kalenjin
  3. James Wainaina Macharia (Health) – Kikuyu
  4. Amb Amina Mohamed (Foreign Affairs) – Somali
  5. Adan Mohammed (Industrialisation) – Somali
  6. Ann Waiguru (Devolution and Planning) – Kikuyu
  7. Davis Chirchir (Energy and Petroleum) – Kalenjin
  8. Amb Raychelle Omamo (Defence) – Luo
  9. Eng Michael Kamau (Transport and Infrastructure) – Kikuyu
  10. Phyllis Chepkosgey (East African affairs, Commerce and Tourism) – Kalenjin
  11. Prof Jacob Kaimenyi (Education) – Meru
  12. Felix Kosgey (Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries) – Kalenjin
  13. Prof Judy Wakhungu (Environment Water and Natural Resources) – Luhya
  14. Dr Hassan Wario (Sports, Culture and Arts) – Somali
  15. Najib Balala (Mining) – Arab
  16. Charity Ngilu (Lands, Housing and Urban Development) – Kamba
  17. Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services (Vacant)
  18. Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government (Vacant)

Will Kenya’s civil society survive Kenyatta’s presidency?

This is the question – what’s civil society to do if it feels so strongly about the Kenyatta regime? There’s no doubt Mr Kenyatta and his government have the support of a lot of Kenyans. That’s unarguable. But there are many Kenyans who are apathetic.

Take it from me – apathy is strongest in civil society. It’s an “existential moment” for some of the leading lights of civil society.

They feel betrayed by a population they’ve always fought for. In fact, most of the freedoms Kenyans enjoy today were made possible by civil society, including the 2010 Constitution.

Many are questioning the ability of the human rights movement to uproot embedded tribalism and the money corruption of the wealthy.

No one knows whether civil society will survive the Kenyatta regime and, if so, in what shape. We are in uncharted territory. But I can point to some possible routes. I believe Mr Kenyatta understands that his regime suffers from a “legitimacy deficit”.

That’s because of the charges against him at The Hague and the contested nature of the election. He may try to co-opt some civil society leaders into his regime to shore up his credibility.

That is the Chair of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, Dr. Makau Mutua writing in his Sunday Column on the challenge ahead of civil society under the Kenyatta administration. He goes on to add that:

….others may accept the outcome of the election and “move on,” as has been urged. This cohort would simply go back to the trenches and continue their fight for human rights – much in the same way they did under former President Kibaki.

….there is a group that’s likely to disengage, and “divorce” the human rights movement. This chunk may “resign” from civil society. A number may even “divorce” Kenya. Some may go for further studies, or join the private sector. This group took Mr Kenyatta’s election the hardest, and cannot reconcile itself to the choice of a supposed plurality of Kenyans.

Mr. Mutua is one of the few civil society members who have come out strongly against the election of President Kenyatta. His views represent those of a significant proportion of Kenyans who feel that much of the democratic gains of the last 20 years have been lost with the election of Kenyatta and Ruto, scions of former President Moi.

The progressive forces in Kenya are presently in a state of shock. This was their election to lose. Having managed to get a favorable constitution in 2010, many had banked their hopes in Raila Odinga to implement it. Instead, Mr. Kenyatta captured the State House and control of both houses of Parliament.

Mr. Odinga’s loss has left many disillusioned with the Kenyan political system. Once again, despite valiant attempts to even the playing field, money and entrenched interests triumphed over progressive ideals. 

President Kenyatta’s first address to a joint session of Parliament (National Assembly and Senate)

My favorite parts of the speech: the desire to reduce the public wage bill (over 12% of GDP); the need for JOBS (40% unemployment; 70% among youth); land reform.

Mr. Kenyatta’s coalition has majorities in both houses of parliament and so he should have a relatively easy time pushing through his rather ambitious agenda. The best indicator of his ability to do so will come soon when he announces nominees for his cabinet (they have to be approved by the National Assembly).

Kenyan pollsters eat humble pie

No one in the mainstream Kenyan media, at least not yet, wants to talk about the failure of opinion polls to predict the outcome of last Monday’s election (For some thoughts on the election check out my post on the monkey cage blog here).

A week to the election the three main polls showed the race to be neck and neck between Messrs Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, with a slight advantage to Mr. Odinga, on average.

But in the end it was not even close. Mr. Kenyatta handily beat Mr. Odinga by almost 7 percentage points (50.07% – 43.28%).

So what went wrong?

In my view, the pollsters missed the mark both by not taking turnout into account (despite my unwarranted advice!) and perhaps poorly weighting the results from the different regions of the country (Kenyans largely vote along ethnic lines for various instrumental reasons; ethnic groups are geographically concentrated, with variance in size and population density).

The polling firms ought to have done a better job of basing their results on likely voters as opposed to self-declared registered voters. Kenyatta’s strongholds registered voters at higher rates, and based on past elsctions, were likely to register higher turnout rates than  Odinga’s strongholds- and they did (88.6% to 84%).

My own pre-election predictions a month before the election highlighted this fact. In my estimation the polls consistently overestimated Mr. Odinga’s support.

I eagerly await the polling firms’ own rationalization of what happened. Hopefully the misses this time won’t permanently damage the public’s perception of opinion polls.

Despite the difficulties in forecasting political outcomes, it is better to have polls than fly blind into an election.

Uhuru Kenyatta Elected President of Kenya

Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president, has been elected president.

Mr. Kenyatta edged off veteran politician and son of Kenya’s frist vice president, Raila Odinga, garnering 50.07% (6.1m) of the total votes cast. Mr. Odinga managed to get 43.28% (5.3m) (compare this with my predictions here).

Slightly more than 12.2 million out of the registered 14.3 turned up to vote. The overall turnout rate was 86%, the highest ever in Kenya’s history.

The tallying of the votes took four days after the electronic tallying system crashed. The IEBC then resorted to a manual tallying system.

Mr. Kenyatta was born in 1961 and attended St. Mary’s School in Nairobi before attending Amherst. He holds a BA in Economics and Political Science.

His family holds vast commercial interests, ranging from agriculture, to manufacturing, to banking. The Kenyatta family is one of the biggest landowners in Kenya. Last year Forbes ranked Mr. Kenyatta as the wealthiest Kenyan, with a worth of over USD 500 million (Forbes later dropped Kenyatta from the list, saying the wealth was family-owned).

In 2001 former president Moi plucked Kenyatta from private life and nominated him to parliament.

Moi then endorsed Kenyatta for president in the 2002 presidential election which he lost by a lanfslide to President Mwai Kibaki.

Mr. Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto are facing charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in the 2007/8 post election violence in Kenya.

Back then they were on opposing political camps and allegedly financed rival ethnic militias. Over 1300 were killed and 300,000 displaced.

The ICC cases played a prominent role in the campaigns. Western envoys, overtly and implicity, warned Kenyans against voting for the ICC co-accused. This may have energised the base of the UhuRuto ticket.

However, more than anything else, Kenyatta’s victory was the result of demographic providence and resources.

Kenyans largely voted along ethnic lines. It therefore helped that Kenyatta and Ruto hail from two of the most populous regions in the country. The core of their alliance brought together ethnic groups that together make up 45% of the Kenyan population.

Mr. Kenyatta’s campaign was also super cash rich. Red caps and t-shirts dotted every part of the country, eclipsing Mr. Odinga’s orange movement. Overall the UhuRuto outcampaigned Mr. Odinga’s coalition.

For instance many believe that the duo won the elecction long before voting started by ensuring high voter registration rates in their strongholds – averaging over 87%. Mr. Odinga’s strongholds registered at rates below 78%.

Mr. Kenyatta comes into office at a critical time when Kenya is implementing a system of devolved government. Among the things on his in-tray will be how to tame the country’s debt and expenditure situation while also creating jobs. Security, both internally and regionally, will also be a key concern.

Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto will also have to juggle governing Kenya and attending to their respective ICC cases from July and May respectively. Mr. Kenyatta will be the second serving head of state facing charges at the ICC. The other is Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.

Mr. Kenyatta’s convincing win might just be enough to persuade the UN Security Council to rethink the ICC cases.

Due to Kenya’s geopolitical importance, the West will have no option but to engage with the incoming Kenyatta administration – interests will trump any other consideration.

Complicating the issue (at least from a non-legal perspective) is the fact that the UhuRuto ticket won with over 90% in the very same areas that were worst affected by violence in 2007/8.

Mr. Kenyatta will be sworn in on March 26th.

If Mr. Odinga contests the results, as the New York Times and Reuters seem to suggest he will, Mr. Kenyatta may have to wait until mid April before he is sworn in. Or there might be another election 60 days following the Supreme Court decision, if it is in CORD’s favor.

Many Kenyans dread the prospect of a court challenge, or worse, another election.

Day 3 after the Kenyan election

Counting is still going on following Monday’s general election in Kenya. Following the close of polls the electronic tallying system for the presidential election crashed, forcing the IEBC to resort to a manual tallying system.

Just under half of the 290 constituencies have so far reported. Mr. Kenyatta still holds the lead, by about 350,000. The projected national turnout stands at 82%.

The IEBC has promised to release the final results tomorrow (Friday).

A couple inexplicable things have happened since my last post.

Firstly, the 300,000+ “rejected votes” that consistently made up 6% of votes in the initial tally have dwindled down to 40,000 – less than 1% of the total votes counted so far.

The IEBC’s explanation was that there was a software malfunction in the electronic tallying that increased the rejected votes by a factor of eight.

Secondly, both CORD and Jubilee coalitions have issued statements regarding the tallying process. CORD claimed that some results were “doctored.” Jubilee claimed that the UK government had sent troops to Kenya and that the high commissioner was trying to influence the tallying process.

None of these claims have been substantiated. Kenyan media houses have agreed to deny live coverage to such political pronouncements.

Life is slowly getting back to normal – I was glad to see traffic on Nairobi roads today!

With regard to the final result, it is clear that Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta has an unassailable lead over Mr. Raila Odinga. What is not clear is whether or not he will win by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff.

The wait continues…

Sloppy Reporting on the Kenyan Elections

Dear readers, it has been a while since I did a rant and rave post. Here is one to end the long drought. Today we look at a couple of pieces done by Al-Jazeera and the New Yorker.

First The New Yorker.

I love the New Yorker. Everyone does. Unless you are weird. Or do not like their politics.

But the New Yorker should get a better writer than James Verini on the upcoming Kenyan elections. Reporting on the first presidential debate, Verini made several unforgivable errors. I mean, I know it is hard to find information on countries that you may or may not have visited, or have only visited for a few days.

But Kenya is one of the most studied countries on the Continent. You can wikipedia or google your way to a decent article that passes a laugh test. Sadly, Verini’s does not. Here are the necessary corrections to his (original) piece (and certainly not the only ones):

  • First of all, there were two moderators, not one. Unless Verini only caught the first half of the debate. I will admit that the second half could have been better. But it wasn’t bad enough to forget that there were two moderators. Julie Gichuru moderated the second half.
  • Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta was not a “Mau Mau rebel.” Also, the Mau Mau are popularly known in Kenya as freedom fighters. Dedan Kimathi, a leading light in the independence movement and Mau Mau leader, has a statue in his honor on Kimathi street in downtown Nairobi.
  • Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga is not “a human rights lawyer.” He is “an engineer by profession.” Odinga says so when he introduces himself at the beginning of the debate. What makes Verini think Odinga is a human rights lawyer? (Might be because, as he admits, he was at Njuguna’s – perhaps chasing down goat meat (nyama choma) with Tusker. The New Yorker should institute strict sobriety requirements when sourcing stories, but I digress.)
  • Nairobi is not in Central Province. Nairobi is a Province on its own. Kenya has eight provinces (now called regions) – Rift Valley, Eastern, North Eastern, Coast, Western, Central, Nyanza and Nairobi. Nairobi borders Central. But it is not in Central. I swear. You can google it.
  • The post-election violence in 2007-08 was not mainly a Kikuyu-Luo affair. Most deaths occurred in the Rift Valley in clashes between Kikuyus and Kalenjins, over land. Police brutality was number two in cause of deaths. Kikuyu-Luo clashes were horrific. But they were not the defining feature of the PEV.
  • The 2010 Constitution did not make the position of Prime Minister permanent. It abolished it. You can also google a copy of the Kenyan Constitution. There is a pdf online. I swear. Or you could just read the Wikipedia entry here.

And then Al-Jazeera:

For a news organization that claims to counter the dominance and supposed orientalist biases of CNN International and the BBC with nuanced on-the-ground reporting, this is unforgivable. Here’s is how Peter Greste opens his report on the Kenyan election:

Political science is an imprecise discipline at the best of times. But in Kenya, it feels more akin to witchcraft.

In most established democracies, astute analysts can have a reasonable stab at predicting the outcome of elections. The regular if well-spaced drum-beat of polls gives anyone who cares to look, a decent set of historical data to work with.

It’s usually possible to check the voting patterns of a particular electorate; assess the impact of demographic changes; and with the help of some intelligent opinion polling, have a good understanding of the way a country might swing.

But in Kenya, this election is stacked with so many unknown factors that a witch throwing newt’s eyes into a bubbling cauldron might have as good a chance at predicting the outcome as the political scientists.

Really Mr. Greste, really?

Witchcraft? Why that term? Why not just say that you do not have a grasp of the political reality and so don’t know how the election will turn out? Are you trying to say something about your readers (that they easily resort to witchcraft to explain things they do not comprehend) or Kenya?

I put it to you that there are three firms that have been polling the Kenyan public on their political preferences since the last election in 2007. These firms accurately predicted the outcome of the messy 2007 election (and pretty much matched the exit polls conducted by UCLA academics) and the 2010 referendum. Kenya has demographic data that politicians make very good use of. For instance, we know the ethnic composition of Nairobi, the most cosmopolitan PROVINCE (hear me, Mr. Verini) in Kenya.

Also, a few political scientists, including yours truly, have done some predictions as to the potential outcomes of the election (see blog posts below).

Why did these two do this?

To me it looks like a bad case of trying to exoticize the Kenyan elections for their audiences – what with the references to witchcraft by Mr. Greste and Mr. Verini’s over-simplification of the election to a Kikuyu-Luo tribal contest.

It is also disrespectful to Kenyans, who they seem to think will not do any fact-checking to correct their sloppiness.

The State of the 2013 Presidential Race in Kenya

 (1) The Presidential Debate:

On Monday Kenyans witnessed, for the first time ever, a live presidential debate. I must say I was surprised by how well this went. The moderators, at least in the first half of the debate, had very pointed hard-hitting questions – especially on ethnicity and the ICC question.

The top two candidates, Mr. Raila Odinga and Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, were taken to task about the apparent ethnic arithmetic behind their campaign strategies and the perceived animosity between their respective ethnic groups, the Luo and Kikuyu. Both flatly denied the charges. But it nonetheless provided a moment of open discussion of negative ethnicity, which remains as the key organizing principle of Kenyan politics – with disastrous security and economic consequences.

Mr. Kenyatta was grilled on how he planned to govern from The Hague while on trial at the ICC; or whether it was legally or ethically tenable for him to be running in the first place. Mr. Odinga did not miss the moment and chimed in by stating that it would be logistically challenging to run a government via skype from The Hague. Many of those on stage – with the exception of Martha Karua and Abduba Dida – concurred that the trials should be held in Kenya and that Uhuru should be allowed to run (Today Kenya’s high court ruled that Uhuru and Ruto can run for office despite the charges at the ICC).

So who won the debate?

The simple answer is Mr. Kenyatta.

On negative ethnicity he shared the blame with Mr. Odinga. Mr. Odinga, as the Prime Minister, was often questioned, and himself answered questions like he was the only one on stage currently in government – Kenyatta and Mudavadi are his deputies, and Kenyatta was at one time Finance Minister. As a result he took a lot of flak for the failures of the current government.

Ironically, Mr. Kenyatta’s best moment in the debate was on the topic of the ICC charges against him and his running mate Mr. William Ruto. Because of the sovereignty overtones (Kenyans can “tribal”, but are also nationalist) in admitting that Kenya could not handle the cases, many on stage, including Odinga, said that Mr. Kenyatta should run – adding that the trials should be brought back to Nairobi.

One of the biggest obstacles to Kenyatta’s candidacy has been the ICC question – indeed he almost quit the race over the issue. Donors have given veiled threats of sanctions. Many Kenyans thought (or hoped) that the courts would bar him. But the way the ICC issue played out in the debate reduced its significance as a wedge issue, and may influence a few undecideds. I get the sense that many left the debate with an excuse to vote for Kenyatta despite the ICC charges.

(2) The Numbers:

The numbers have not changed much since my last analysis, save for the fact that Kenyatta’s and Odinga’s numbers have begun to converge.

race

In the presidential debate Mr. Odinga complained that it smirked of ethnic dog whistling to try and predict the outcome of the election based on ethnic blocs (The combined ethnic blocs of Kenyatta and Ruto make up about 43% of Kenyans). His complaint exposed his biggest fear. His party did a poor job of mobilizing voters to register.

While I disagree with the quality of punditry around this issue so far (the talking heads on TV often merely use raw voter registration numbers to predict outcomes) I don’t see anything wrong with trying to predict the outcome based on polling data.

In essence the outcome of this election will not only hinge on how many people registered where but also on how many of them actually turn up to vote. As I have argued before, this will mainly be a turnout election. Mr. Kenyatta leads by between 650,000 – 740,000 votes based on my turnout models. But Mr. Odinga can seriously dent this lead by simply matching Mr. Kenyatta’s stronghold turnout rates. If he does that and has a good day in Western region on March 4th he will win in round one. Otherwise we are most likely headed for a runoff, after Kenyatta wins the first round.

Either someone in Mr. Odinga’s campaign reads my blog (wishful thought of the day!) or they are sober with the numbers and have realized that they need a high turnout on voting day. Mr. Odinga this week launched a countrywide get out the vote drive.

The latest opinion poll (Friday 15th Feb) show a dead heat between Odinga and Kenyatta at 46% and 43% respectively. Such close numbers, coupled with Mr. Kenyatta’s head-start in voter registration and historically relatively higher turnout rates in his strongholds, do not bode well for Mr. Odinga’s chances.

 (3) On the Consequences of a Uhuru Victory:

In the last two weeks the diplomatic community in Nairobi have had a mini freak-out after coming to the realization that Mr. Kenyatta has a good chance to be Kenya’s 4th president. Many embassies insisted that they are neutral, but some also warned that the outcome would have consequences.  Barack Obama, the US President, even made a youtube video urging Kenyans to vote peacefully. France bluntly stated that they would only have essential contact with a Uhuru government if he wins.

Their freak-out betrays the knowledge that there is little they can do either before or after the election. Kenya gets about 5% of its development budget from donors; the rest comes from domestic taxes.  Nairobi can tell them to take a hike. Plus there’s China. And Somalia and South Sudan to be taken care of by a big international community based in Nairobi. The country is the diplomatic hub of the region, and indeed the continent. Nairobi houses the biggest US embassy in Africa and UNEP headquarters, the only UN office of its kind in the global south. In short Western leverage is limited both before and after the election.

In any case, the ICC case against Uhuru and Ruto appears to be crumbling. The prosecution significantly altered the charges, leading to a request yesterday for more time from the defense teams. The cases may start well after the elections in Kenya are over and done. Or they may be taken back to the pre-trial chamber and dismissed.

All things considered, I would not wish to be in Mr. Odinga’s or his strategists’ shoes right now.