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 hits

If I were the president of the DRC, I would be seriously researching how Charlemagne did it (the medieval King ruled over a land mass the size of the DRC), how Brazil did it (their green revolution was a success) and how Vietnam is doing it (some people call it little China). I can bet my grad school stipend for next quarter that the younger Kabila has no local brain trust (who needs one if the Brussels boys can jet in and out of Kinshasa with copious amounts of “advice” on development??). The lets-just-stay-afloat-with-foreign-aid paradigm that informs governance in Africa is a guarantee that 50 years from now Africa will still be the poster child for bad governance and socio-economic underdevelopment.

Also, I just discovered a blog by The Bank’s chief economist for Africa region. Check it out (via Blattman).

Lastly, Wronging Rights has a post on the series of post by Texas in Africa on how social science works.

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.

health and governance conference at Stanford

This weekend the Stanford Student Forum for African Studies is hosting a conference on health and governance in sub-Saharan Africa. If you are in the bay area feel free to show up for any of the panel discussions.

More information here.

million dollar beds and lumbering in Madagascar

The BBC reports that the illegal logging of wood in Madagascar is increasing the risk of extinction of certain endangered tree species.  Already the felling of ebony, pallisander and rosewood is illegal in Madagascar. However, enforcement of this law continues to be hampered by the absence of a functional legitimate state in the island country off the coast of eastern Africa. Madagascar has been plagued by political instability since Andry Rajoelina, former DJ and mayor of Antananarivo, seized power in a coup last year.

Most of the wood finds it way to the US, Europe and China and is used among other things to make million dollar beds in China.

Esther Passaris for Nairobi Mayor

Now that the rather shady corrupt Nairobi mayor, Councillor Majiwa of Baba Dogo, is facing criminal charges, perhaps it is time Nairobians had a sober discussion about what sorts of people should be mayor. Being the engine of the Kenyan economy, the city ought to be better run. Instead of the thuggish types that have dominated City Hall in the past, the ministry of local government should on restricting mayorship to qualified and corruption free individuals. In other countries former mayors are decent enough to dream of running for president, and some have succeeded at it. I doubt if the likes of Mr. Majiwa even qualify to be heads of village barazas.

It is for this reason that I choose to beat the debe, so to speak, in favor of Esther Passaris. Ms. Passaris has run a (as far as I know) clean business and created the Adopt-A-Light brand which must be doing well going by its coverage.Ms. Passaris is also the founder of the One in a Million charity initiative.

It would help to have, for a change, a mayor who can construct a coherent sentence and competently run the beautiful city in the sun. I believe Ms. Passaris is more than capable of doing this, and more. I hope (perhaps foolishly so) that Hon. Musalia Mudavadi shares this view….

a million shirts guy is back

From Texas in Africa

For those of you who “seem to think that everyone in Africa has clothing” and don’t like the idea of sending a million t-shirts (and do they have pants??) to African families, this guy wants to change your minds. The misguided self-righteousness passion in the video is palpable. More on this here.

mugabe’s marital blues

When I first read the story of Grace Mugabe’s alleged extra-marital affair with Gideon Gono, Zimbabwe’s governor of the Central Bank, I was a bit skeptical. However, it appears that the story might be  true. Grace (often caricatured as an extravagant spender) married uncle Rob (41 years her senior) in 1996, four year’s after the death of President Mugabe’s first wife Sally. The couple have two children.

something to think about

I believe that climate change should be tackled urgently. I also think that conservation efforts, especially of forests and water catchment areas should be encouraged by all means. That said, this quote from the Economist Newspaper raises some very important questions about the rank order of priorities. The decision between polar bears or butterflies and people’s lives is a non-decision.

Strict environmental laws cause long delays in building homes. This is nice for endangered butterflies, but tough for South Africans who live in shacks


gor-afc match turns tragic

This weekend’s much fabled rivalry football match between Gor Mahia, aka K’Ogelo, and AFC Leopards turned tragic when un-ticketed fans tried to force their way into the stadium – leading to 7 confirmed deaths.

For more on this see the Nation. The Standard also reports that former Harambee Stars goalie Ottoman was “beaten senseless” when he tried to persuade club officials to stop the match.

Gor Mahia won the match 1-0 thanks to an 87th minute penalty.

Witnesses have blamed the incidence on a lack of organization, including the absence of police to control crowds.

pourism is not restricted to the developing world

Pourism, aka poverty porn, is not restricted to the third world. In the West it is cheaper than having to buy a plane ticket, among other expenses, to go visit people villages in Rwanda or Kenya. You can get it all online.

not so common commonsense

Because commonsense is not as common as we might think, or want, please check out Texas in Africa who has lately been writing a bit about how social science works.

the icc and the congo

IRIN news reports that arrests in Europe of political leaders of rebel movements in the Congo may not have much impact on the goings on on the ground. Even the FDLR is not immune to the commonplace principal-agent problems we are all aware of. The disconnect between the political leaders in Europe and generals on the ground is limiting the deterrence effects of the arrests.

I am not a huge fan of the ICC. But I am not one to throw out the baby with the bath water. The institution has potential to be a voice for the voiceless. Because of the ICC Kenyan politicians in the future will think twice before ordering jobless youth to murder innocent civilians. Because of the ICC rebel leaders cannot fly in and out of Brussels to raise money with abandon. These are not trivial achievements.

Accusations against the court’s Africa-bias may have some merit. Even more important are charges that the court does not appreciate the political consequences of justice or that the very idea of justice is political (see the Bashir case in Sudan). Others even point out the fact that going after the big fish ignores local offenses that also require redress. These are serious concerns that the ICC should address. But that said, overall I think that the ICC does more good than harm.

happy mashujaa day to all Kenyans out there

20th of October is heroes (and heroines) day in Kenya. This blog wishes all Kenyans out there a happy Mashujaa Day. I particularly would like to honor those who fought for the second liberation following the passing on of President Kenyatta. Special mention goes to President Kibaki and Premier Odinga, Murungi, Njoya, Nyong’o, Matiba, Odinga, Ngilu, Karua, Wamalwa, Maathai, Orengo, Muite, Shikuku, Anyona, among others.

flagIt is also important, on this day, to remember the millions of Kenyans who still live like it is 1962. The fruits of independence have largely been confined to the parasitical wabenzi class and their cronies in government while regular wananchi suffer.