When is it okay to have a coup in a democracy?

Given the number of Mali experts that came out of the woodwork following the coup and French intervention, I am a little surprised by the lack of debate in the Africanist blogosphere about the wisdom of holding presidential elections this July. 

Is Mali’s upcoming presidential election being held too soon? Can a hurried reversion to electoral “democracy” address the structural problems that led to the coup in the first place? Susanna Wing, in her piece on Mali in the latest issue of African Affairs, sounds skeptical:

In the middle of a US-funded military training seminar, a Malian military officer asked: ‘When is it okay to have a coup in a democracy?’ A Malian who assisted in the seminar shared the quote with me as evidence of how far the country still needs to go in terms of democracy. The statement is not surprising given Malian history, where coups d’état have been a method of regime change. It also sheds light on the March 2012 coup – which many Malians who are deeply committed to democracy saw as an essential first step to ending widespread corruption within the state as well as halting state involvement in illicit criminal activities. Ironically, for many Malians the only way to get democracy back on track was a coup d’état, and the current rush towards elections is viewed with suspicion and the fear that hurried elections will only bring Mali right back to the pre-coup status quo.

….There is little question that the current regime lacks legitimacy and perhaps an elected government will enjoy greater popular support. But there is a risk that a rapid transition back to multi-party politics will only serve to reinforce the political challenges that faced the political class prior to the coup d’état. 

But Marinov and Goemans’ paper on coups and democracy quickly comes to mind as a possible case for a return to electoralism in Mali. They essentially make the argument that the norm of quick return to elections structures incentives for coup plotters, making them less likely to leave the barracks if they know that no sooner will they do that than the international community will show up and demand that they return to the barracks: 

whereas the vast majority of successful coups before 1991 installed durable rules, the majority of coups after that have been followed by competitive elections. We argue that after the Cold War international pressure influenced the consequences of coups. In the post-Cold War era those countries that are most dependent on Western aid have been the first to embrace competitive elections after the coup. Our theory also sheds light on the pronounced decline in the number of coups since 1991. While the coup d’état has been and still is the single most important factor leading to the downfall of democratic government, our findings indicate that the new generation of coups has been far less harmful for democracy than their historical predecessors.


Office Politics in Terror Organizations

Anyone who has done consulting work knows how much it sucks to do the paperwork for the accounts people (Oh, and by the way, It’s worse if you are a “resident alien”).

Apparently, terrorists don’t like writing expense reports too as is shown in this very fascinating AP story about the leader of a Sahara terror group Moktar Belmoktar (who may, or may not, be dead). The piece delves into the rivalries and intrigues that we know to be present in normal business establishments. It is a must read. 

The employee, international terrorist Moktar Belmoktar, responded the way talented employees with bruised egos have in corporations the world over: He quit and formed his own competing group. And within months, he carried out two lethal operations that killed 101 people in all: one of the largest hostage-takings in history at a BP-operated gas plant in Algeria in January, and simultaneous bombings at a military base and a French uranium mine in Niger just last week.

In a letter found by AP in Mali, Moktar Belmoktar’s superiors complained that:

He would not take their phone calls. He refused to send administrative and financial reports. He ignored a meeting in Timbuktu, calling it “useless.” He even ordered his men to refuse to meet with al-Qaida emissaries. And he aired the organization’s dirty laundry in online jihadist forums, even while refusing to communicate with the chapter via the Internet, claiming it was insecure.

For more on the management of terror organizations check out this paper (H/T Monkeycage Blog)

Simply Amazing (Kenya High School Athletics Edition)

UPDATE: Tom has brought to my attention the fact that actually, this (below) was the traditional way the high jump was done before Dick “fearless” Fosbury invented the “Fosbury Flop” in 1968.


This is extreme high jumping. I hope the Kenyan Sports Secretary’s office and Athletics Kenya have seen this and are thinking of ways to help these kids go pro, and in the process mint a few Olympic medals for the country.


H/T Brandon Rose

Some thoughts on Kenyan MPs and their salaries

Update: Sarah Serem and the SRC appear to be backtracking and are now “open to dialogue” with MPs over their pay.


“False standards are set with salary scales for MPs, Ministers and top civil servants that the country cannot possibly afford in a time when examples not of extravagance but of austerity and sacrifice should be set. In 1963 MPs earned K£ 620 a year [in present terms about Ksh 89,704.34 a month].

This was increased to K£ 840 then to K£ 1200 a year [about Ksh 173,619.53 a month in present terms], making three increases and a doubling of salary in less than three years (And the K£ 100 a month is augmented by a daily sitting allowance, plus mileage and other allowances). Junior Ministers earn K£ 2260 a year. The President’s salary has been fixed at K£ 15,000 a year tax free and including other emoluments……. In six months an MP receives more money than the average peasant earns in half a life-time.”

That is Oginga Odinga writing in his autobiography Not Yet Uhuru.

As Kenyan MPs prepare to adopt a report this afternoon that will allegedly give the Parliamentary Service Commission legal cover to grant them a 59% pay rise, we should remember that this is not a new phenomenon. Top public officers in Kenya, and in particular MPs, have always been remunerated well relative to the country’s per capita income.

Activists block the entrance to the National Assembly in protest at MPigs' greed

Activists block the entrance Parliament in Nairobi with a sow and piglets in protest at the greed of “MPigs”

I must admit that as a researcher on legislatures in Africa, and Kenya and Zambia in particular, the issue of how to look at MPs’ salaries is not a straightforward one. On the one hand it is absolutely obscene that in a poor country like Kenya MPs make more than their counterparts in far much wealthier countries in Western Europe. But on the other hand I also realize the importance of shielding the House from the influence of money bags from State House. Poorer paid parliamentarians across the Continent (including in “shining star” Ghana) live and work at the mercy of the executive. It is no coincidence that Barkan and colleagues concluded in Legislative Power in Emerging African Democracies that Kenya has the strongest legislature in the region.

The ratio of the president’s pay to MPs’ is instructive. Back in the sixties, the president made 12.5 times what the MPs made. That ratio has since shrunk to less than 2.5.

As Oloo Aringo passionately argued in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the high pay of Kenyan MPs is partly responsible for the rise in legislative power in Kenya (Part of my work in the dissertation, among other things, will be to convince you that this is true – that relative pay of MPs matters. Stay tuned). In the present Kenyan case there is an argument to be made for the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to review the salaries of all State Officers; and to bump MPs higher up the totem pole (by cutting the pay of other state officers) than where they are right now as far as their pay is concerned. Ms Serem’s first stop should be the numerous seminars,workshops & capacity building obsessed talking shops independent constitutional commissions that continue to drain the exchequer with nothing to show for their work (OK, I’ll admit that some of the commissions are useful).

Kenyan MPs should definitely not get a pay hike. But the fight against greed in the august House should not be overdone, lest we end up with a weak parliament at the mercy of State House. This is the balancing act that I hope will inform the SRC commissioners’ actions as they try to tame our MPigs’ Honorable Members’ appetite.

Kenyatta and Odinga argue in public

This is an audio clip of Jomo and Oginga at a public function. President Kenyatta launches into former Vice President Odinga and his party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU), accusing them of being useless rubble rousers that are unconcerned with development (especially in Luo Nyanza). Odinga answers back, telling Kenyatta that he is the one with the authority to develop Luo-Nyanza and other marginalized parts of the country. 

As someone who grew up in the Moi and Kibaki eras, it is unimaginable that anyone would speak back to the president, at a public function no less. The clip serves to show the special relationship that existed between Kenyatta and Odinga, even after they fell out politically. Odinga was the most vocal campaigner for Kenyatta’s release before independence, with the slogan “Kenyatta na Uhuru.” 


The politics of reforming Nigeria’s oil sector

Nigerian legislators are attempting the impossible – to reform the management of their nation’s biggest cash cow – and failing. Decades of mismanagement and grand corruption have left Nigeria’s oil sector with entrenched and convoluted interests that are almost impossible to untangle and dislodge.

Africa Confidential reports:

Efforts towards comprehensive reform of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry are in tatters some five years after the first version of the Petroleum Industry Bill was presented to Parliament. After several redrafts, the PIB is still on the floor of the National Assembly and at the centre of partisan disputes, as parliamentarians pick over clauses which they claim favour one region of the country over another.Meanwhile, well connected companies and officials continue to benefit from an opaque system of management and operation that has allowed as much as US$100 billion to be siphoned off from state oil and gas revenue over the past decade, according to a report drawn up by the former anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu (AC Vol 53 No 9).

The failure to pass the reforms mooted in the PIB, which was intended to boost accountability and state revenue from exports, has developmental as well as financial costs. Nigeria has been unable to conduct a licensing round to award new blocks since 2007 because of uncertainties about new regulations and fiscal terms. This has limited new investment, raising the possibility that production capacity, which has been fixed at around 2.5 million barrels per day for a decade, could start to fall in the next few years.

More on this here.

Which way forward for Kenya’s Civil Society?

It is no secret that the candidature of Raila Odinga had the backing of the largely progressive Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Kenya. Odinga’s loss to Uhuru Kenyatta, someone they considered an unelectable ICC suspect, was their loss too. In addition, both during the campaigns and after the election, CSOs in the country found themselves on the defensive against charges of being stooges of Western donors and institutions (including the ICC) out to subvert Kenyas sovereignty. An ill-advised move by Western embassies to show their hand in the contest backfired spectacularly and provided more ammo for the anti-CSO brigade. An even bigger problem for Kenyan CSOs was that at some point in the election cycle they lost the support of a sizable chunk of the middle class. The feeling of betrayal was hard to miss. The very people they had fought for had rejected their cause.

Kenya’s upwardly mobile middle class was desperate to get past the election, peacefully. Many took to heart the Peace Brigade’s PSAs that blanketed the airwaves in the run-up to and after the election. This lay the groundwork for everyone to “accept [the results] and move on,” no uncomfortable questions asked. The media too played ball, glossing over even the most glaring of irregularities in the IEBC’s tallying process. Indeed up to date none of the major media houses has seriously reported on the delayed release of constituency-level vote tallies for the National Assembly races. Reports in a section of the print press suggest the IEBC is “reconciling the presidential results and those of other positions. Over a million votes must be reconciled with others….” The silence from the major media houses on this issue is all part of accepting the official outcome of the election and moving on.

Recent discussions on the opinion pages here suggest that the chasm between the middle class and CSOs might be widening. Kenyan CSOs have been tagged as gratuitous rubble rousers intent on scaring away investors. Mention of their Western “puppet masters” has now become a must in the media when covering CSO activities. Even the recent protest against demands by Kenyan parliamentarians to increase their pay has not escaped the question of whether it is yet another plot by neocolonial schemers. The attacks have now extended to the social sphere as well. Exploiting Kenyas social conservatism, some have accused progressive CSOs of colluding with foreigners to destroy the country’s moral fabric with liberal and anti-African, atheist values. In their minds Civil Society has become “Evil Society.”

The resulting situation raises important questions regarding the future of CSOs in Kenya. Can they remain relevant without the support of the middle class? What tactics must they adopt to survive in the current political landscape? When did the rain start beating Kenyan CSOs and how can they regain the allegiance of a wide section of the middle class?

The Civil Society movement in Kenya was born out of the clamor for political space and greater civil rights during the height of Moi’s single party rule. As such, most Kenyan CSOs have always had an anti-government streak, with an inherent predisposition “to speak truth to power.” This was a strategy that worked well in fighting a widely unpopular government. And then Kenya changed. The Kibaki administration robbed Civil Society of quite a few luminaries that earned their badges of honor in the fight for the Second Liberation. Once in power these individuals faced different incentives. Many felt that it had now become their turn to eat.

The 2007-08 post-election violence weakened CSOs further by bringing to the fore ethnic divisions that existed among them. Come 2012-13 the ethnic chasm became even wider. And the ranks of CSOs thinned even more. The middle class also got alienated by a movement that seemed (fairly or not) more concerned about the past and intangible rights at time when the Kibaki boom years had given the middle class a glimpse of new economic possibilities. The mood had changed. Some suggested that Kenya had “too much democracy” that would stand in the way of development.

In a twist of irony Kenyan CSOs and the political left are a victim of their own success. Much of the Kenyan middle class, for better or worse, have since become convinced that the fight for political rights and space had been won. After all Kenya now has a new constitution; the devolved system of government is being implemented; and we no longer have an imperial presidency. For many middle class Kenyans, it is now time to focus on winning the economic fight and achieving the Kenyan dream. Many Kenyans are persuaded to believe that their own economic success is hinged on general investor confidence, and that the country needs to project an image of peace and stability.

Throughout the election cycle, no one wanted to let the ghosts of 2007 forestall Kenya’s quest to regain its place as the oasis of peace and stability in the region. The allure of 10% annual growth rates and the promise of Vision 2030 have proven very hard to resist. Many cling to the hope that mega infrastructure projects – including LAPSSET, the Thika Super Highway, and new cities and gated communities –  are about to catapult Kenya into middle-income status. Under these conditions, the ideology of peace, stability and public order was an easy sell.

In light of these developments, in order for progressive CSOs to remain relevant to the middle class they must adopt tactics that are in line with middle class aspirations. The confrontational tactics that were successful in the past will probably no longer work. I have no doubt that the government will opportunistically continue to react to public demonstrations in a manner to provoke riots that will then be labeled as anarchic and a threat to public order. Shop owners, small business operators and much of the middle class, all averse to public disorder, will no doubt nod in agreement. Despite the challenges, it should not be lost on those involved that in order to guarantee their continued survival and ability to check the government Kenyan CSOs must reengage their middle class allies. The moderating effect of the middle class will also serve to make CSOs more attractive to the wider public. As a first step CSOs must formulate a strategy that is less confrontational and more in tune with the emergent focus on the economy.

This is not to say that public demonstrations should cease to be a tactic used by CSOs in Kenya. Far from it. Public demonstrations are the best way to get the publics attention. The recent anti-parliamentarians protest, complete with a sow and its litter, was very successful in catching public attention. But such public stunts must be backed by deliberate formal engagement with the relevant authorities. This is because for a section of the public Kenya is now supposedly a nation of laws and institutions in which public protests are not allowed. All aggrieved parties should go to court where decision-making is sanitized, with minimal risk of scaring away the all-important investors. On this score both the government, wary of the unpredictable nature of unchecked public demonstrations, and the development-hungry middle class seem to be reading from the same script.

The imperative to play within the institutional framework will necessarily require CSOs to become even more institutionalized. Many Kenyan CSOs will soon be forced to morph into full fledged professional Think Tanks that can credibly address the middle class desire for economic progress, while at the same time continuing to hold those in power politically accountable. This is a lesson that I hope CSOs got from the last election.

Their skeletal operations and poor strategic judgment – which also extended to Odinga’s party – might have cost them an election that was theirs to lose. They appeared to not have done their homework when confronted with the media savvy and incredibly moneyed Kenyatta campaign. It is now well known that Odinga did not have agents in key polling stations. When the IEBC’s tallies became suspect they did not have their own numbers to report, even as they were disputing the IEBC’s tallies. Such sloppiness betrayed both a party and its CSO allies that lacked organizational competence and took too much for granted. This has to change. In this new game only those that have institutional and organizational depth will effective compete. The era of “capacity building” seminars and workshops is gone.

In addition, those in the middle class that support the incumbent government should be persuaded to form their own CSOs. The idea of CSOs being a preserve of the progressive movement in Kenya should be a thing of the past. Vigorous debate ought to be encouraged among CSOs representing both sides of the political divide. That is the mark of a true democracy. Such an eventuality would make incumbent governments and their supporters less hostile to CSOs in general. It would also force a situation in which “incumbent” CSOs, as part of a wider community of activists, felt the need to provide well argued justifications for government action and policies.

These are interesting times in Kenyan politics. Pocketbook issues are rising faster and faster up the list of Kenyans’ concerns. For now this shift in public mood appears to have been at the expense of concern over political rights. This means that in order to remain relevant, especially in the eyes of the middle class, Kenyan CSOs must change tactics and address Kenyans’ economic needs as much as their political needs. Activism, as we know it, must be backed by more institutionalized Think Tanks that can competently play the new institutional game. There is also a need for greater democracy among CSOs by encouraging the growth organizations that support the incumbent government. This will serve to further institutionalize and professionalize both the development of public policy and the conduct of politics in Kenya. It will also guarantee much-needed cooperation between Civil Society and the middle class. Merely accepting the present estrangement and moving on is not an option.