Elections 2017: David Ndii makes a rather weak case for new wine in old wineskins

This is from the Daily Nation:

The idea that political alternative necessarily means different or new people is a fallacy.

One of the most bizarre moments in my political life was walking into the Serena Hotel’s ballroom for a cocktail to celebrate the formation of Narc, and scanning the room to see Kanu stalwarts George Saitoti, Joseph Kamotho and William Ntimama mingling and laughing heartily with their erstwhile mortal political enemies.

It was the strangest and most confusing feeling.

I stayed only a few minutes and went home quite depressed.

I had the privilege of working with Saitoti thereafter and I have to say he turned out to be one of the most committed and progressive ministers in the Narc government.

“If the opposition is not an alternative” had obtained in 2002, Narc could not have been an alternative to Kanu because even its presidential candidate was a long time Kanu stalwart who once compared felling Kanu with trying to cut down a mugumo tree with a razor blade.

Yet it is undeniable that Narc’s election was a watershed in our political history.

More fundamentally, the narrative glosses over the fact that we have a very clearly defined ideological cleavage in this country that goes back to the Kanu-KPU fallout shortly after independence.

Opposition in Kenya means opposing the Kanu establishment. It means standing up for political equality and social justice.

I am not convinced. For two reasons.

First, I have always found issue with depictions of Uhuru Kenyatta as a latter day Moi (or wannabe dictator). He is not. In my view Kenyatta is simply a poor administrator with a thin skin and lots of sycophantic lieutenants (not to mention a very ambitious deputy). Combine these together and you get lots of failures at different nodes of the administration; and lots and lots of stealing (the definition of a common-pool problem). Is Kenyatta himself corrupt? Perhaps. Does he have a masterplan for taking us back to the baba na mama era? I doubt it.

This doesn’t absolve Kenyatta of any of his failings highlighted by Ndii. It certainly sucks to live in a poor country on autopilot and with an “absentee-landlord” president. Rather, it’s a call for a proper diagnosis of the real causes of the failures of the Jubilee administration.

Second, the ideological commitments of members of the opposition are sketchy. When its leading lights were in government (briefly after 2003 and then after 2008) they did not behave any differently than the alleged Kanu Establishment (with the possible exception of Charity Ngilu). Just because Raila Odinga claims to be a social democrat doesn’t mean that we should believe him. His actual track record suggests that as president he would probably be somewhere between Jomo Kenyatta and Kibaki in style — able to delegate, primarily pro-business, big on elite-level ethnic regional balance, but also keen to use coercion when necessary (which is why I am always amused by Railaphobia scaremongering that depicts the man from Bondo as a rabid anti-wealth, pro-poor socialist. Look at the man’s record. He is no more pro-poor than is Kenyatta).

Musalia Mudavadi, who stands the best chance of beating Kenyatta this August atop a united opposition ticket, is essentially a scion of the Kanu Establishment.

Change for the sake of change is not always a good thing.

The case that an opposition government would be less corrupt, more competent in managing the economy, and more inclusive than Jubilee is fairly weak. After nearly fours years under the system of devolved government, the opposition’s record on actual policy performance is paper-thin. Their governance record is nothing to sing about. For instance, CORD controls the big urban counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had something to point to as evidence of their administrative and policy competence? Where does the opposition stand on agricultural policy? Health policy (do they even know that there is an ongoing doctors’ strike)? Education policy? Housing and land policy?

Can we really say with a straight face that the leadership of opposition counties have sought to channel Oginga Odinga, Kaggia, JM, Pinto, Murumbi, or Seroney in their policies? Does the Kenyan left even exist anymore among the political class?

The Jubilee government has failed on many fronts, and ought to face a strong challenge come August. But the Kenyan public shouldn’t be expected to hand the opposition the keys to State House simply because they are in the opposition. They must first show wananchi what is in it for them. They must demonstrate that they get the issues that affect the proverbial number of sufurias in Kenyan homes.

PS: This is not some starry-eyed case for a third force. Rather it is a call for more rigorous arguments for either reelecting Jubilee or voting for the opposition from their respective intellectual backers. I am a big believer in making do with the politicians we have.

PSS: It is sad that 2017 will not be about the counties. It ought to have been about the counties. And bringing government closer to wananchi.

Tyler Cowen Goes to Lagos

MR’s Tyler Cowen (also Professor of Economics at George Mason) recently spent six days in Lagos. Here is what he has to say about Africa’s biggest and most economically dynamic city:

A trip is often defined by its surprises, so here are my biggest revelations from six days in Lagos, Nigeria.

Most of all, I found Lagos to be much safer than advertised. It is frequently described as one of the most dangerous cities on earth. Many people told me I was crazy to go there, and some Nigerian expats warned me I might not get out of the airport alive.

The reality is that I walked around freely and in many parts of town. I didn’t try to go everywhere or at all hours, and I may have been lucky. Yet not once did I feel threatened, and I strongly suspect that a trip to Lagos is safer than a trip to Rio de Janeiro, a major tourist destination. (In my first trip to Rio I was attacked by children with pointed sticks. In my second I found myself caught in a gunfight between drug lords). Many Lagos residents credit the advent of closed-circuit television cameras for their safety improvements.

So if you’re an experienced traveler, and tempted to visit Africa’s largest and arguably most dynamic city, don’t let safety concerns be a deal killer.

Read the whole thing here.

I have never been to Lagos, and look forward to fixing this in 2017. So far my experience of West African (commercial) capitals is limited to Dakar, Accra, Lome, Conakry, Nouakchott and Monrovia (I like them in that order). Dakar edges Accra only by a whisker, mostly on account of the seascape. I have spent way more time in Accra, and therefore my ranking might also be a function of my knowledge of Accra a little too well.

Accra beats all other cities on food. It has the most variety, and nearly all of the offerings beat the bland stuff that we East Africans consume. The grilled tilapia and banku is unbeatable.

Oh, and I must admit that I have a slight preference for Senegalese jollof. My wife insists that Ghanaian jollof is the best jollof (ahead of both the Nigerian and Senegalese variations). I look forward to sampling Naija jollof so we can finally settle this disagreement.