Three Important Narratives Driving Kenya’s 2017 Presidential Election

I think it is safe to say that Kenya’s 2017 election is a lot more about 2022 than it is about deciding who will be Kenya’s president over the next five years. And for that we have to thank Deputy President William Ruto. In 2013 Ruto defied all odds and served as kingmaker for Uhuru Kenyatta. In exchange, Kenyatta promised to support his stab at the presidency in 2022, assuming Kenyatta wins reelection this August.

At the moment the odds are in favor of Kenyatta winning reelection, either fairly or unfairly.

rutoWhich makes a lot of the campaigning in this cycle about building alliances and potential national coalitions for Ruto’s 2022 stab at the presidency. To this end three important narratives are emerging that specifically relate to Ruto’s quest to be Kenya’s 5th president.

  1. Stop Raila Odinga at all costs: The only man standing between William Ruto and the presidency is Odinga. A surprise Odinga win this August would deal a serious blow to Ruto’s presidential ambitions. As I have noted before, Ruto’s political following has remained largely transactional, and dependent on the constant flow of resources. If out of power these resources would certainly dry. In addition, Ruto has only recently acquired enormous wealth, which means that he still lacks the deep rootedness among Kenya’s economic elite that would afford him protection like it has for the Moi, Kibaki, Odinga, and Kenyatta families. A double loss of political and economic power would be too steep a fall to recover from. If Odinga loses, that will certainly be the end of his political career and will provide a wide opening for Ruto to raid his vote-rich strongholds in preparation for future elections.
  2. Have a negotiation-proof Kenyatta succession plan: It is common knowledge that Kenyatta’s promise to back Ruto in 2022 is not credible. Whatever his personal commitments to Ruto, Kenyatta’s political base will be independent enough to back candidates of their own choice in 2022. And as a former president, Kenyatta will have no power to compel political and economic elites to back the candidate of his choice. Which is why Ruto has sought to cement the credibility of Kenyatta’s promise by building a strong political party in Jubilee Party. JP is supposed to tie Kenyatta’s hands by coupling the political destinies of the Ruto and Kenyatta wings of the ruling coalition in both 2017 and 2022. If this scheme succeeds, the de facto party leader (i.e. Ruto) will have an enormous upper hand in influencing the public political behavior of elites allied to Kenyatta in 2022, perhaps enough to keep them faithful to Kenyatta’s public commitments. If this sounds familiar it is because a variant of this has been done before, by Moi through KANU following the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.
  3.  Consolidate the Rift Valley vote: Ruto is no Moi, yet. Which means that he will continue to struggle to cement the Rift Valley vote, especially this year. Isaac Ruto might surprise him in Bomet (and parts of Kericho). And in the future Gideon Moi will certainly make a run for Elgeyo Marakwet, in addition to Baringo and Nakuru (and the wider Rift vote). All to say that, as a politician, Ruto is at once extremely powerful and vulnerable. He is powerful on account of being Deputy President with seemingly unlimited access to state resources. But he is also incredibly vulnerable, especially because his own backyard is littered with people who would soon see him tossed into the dustbin of history. In this sense he is no Kenyatta or Odinga, both of whom enjoy near-fanatical support in their respective bases and do not have any serious elite challengers.

All this to say that Deputy President William Ruto probably has the most to lose in this August’s presidential election. Which probably means that he will also work the hardest of any of the leading national politicians this cycle. And work hard he will, being one of the most electrifying national politicians on the stump (perhaps second only to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho). This, of course, is good news for the incumbent Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta’s reelection prospects.

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

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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?

sovereign hypocrisy and the icc: exposing african impunity

UPDATE:

Keating at FP reacts to the UN resolution against Gaddafi.

In 2000 Stephen Krasner, a renowned academic and member of my department, published a book that outed the “organized hypocrisy” that is state sovereignty. The book noted that leaders of states want to stay in power and have violated or allowed their own sovereignty to be violated numerous times as long it suited them. We should therefore be wary of any leaders that go nationalistic and invoke sovereignty. The Chinese and Russians have done it to protect domestic human rights abuses. The US has done it to protect its leadership and generals from prosecutions for crimes committed during foreign military campaigns. The genocidal president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has done it. The mullahs of Iran keep crowing about it.

Presently, the Kenyan government is doing the same to protect members of the political class that are suspected of having organized the murder of over 1300 and displacement of hundreds of thousands in 2007-08. Six prominent Kenyans, including two of the president’s closest allies, are expected to stand trial for crimes against humanity at the ICC. The African Union, a bastion of kleptocracy, impunity and ineptitude, has come out in strong support of Kenya’s efforts to have the trial of the six deferred, or even dismissed by the UN Security Council.

A section of the African media, including prominent academics and people of repute, have also come out against the ICC. They contend that it has mainly concentrated on trying African strongmen. Some say it is a racist and neo-colonial institution. Many have demanded that the ICC stay out of Africa’s business.

I say this is all horse manure.

The ICC is not perfect. Some of the drudge that has been thrown at it sticks. But that said, it represents a voice for the hundreds of millions of voiceless Africans who for half a century have been virtual serfs to their political elite. Charles Taylor, Idris Deby, Daniel Moi, Mobutu Sese Seko, Emperor Bokassa, Robert Mugabe, Francois Bozize, among many others, have for far too long used “sovereignty” to loot, rape and pillage. They have used their own people as pawns in a dangerous game of sovereign rent extraction. They have over-taxed farmers through marketing boards. They have siphoned away foreign aid intended to build schools and hospitals into Swiss banks. Worst of all, whenever it suited them, they have started wars that killed millions.

Robert Mugabe is starving, jailing, exiling and killing Zimbabweans. Kenya’s Moi engineered “ethnic clashes” in 1992 and 1997 that killed thousands. Charles Taylor fanned the flames of a brutal war in Sierra Leone. Omar al-Bashir continues to kill Sudanese, in the north, in Darfur and in border areas with the south. Mobutu destabilized the east and south east of his country, leading to the 1997 Congo civil war, the deadliest conflict since WWII. Over 5 million died.

If this is what it means for African states to be sovereign, then count me out. To be frank, 50 years of African independence has left Africans with not much to be proud of. Disease, abject poverty, conflict, and all sorts of maladies continue to define the region. This while most of Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, other regions that have been comparably poor, have sped off toward economic development and political stability.

Before 1945 war made states. States fought to best each other in classical Darwinian fashion. The UN has since taken that off the table. In most parts of the world peaceful competition has replaced war. Brazil competes for jobs, markets and resources with other BRICs. But in Africa, competition is still lacking. What you have instead is collusion among inept dictators. The African Union exists to protect the likes of Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir.

In my view, the ICC represents a much needed international threat to an inept and murderous African leadership.

I reiterate. The ICC is not perfect. But I am perfectly willing to hold my nose and support it in its attempts to end impunity on the African continent. Idris Deby, Theodore Obiang’, Paul Biya, and their ilk should know that it is no longer acceptable that they live like gods while deliberately confining millions of their own citizens to 16th century levels of poverty and incessant conflict.

really Mr. Moi, really?

I have great respect for Kenya’s retired President Moi. The man from Baringo had many faults but he deserves credit for letting go when the time came in 2002 due to a constitutionally mandated term limit. He could have pulled a fast one on Kenya like many a dictator have done on the Continent even in the post-1989 era of pretend democratization. That said, his 24-year tenure was nothing to sing about. Kenya’s per capita income declined under his rule. The 1992 and 1997 election-related ethnic clashes occurred under his watch. Moi played the ethnic card more than any other Kenyan politician on record. Detention without trial was the norm for anyone who dared disagree with baba (father). Moi banned political parties in the early 1908s. In 1988 he rubbished the secret ballot and required that voters queue behind their preferred candidates. In short, Moi’s Kenya was nowhere near being a liberal democracy.

So when the former president runs around Kenya being characteristically anti-reform by campaigning against the proposed constitution and claiming that “I was not a dictator. People wanted peace” we can only sit back and ask: really Mr. Moi, really?

out with these ‘regional’ leaders

A while back I contemplated becoming a life member of KANU. This was when Uhuru Kenyatta was a rising star in the party and seemed poised to change the direction of the country and its politics. Although I could not vote in the 2002 election, I outwardly supported the NARC alliance but secretly hoped for a KANU victory. I simply had a bias for younger leaders. But Kibaki won. And many Kenyans seemed pleased by the outcome. Almost seven years on and we are yet to see real change take place in Kenya – but that is another story for another day.

For now let’s talk about the regionalization of our young leaders. First it was Uhuru Kenyatta, openly showing that he wanted the title of leader of Central Kenya. And then it was William Ruto, a man who has been having a lot of trouble lately, openly admitting that he is first a leader of the Rift Valley, national responsibilities come second. These new developments have left me jaded. I always used to think that this regionalism was an idea of the Moi-Kibaki-Raila generation. But it seems to be creeping into the Ruto-Uhuru generation as well.

These two men are shamelessly being tribalistic right now. Ruto is hiding from the corruption cases in his ministry and power struggles in ODM by receding back to his ‘tribe’. Uhuru is doing the same in order to sideline Karua (kudos to Karua though, she seems to have a more national outlook to politics, at least that’s how I see it from this end).

What this means for Kenyan politics is that we shall continue having tribal political parties and regional leaders. Every single politician will keep fighting for his ‘people’ at the expense of the national agenda. Meanwhile more Kenyans will remain hungry, sick and uneducated. To borrow from Achebe in his book The trouble with Nigeria: The trouble with Kenya is simply and squarely a problem of leadership, although sometimes I wonder if we are getting our just deserts because of our having disengaged with the state.