Three Known Unknowns Ahead of Kenya’s Presidential Election Tomorrow

Here are three factors that could potential lead to a surprise outcome in Kenya’s presidential election tomorrow.

1. Turnout: To be honest, we don’t really know what to expect with regard to turnout figures tomorrow. As Charles Hornsby notes here:

For some time I have been wrestling with an ethical problem. Reviewing the 2013 turnouts, in comparison with that from previous national elections since 2002, it became clear with the benefit of hindsight that turnouts were implausibly high not just in Luo Nyanza and Central Province, but in many other places…….. The size and scale gap between 2013 and every other election for the past 15 years is hard to explain.

In other words, there is good reason to believe that the 2013 turnout figures were artificially high.

The use of technology and a raft of reforms, including the planned announcement of results at the constituency-level, are supposed to minimize opportunities for political parties to gin up turnout in friendly areas this time round. If these safeguards work, we will all be flying blind with regard to our turnout-based predictions of the final outcome in the presidential election. All I can say for now is that Kenyatta has a structural advantage over Odinga on likely turnout, but that if Odinga matches Kenyatta on turnout (especially in Coast and Western regions) he will most likely become Kenya’s fifth president.

2. Technology: The Kenyan public’s perception of the integrity of the polls will crucially hinge on how well the IEBC’s Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) is judged to work. Kenya is holding one of the most expensive elections in the world (judged by cost per vote). And the use of expensive technology has been touted as a way of minimizing human discretion and, therefore, opportunities for vote rigging. But technology only works as well as humans allow it to. And sometimes stuff hits the fan. In addition, the IEBC only partially tested its results transmission system. Which means that there will most likely be hiccups in the data transmission process from the country’s 40,883 polling stations. Widespread technological failures will tarnish the integrity of the outcome, and could be a catalyst for political instability. 

3. The accuracy of opinion polls: Throughout this cycle, all polls except one have shown Kenyatta to be ahead of Odinga. In the recent past the polls have certainly tightened, with Kenyatta leading Odinga by 3 percentage points or less. But what if the polls are wrong? In 2013 they underestimated Kenyatta’s support by about 2 percentage points, on average. The same inherent bias may be at play this year, or it could be reversed. One important factor to look out for will be the effect of local gubernatorial races on the presidential race. For instance, the outcomes of local contests in counties like Machakos, Bomet, Narok, Meru, and Bungoma will likely have non-trivial effects on the presidential race in the same counties. Yet throughout this cycle there has been very little effort to calibrate the national polls using information from the state of county contests. And so while I believe that existing opinion polls give a fairly accurate depiction of the state of the race, only the final vote counts will tell.

 

 

 

 

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Making Sense of Competing Visions of Kenya in the Jubilee & NASA Manifestos

This is a longer version of my column in the Standard this week.

This week the leading political blocs in the upcoming General Election released their respective manifestos. Jubilee sought to convince Kenyans that it needs another term in office to finish the job it began in 2013. The National Super Alliance Coalition (NASA) presented an agenda for the full implementation of the 2010 Constitution, focusing on equity and inclusivity. Both documents present competing visions of where we are as a country, and where we ought to go.

On one hand, Jubilee which sees the country’s problems as rooted in poor infrastructure and a lousy business environment. Its vision of government intervention in the economy is thus driven by the need to facilitate private investment (mostly through crony capitalism, but also through streamlining of the regulatory environment).

jubilee

But on the other hand is NASA, whose manifesto suggests a firm belief that the ambitious 2010 constitution has yet to be fully implemented; and that the country still requires structural transformation in order to guarantee equitable sharing of national resources, social inclusivity, and equality before the law and the government.

On a spatial left-right scaling, NASA’s manifesto is decidedly to the left of Jubilee. This is reflected in both the specifics in both manifestos and the choice of words in the documents. NASA (see image below) envisions a much bigger role for the government in the effort to transform Kenyan lives than does Jubilee (see above).

Both manifestos and visions for Kenya’s future have merits and demerits. Jubilee has a case to make for working with the country we have without re-litigating the political settlement of 2010 and its (partial) implementation since 2013. Restructuring society doesnasa not always yield the desired results, and often comes with instability. Their vision of doing their best to build infrastructure and letting hardworking Kenyans do the rest makes sense if one believes that you go to battle with the army you have. Their proposed vision of Kenya is grounded in the idea that a rising tide, even if marked by high levels of inequality, lifts all boats. Simply stated, it is a vision that prizes ends rather than means.

NASA’s vision of structural transformation is also valid in its own right. It prizes means and ends. Their plan for Kenya is informed by the idea that no society can continue to cohere if a section of citizens have deep feelings of structural inequality and discrimination. That we can have all the roads, water and sanitation, and bridges we need, but still flounder if a sizable proportion of Kenyans still feel like second class citizens in their own land. They also contend that inequalities today will breed inequalities tomorrow, and that a future in which only a small segment of the nation has access to the most lucrative economic opportunities and the best government services – simply on account of the language they happen to speak – is one destined to bring conflict. In a nutshell, NASA’s is a nation and state building manifesto that promises to not only increase the number of sufurias in Kenyan kitchens, but also create a new kind of nation-state devoid of the “culture of madharau.”

A priori, it is hard to say which vision fits the country best at this point in our history. Kenyans who have seen their lives improve over the last four years will most certainly want to eschew any radical changes — this is true, despite recent worrying headline economic numbers. Those who have seen their economic situation stagnate or worsen want change now. Looking at the numbers, there is ample evidence in support of either argument.

This is why, unlike some partisan observers, I see no reason to worry that the world would end if either Jubilee or NASA wins. The truth of the matter is that life will go on as before — with messy and contested politics at every turn, and high levels of economic inequality.

It is extremely hard to change or ignore social forces.

If Jubilee wins, it will be hard to continue ignoring issues of equity in perpetuity. Eventually, even diehard Jubilee supporters will realize that the crumbs that fall off the table are a raw deal. In the same vein, a NASA win will not necessarily produce a radical transformation of the Kenyan state. Once in power, the coalition’s leadership will most certainly be disciplined by our unwieldy political economy dominated by so-called cartels and our general structural conservatism.

As a student of political development, all I can say is that either path will lead to further consolidation of our political economy — either through further entrenchment of a hierarchical order (under Jubilee); or the widening of the economic upper class (under NASA).

Below is a list of what I consider to be the highlights of both manifestos. Consistent with the claims above, the Jubilee manifesto has specifics on many of its promises, while NASA’s largely sets out frameworks within which it will seek to transform Kenyan lives and the nation-state.

Jubilee:

  1. Investments in universal secondary education and 100% transition from primary to secondary school
  2. Completion of 57 large-scale dam projects to improve water access and irrigation
  3. Setting aside 1% of R&D funds to document and disseminate lessons and best practices in policymaking from the 47 counties
  4. Increase of electricity access to up to 100% of Kenyan households (from current ~53%)
  5. Complete several ongoing and planned transport and energy infrastructure projects (six-lane highway from Nairobi to Mombasa, Isiolo-Lamu road, SGR to Malaba etc) 

NASA:

  1. An ambitious nation and state building framework to guarantee equity and inclusivity
  2. Strengthening of the devolved system of government (including in areas of education, health, and agriculture)
  3. Investments in improving agricultural productivity (including for smallholder farmers)
  4. Expansion of social protection for households with orphans and vulnerable children
  5. Implementation of regionalized (cross-country) development plans