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.

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Electoral Integrity Issues Ahead of Kenya’s General Election in August 2017

1. Raila Odinga won the 2007 presidential election, at least according to aggregate results from media houses. On a related note, President Kenyatta will most likely face a stiff challenge from a unified opposition, a fact that will put the integrity of the outcome in the August 8th presidential election front and center. Which is why it is a little scary that with just eight months left Kenyans are still fighting over the impartiality and preparedness of the country’s electoral management body, IEBC. It is also worth noting that there is a non-zero probability that Raila Odinga will not be on the ballot this August; and that this would do very little to reduce the likelihood of electoral violence if the polls lack integrity.

2. Kenyan governors have rejected the proposed manual backups for the electronic voter verification system in the August 8, 2017 General Election. This issue threatens to plunge the country into a period of heightened political tensions over the next several weeks, with the opposition having promised street demos if the government doesn’t soften its stance. There is still hope that cooler heads will prevail in the Senate and deliver a consensus outcome.

3. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is about to be reconstituted. Ethnic Regional balance issues remain. These are rather silly. Ezra Chiloba, the current IEBC CEO, is a very capable man and it would be a shame if he were to lose his job simply because of the lottery of birth.

4. KPMG will audit the voter register which currently has 15.85 million listed voters. Through a court challenge the opposition has temporarily stopped the award of the tender to KMPG. CORD is claiming that not enough stakeholders were involved in the tendering process. I suspect that the real reason is that CORD does not trust KPMG to do an honest job. It bears stating that private firms, including big-name multinationals, have historically not been above being compromised by sectional political interests in Kenya.

On a side note, most observers seem to think that the biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Raila Odinga. I disagree. The biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Deputy President William Ruto. Politically speaking, Ruto is between a rock and a hard place. He will wield immense political power, and have control over his political future, right up until the August 8th election is decided. Thereafter he will lose control over his political future.

If Kenyatta wins, he will immediately become a marked man. Five more years as number two will definitely grant him access to even greater financial resources and ability to bolster his political power. But it will also invite the envy of fellow elites wary of having to face a powerful and self-disciplined politician like only Ruto can be. In my view, Ruto has the potential to be Odinga and Moi rolled into one — i.e. fanatical mass support and incredible self-discipline and work ethic. Needless to say, this scares a lot of Kenya’s fat cats who’ve grown used to the absentee-landlord nightwatchman presidency of Kenyatta. There is also the small matter that Kenyatta’s base will likely not support Ruto in 2022 for this same reason.

If Kenyatta loses Ruto is toast. The music will stop. The cash spigot will be turned off. His ties to voters and grassroots leaders — which at the moment is almost purely transactional and dependent on incredible levels of personal generosity — will most certainly evaporate. His political base will likely be carved up by rivals, with Bomet’s Ruto and Gideon Moi hiving off their separate chunks for use as leverage for political favors and financial resources from Nairobi.

Ruto’s best chance at winning in 2022, IFF Kenyatta wins this year, is to convince Kenyatta to step down before his second term expires. That way Ruto can serve the remainder of Kenyatta’s term and run in 2022 as an unbeatable incumbent president. Show me a Kenyatta associate who would want to see this happen and I’ll show you a liar.

Of course there is also the possibility that Ruto looks down the game tree, does not like what he sees, and decides to make this year’s election a little more interesting than most people anticipate.

 

the mau list of shame

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has tabled in parliament a list of those who acquired land in the Mau based on their well-connectedness with the government. Top of the list are those closely associated with former president Moi – including his son and former Baringo Central MP Gideon. The task force on the Mau issued a report that claimed that 80% of the titles to the land in Mau were issued to undeserving people.

I like this dose of transparency from the Prime Minister (Although for good practice he should have made the list public as soon as he got it in order to allow for a more mature progression of the eviction debate). My hope now is that Kenyans will realise exactly what the interests of those against the government directive to conserve the forest are. Indeed if I had it my way, the millionaires who unlawfully acquired public land should be made to pay a fine.

The popular consensus seems to be that the government should compensate the regular “wananchi” who have titles and who unknowingly legally bought illegally acquired land. But the “wenyenchi” who grabbed public land should not be given a cent. Shame on them.

And on a different note, kudos to the Kenya Revenue Authority. I was surprised that I was able to get my pin number online. The first time I tried getting one I had to wait in line at Times Tower and left because the line did not move for the more than 45 minutes that I was there. My only problem now is that I can’t seem to be able to print my pin number certificate. Anyone with a clue?