The role of elites in development (Danish Edition)

Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, often reminded Kenyan elites of their roles as living examples of material “development” to the peasantry. Contra Oginga Odinga — who wanted to empower the masses through land redistribution, Kenyatta believed that an elite-driven developmental agenda was the quickest way to end the scourges of poverty, illiteracy, and disease in Kenya (yes, he had very selfish reasons for holding this belief. But that is beside the point).

Turns out he was onto something.

This is from a paper by Jensen et al. on the dairy industry in Denmark:

We explore the role of elites for development and in particular for the spread of cooperative creameries in Denmark in the 1880s, which was a major factor behind that country’s rapid economic catch-up. We demonstrate empirically that the location of early proto-modern dairies, so-called hollænderier, introduced onto traditional landed estates as part of the Holstein System of agriculture by landowning elites from the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in the eighteenth century, can explain the location of cooperative creameries in 1890, more than a century later, after controlling for other relevant determinants. We interpret this as evidence that areas close to estates which adopted the Holstein System witnessed a gradual spread of modern ideas from the estates to the peasantry. Moreover, we identify a causal relationship by utilizing the nature of the spread of the Holstein System around Denmark, and the distance to the first estate to introduce it, Sofiendal. These results are supported by evidence from a wealth of contemporary sources and are robust to a variety of alternative specifications.

We thus demonstrate econometrically that the pattern of adoption of cooperative creameries in Denmark followed the introduction of proto-modern dairies by agricultural elites on estate farms. In the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, ruled by the King of Denmark in personal union until 1864 when they were lost to Prussia, an intensified crop rotation system with an important dairy component was developed on the large manorial estates known as Koppelwirtschaft in German, or kobbelbrug in Danish. It became the dominant field system in the Duchies in the 1700s, and included unprecedentedly large herds of milch cows and the invention of an innovative new centralized system of butter production, the hollænderi, with unparalleled standards of hygiene and equipment (Porskrog Rasmussen 2010a). These innovations – collectively known as the above mentioned ‘Holstein System’ when the crop-rotation was combined with the dairy unit – came relatively late to Denmark, but when they did they gradually transformed Danish agriculture.

Denmark’s current status as an ‘agricultural superpower’ , dominated by massive firms such as Arla (a dairy cooperative) and Danish Crown (a food, especially meat, processing firm previously also a cooperative until 2010), is usually traced back to the aforementioned developments in the 1880s. As we will discuss in more detail below, at this point a new technology, the steam-powered automatic cream separator made it possible to use milk which had been transported over long distances to be processed in a central production facility, and the voluntary associations of Danish peasants, the cooperatives, sprang up to take advantage of this possibility. Thus, modern Denmark emerged based on a democratic, cooperative countryside, providing something of a role model to other agricultural countries around the world.

The whole paper is worth reading, as it provides a rather interesting rebuttal (if I may call it that) to the core ideas about the long-run effects of inequalities in initial endowments in Engerman and Sokoloff (on Latin America) as well as Banerjee and Iyer (on India):

By contrast, we stress that agricultural elites may spread knowledge, which then subsequently aids development in the agricultural sector. In other words, our work suggests that agricultural elites may also be knowledge elites, who facilitate later development. Recent work by Squicciarini and Voigtländer (2016) demonstrates that knowledge elites played a significant role in the industrialization of France by e.g. running businesses themselves or exchanging knowledge with entrepreneurs. Our work emphasizes the importance of knowledge spill-overs and agricultural enlightenment (Mokyr 2009, ch. 9), and shares some similarities with Hornung’s (2014) work on high-skilled immigration of Huguenots into Prussia. He shows that this led to higher productivity in the textile sector and interprets this as evidence of an effect of diffusion of technology. We focus on agricultural elites and their impact on the part of the agricultural sector that led to an economy-wide take-off.

The key difference in Denmark, of course, was that the social conditions permitted easy diffusion of ideas and practices from the knowledge elites to the masses, despite the inequalities in initial endowments. The situation might be different, for ex when race, ethnicity, or caste gets in the way.

On the Odingas and Kenyattas of Kenya

This is from Jina Moore (who is doing a great job as East Africa bureau chief).

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the father of Raila Odinga, negotiated independence with the British. The colonial rulers wanted Mr. Odinga to lead the new Kenya, but Mr. Odinga had other ideas: He demanded Mr. Kenyatta’s freedom — and his appointment as Kenya’s first head of state.

“Kenyatta would not have been released, and he wouldn’t have been made prime minister, if it hadn’t been for Odinga’s backing,” said Daniel Branch, a professor of history at the University of Warwick and an expert on post-colonial Kenyan politics. “The two men always admired each other.”

Willy Mutunga, who was chief justice of the Supreme Court from 2011 to 2016, believes Mr. Odinga was motivated by more than mere admiration. “I think he genuinely believed that the country was going to be better off with somebody who had become a legend,” he said.

And so, in 1964, when Kenya became a republic, Jomo Kenyatta became its president, and Jaramogi Odinga vice-president.

The piece is worth reading. I liked the bits about the Odinga/Kenyatta conflict over land redistribution.

It would be interesting to think of the counterfactual: What if Odinga/Kaggia had won over Kenyatta/Mboya and redistributed all the land? What kind of Kenya would have emerged? Would it have been more stable and prosperous than present day Kenya? Was this a feasible option given the preferences of Whitehall? What would have been the political and human costs?

My (positivist) take is that most people under-estimate the important role that the “willing buyer willing seller” mantra played in facilitating elite-level buy-in into the Kenya Project (state-building and elite-level stability). It’s not just Kenyatta and his co-ethnics that got land. Lots of elites from other communities in the districts got land, too, and a chance to earn rents. For example, as part of his coup-proofing strategy, Kenyatta bought off the officer class in the armed forces (mostly composed of non-co-ethnics) with land. Kenyatta’s cabinets reflected this political economy reality, too. All the major districts had a representative.

How robust is William Ruto’s plan to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022?

rutoPresident Uhuru Kenyatta is yet to name his full second term cabinet, 52 days since being sworn in for his second term. According to news reports, the delay might be due to internal wrangles within the Jubilee Party over specific cabinet appointments. While Kenyatta is keen on putting together a cabinet that will help him implement his ambitious legacy projects, Deputy President William Ruto wants a cabinet that keeps the path clear for his stab at the presidency in 2022 when Kenyatta will be term limited.

It seems, at least for now, that the two goals are in conflict.

Formed ahead of the 2017 election, the Jubilee Party was supposed to be a commitment device binding Kenyatta and his supporters to Ruto’s planned bid for the presidency in 2022. The idea was to make the party strong enough at the grassroots to make it impossible for anyone to run and win without pledging loyalty to the party leaders — Kenyatta and Ruto.

Not all of Kenyatta’s elite supporters are on board with this plan.

This raises the question, how robust is Ruto’s plan to succeed Kenyatta? In my view, four factors make the plan almost ironclad:

  1. Kenyatta needs Ruto for the rest of his presidency: Ruto cannot be fired (see the Kenyan constitution). His legislative point man, Aden Duale, is the Majority Leader in the National Assembly. And he has enough votes in the legislature to control the agenda (mainly through veto threats), and to frustrate Kenyatta should the two fall out. That means that even if Ruto loses the fight over specific cabinet appointments, he would likely get a substantial side payment that leaves him financially potent ahead of 2022. Furthermore, while he may not be able to sway every single voter in his core base, there is no reason to believe that Kenyatta would renege on the promise to back Ruto in 2022. No former president wants a successor with an axe to grind.
  2. Ruto has amassed an insurmountable financial lead relative to potential competitors: Besides Raila Odinga, there is no other Kenyan politician with the same level of national appeal and grassroots loyalty to rival Ruto. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho comes close, but there are structural constraints to his candidacy (he would be a great running mate to Ruto, though). And on top of all this, Ruto has amassed an incredible amount of wealth (or access to it) that will make him the runaway frontrunner in the competition for elite endorsements ahead of 2022. What this means is that Ruto can run in 2022 even without Kenyatta’s support and still win.
  3. Running in 2022 as a victim of Central Kenyan perfidy would likely win Ruto sympathy votes: A constant (and potentially powerful) narrative in Kenyan politics is that voters in Central Kenya (Kenyatta’s backyard) never vote for anyone but their own. If Central Kenyan elites were to spurn Ruto, he could go to the wider Kenyan electorate and make the case that he entered into an agreement in 2013 in good faith but got burned — just like Raila Odinga was burned by Mwai Kibaki, and his father before him by Matiba and Kibaki. With such a strategy, Ruto could engineer a coalition similar to Odinga’s 41 vs 1 coalition of 2007 and easily win the presidency.
  4. If all else fails, Ruto can blackmail Central Kenyan elites by threatening to destabilize the Rift Valley: This is not a far-fetched idea. It is not a surprise that recent pronouncements challenging Ruto’s 2022 candidacy were met with disquiet in Uasin Gishu and Nakuru counties along the same cleavages that defined the post-election violence in 2007-08. It is common knowledge that the alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013 was one of political expedience, and did not address the economic and social root causes of the violence that erupted in the Rift Valley following the disputed 2007 election. It would only take a few careless statements from people like Gov. Jackson Mandago of Uasin Gishu to cause significant instability in the Rift Valley.

Overall, despite the current impasse over cabinet appointments, Ruto’s political position remains very strong. To weaken him, Kenyatta would have to take overt steps — such as allowing his elite allies to form a different party than Jubilee — which would come with immense political costs (especially in parliament). Kenyatta’s hands are tied on this matter. Furthermore, why would he spend the next five years building a legacy that would be jeopardized by his failure to honor the 2013 deal with Ruto?

People often compare Ruto to former President Daniel arap Moi who remained loyal to Jomo Kenyatta and quietly waited in line until Kenyatta died in 1978. I disagree. On the specific matter of succession politics, I like to think of Ruto as a latter day Tom Mboya, the overtly ambitious KANU Secretary General who was murdered ahead of the 1969 General Election after which he would have been in pole position to succeed Kenyatta. Like Mboya, Ruto has, from the beginning, been very clear about what he wants and what he is willing to do to achieve it. And all indications are that this time will be different.

By the Numbers: A Look at the 2017 Presidential Election in Kenya

Kenya will hold a General Election on August 8th of this year. The national-level elections will include races for president, members of the National Assembly, and the Senate. County-level races will include those for governor (47) and members of County Assemblies (in 1450 wards).

This post kicks off the election season with a look at the presidential election. I also plan to blog about the more exciting gubernatorial races in the coming weeks.

Like in 2013, the contest will be a two-horse race between President Uhuru Kenyatta (with William Ruto as his running mate) and Hon. Raila Odinga (with Kalonzo Musyoka). The convergence on a de facto bipolar political system is a product of Kenya’s electoral law. The Constitution requires the winning presidential candidate to garner more than half of the votes cast and at least 25 percent of the votes in at least 24 counties. In 2013 Kenyatta edged out Odinga in a squeaker that was decided at the Supreme Court. Depending on how you look at it, Kenyatta crossed the constitutional threshold of 50 precent plus one required to avoid a runoff by a mere 8,632 votes (if you include spoilt ballots) or 63, 115 (if you only include valid votes cast). In affirming Kenyatta’s victory, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the latter approach.

But despite the court’s ruling, a significant section of Kenyans still believe that Kenyatta rigged his way into office, and that Odinga should have won.

My own analysis suggests that it was a little bit more complicated. I am fairly confident that Kenyatta beat Odinga in the March 2013 election. But I do not think that he crossed the 50 percent plus one threshold required to avoid a runoff. At the same time, I am also confident that Kenyatta would have won a runoff against Odinga. All to say that I think the results in 2013 reflected the will of the people bothered to vote.

This year will be equally close, if not closer.

This is for the following reasons:

  1. Odinga has a bigger coalition: The third candidate in 2013, Musalia Mudavadi, is joining forces with Odinga this time round – as part of the National Super Alliance (NASA). Mudavadi managed to get just under 4% last time and will provide a much-needed boost to Odinga’s chances in Western Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley.
  2. Kenyatta has had a mixed record in office: The Kenyan economy has grown at more than 5% over the last four years. The same period saw massive investments in infrastructure — including a doubling of the share of the population connected to the grid and a brand new $4b railway line connecting Nairobi to the coast. However, these impressive achievements have been offset by incredible levels of corruption in government – with senior government officials caught literally carrying cash in sacks. Kenyatta is also stumbling towards August 8th plagued with bad headlines of layoffs and the ever-rising cost of living. Barely two months to the election, the country is in the middle of a food crisis occasioned by a failure to plan and a botched response that appears to have been designed to channel funds to cronies of well-connected officials.
  3. The Rift Valley: In 2013 much of the Rift Valley was a lock for Kenyatta (it is William Ruto’s political back yard). This time will be different. Parts of Ruto’s coalition in the Rift, particularly in Kericho and Bomet counties, may swing towards Odinga this year. All Odinga needs is about a third of the votes in these counties. I expect both campaigns to spend a lot of time trying to sway the small pockets of persuadable voters in these two counties.
  4. The Kenyatta Succession in 2022: In 2013 Kenyatta was elected as the head of an alliance, not a party. In 2017 he is running atop a party, the Jubilee Party (JP). It is common knowledge that JP is William Ruto’s project. Because he plans to succeed Kenyatta in 2022, he desperately needs credible commitment from Kenyatta and his allies that they will support his bid when the time comes. JP is an installment towards this goal, and is designed to allow Ruto to whip party members in line during Kenyatta’s second term (on a side note, Ruto needs to read up on the history of political parties in Kenya). But by forcing everyone into one boat, JP may actually end up suppressing turnout in key regions of the country, the last thing that Kenyatta needs in a close election.
  5. The ICC factor (or lack thereof): Because of their respective cases at the ICC, 2013 was a do or die for Kenyatta and Ruto (and their most fervent supporters). This time is different. Both politicians are no longer on trial at the ICC, and so cannot use their cases to rally voters. The lack of such a strong focal rallying point will be a test for Kenyatta’s turnout efforts.

Nearly all of the above factors sound like they favor Odinga. Yet Kenyatta is still the runaway favorite in this year’s election. And the reason for that is turnout.

As I show in the figure below, the turnout rates were uniformly high (above 80%) in nearly all of the 135/290 constituencies that Kenyatta won in 2013. Pro-Odinga constituencies had more spread, with the end result being that the candidate left a lot more votes on the table.

The same dynamics obtained at the county level (see above). In 2013 Odinga beat Kenyatta in 27 of the 47 counties. The counties that Odinga won had a total of 8,373,840 voters, compared to 5,977,056 in the 20 counties won by Kenyatta. The difference was turnout. The counties won by Odinga averaged a turnout rate of 83.3%. The comparable figure for counties won by Kenyatta was 89.7%. At the same time, where Kenyatta won, he won big — averaging 86% of the vote share. Odinga’s average vote share in the 27 counties was a mere 70%.

The same patterns may hold in 2017. The counties won by Odinga currently have 10,547,913 registered voters, compared to 7,556,609 in counties where Kenyatta prevailed. This means that Odinga still has a chance, but in order to win he will have to run up the numbers in his strongholds, while at the same time getting more of his voters to the polls. Given the 2017 registration numbers, and if the turnout and vote share patterns witnessed in 2013 were to hold this year, then Kenyatta would still win with 8,000,936 votes (51.5%) against Odinga’s 7,392,439 votes (47.6%).

The slim hypothetical margin should worry Kenyatta and his campaign team. For instance, with an 89% turnout rate and an average of 85% vote share in the 27 counties Odinga won, and holding Kenyatta’s performance constant, the NASA coalition could best Jubilee this August by garnering 8,921,050 votes (55.4%) vs 7,191,975 (44.6%).

Kenyatta is the favorite to win this August on account of incumbency and Jubilee’s turnout advantage. But it is also the case that the election will be close, and that even a small slip up — such as a 3 point swing away from Jubilee between now and August 8th — could result in an Odinga victory.

Rating Kenya’s Presidents

Jomo Kenyatta’s regime was corrupt, illiberal and competent. Moi’s was corrupt, illiberal and mediocre. Kibaki’s was corrupt, liberal and competent. So, Moi scores zero out of three. Jomo scores one out of three. Kibaki scores two out of three. Now it adds up!

Jubilee’s [Uhuru Kenyatta] stock has fallen not just because it is seen as corrupt, but because it comes across as also illiberal and incompetent. Like Moi’s regime, it scores zero out of three.

….. Which is more harmful to society, mediocrity or corruption? Mediocrity is by definition below average. It stands to reason that all other things equal, mediocrity is more costly than corruption.

It goes without saying that a corrupt mediocracy is even more deleterious. When mediocre rulers are also corrupt even their corruption is mediocre. Because they are unable to generate sufficient returns, they eat into the capital. That’s what the decay of our infrastructure during Moi was — they ate the capital.

What’s more, what mediocre corrupt leaders steal they squander. Mobutu’s billions have never been traced.

That is the ever-insightful Kenyan economist David Ndii writing in the Daily Nation.

And of course Kibaki was the best president Kenya ever had. He went to Mang’u High School (along with many other key people in his government).

But on a more serious note, can Kenyatta’s administration be redeemed?

I think so. Part of the problem has been the total breakdown of constructive communication between the moderate elements in Kenyan society and State House. The ensuing siege mentality at State House has left the president open for capture by the thuggish elements that are rapidly criminalizing the Kenyan state. But progressive Kenyans need not concede the presidency to these corrupt, incompetent and illiberal characters. There is still room for constructive engagement.

Unlike Moi President Kenyatta appears to have an instinct to delegate (some say he is clueless at Government). The challenge is how to make sure he delegates to the right people.

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


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.


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.


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?

Why are Kenyan politicians politicizing the military?

Botswana, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the only continental sub-Saharan African states to have never experienced military rule. Each country has managed to do so via well orchestrated coup-proofing strategies of ethnic balancing and material payoffs to the men and women with the guns and tanks. 

Kenya, in particular, has perfected this art. Because of its fractious ethnic politics, ethnic balancing within the officer corps has been key to Kenya’s coup-proofing. Kenyatta (who spoke Kikuyu) had a bit of a hard time in the beginning with a Kamba and Kalenjin speakers dominated military but eventually succeeded in having his co-ethnics in key positions. But before he did so he ensured Kikuyu dominance over the paramilitary force, the General Service Unit (GSU) to balance the military. Through the 60s and 70s, Kenyatta ensured that the GSU and police could handle their own against the military in case stuff hit the fan. Moi continued along this path, so much so that for a while in the media the typical accent of a security officer – whether police or military – became an accent from the North Rift. Under Moi the Kenyan army became “Kalenjin at the bottom, Kalenjin at the middle, and Kalenjin at the top.”

Beyond the ethnic balancing, Kenya has also coup-proofed by keeping the generals wealthy and OUT OF POLITICS – at least not overtly. The generals in Kenya are probably some of the wealthiest on the Continent. I went to high school with the son of an Air Force Major General whose family was always taking foreign trips to exotic places and always made a big splash on visiting days. The only estimates I could find are from the 1960s when nearly “two thirds of the military budget went to pay and allowances, most of it to officers.” A lot of them also got free land for cash crop farming and lucrative business deals (some illegal) from the Kenyatta and Moi governments. Keenly aware of West Africa’s junior officer problem following 1981 Moi extended land grants to junior officers as well. 

But despite their importance as leaders of a key national institution, most Kenyans, yours truly included, do not know much about the top generals in the army. The one chief of staff that I remember hearing a lot about in my childhood days was Gen. Mahmood Mohamed, the man who played a big role in quelling the 1982 coup attempt. For the most part I only saw these guys in the media on national holidays when they rode on the president’s Land Rover. 

In other words, I think it is fair to say that, contrary to arguments made by N’Diaye, for the most part the Kenyan military has historically been fairly professionalized and depoliticized relative to other countries in the neighborhood. There is no evidence to suggest that ethnic balancing has severely interfered with the process of professionalization. Kenyan presidents’ preferred agents for dirty political work have always been the intelligence service, the police and paramilitary units, but never (to the best of my knowledge) the military. Indeed the US and British militaries have had very close technical cooperation with the Kenyan military through training, material assistance and more recently joint operations, resulting in a relatively highly trained force that has for the most part stayed clear of politics.  

But this consensus appears to be slowly eroding. Before the 2013 General Elections the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga accused the military and the intelligence service of colluding with his opponent, Uhuru Kenyatta, to rig the presidential election. And now the heads of the military and intelligence service are reportedly contemplating suing a former aide to Mr. Odinga for defamation. Increasingly, the military is being dragged down to the level of the marionette-esque GSU and Police, perennial hatchet men for whoever occupies State House.

This cannot end well. 

Coup proofing is hard. And the thing with coups is that once the genie is out of the box you can’t take it back. Coups just breed more coups.

This is why the generals must be left fat and happy and in the barracks, or busy keeping the peace (and hopefully not facilitating charcoal exports) in Somalia’s Jubaland State. Do your ethnic balancing and all, but by all means KEEP THEM OUT OF POLITICS (I am glad the current Defense Minister has no political constituency).

The last thing Kenya needs is a Zimbabwe situation in which there is open bad blood between the military and the opposition. 

Plus Kenya, based on its per capita income, ethnic politics, and minimal experience with genuine democratic government, is still not beyond the coup trap to be able to safely play politics with the military. If you doubt me, go find out the last time Brazil, Thailand and Turkey had generals in charge. 

Happy Madaraka Day!

Happy Madaraka Day to all fellow Kenyans here at home and around the world. Hongera for all we have achieved over the last 50 years!

Najivunia kuwa mkenya.


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.” 


Tribe, Nation or Literacy?

Tanzania’s founding president Julius Nyerere famously described Kenya as a vulgar, capitalist “man eat man society” – to which Kenya’s then Attorney General Charles Njonjo retorted that, in contrast, Tanzania was a “man eat nothing society.” At the time Tanzania had embarked on a program of African Socialism – Ujamaa – backed by a language policy that put a lot of emphasis on Kiswahili as the national language. As Ted Miguel has argued inTribe or Nation?(pdf)this was a great strategy in nation building. But was it economically beneficial in the long run?

For now the answer is probably no.

The legacy of Tanzania’s language policy has been that English language instruction only begins to be done seriously in high school. Obviously, four years are simply not enough to master a language, let alone sit a major national examination in that language. The result has been an astonishingly high failure-rate in the national end of high school exams in Tanzania. Earlier this year 60% of high school (Form Four) students failed, prompting jokes like “I’m a rocket scientist in Tz” on this side of the border. In reality even fewer made the cutoff to get a place in institutions of higher learning. In addition, a recent survey done by Twaweza, an education Think Tank, found that 72% of sampled primary school kids and 66% of high school students could not do second grade maths. English reading and comprehension was equally bad.

It goes without mention that the state of Tanzania’s education system has serious implications for human resource development in the country. The impending commodities boom in many parts of the country will certainly not benefit locals if workers have to be imported. Tanzania cannot effectively transform itself into a 21st century economy without a drastic improvement in its education system. Oddly enough, despite its obvious shortage of human capital, Tanzania is the most restrictive state with regard to labor mobility in the East Africa Community (EAC). Dodoma is especially hostile to Kenyan workers that it sees as a threat to local workers (Kenyans and their alleged aggressiveness rudeness have jokes about Tanzanians’ work ethic….. I should add though that Tanzanians tend to be stereotyped unfairly, both at Mang’u and in New Haven I went to school with some very smart and hardworking Tanzanians).

In the final analysis, although Kenya’s post-independence education and language policy left us with a ‘tribe eat tribe’ legacy, it allowed the country’s education system to focus on English language instruction from early on, and a chance to develop a relatively more globally competitive human resource base. Nation building may have taken a hit in the process but I would argue that internal economic ties – the result of man eat man competition – have now made it such that the Kenyan nation-state will only get stronger. The challenge for Tanzania is to ensure that nation building does not limit the development of a globally competitive human resource capacity.

Since the announcement of the high school exam results earlier this year the country (Tanzania) has been debating possible avenues of reform. Better teacher training, more books and equipment and more teachers have been cited as possible remedies. Strategic review of the country’s language policy should also be put on the table.

In my opinion the EAC should adopt a language policy in which our history, social and religious studies and civics are taught in Swahili while everything else is taught in English. This would not be a selling out to a foreign language (with due respect to Ngugi) but an investment in global competitiveness. Many decades down the road, once we have universal literacy in both English and Kiswahili, we can have a full switch to universal Kiswahili language instruction in all subjects.