Five Things You Should Know About the Ongoing Monday Protests in Kenya

Over the last couple of weeks opposition parties in Kenya have staged public protests across the country demanding for personnel changes at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) — Kenya’s electoral management body (EMB). This week’s Monday demonstrations turned violent in some towns and cities, with at least four people reported dead at the hands of anti-riot police.

The organizers of the protests have vowed to keep at it every Monday until the current IEBC commissioners resign. Here are the five things you need to know about the protests:

  1. A plurality of Kenyans have lost faith in the IEBC (see here). Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 8.07.41 PMIn the run up to the 2013 election, several members of the commission (then known as IIEC) and its secretariat were implicated in graft (known as the chickengate scandal) involving a number of British companies. These individuals’ accomplices were found guilty by UK courts; and court documents explicitly mentioned the Kenyans that were bribed by their UK counterparts. Yet a number of those adversely mentioned in the UK court documents continue to remain in office — including the chairman of the commission, Issack Hassan. It is partially for this reason that a plurality of Kenyans (including politicians on both sides of the political divide) have lost faith in the IEBC.
  2. Opposition politicians, including those in CORD and KANU, want the IEBC reconstituted over suspicions that its current leadership favors incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and the governing Jubilee Alliance. CORD (in my view, erroneously) maintains that the IEBC was used to rig the 2013 election in favor of President Kenyatta. KANU has most recently accused the same EMB of rigging the Kericho senatorial by-election in favor of the Jubilee candidate. CORD has also argued that its failure to meet the threshold for a popular referendum (dubbed Okoa Kenya) —  whose main thrust was a change in Kenya’s electoral laws — was a result of bias within the IEBC. CORD wants the IEBC reconstituted and the new commission to have proportional representation of parliamentary political parties. Although the constitution lays out the procedure for removing commissioners of an independent entity like IEBC (through Parliament), CORD is wary of this option due to its minority status in the legislature. Initially it pinned its hopes on a popular referendum. But when that failed it resorted to mass action in a bid to strategically influence any eventual institutional reform of the IEBC (in my view this eventuality can partially be blamed on the singular failure of the(Jubilee) leadership of the National Assembly).
  3. The Uhuru Kenyatta Administration is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is hard for the administration to defend an obviously tainted EMB. This would also go against its continued claim that the IEBC is an independent body. But at the same time, the administration needs a reform path that will not embolden the opposition. The thinking within the Jubilee Alliance appears to be that if they give in to CORD on IEBC, what will CORD demand next? The contention that any and all reforms touching on the IEBC should follow constitutionally stipulated channels is partly motivated by this fear. In this regard, if CORD is genuine about surgical reforms specifically targeting the IEBC, it’s leadership should perhaps think of a way to credibly signal to the Kenyatta Administration that their reform agenda is limited in scope. From a purely political standpoint, President Kenyatta has reason to be cautious about the potential to open a whole pandoras box of constitutional reforms.
  4. Police brutality is (still) common in Kenya. Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 7.27.32 PMOne of the goals of Kenya’s new political dispensation following the adoption of a new constitution in 2010 was police reform (majority of the 1,300 killed in the post-election violence of 2007-8 were shot by police). The institution even changed its name from Police Force to Police Service; and an independent police oversight authority was created (to democratize the institution through civilian oversight). But experience since 2013 has shown that these attempts at reform have not yielded any tangible results. The Police Service is still as corrupt as ever. And has little consideration for constitutional limits to its use of force (see image). Which means that more Kenyans will be killed in the hands of the police if the Monday protests continue.
  5. The 2017 presidential contest will likely be more competitive than most people think. Six months ago I would have predicted a landslide reelection victory for President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017. Not anymore. President Kenyatta is still the favorite to win (because of incumbency advantage). But the jostling over control of the IEBC and the Supreme Court are telltale signs that the political class is expecting a close contest that will likely be disputed. It says a lot that despite being the incumbent, President Kenyatta’s poll numbers have stubbornly stuck in the low 40s (he can thank mind-blowing corruption and general Public Sector incompetence for that). This means that unless we see a drastic shift in regional alliances, next year’s election will most likely go to a runoff contest between Kenyatta and Odinga — which will be close. The more reason to have credible institutions in the form of a trusted IEBC and a Supreme Court beyond reproach. 

What does this say about overall political stability in Kenya? At this point in time I am a lot  more worried about county-level electoral violence than a 2007-08 style national disaster. That said, there is reason to fear that continued police brutality, especially targeting opposition supporters, may trigger wider civilian violence against presumed Jubilee supporters.

It is a little too early to talk specifics about next year’s presidential election. But what is clear is that Kenyatta’s reelection battle will no longer be a walk in the park.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the National Address to Parliament

On Thursday President Uhuru Kenyatta presented his annual report to the joint session of Parliament. You can find the text of the speech here and the youtube clip here.

Key achievements of his administration over the last three years include (i) rural electrification (nearly all primary schools have been connected to the grid — THIS IS PRETTY BIG DEAL); (ii) the construction of a new railway line (the project is a corruption boondoggle, but the speed with which it is being carried out is stunning); and (iii) power generation.

Below is a word cloud showing some of the issues the president focused on. Corruption, health (hospital), security, and general service provision were the main policy areas that the president chose to focus on.

I was surprised by the failure of “agriculture”, “land”, “education”, and “infrastructure” to make the top twenty. “Road” had a respectable show. There was also a lot of politics — mainly directed at the opposition and civil society.

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Perhaps in reaction to David Ndii’s provocative article on the failure of the Kenya Project, the president’s speech was particularly nationalist. The words “Covenant” and “Nationalist” appeared 27 and 22 times, respectively, well ahead of key policy-related terms.

I am personally worried that the word “development” outperformed “economic/economy.” I hope this is not a signal that the government views the running of the economy as a massive “development project.” We all know how those usually turn out.

 

Hard truths about the Kenyan economy

The World Bank has just released a must-read report on the state of the Kenyan economy. Here is just one of many excellent observations about the structural impediments to accelerated growth in Kenya:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.00.50 PMCompared with other fast-growing economies, Kenya invests less and the share of investment financed by foreign savings is higher. The economic literature and post-World War II history illustrate that investment determines how fast an economy can grow. Kenya’s investment, at around 20 percent of GDP, is lower than the 25 percent of GDP benchmark identified by the Commission on Growth and Development (2008). Kenya’s investment rate, as a share of GDP, has also been several percentage points lower than the rate in its peer countries. At the same time, the economy has largely relied on foreign savings as a source for new investment since 2007, while national savings have been declining. National savings—measured as a share of gross national disposable income (GNDI)—has not surpassed the 15 percent mark over the past decade. In contrast, Pakistan’s savings is above 20 percent of GNDI, and Vietnam’s is more than 25 percent. Cambodia had a low savings rate in the 1990s, but it more than doubled the rate in the 2000s.

You can find the whole report here.

 

How to write about Africa in one picture

This is a story about Kenya building the first new railroad since the British built the old one more than a century ago. The new line goes through a National Park. A watchman was attacked by a cheetah. No one was mauled by lions. The attempts to link the current project to the Man Eaters of Tsavo trope is noted, but that happened a century ago when the lion population in the Protectorate was still quite big, and rhinos charged mail cars.Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 11.33.38 PM

The rest of the story is here. Please skip through the Conrad-esque first paragraph.

Achebe (on Conrad’s racism) and Binyavanga (on how to write about Africa) should be required reading before some of these correspondents (and the social media interns) are inflicted on the world.

Mitigating violence in Kenya’s 2013 elections

Joel Barkan has a CFR contingency planning memorandum on the Kenyan elections in which he notes that:

The United States and others may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis. However, with little more than two months before the elections, Washington must intensify its engagement or forsake its opportunity to make a difference.

But the window might be closing fast on the international community to help Kenya avoid a repeat of 2007-08, when 1300 died and 300,000 were displaced after a bungled election. According to a report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (yours truly was a research assistant for the commission), evidence suggests that international interventions to encourage reasonably free and fair and peaceful elections are most effective when done well in advance to the polling day. In the Kenyan case, the structural causes of previous rounds of electoral violence were never addressed, and may yet lead to the loss of life this election cycle.

What can now be done to avoid large scale organized violence is to credibly convince the politicians and those who finance youth militia (chinkororo, taliban, mungiki, jeshi la mzee, baghdad boys, etc) that they will be held accountable. So far, as is evident in Tana River and the informal settlements within Nairobi, the lords of violence appear to be operating like it is business as usual.

what if ruto and uhuru were jailed by the icc?

Kenyan politics is currently in flux. Two key presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto may be barred from running for public office next year on constitutional grounds. The key beneficiaries of such an eventuality will most probably be Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, the Premier and Vice President respectively.

But what would such an eventuality mean for Kenya?

I’d say not much.

Over the last few weeks Uhuru and Ruto have been crisscrossing the country and holding chest-thumping rallies to prove to someone – either the ICC or the Kenyan political and economic elite – that they have the support of the grassroots. They have also issued thinly veiled threats that violence may erupt in the country if they are whisked to the Hague and barred from running for president in next year’s general election. Why does Uhuru and Ruto feel the need to do this?

In my view, and according to the rules of power politics, a tiger need not shout about its tigritude [I believe it is the great son of Nigeria, Wole Soyinka who coined this phrase].

That Ruto and Uhuru have felt compelled to shout about their support-base and issue threats tells me that they are feeling the heat. The fact of the matter is that the key backers of the duo are the ones who would lose the most in case of a resurgence of violence – think of Kenyan retail, banking, insurance, media and transport barons. These are the people that will lose the most when the Mombasa-Kampala Highway is impassable and Equity Bank closes everywhere. They know this and Uhuru and Ruto also know this. Furthermore, igniting further violence would most certainly attract sterner reaction from international watchdogs like the ICC and the UN Security Council.

There is also the [small] matter that now ordinary Kenyans will also know where exactly the violence is coming from.

Violence is therefore not an option. Not for Ruto and Uhuru. Not for their backers. And most certainly not for the rest of Kenya.

I suggest that the rest of Kenya call their (Uhuru and Ruto’s) bluff about violence next year.

Their battles with justice should not derail the much needed institutional reforms that will take the country out of the miasma of mediocrity that continues to engulf most of the Continent.

In the final analysis, the words of former VP George Saitoti will ring true: There comes a time when Kenya gets bigger than any single individual. Ruto, Uhuru and the wider political class are about to be schooled on this maxim the harsh way.

Potholes potholes potholes!

It is a key road that links western Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the eastern DRC to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. But the state of the Kisumu-Busia “highway” does not exemplify its economic importance to the wider east African region.  Potholes, dangerously narrow stretches, and encroachment by vendors are some of the many things that are wrong with the Kisumu-Busia highway. The many accidents that occur on the road tell it all. Last Tuesday I witnessed the aftermath of an accident in the town of Ugunja in Ugenya when on a visit to my aunt’s in Got Osimbo. A tanker swerved while trying to avoid oncoming traffic. As always happens, locals rushed to the scene with containers to siphon away fuel. The fuel caught fire and burnt many stalls that line the road in Ugunja town and a section of the famous St. Michael’s Hotel. As far as I know there was only one fatality – thanks to the fact that the tanker was carrying diesel and not the more inflammable petrol. It is not that long ago when similar accidents in Sidindi and Sachangwan caused the death of dozens of people who were trying to loot fuel.

I can’t stop asking myself: HOW HARD CAN IT BE? How hard can it be for the four countries that depend on this key road to get their act together and construct a proper road?

those opposed to the creation of an unrepresentative senate have a point

The Kenyan Draft Constitution seems to have hit a snag. A section of parliamentarians are opposed to the section of the proposed constitution that gives all counties equal powers via their elected senators. I agree with them. The to-be-formed senate, as currently constituted, grants too much power to sparsely populated counties. Theoretically, this should not make any difference because people could just move to better served, over-represented counties thereby balancing everything. But we all know that this does not happen in Kenya. The country remains divided into various “ethnic homelands” that are more often than not inhabited exclusively by a single ethnic group.

I hold the opinion that part of the reason why we currently have a corrupt and unresponsive political class is that those who actually pay taxes – and therefore feel the pinch of mismanagement of public funds – are grossly under-represented. For instance, Nairobi only has eight members of parliament even though it generates a huge chunk of Kenya’s tax revenue. Let us not worsen this by creating an even more powerful senate whose members will bribe their way into office with a few bags of sugar and flour per voter and then proceed to steal millions of urban Kenyans’ hard earned cash. I am not advocating for an urban-biased senate. What I am saying is that the constitution should, at a minimum, respect the principle of equal representation. Nairobians and other Kenyan urbanites should make it clear that they are not into the idea of taxation without equal representation.

The alternative would be to have independent incorporate urban districts that elect their own governments and have greater control over the collection and expenditure of their tax revenue. I don’t particularly like this idea though because places like Suba and Maragua still need Nairobi, Eldoret, Kisumu, Nyeri,Mombasa and others, to pull them up.

That is my peni nane opinion on this.

time to get serious on the contraception debate

Kenya is a country of duplicitous people. It is a country in which the masses have been bullied into pretending that they do not have sex outside of marriage and therefore do not need contraceptives – condoms included. But sex-related statistics continue to expose them for who they are. The country has an AIDS infection rate of almost six percent. Unintended pregnancies account for 45% of total pregnancies, at least according to the ministry of medical services (someone tell me, what is the difference between this ministry and that of health?). Further evidence of the enormity of the problem comes from recent news reports that women are using unverified herbal contraceptives – mainly out of ignorance because the concept of contraception is not yet mainstream – that have left some of them and/or their children permanently deformed.

Meanwhile, the church in Kenya continues to be an ostrich – and I have complained about this before. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a sexually active populace in need of a less closed-minded approach to contraception, the only advice coming from the pulpits is that abortion is immoral and evil and that nobody should be having sex until they get married.

I am not saying that liberal sexual attitudes should be forced on Kenyans. I personally believe that cultural changes should be incremental and reflective of the will of the people. But we cannot hide from the evils of non-contraception. Illegal abortions kill countless women every year. And a lack of family planning is a direct contributor to economic hardship for many Kenyan families. I am reminded of a comment made by a close friend of mine who is working with communities in Manyatta (an informal settlement in Kisumu)  that one of the things she noticed about the place was that there were masses of children everywhere. I can bet that a good chunk of these kids will not get enough food, clothing or education in their lifetimes. A horrifying percentage of Kenyan kids do not make it to five. A little birth control would free up resources to ensure that Kenyan children have a better chance in life – beginning with the chance to stay alive into old age.

Now do not get me wrong. I am not for reducing Kenya’s population figures. As I have stated before, I believe that Africa – as a continent – is woefully underpopulated. That said, I think that the Continent’s – and in particular Kenya’s – population expansion should be better managed. It is time we stopped burdening the daughters of the continent with, on average, almost one and a half decades of childbearing. It is time the government acted on the need to better educate Kenyan families on the means of contraception. And about the church, they should get real.