Interesting paper on the privatization of the “Rule of Law” in autocratic China

This is from Stanford’s Lizhi Liu and Barry R. Weingast:

We argue in this paper that, China has begun to fashion an alternative approach to establishing legal market infrastructure, which we call, “law, Chinese style.” Facing the authoritarian’s legal dilemma that constrains formal legal development, the central government has effectively off-loaded a substantial part of the development and enforcement of commercial law to private actors, namely, various online trading platforms. This approach allows the central government to cabin the domain of the legal system to private law.

To elucidate this private development of law, we focus on Taobao, China’s largest online trading platform, owned by Alibaba. We demonstrate that, with over 430 million users and more than 10 million vendors, Taobao is not simply an exchange platform, but a complete market that is in the process of developing a modern legal system. The system includes a very complex reputation mechanism, a credit score, a fraud detection program, and even a jury-like system in which ordinary users can vote to adjudicate cases or to change platform rules. With respect to exchange on the platform, this legal system helps creates law, enforce contracts, protect certain property rights, resolve disputes, and prevent fraud. By doing so, Taobao has begun to supply many aspects of market-supporting infrastructure normally associated with the state.

This the kind of paper that might interest folks in Kigali and Addis Ababa. Or Nairobi, these days.

How to overthrow the Kenyan government in twelve steps

  1. Form a hopelessly fractious political coalition on the back of four years of doing nothing with county governments to demonstrate your chops at transformative governance.
  2. Successfully push for electoral reforms, and then sit on your hands trusting that the system will work.
  3. Engage in all manner of self-sabotage during the campaign period, including failing to push for grassroots voter registration, having a unity message, reaching out to wavering voters, and credibly committing to reform the public sector.
  4. Fail to agree on a common slate of candidates ahead of the election, thereby granting the incumbent party a significant sweep of legislative and county seats.
  5. Fail to prepare for the logistical nightmare of coordinating poll agents across the country, thereby making it possible for the incumbent party to pad results where needed.
  6. Get lucky at the Supreme Court, but without a plan on how to prepare for a fresh election 60 days after the ruling.
  7. Try to push for more electoral reforms and a postponement of the election. When that fails, boycott the re-run presidential election.
  8. Half-heartedly boycott Parliament and other state institutions.
  9. Promise to swear in your presidential candidate as a bargaining tactic, but without a way out of the plan in case the incumbent government calls your bluff.
  10. Meanwhile, stay hopelessly off-message at every turn, and play into the narrative of being a disruptive alliance of sore-loser crybabies that would be no different than the incumbent party at governing.
  11. Sow distrust among your core leadership by failing to share important legislative committee seats in good faith.
  12. Swear in your presidential candidate as “The People’s President” (an office not provided for in the Constitution) as an act of defiance, but with no real public agenda or explanation of the act’s real impact on Kenyans’ lives.

If you do these things, you will cause a COMPLETE FREAKOUT in the Kenyan government. They will shut TV stations. They will scream treason. They will withdraw the security detail of opposition politicians. They will declare you members of a criminal gang. They will risk unnecessarily plunging the country into a security crisis.

They will drop the focus on the president’s potentially transformative Big Four agenda. They will behave like they will be in office for life. They won’t care about the negative precedences they are setting. They will forget that in five years they will be out of office, and might face a less benevolent, but way more competent tyrant that will eat their lunch and dinner.


Some quick thoughts on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s new cabinet nominations

Two months after being sworn in for his second and final term, President Uhuru Kenyatta has nominated members of his new cabinet (see list below). Kenyatta also created a new position in government, the office of Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), which is different than the Principal Secretary (PS) position. Essentially, CASs will be the new assistant ministers as was the case under the old constitution.

The cabinet appointments are underwhelming.

In his second inaugural address, Kenyatta promised to focus on four key areas (the “Big Four”) in his second term. I had therefore expected that appointments would mirror a shift in approach, at least in the key ministries that touch on the “Big Four” areas (manufacturing, agriculture, health, and infrastructure). But Adan Mohamed was retained at Industrialization (he hasn’t been particularly bad. But he hasn’t been bold either). The new CS of health is untested in the docket. Nominations for the agriculture, water, lands, and devolution portfolios are explicit political appointees that will likely be distracted by patronage politics.

James Macharia at transport is probably the only “Big Four” appointment/retention that makes sense considering the president’s stated policy goals.

It would appear that the only recipe for success in the next five years would be for Kenyatta to shield the actual operations of these ministries from most of the Cabinet Secretaries. In principle, it should be possible to create islands of success separate from the messy political economy considerations that informed the structure of the overall cabinet.

The creation of the position of CAS and appointment of politicians to this position will further complicate matters by injecting even more patronage politics into the functions of ministries.

From a purely administrative standpoint, this looks like a really bad idea.

If all Kenyatta is doing is rewarding politicians for their political support, there are other economically cheaper but more impactful ways of doing so. I wish State House took the science of the industrial organization of public administration more seriously.

Now that this is done, the onus is on the president and his team to make it work. That will not be an easy task. There is bound to be conflict over contracts, bribes, and jobs between CSs and CASs. In addition, by essentially creating multiple principals at the top, the president has saddled state agencies with principal-agent problems that will be hard to solve without a strict allocation of tasks. And this is before we even consider the potentially messy interaction between parliamentary committees and the CSs and CASs. Smart chairs of departmental committees in the National Assembly will play these two against each other and extract bribes like never before.

MPs are not fighting to head these committees out of a sense of public duty.

I wish Nzioka Waita and his team all the best of luck.

Finally, the cabinet has (broadly speaking) good regional balance. The two biggest surprises are the total exclusion of big name politicos from Lower Eastern and the Gideon Moi faction of the Rift Valley from the CS list. At first glance, it appears that Deputy President William Ruto got a good deal with these appointments (see here for background). There are only 6/22 (27%) women on the list, in violation of the constitutional requirement of at least 33%.

Kobia and Juma look well-matched to their portfolios. Mohammed’s move to education looks like a demotion, but her new docket has a bigger budget than Foreign Affairs. Education is a tough docket, but a part of me thinks that she is likely to emerge as the best-performing minister on account of her management skills and incredible work ethic (if, and only if, she can handle the politics of education well).

Here is the list:

1. Margaret Kobia – CS Youth and Public Service.
2. John Munyes – CS Petroleum and Mining.
3. Eugene Wamalwa – CS Devolution.
4. Racheal Omamo – CS Defense. 
5. Monica Juma -CS Foreign affairs.
6. Simon Chergui – CS Water.
7. Keriako Tobiko – CS environment
8. Adan Mohammed – CS Industrialization
9. James Macharia – CS transport
10. Joseph Mucheru – CS ICT
11. Henry Rotich – CS Treasury
12. Fred Matiangi – CS Interior
13. Mwangi Kiunjuri – CS Agriculture
14. Sicily Kariuki – CS Health
15. Rashid Achesa – CS Sports
16. Najib Balala – CS Tourism
17. Amina Mohammed – CS Education
18. Farida Karoney – CS Lands
19. Ukur Yattany – CS Labour
20. Peter Munya – CS EAC
21. Charles Keter – CS Energy
22. Raphel Tuju – CS (without portfolio)

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.

Rwanda’s Kagame on the Social Construction of Ethnicity

This is from an interesting interview with the FT:

During the interview, Mr Kagame says it matters little whether there are real physical differences between Hutus and Tutsis or whether these were arbitrary distinctions codified by race-obsessed imperialists. “We are trying to reconcile our society and talk people out of this nonsense of division,” he says. “Some are short, others are tall, others are thin, others are stocky. But we are all human beings. Can we not live together and happily within one border?” Mr Kagame has taken a DNA test that, he says, reveals him to be of particularly complex genetic mix. The implication, he says, is that he, the ultimate symbol of Tutsi authority, has some Hutu in his genetic make-up.

The transcript is available here. Read the whole thing.

Also, the average Rwandese lives a full six years longer than the average African.

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Ultimately, the sustainability of Kagame’s achievements will depend on his ability to solve an important optimal stopping problem:

The problem, he says of who might succeed him, is preventing someone from “bringing down what we have built”. Above all, he says, he wants to “avoid leaving behind a mess”.

The president insists it was never his intention to stay on, but the party and population insisted. “We are not saying, ‘We want you forever until you drop dead,’” he says, imitating the voice of the people. “We’re only saying, ‘Give us more time.’”

Initial Thoughts on the Reelection of President Uhuru Kenyatta

Congratulations to President Uhuru Kenyatta on reelection. In the end, he outperformed the polls by having a well-oiled national campaign that paid close attention to down ballot races. Jubilee MPs, Governors, Senators, and MCAs were elected in Bungoma, Kakamega, and other key swing areas. Where the party won it won big; and in the places it lost, it stayed competitive. The same cannot be said for NASA-affiliates.kenyatta

The polls were not that off. Kenyatta led in all but one poll conducted by Infotrak. In the end it appears that the undecideds stayed home. Turnout was relatively lower in Western and Coast regions (to regions with the biggest share of undecideds) relative to the national average. Odinga needed to at least match Kenyatta’s stronghold turnout in these regions to stay competitive.

Of the two models that I ran, the one incorporation registration rate as a measure of voter enthusiasm did better that the one that only considered historical turnout rates by region. Kenyatta supporters registered at high rates and followed through on Tuesday. Undecided Odinga supporters stayed home on Tuesday.

In a model that gives less weight to registration rates (as proxies for voter enthusiasm and likely turnout), the estimated vote share is Kenyatta 52.8% vs Odinga 47.2%. 

A more involved model that tries to estimate differential voter enthusiasm yields an even bigger advantage for Kenyatta (54% vs 46%). 

Turnout in 2013 was most certainly inflated by both CORD and the Jubilee Alliance.

Whatever one thinks of him, William Ruto is a political genius. After Tuesday has emerged as arguably the most powerful politician in Kenya. Initially I had thought that Jubilee Party was a bad idea that would end up depressing turnout by forcing everyone to vote for the same candidates. In the end it did not matter. Instead, Jubilee won big in the presidential election and, perhaps more importantly, swept key down ballot races. The party will command at least 49% of the seats in the 12 Parliament and will most certainly hit more than 50% with the support of friendly independents. Ruto has successfully vanquished the Moi family in Rift Valley politics. And more importantly, he is slowly emerging to be a national politician with a strong direct following outside of his core base. Only Odinga has managed to achieve this feat in the recent past.

Chances are very high that William Ruto will be the 5th President of Kenya. I must admit to have been wrong in assuming that his political stock would plummet as soon as Kenyatta won reelection. Instead, I think because of his hold on Jubilee his stock will only rise with time. Kenyatta’s elite base cannot push him aside. He has the numbers in Parliament and the very credible threat of inflicting maximum pain by raising political temperatures in the Rift Valley.

This will be a tough loss for Odinga supporters. At 72, this was surely his last stab at the presidency. There will be a lot to be said about the organization and strategy of his campaign — including the apparent lack of polling agents, failure to try and raid Jubilee strongholds, and own goal regarding the prospects of violence following a rigged election (the latter may have cost Evans Kidero the Nairobi governorship). There is also the issue of IEBC’s inability to relay results with the confidence of all parties concerned. However, despite the possibility of hacking of the results transmission system, the down ballot results point to a credible Kenyatta win. Unless more evidence becomes public, I am inclined to believe that this election was credible. The KIEMS system worked. IEBC should build on this success to strengthen the transmission system. It was messy, yes. But it was also most certainly better than last time.

This is a step forward in Kenya’s political development. The opposition is in disarray, but the real institutional fights are about to start within the Jubilee coalition. Ruto’s 2022 ambitions will likely force him to expand the size of the Jubilee coalition. He will likely reach out to Odinga’s base — including in Coast, Nyanza, Eastern, and Western regions. Kenyatta will also want to give himself some credible check on Ruto’s power and influence, which will force him to reach outside of Jubilee’s core constituency for institutional support. Recall that Jubilee is now pretty much Ruto’s party. It will be interesting to see how Joho, Nyong’o, Ngilu, and Oparanya react to all this.

I expect Kenyatta to be constrained by intra-Jubilee politics in his second term. I will say more on the likely political and policy direction of the second term after Kenyatta announces his new cabinet.

In the next fortnight I’ll probably put together a piece on the historical and political significance of Odinga’s likely exit from the political stage.

Hon. Raila Amolo Odinga is perhaps the one individual who has contributed  the most to democratic consolidation in Kenya since the early 1990s. He is also a tragic figure who has had to deal with personal shortcomings, family tragedy, and systemic rejection by Kenya’s powers that be — all played out in full view of the Kenyan public. In addition, it is impossible to talk about Odinga without mentioning the ethnic factor. I think that the biggest impact of this loss will be the Kenyanization of the Luo elite. Since Odinga Senior, the Luo elite have invested a lot in trying to change Kenya (at great expense for the Luo masses) — a fact that made Luo Nyanza the perennial epicenter of oppositionist politics. But with Odinga’s exit, this collective commitment to oppositionist politics will likely diminish. I expect Luo Nyanza politics to become more fragmented and transactional (i.e. less purist). All else considered, the Kenyanization of the Luo elite will probably be a good thing for the masses in Luo Nyanza.


What the poll numbers tell us about Kenya’s presidential election next Tuesday

Below is a table from a previous post comparing the poll numbers and actual votes ahead of the 2013 presidential election, as well as May 2017 poll numbers for the two leading candidates (Messrs. Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga). You can read the background post here. See also here.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.30.40 PMAlso below is the July 23rd poll released by Ipsos Synovate that reveals some interesting changes over the last two months. As of now the race stands at 47% vs 43%, advantage Kenyatta. But with a margin of error of 2.09%, this is a statistical dead heat.

On President Kenyatta: 

Kenyatta has seen his support decline in Nairobi (by 11 percentage points), Coast, Eastern, and Western regions. His support has increased in North Eastern (by 5 percentage points), Nyanza and Rift Valley regions. In addition, his support is stable in Central region at 88%.

On Prime Minister Odinga:

Odinga’s support has declined in Rift Valley (by 6 percentage points) and Western. His support has increased in Nairobi (by 13 percentage points), Eastern, Central, Coast, and North Eastern regions. In addition, his support is stable in Nyanza region at 76%.

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Looking at Trends:

A bigger share of undecideds will likely break for Odinga: The above trends confirm my previous observation that undecideds in Coast, Eastern, and Western regions are likely to be reluctant Odinga supporters. Odinga has seen his poll numbers go up in Coast and Eastern as the number of undecideds has shrunk in both regions. At 14% in the latest poll, the number of undecideds in Western region remain virtually the same from the May figure (16% of respondents). Both Kenyatta and Odinga saw declines in their support in Western region between May and July, but most of the undecideds in the region will likely break for Odinga. Virtually all the leading political elites in the region support Odinga’s bid for the presidency.

The race has tightened over the last two months: It is also clear that the race has tightened over the last two months as more voters have internalized the fact that this is a two-horse race between Kenyatta and Odinga. In particular, much of the tightening appears to have come from shifts in Western and lower Eastern, the two regions comprising the “Big Five” voting blocs where a clear majority of elites are behind the Odinga ticket.

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What do the numbers say?

First a couple of caveats.

In the last cycle the polling by Ipsos was off by a few percentage points in either direction. The final polls before the election underestimated Kenyatta’s support in all regions except Western. The final poll also underestimated Odinga’s support in Coast, Nyanza, and Western regions, was spot on in the Rift Valley, and overestimated his support in the remaining four regions. This is largely because polling in Kenya is often structured by region, on account of the fact that vote choice often maps neatly on regional/ethnic cleavages. No polling firm has figured out a likely voter model (I honestly don’t know why). Much of the underestimation of Kenyatta’s support came from the erroneous assumption of evenly spread turnout across the country.

And speaking of turnout, it is important to note that the Uhuru/Ruto ticket has a structural advantage. On average, Kenyatta’s core support comes from wealthier regions of the country that are relatively easier to reach and mobilize. In addition, with nearly 40% of the electorate coming from just two of the “Big Five” voting blocs, the combined ticket also offers a classic minimum winning coalition which adds to efficiency of messaging and turnout mobilization. This is in contrast to the Odinga/Kalonzo ticket’s turnout challenge. Its core is three of the “Big Five” that combined add up to just over 30% of the electorate. Therefore, Odinga has to make the difference by appealing to smaller voting blocs, particularly in the Coast, North Eastern, and Rift Valley regions (especially among pastoralist subregions of the Rift). The pro-Odinga non-Big Five regions have historically had relatively lower turnout rates, in no small part because of lower rates of access to education and economic opportunities. Dispersed support also means dispersed messaging. It is not clear that Odinga has successfully been able to overcome his turnout challenge ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The numbers, taking into account likely turnout: 

Based on 2013 turnout, I have created a model that takes into account county-level turnout (averaged at the constituency level to generate more data points). I have then clustered individual counties into regions. A more granular model that looks at individual voting blocs (e.g. that separates Nyamira and Kisii from the rest of Nyanza, Kitui, Makueni, and Machakos from the rest of Eastern, or Narok from the rest of the Rift Valley yields more or less similar results). Lastly, I weighted the estimated turnout in each county by the registration rates ahead of the 2017 elections. Turnout in 2013 varied from a low of 58% in Kilifi to a high of 95% in Makueni. Similarly, registration rates (as a share of eligible adults) ahead of 2017 varied from a low of 50.6% in Vihiga to a high of 86% in Kajiado. Presumably, these differences in registration rates reveal information on voter enthusiasm, and therefore likelihood of turning out next Tuesday.

All this is like attempting to perform open heart surgery with a blunt panga. So bear with me.

After the weighting, I then estimated turnout rates at the county level after which I used the raw vote numbers to estimate turnout rates at regional levels (polling is sparse at the county level). With the regional turnout figures, I then estimated the likely vote totals for Kenyatta and Odinga by region. Throughout this process I ignored the proportion of voters that are undecided.

In a model that gives less weight to registration rates (as proxies for voter enthusiasm and likely turnout), the estimated vote share is Kenyatta 52.8% vs Odinga 47.2%. 

A more involved model that tries to estimate differential voter enthusiasm yields an even bigger advantage for Kenyatta (54% vs 46%). 

In short, going by historical turnout rates, Kenyatta is still a strong favorite to win reelection next Tuesday.

Now, there are several ways in which I could be totally off the mark.

First, there is the issue of undecideds. The bulk of these voters are in Coast and Western regions, both Odinga strongholds. So far the trends indicate that undecideds appear to be breaking for Odinga in larger proportions. Should this trend continue, Odinga may eat enough into Kenyatta’s leads to force a runoff, or even an outright squeaker of a first round win.

Second, there is the issue of turnout. If Odinga were to average a turnout rate of 85 in Nairobi, Coast, and Western regions, my model estimates a vote distribution of 50.9% vs 49.1% in favor of Odinga. If Western and Coast regions alone got to 87% turnout, Odinga’s lead would increase to 51.1% vs Kenyatta’s 48.9%. Structurally, Kenyatta pretty much maxed out on turnout in 2013, while Odinga has a lot of head room.

As I keep saying, this is going to be very much a turnout election in which historical voting patterns strongly favor Kenyatta. For Odinga to have a fighting chance he has to convince undecideds to turn up and vote for him next Tuesday.

Other Interesting Polls to Consider:

There are two other polls that came out yesterday, one commissioned by Radio Africa and another done by Infotrak.

The Radio Africa poll puts the race at 47% for Kenyatta vs 46% for Odinga, a virtual tie. With this poll, too, the trends show a tightening race. Earlier in the month Kenyatta led Odinga by 49% vs 44%. The Infotrak poll puts the race at 49% for Odinga vs 48% for Kenyatta. Infotrak is the only polling company that has shown Odinga leading Kenyatta throughout this cycle.

Finally, Ipsos also released a poll yesterday that puts the race at 47% (Kenyatta) vs 44% (Odinga), but the details of which are not yet available. More on this soon.

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).


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.


  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) 


  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


More Anglophone African Students are Joining Universities in China than the U.S.

This is from Rogue Chiefs:

chinauni.pngTHE surge in the number of African students in China is remarkable. In less than 15 years the African student body has grown 26-fold – from just under 2,000 in 2003 to almost 50,000 in 2015.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the US and UK host around 40,000 African students a year. China surpassed this number in 2014, making it the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad, after France which hosts just over 95,000 students.

And it looks like soon Africans will comprise the biggest proportion of foreign students in China:

Chinese universities are filled with international students from around the world, including Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania. The proportion of Asian international students still dwarfs the number of Africans, who make up 13% of the student body. But this number, which is up from 2% in 2003, is growing every year, and much faster than other regions. Proportionally more African students are coming to China each year than students from anywhere else in the world.

Also, African students in China are mostly studying mandarin and engineering:

Based on several surveys, most students tend to be enrolled in Chinese-language courses or engineering degrees. The preference for engineering may be due to the fact that many engineering programmes offered by Chinese universities for international students are taught in English.

And they are more likely than their counterparts in the West to go back home after finishing their studies.

Due to Chinese visa rules, most international students cannot stay in China after their education is complete. This prevents brain-drain and means that China is educating a generation of African students who – unlike their counterparts in France, the US or UK – are more likely to return home and bring their new education and skills with them.

Perhaps the much-discussed skills transfer (or lack thereof) from China to African states will take place at Chinese universities instead of construction sites on the Continent.

The recent decline in the number of foreign students applying to U.S. colleges and universities will no doubt reinforce China’s future soft power advantage over the U.S. in Africa.

What does this mean for research in Africa? According to The Times Higher Education:

chinauni2.pngChina’s investment in Africa is having a positive impact on research, citing China’s African Talents programme. Running from 2012 to 2015, the programme trained 30,000 Africans in various sectors and also funded research equipment and paid for Africans to undertake postdoctoral research in China.

…. the 20+20 higher education collaboration between China and Africa as a key development in recent years. Launched in 2009, the initiative links 20 universities in Africa with counterparts in China.

And oh, the Indian government is also interested in meeting the demand for higher education in Africa.

In December 2015, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi also announced that the country would offer 50,000 scholarships for Africans over the next five years.

Notice that all this is only partially a result of official Chinese (or Indian) policy. The fact of the matter is that the demand for higher education in Africa has risen at a dizzying pace over the last decade (thanks to increased enrollments since 2000). To the extent that there aren’t enough universities on the Continent to absorb these students, they will invariably keep looking elsewhere.

According to the Economist: 

Opening new public institutions to meet growing demand has not been problem-free, either. In 2000 Ethiopia had two public universities; by 2015 it had 29. “These are not universities, they’re shells,” says Paul O’Keefe, a researcher who has interviewed many Ethiopian academics, and heard stories of overcrowded classrooms, lecturers who have nothing more than undergraduate degrees themselves and government spies on campus.

In those countries where higher education was liberalised after the cold war, private universities and colleges, often religious, have sprung up. Between 1990 and 2007 their number soared from 24 to more than 460 (the number of public universities meanwhile doubled to 200).

And on a completely random note, the black line on the graph above may explain the otherwise inexplicable persistence of the CFA zone in francophone Africa.

Looking Back at Kenya’s 2007 Election

What’s past is prologue. Which is why it is great that the folks over at The Elephant are reminding Kenyans of events that marked the disastrous 2007 General Election

Here are some excerpts:

On the poll numbers ahead of the December 2007 vote:

Odinga was consistently polling well shy of a majority but ahead of Moi’s 1992 and 1997 numbers, with Kibaki trailing by a few points. As the election date closed in, the race tightened a bit, but the scenario did not reverse, and then ODM opened up a bit more of a lead. Although at the last minute the Gallup organisation of the US came in and did a late poll showing Kibaki trailing by only two points in the national vote – this was trumpeted by Ranneberger as showing the race as “too close to call” – the firms regularly polling the race continued to show Kibaki trailing beyond the margin of error. This included both the reputable Steadman and Strategic pollsters that had had a long relationship with the USAid IRI programme dating back to its inception in the 1990s, including the exit polls from 2002, 2005 and again for 2007.

On the colossal cluelessness of the then U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger:

The ambassador told me that Saturday that “people are saying” that Raila Odinga, ahead in the polls for president as the vote was nearing, could lose his own Langata parliamentary constituency (which under the existing system would disqualify him from becoming president even if he got the most votes nationally). This was “out of the blue” for me because I certainly was not aware of anyone who thought that. Odinga’s PNU opponent Stanley Livando had made a big splash and spent substantial money when he first announced his candidacy, but he had not seemed to get obvious traction in the race. Naturally, I wondered who the “people” Ranneberger was referring to were. Ranneberger said that a Raila loss in Langata would be “explosive” …..

The whole piece is here. Highly recommended.