Three Important Narratives Driving Kenya’s 2017 Presidential Election

I think it is safe to say that Kenya’s 2017 election is a lot more about 2022 than it is about deciding who will be Kenya’s president over the next five years. And for that we have to thank Deputy President William Ruto. In 2013 Ruto defied all odds and served as kingmaker for Uhuru Kenyatta. In exchange, Kenyatta promised to support his stab at the presidency in 2022, assuming Kenyatta wins reelection this August.

At the moment the odds are in favor of Kenyatta winning reelection, either fairly or unfairly.

rutoWhich makes a lot of the campaigning in this cycle about building alliances and potential national coalitions for Ruto’s 2022 stab at the presidency. To this end three important narratives are emerging that specifically relate to Ruto’s quest to be Kenya’s 5th president.

  1. Stop Raila Odinga at all costs: The only man standing between William Ruto and the presidency is Odinga. A surprise Odinga win this August would deal a serious blow to Ruto’s presidential ambitions. As I have noted before, Ruto’s political following has remained largely transactional, and dependent on the constant flow of resources. If out of power these resources would certainly dry. In addition, Ruto has only recently acquired enormous wealth, which means that he still lacks the deep rootedness among Kenya’s economic elite that would afford him protection like it has for the Moi, Kibaki, Odinga, and Kenyatta families. A double loss of political and economic power would be too steep a fall to recover from. If Odinga loses, that will certainly be the end of his political career and will provide a wide opening for Ruto to raid his vote-rich strongholds in preparation for future elections.
  2. Have a negotiation-proof Kenyatta succession plan: It is common knowledge that Kenyatta’s promise to back Ruto in 2022 is not credible. Whatever his personal commitments to Ruto, Kenyatta’s political base will be independent enough to back candidates of their own choice in 2022. And as a former president, Kenyatta will have no power to compel political and economic elites to back the candidate of his choice. Which is why Ruto has sought to cement the credibility of Kenyatta’s promise by building a strong political party in Jubilee Party. JP is supposed to tie Kenyatta’s hands by coupling the political destinies of the Ruto and Kenyatta wings of the ruling coalition in both 2017 and 2022. If this scheme succeeds, the de facto party leader (i.e. Ruto) will have an enormous upper hand in influencing the public political behavior of elites allied to Kenyatta in 2022, perhaps enough to keep them faithful to Kenyatta’s public commitments. If this sounds familiar it is because a variant of this has been done before, by Moi through KANU following the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.
  3.  Consolidate the Rift Valley vote: Ruto is no Moi, yet. Which means that he will continue to struggle to cement the Rift Valley vote, especially this year. Isaac Ruto might surprise him in Bomet (and parts of Kericho). And in the future Gideon Moi will certainly make a run for Elgeyo Marakwet, in addition to Baringo and Nakuru (and the wider Rift vote). All to say that, as a politician, Ruto is at once extremely powerful and vulnerable. He is powerful on account of being Deputy President with seemingly unlimited access to state resources. But he is also incredibly vulnerable, especially because his own backyard is littered with people who would soon see him tossed into the dustbin of history. In this sense he is no Kenyatta or Odinga, both of whom enjoy near-fanatical support in their respective bases and do not have any serious elite challengers.

All this to say that Deputy President William Ruto probably has the most to lose in this August’s presidential election. Which probably means that he will also work the hardest of any of the leading national politicians this cycle. And work hard he will, being one of the most electrifying national politicians on the stump (perhaps second only to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho). This, of course, is good news for the incumbent Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta’s reelection prospects.

Do you need a reason to visit Kenya?

Kenya’s economy is growing at 5.9%. It is a frontier economy of 46 million with lots of opportunities for investment in sectors as diverse as tech, infrastructure, agribusiness, and light manufacturing. Kenya is also a gateway to the wider Eastern Africa region, with a market of about 120 million.

But if you are not a potential investor and just want to visit, here are some pictures to help you along…

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg visited Nairobi this week for business. He also found time to visit Lake Naivasha, a quick two hour “safari lite” destination to the northwest of Nairobi. The best thing about Nairobi is that it is the only city in the world with a national park (not a zoo) within city limits. Zuckerberg could have gone for a game drive in Nairobi, if he wanted to. The pictures were posted on Zuckerberg’s Facebook account.

Now go ahead and book those tickets.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.46.04 PM

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.

 

The ICC’s case against Uhuru Kenyatta

Following the collapse of the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda made public her case against Mr. Kenyatta for his alleged role in the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya. More than 1300 people died and 300,000 were displaced.

You can find the public [redacted] version of the prosecution pre-trial brief here.

UPDATE: And here is the defence’s response.

We Must Free Our Imaginations — Binyavanga Wainaina

A great thinker. A great artist. A great Kenyan.

Part One (see also Parts Two, Three, Four, Five and Six)

[youtube.com/watch?v=8uMwppw5AgU]

Joyce Nyairo of the Daily Nation has written a stinging critique of Binyavanga’s short documentary. Nyairo takes umbrage at Binyavanga’s bashing of Pentecostals and giving a dumbed down, even simplistic, account of Kenyan history over the Moi years. 

The ultimate tragedy of Binyavanga’s documentary is the ease with which he slides into a diatribe against Pentecostals — as if homosexuality can only be popularised by bashing something or someone else’s conformity…..

Each one of the titles of this six part “documentary” is a quote from Binyavanga’s long and frighteningly convoluted tirade against the hypocrisies of Africa’s discourse on homosexuality.

The quotes are as clever as they are memorable. But they represent isolated flashes of brilliance in a text that is neither articulate nor lucid. Binyavanga struggles too hard to be profound, repetitively swinging from mimicry and lazy stereotyping to banal imagery that does nothing to enlighten. His style is unworthy, an injustice to his subject.

I think Nyairo has missed the point of this short “tirade” by miles. The style of delivery and everything about this documentary show that Binyavanga’s intended audience is not the class of Kenyans who go to Blankets & Wine. He is not trying to preach to the choir – most upper middle class Kenyans already have liberal views on homosexuality and those that don’t often have to hide them behind their middle class civility. Neither is he trying to engage in an enlightened rebuttal of the claim that homosexuality is “un-African.” No. What Binyavanga is trying to do is to take the conversation to the streets, and the homes of regular Kenyans. He is aiming at the middle middle class and lower. Binyavanga knows that this is the demographic that will matter the most in changing Kenya, whether it is economically or in the further expansion of human rights.

Yes, Binyavanga has hoisted up the Pentecostal movement as his ultimate straw man. But that’s just in reaction to the hijacking of the conversation on homosexuality in Africa by religious moralists. It is hard to see how one can have an open conversation about homosexuality in Kenya today without addressing the question of sin and hell and Sodom and Gomorrah. This precedes even the macho talk of “natural African” (read heterosexual male) and “un-African” sexual habits. The language of “rights” alone will simply not fly, and when attempted will most likely result in an ugly backlash. This is what Binyavanga is speaking to.

Justice, the ICC and Kenyan Politics

A panel of judges at the ICC will issue their ruling tomorrow afternoon on whether or not six accused Kenyans will stand trial. The six include two declared presidential candidates. Either way the ruling will have a non-trivial impact on the pursuit of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post-election violence (PEV). It will also significantly shape the politics of coalition building in this year’s general elections.

Because of the ICC process, the Kenyan justice system has put on ice its own process of holding the perpetrators of the PEV to account. A non-confirmation of the charges against at least some of the six co-accused will add the 2007-08 PEV to the long list of crimes against Kenyans, many of which have been committed by the high and mighty, that have gone unpunished.

Justice is political. Therefore, there is no doubt that if the process of prosecuting the crimes committed in the PEV returns to Kenya none of the big fish will be held accountable. That is the sad truth.

This is why despite the noisy political environment, a majority of the PEV victims (and other Kenyans) still back the ICC process. At the very minimum they want justice to appear to be served.

At the moment the problem of justice remains a worry largely monopolized by the 300,000 or so Kenyans in IDP camps and the relatives of the over 1,300 who were killed. [The media and the political class are squarely to blame for this shameful situation.] For the rest of the country, focus has shifted to the politics of the general elections due later this year. To this we now turn.

Two of the accused, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta have declared their interest in the presidency. Mr. Kenyatta is currently the second most preferred presidential candidate after Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Mr. Ruto, while not as popular nationally, still commands a sizeable chunk of the votes in the country’s most populous province – the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley has also been the hotbed of political violence in country’s history, most of it over land.

A confirmation of the charges will seriously dent the presidential ambitions of Messrs Ruto and Kenyatta. It will make it harder for either of them to sell their candidacy outside of their immediate ethnic constituency. It will also give their opponents (and there are plenty) an opportunity to hold themselves as the clean candidates that ought to succeed Kibaki. Needless to say, a non-confirmation would bolster the duo’s campaigns. What will this mean for the general election?

It is common knowledge that the man to beat in the 2012 election will be Mr. Odinga. The two scenarios above will impact the outcome of the election mainly through their influence on the coalition building abilities of the anti-Odinga crowd.

More on this tomorrow in reaction to the ICC ruling.

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.

icc finds six kenyans culpable for ethnic violence

The ICC has ruled that six prominent Kenyans have a case to answer for the murder of 1300 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands in the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya.

The spotlight is now on President Kibaki. About two of the president’s closest allies – Finance Minister Uhuru and head of civil service Muthaura – a local daily opines:

Retaining them in Government will send a signal to the ICC and the world that Kenya is not ready to co-operate and is a hostile State, putting it at par with Sudan, which has refused to hand over President Al-Bashir who is charged with crimes against humanity over Darfur.

More on the political reaction to this soon.

In related news, I am absolutely loving the wikileaks stuff on the drama that is Kenyan politics. Most politicians believe that Kalonzo is a janus-faced intellectual lightweight who pretends to love Jesus Christ. Raila is depicted as accessible but power-hungry and really bad at management. President Kibaki is sick, condones corruption and has been captured by vested interests in his inner circle. Ruto and Uhuru fret at the idea of taking all the blame for 2007-08. Uhuru Kenyatta is “lazy.”

This is valuable information, the effects of which will not be apparent any time soon. In the minds of Kenyans, a clearer image of these little men and women who parade as gods is slowly forming. It is only a matter of time before the myth of tribal loyalty is shattered and these tribal chiefs are seen for who they really are: a bunch of unprincipled and venal goons.


kenyan elites conspired to kill peasants in rift valley, and are getting away with it

President Kibaki’s embarrassment regarding the 2007-08 post-election violence continues. The latest information from wikileaks suggests that the top brass of the Kenyan military armed the proscribed group Mungiki which then went on to kill peasants in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. The outgoing US Ambassador detailed to Washington how co-ethnics of Mr. Kibaki tried to arm-twist the army into providing guns and aerial support to Mungiki in their campaigns against Kalenjins in the wider Nakuru area.

In light of this new information the natural question that follows is how much Mr. Kibaki knew. I find it hard to believe that he had no clue about this. I find it harder to stomach the fact that the President of Kenya may have Ok-ed a move by some of his lieutenants to murder innocent women and children simply because they spoke a different language.

Here is an excerpt from the Standard:

In the cables published on the wikileaks website, the envoy reported he received information retired military generals from Central and Rift Valley provinces were involved in organising militias that were meant to play a bigger role in the violence.

Ranneberger identified a former commandant of the National Defence College as the main player in the deadly plot. “At one time he put pressure on serving military generals to arm the outlawed Mungiki sect with G3 rifles, and also provide them with helicopter support,” read part of the cables.

In one cable titled ‘Kikuyus Not Afraid to Strike Back’ Ranneberger quoted sources claiming elements of the “Kikuyu-dominated Party of National Unity (PNU)” were backing the so-called “Forest Guard” militia, which included members of banned Mungiki sect.

“He (name withheld) has reportedly put pressure on the current Kenya Army Commander, Lieutenant General Augustine Njoroge to release G3 rifles and provide helicopter support to the Forest Guard,” read part of the cable.

Lt Gen Augustine Njoroge has since left the force and is now Kenya’s Ambassador to Israel. It is not clear if he executed orders from his superior.

The cable claimed the Lieutenant General in question was assisted in his efforts by a retired Brigadier General who was “acting as Chief of Staff for the effort”. The name of the former presidential aide-de-camp has also been withheld for legal reasons.

The ambassador further wrote Mungiki was receiving funding from two businessmen, one of them based in Muthaiga.