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 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.


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.

Thoughts on the Supreme Court’s Annulment of Kenyatta’s Reelection

When Raila Odinga and NASA rejected the outcome of the August 8th presidential election, they were alleging what sounded like a perfect conspiracy.

At the time, all the evidence I saw appeared to go against their claims. All the polls except one had Kenyatta in the lead; Kenyatta’s party had won handily in down ballot races, especially in crucial swing areas; and even a PVT appeared to support the IEBC’s results. Belief in these disparate data points was not necessarily a sign of naïveté, or a desire to sanitize blatant fraud.

But in NASA’s view, all this was part of a grand conspiracy. The Independent Boundaries and Election Commission (IEBC) and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaign had conspired to steal the election by hacking the results transmission system. In support of their claim they presented evidence of the near-consistency in the gap between Odinga and Kenyatta from the time polls closed to the time Kenyatta was announced the winner. This despite the fact that results were supposed to stream in randomly from polling stations to the national tallying centre. They alleged that Chris Msando, an IT specialist at the IEBC, was tortured and murdered ten days to the polls precisely to make this possible. They also claimed that IEBC’s results were not backed by Forms 34A, a statutory requirement under Kenya’s election laws; and that the IEBC violated the law by not following the procedures of announcing results set in law.

Kenyan election laws require presidential results to be announced at the constituency level. The IEBC is required by law to announce 290 separate results at constituency tallying centres based on Forms 34B, then tally the same to come up with the overall winner. The transmitted results in Forms 34A are supposed to match constituency results in Forms 34B. To rig the election, one has to make sure that the numbers matched on both forms — not an impossible task, but a difficult one to pull off.

Tampering with 40,000 Forms 34A and then making them match with 290 Forms 34B is not an easy task, or so one would think.

In a ruling that stunned the world, this morning the Supreme Court, in a 4-2 ruling, found enough evidence to support the claims by Raila Odinga and NASA, annulled the reelection of Uhuru Kenyatta on August 8th, and ordered a fresh presidential election within 60 days.

Two justices, Jackton Ojwang’ and Njoki Ndungu, voted against the finding. Justice Mohammed Ibrahim was unwell and missed the vote. Justices in the majority were David Maraga (Chief Justice), Philomena Mwilu (Deputy Chief Justice), Smokin Wanjala, and Isaac Lenaola.

I am yet to see the text of the ruling, but the Court decided to focus on procedural matters and not the actual tampering with results. In the justices’ view, the IEBC failed to adhere to the Constitution and Kenya’s election laws in the conduct of the presidential election. The ruling is an affirmation of procedural conformity as the ultimate test of the credibility of presidential elections in Kenya.

But courts are not entirely apolitical. From a political perspective, it is obvious that a procedural deviation was not the only factor that compelled 4/6 justices to annul the election. On explicitly political matters, courts tend to defer to politicians in Kenya. In 2013 the Supreme Court upheld the election of Kenyatta. But this time round the justices looked into the IEBC’s backroom and did not like what they saw.

The effects of this ruling will reverberate for years to come. Here are some initial thoughts.

  1. This is a powerful political vindication of Raila Odinga: His claims of having been robbed in 2007, 2013, and 2017 had cast him as a perennial sore loser (I believe he was most certainly robbed in 2007). This ruling adds credence to his claims. After today Odinga’s legacy as the father of Kenyan democracy is secured.
  2. Kenyatta is probably still a favorite in the re-run: Odinga’s turnout issues will not simply vanish with this court ruling. Furthermore, Jubilee will most certainly use its team of elected officials to drum up support for the president. The power of incumbency will be in full force (notice that the Supreme Court found no wrongdoing on the part of Kenyatta, despite clear involvement in public officials and use of public resources in his campaign). Kenyans are about to be treated to a most grueling political fight over the next 60 days. I cannot wait for the next opinion poll.
  3. This is a big win for Kenyan institutions and political development: It is fair to say that not many people predicted this outcome. While the Supreme Court was under pressure from both NASA and Jubilee, it was also faced with the fact that its decision would have long-lasting ramifications for Kenyan jurisprudence. The fact that they were able to issue a brave ruling confirms the independence of the Kenyan judiciary and the continued institutionalization of rule of law in the Jamuhuri.
  4. It is up in the air whether Kenya will indeed have elections in 60 days: Odinga will certainly demand for changes at the IEBC before he can take part in any poll. Kenyatta will want to get this over with within the time stipulated by the constitution. Kenyatta has the institutional and constitutional upper hand — he has majorities in the National Assembly and the Senate. But Odinga has the moral upper hand. He will likely summon his supporters to the streets, if need be, to force changes at IEBC — just like he did in 2016. The current IEBC leadership has already indicated that they are not going to resign, despite the stinging indictment from the Supreme Court.
  5. I am curious to see if there will be any shifts in alliances at the elite level: On the one hand, Kenyatta is the incumbent, and has the upper hand in securing support from key elites. At the same time, however, if the outcome of the re-run is sufficiently unclear, elites may have reason to believe that Kenyatta cannot win a credible election. In this case the rational thing to do would be to bandwagon with Odinga. Odinga’s elite base outside of his core support is composed of diehards. Kenyatta’s base outside of Central Kenya is more transactional. Expect to see a lot of public elite endorsements of either Kenyatta or Odinga over the next 60 days. As Kenyans say, money will be poured.
  6. This is egg in the face of election observers: Peaceful voting and counting of votes should not be the only tests of an election’s credibility. Observers must signal their willingness to call out any and all deviations from established statutory processes. This is the only way to tie the hands of relevant political actors and to enhance the signal to noise ratio of information coming from observer reports.
  7. All Kenyans of good will and friends of Kenya should work to consolidate the gains made today: Kenyan electoral laws are pretty elaborate. If enforced, and backed by technology, they can deliver a credible poll. The goal should be to tie the hands of the IEBC to ensure that the voting, the counting, and the transmission of results stick to statutory procedures. Kenyans will respect the outcome if the process is (and appears to be) transparent.




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.


Three Known Unknowns Ahead of Kenya’s Presidential Election Tomorrow

Here are three factors that could potential lead to a surprise outcome in Kenya’s presidential election tomorrow.

1. Turnout: To be honest, we don’t really know what to expect with regard to turnout figures tomorrow. As Charles Hornsby notes here:

For some time I have been wrestling with an ethical problem. Reviewing the 2013 turnouts, in comparison with that from previous national elections since 2002, it became clear with the benefit of hindsight that turnouts were implausibly high not just in Luo Nyanza and Central Province, but in many other places…….. The size and scale gap between 2013 and every other election for the past 15 years is hard to explain.

In other words, there is good reason to believe that the 2013 turnout figures were artificially high.

The use of technology and a raft of reforms, including the planned announcement of results at the constituency-level, are supposed to minimize opportunities for political parties to gin up turnout in friendly areas this time round. If these safeguards work, we will all be flying blind with regard to our turnout-based predictions of the final outcome in the presidential election. All I can say for now is that Kenyatta has a structural advantage over Odinga on likely turnout, but that if Odinga matches Kenyatta on turnout (especially in Coast and Western regions) he will most likely become Kenya’s fifth president.

2. Technology: The Kenyan public’s perception of the integrity of the polls will crucially hinge on how well the IEBC’s Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) is judged to work. Kenya is holding one of the most expensive elections in the world (judged by cost per vote). And the use of expensive technology has been touted as a way of minimizing human discretion and, therefore, opportunities for vote rigging. But technology only works as well as humans allow it to. And sometimes stuff hits the fan. In addition, the IEBC only partially tested its results transmission system. Which means that there will most likely be hiccups in the data transmission process from the country’s 40,883 polling stations. Widespread technological failures will tarnish the integrity of the outcome, and could be a catalyst for political instability. 

3. The accuracy of opinion polls: Throughout this cycle, all polls except one have shown Kenyatta to be ahead of Odinga. In the recent past the polls have certainly tightened, with Kenyatta leading Odinga by 3 percentage points or less. But what if the polls are wrong? In 2013 they underestimated Kenyatta’s support by about 2 percentage points, on average. The same inherent bias may be at play this year, or it could be reversed. One important factor to look out for will be the effect of local gubernatorial races on the presidential race. For instance, the outcomes of local contests in counties like Machakos, Bomet, Narok, Meru, and Bungoma will likely have non-trivial effects on the presidential race in the same counties. Yet throughout this cycle there has been very little effort to calibrate the national polls using information from the state of county contests. And so while I believe that existing opinion polls give a fairly accurate depiction of the state of the race, only the final vote counts will tell.





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%.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 8.08.46 AM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 8.03.45 AMScreen Shot 2017-08-02 at 7.59.37 AM

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


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.

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.