Elections 2017: David Ndii makes a rather weak case for new wine in old wineskins

This is from the Daily Nation:

The idea that political alternative necessarily means different or new people is a fallacy.

One of the most bizarre moments in my political life was walking into the Serena Hotel’s ballroom for a cocktail to celebrate the formation of Narc, and scanning the room to see Kanu stalwarts George Saitoti, Joseph Kamotho and William Ntimama mingling and laughing heartily with their erstwhile mortal political enemies.

It was the strangest and most confusing feeling.

I stayed only a few minutes and went home quite depressed.

I had the privilege of working with Saitoti thereafter and I have to say he turned out to be one of the most committed and progressive ministers in the Narc government.

“If the opposition is not an alternative” had obtained in 2002, Narc could not have been an alternative to Kanu because even its presidential candidate was a long time Kanu stalwart who once compared felling Kanu with trying to cut down a mugumo tree with a razor blade.

Yet it is undeniable that Narc’s election was a watershed in our political history.

More fundamentally, the narrative glosses over the fact that we have a very clearly defined ideological cleavage in this country that goes back to the Kanu-KPU fallout shortly after independence.

Opposition in Kenya means opposing the Kanu establishment. It means standing up for political equality and social justice.

I am not convinced. For two reasons.

First, I have always found issue with depictions of Uhuru Kenyatta as a latter day Moi (or wannabe dictator). He is not. In my view Kenyatta is simply a poor administrator with a thin skin and lots of sycophantic lieutenants (not to mention a very ambitious deputy). Combine these together and you get lots of failures at different nodes of the administration; and lots and lots of stealing (the definition of a common-pool problem). Is Kenyatta himself corrupt? Perhaps. Does he have a masterplan for taking us back to the baba na mama era? I doubt it.

This doesn’t absolve Kenyatta of any of his failings highlighted by Ndii. It certainly sucks to live in a poor country on autopilot and with an “absentee-landlord” president. Rather, it’s a call for a proper diagnosis of the real causes of the failures of the Jubilee administration.

Second, the ideological commitments of members of the opposition are sketchy. When its leading lights were in government (briefly after 2003 and then after 2008) they did not behave any differently than the alleged Kanu Establishment (with the possible exception of Charity Ngilu). Just because Raila Odinga claims to be a social democrat doesn’t mean that we should believe him. His actual track record suggests that as president he would probably be somewhere between Jomo Kenyatta and Kibaki in style — able to delegate, primarily pro-business, big on elite-level ethnic regional balance, but also keen to use coercion when necessary (which is why I am always amused by Railaphobia scaremongering that depicts the man from Bondo as a rabid anti-wealth, pro-poor socialist. Look at the man’s record. He is no more pro-poor than is Kenyatta).

Musalia Mudavadi, who stands the best chance of beating Kenyatta this August atop a united opposition ticket, is essentially a scion of the Kanu Establishment.

Change for the sake of change is not always a good thing.

The case that an opposition government would be less corrupt, more competent in managing the economy, and more inclusive than Jubilee is fairly weak. After nearly fours years under the system of devolved government, the opposition’s record on actual policy performance is paper-thin. Their governance record is nothing to sing about. For instance, CORD controls the big urban counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had something to point to as evidence of their administrative and policy competence? Where does the opposition stand on agricultural policy? Health policy (do they even know that there is an ongoing doctors’ strike)? Education policy? Housing and land policy?

Can we really say with a straight face that the leadership of opposition counties have sought to channel Oginga Odinga, Kaggia, JM, Pinto, Murumbi, or Seroney in their policies? Does the Kenyan left even exist anymore among the political class?

The Jubilee government has failed on many fronts, and ought to face a strong challenge come August. But the Kenyan public shouldn’t be expected to hand the opposition the keys to State House simply because they are in the opposition. They must first show wananchi what is in it for them. They must demonstrate that they get the issues that affect the proverbial number of sufurias in Kenyan homes.

PS: This is not some starry-eyed case for a third force. Rather it is a call for more rigorous arguments for either reelecting Jubilee or voting for the opposition from their respective intellectual backers. I am a big believer in making do with the politicians we have.

PSS: It is sad that 2017 will not be about the counties. It ought to have been about the counties. And bringing government closer to wananchi.

Electoral Integrity Issues Ahead of Kenya’s General Election in August 2017

1. Raila Odinga won the 2007 presidential election, at least according to aggregate results from media houses. On a related note, President Kenyatta will most likely face a stiff challenge from a unified opposition, a fact that will put the integrity of the outcome in the August 8th presidential election front and center. Which is why it is a little scary that with just eight months left Kenyans are still fighting over the impartiality and preparedness of the country’s electoral management body, IEBC. It is also worth noting that there is a non-zero probability that Raila Odinga will not be on the ballot this August; and that this would do very little to reduce the likelihood of electoral violence if the polls lack integrity.

2. Kenyan governors have rejected the proposed manual backups for the electronic voter verification system in the August 8, 2017 General Election. This issue threatens to plunge the country into a period of heightened political tensions over the next several weeks, with the opposition having promised street demos if the government doesn’t soften its stance. There is still hope that cooler heads will prevail in the Senate and deliver a consensus outcome.

3. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is about to be reconstituted. Ethnic Regional balance issues remain. These are rather silly. Ezra Chiloba, the current IEBC CEO, is a very capable man and it would be a shame if he were to lose his job simply because of the lottery of birth.

4. KPMG will audit the voter register which currently has 15.85 million listed voters. Through a court challenge the opposition has temporarily stopped the award of the tender to KMPG. CORD is claiming that not enough stakeholders were involved in the tendering process. I suspect that the real reason is that CORD does not trust KPMG to do an honest job. It bears stating that private firms, including big-name multinationals, have historically not been above being compromised by sectional political interests in Kenya.

On a side note, most observers seem to think that the biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Raila Odinga. I disagree. The biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Deputy President William Ruto. Politically speaking, Ruto is between a rock and a hard place. He will wield immense political power, and have control over his political future, right up until the August 8th election is decided. Thereafter he will lose control over his political future.

If Kenyatta wins, he will immediately become a marked man. Five more years as number two will definitely grant him access to even greater financial resources and ability to bolster his political power. But it will also invite the envy of fellow elites wary of having to face a powerful and self-disciplined politician like only Ruto can be. In my view, Ruto has the potential to be Odinga and Moi rolled into one — i.e. fanatical mass support and incredible self-discipline and work ethic. Needless to say, this scares a lot of Kenya’s fat cats who’ve grown used to the absentee-landlord nightwatchman presidency of Kenyatta. There is also the small matter that Kenyatta’s base will likely not support Ruto in 2022 for this same reason.

If Kenyatta loses Ruto is toast. The music will stop. The cash spigot will be turned off. His ties to voters and grassroots leaders — which at the moment is almost purely transactional and dependent on incredible levels of personal generosity — will most certainly evaporate. His political base will likely be carved up by rivals, with Bomet’s Ruto and Gideon Moi hiving off their separate chunks for use as leverage for political favors and financial resources from Nairobi.

Ruto’s best chance at winning in 2022, IFF Kenyatta wins this year, is to convince Kenyatta to step down before his second term expires. That way Ruto can serve the remainder of Kenyatta’s term and run in 2022 as an unbeatable incumbent president. Show me a Kenyatta associate who would want to see this happen and I’ll show you a liar.

Of course there is also the possibility that Ruto looks down the game tree, does not like what he sees, and decides to make this year’s election a little more interesting than most people anticipate.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts on the Okoa Kenya campaign to amend Kenya’s Constitution

I just posted a piece over at ConstitutionNet on the politics of popular constitutional amendment provisions, with Kenya as an illustrative case.

The Kenyan Constitution allows for popular (extra-legislative) amendment initiatives, as long as the petitioner can collect at least one million signatures. The Okoa Kenya campaign is one such initiative, but driven primarily by the main opposition alliance, CORD. In the piece I seek to answer two key questions:

…….. (i) how do constitutional popular amendment provisions impact institutional stability?; And (ii) can such provisions maintain their legitimacy when captured by mainstream political parties already represented in key state institutions?

The answers to the first question speak to the dangers of populism. Democratic stability necessarily requires institutional barriers to regular changes of the basic rules of the game (i.e. constitutions), as well as checks on populism. Therefore, by exposing constitutional changes to “every-day politics”, extra-legislative origination of constitutional amendments (under ordinary circumstances) may pose a risk to the very foundations of democratic stability.

The answers to the second question speak to the original intent of popular amendment provisions. Given their extra-legislative character and the notion that they are supposed to preserve popular sovereignty, it is unclear whether popular amendment provisions maintain their integrity when captured by mainstream political parties that are supposed to operate within the legislature. In other words, the potential exploitation of such provisions to circumvent the outcomes of legislative elections may derogate the electoral process itself. Elections should have consequences for both the ruling and opposition parties.

More on this here.

Thoughts on the Uhuru Kenyatta Administration in 2016

This is from Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, addressing the president:

We acknowledge the fact that it has been a tough year for leaders across the world — what with global economic upheavals and terrorists wreaking havoc everywhere.

However, we reject the almost criminal resignation and negligence with which your government has responded to our national crises this past year. We need not recount the number of lives lost, the losses incurred by businesses and opportunities wasted for millions of Kenyans due to the incompetence of the Executive.

With the exception of a few family businesses and tenderpreneurs who raked in billions of shillings — thanks largely to political patronage — everyone is losing money in this country.

More on this here. Read the whole thing.

This is pretty direct, and articulates a narrative of the middle class’ general dissatisfaction with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration.

It will also have very little political impact.

First, the Kenyan middle class (the primary audience of the Nation) is tiny. Second, the same middle class is as much a hostage of identity politics as is the rest of the country (this is true of even for the Nation‘s editorial team) — and on this score Kenya’s demographic profile favors Mr. Kenyatta in the next election scheduled for August next year (All indications suggest that a breakup of the Jubilee Alliance ahead of 2017 is a low probability event). Third, there still exists a wide chasm between the middle and upper middle classes and the vast majority of working class and rural Kenyans (with the former group perpetually wondering why the latter group doesn’t vote for its interests). This is why identity politics continue to dominate even cosmopolitan counties like Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, and Mombasa.

That said, here are some quick thoughts on the Jubilee Administration as it enters its fourth year:

  1. President Uhuru Kenyatta is a politician: That means that he will invariably only take action that is consistent with his perceived political interests — getting reelected in 2017; keeping his political lieutenants and the wider Jubilee coalition happy; taking care of his core base; et cetera. Reformists who imagine that the president can operate outside of Kenya’s political system are bound to be disappointed. And those who equate Uhuru Kenyatta to Daniel arap Moi are missing the point by miles. Moi micro-managed. Kenyatta II delegates (Kibaki and Kenyatta I delegated, but with relatively better monitoring).
  2. The Kenyatta Administration’s biggest problem is too much delegation without sufficient monitoring: Much of the criticism of the Administration tends to be packaged in the language of “political will” — if only Kenyatta REALLY wanted to change things. The truth, however, is that the president faces both political and organizational obstacles to reform. Administrators continue to stonewall reform at will; and the administration remains too top heavy for its own good. What needs to happen is a radical restructuring to empower the equivalent of “mid-level managers” in the Civil Service. This should be accompanied by a shift from an internal police patrol system of monitoring (characterized by an extreme form of siege mentality) to a fire alarm system — Civil Servants should be judged by what the public thinks of their work. And those found wanting should be fired. Incentives matter. Focusing on these administrative and organizational reform agendas, rather than the politics of “political will” might be more amenable to the president (see 1 above) and could yield good results — especially if they come with sufficient political cover for the president.
  3. State House is not focused on any key signature policies: Most governments tend to be judged by a few signature achievements. President Kibaki will forever be remembered as Mr Infrastructure. Thus far Mr. Kenyatta has not staked his legacy on any pet projects or policies — most of the big investments he has made (in rail, roads, and power) are on Kibaki legacy projects. This makes it very hard for him to sell any “successes.” Back in 2013 I proposed housing, agriculture, and education as possible areas in which the president could make significant improvements while building on Kibaki’s legacy. The lack of focus at State House creates the impression of an administration that dabbles in everything but closes on nothing. It also allows Civil Servants to shirk a lot. They are doing everything, but have nothing to show for it. The president would be better served if he told his staff that he will no longer show up at the launching of anything, and instead will only be available for commissioning of fished projects. Incentives matter.
  4. Perception is everything in politics: Narratives matter in politics. They also tend to be sticky and self-fulfilling. It is going to be hard for the president to sell his successes — including in energy and electricity access and continued investment in Kibaki legacy projects — if the public is convinced that his administration is failing on every front.
  5. What is William Ruto’s strategy? President Kenyatta has had a rough three years. By his own admission the war on corruption and malaise in the public service has proven to be a lot harder than he imagined it to be. But he is a Kenyatta, and will most likely be reelected next August. Ruto, the Deputy President, hopes to succeed Kenyatta in 2022. However, Ruto’s electoral success will hinge on the Administration’s performance over the next seven years. Also, Vice Presidents typically take the fall for the boss if things go wrong. It is not clear to me how Ruto would be a successful candidate in 2022 if the Kenyatta II era is judged to have been a failure (especially since it will be judged against the Kibaki era). Given this reality one would expect Ruto to do his all to make the administration work for Kenyans, instead of relying solely on patronage. Kenya has changed a lot since 2010; and will have changed even more by 2022. Performance will matter a lot more then that it does now, even for rural Kenyans. I am constantly surprised that this fact does not seem to bother the man from Eldoret.
  6. What to look for in 2016: The management of Kenya’s public debt (which will impact movements in domestic interest rates, with knock on effects on growth); continued investment in key infrastructure, including transportation and power generation (by year end nearly all primary schools in the country will be on the grid, a pretty big deal); a rebound in tourism (he has his faults, but CS Najib Balala is probably the best man for the job at tourism); and continued growth in construction (which grew by 14.1% in Q3 of 2015). I remain cautiously optimistic about the handling of monetary policy. The Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Patrick Njoroge, is probably the most respected technocrat in the country.

Historically, growth in the Kenyan economy tends to slow down by about 0.5 percentage points during election years. This time is probably not going to be different. That said, I expect the economy to remain on a positive growth trajectory (above 5% growth p.a.) going into 2017.

On the political front, the role of the Governors of Kenya’s 47 counties will the biggest wildcard. Many of these mini-presidents have amassed financial war chests and created networks that will prove consequential in 2017. True to Kenyan form, a number of them are already founding their own parties (the true District Parties are back, with cash). The balancing effects of governors (vis-a-vis established national politicians) creates a reality in which no one is fully “in charge” in the Jamuhuri, a fact that comes with all sorts of frustrations and fears. But sometimes that is a good thing. Especially when Kenyans and their indefatigable biashara habits are involved.

Lastly, expect to see more hard-hitting criticism of Mr. Kenyatta in the Kenyan press in 2016, much of it inspired by Kenya’s deep-seated Tanzania envy. If Tanzanian president John Magufuli maintains his reformist zeal there will be a lot of pressure on Mr. Kenyatta (#WhatWouldMagufuliDo?). Very few Kenyans will care to remember that the two presidents serve under two completely different constitutional and party regimes.

Happy New Year!

Kenya: Five Things About Al-Shabaab and the Somalia Question

Early Thursday morning militants from the al-Shabaab terror group stormed Garissa University College in Kenya and killed at least 147 students. The second worst terror attack in Kenya’s history lasted 13 hours and was made excruciatingly horrific by the fact that many of the victims remained in communication with their loved ones until the very last moments. Unbearable images of young students laying dead in their own pools of blood in classrooms will forever be etched in Kenyans’ memories. The attack echoed the September 21, 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack that killed 67 people. After Westgate many Somalia analysts insisted that such daring missions were the kicks of a dying horse, and cited successes by AMISOM and AFRICOM in taking back territory from al-Shabaab and decapitating the organization through drone strikes against it leadership.

Following Garissa, it might be time to reconsider this persistent narrative and overall Somalia policy in the Eastern African region. Here are my thoughts:

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.51.35 AM1. Regional powers do not want a powerful central government in Mogadishu: Since independence several governments in Somalia have espoused a dream of re-uniting all the Somali lands and peoples in eastern Africa (under “Greater Somalia,” see map). That includes parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and more recently the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland. A strong central government in Mogadishu would most certainly revive this old irredentist dream, despite the fact that the irredentist dreams of Somalia’s pre-Barre governments and the costly wars with Ethiopia (and proxy wars with Kenya as well thereafter) were the beginning of the end of stability in Somalia. Nairobi and Addis are acutely aware of this and that is part of the reason Kenya has for years maintained a policy of creating an autonomous buffer region in southern Somalia – Jubaland. The problem, however, is that a weak Mogadishu also means diffused coercive capacity and inability to fight off breakaway clans, militias, and terror groups like al-Shabaab.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Ethiopia and Kenya do not see eye to eye on the question of Jubaland. Addis Ababa is worried that a government in Jubaland dominated by the Ogaden clan could potentially empower the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist Somali insurgent group it has fought in its southeastern Ogaden Region.

2. The African Union and its regional partners do not have a coherent game plan for Somalia: To a large extent, African governments fighting under AMISOM are merely carrying water for Western governments fighting jihadist elements in Somalia. The West pays and provides material and tactical support; and the West calls the shots. Ethiopia and Kenya have some room to maneuver, but overall policy is driven by AFRICOM and the Europeans. The lack of local ownership means that African troops, especially the Kenyan and Ugandan contingents, are in the fight primarily for the money. Kenyan generals are making money selling charcoal and smuggling sugar (the UN estimates that al-Shabaab gets between US $38-56m annually from taxing the charcoal trade). The Ugandans are making money with private security contracts dished out to firms with close ties to Museveni’s brother. Only the Ethiopians appear to have a clear policy, on top of the general international goal of neutralizing al-Shabaab so that they do not attack Western targets.

What kind of settlement does Kenya (and Ethiopia) want to see in Somalia? (See above). What does the West want? What do Somalis want? Are these goals compatible in the long run?

3. The internationalization of the al-Shabaab menace is a problem: Western assistance in fighting al-Shabaab and stabilizing Somalia is obviously a good thing. But it should never have come at the cost of unnecessary internationalization of the conflict. Al-Shabaab has been able to get extra-Somalia assistance partly because it fashions itself as part of the global jihad against the kafir West and their African allies. Internationalization of the conflict has also allowed it to come up with an ideology that has enabled it to somehow overcome Somalia’s infamous clannish fractionalization (although elements of this still persist within the organization). Localizing the conflict would dent the group’s global appeal while at the same time providing opportunities for local solutions, including a non-military settlement. AMISOM and the West cannot simply bomb the group out of existence.

4. Kenya is the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the three key countries engaged in Somalia (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda), Kenya is the least militarized. It is also, perhaps, the least disciplined. According to the UN, Kenyan troops are engaging in illegal activities that are filling the coffers of al-Shabaab militants (charcoal worth at least $250 million was shipped out of Somalia in the last two years). Back home, Nairobi has allowed its Somalia policy to be captured by a section of Somali elites that have other agendas at variance with overall national policy. The Kenya Defense Force (KDF) risks becoming a mere pawn in the clannish struggles that straddle the Kenya-Somalia border. It is high time Nairobi reconsidered its Somalia policy with a view of decoupling it from the sectional fights in Northeastern Province. The first step should be to make the border with Somalia real by fixing customs and border patrol agencies; and by reining in sections of Somali elites who continue to engage in costly fights at the expense of ordinary wananchi. The government should adopt a strict policy of not taking sides in these fights, and strictly enforce this policy at the County level.

5. Kenya will continue to be the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the countries in Somalia Kenya is the only democracy with a government that is nominally accountable to its population and an armed force with a civilian leadership. This means that:

(i) Generals can run rings around State House and its securocrats: Unlike their counterparts in Uganda and Ethiopia, the Kenyan generals do not have incentives to internalize the costs of the war in Somalia. The cost is mostly borne by the civilian leadership. They are therefore likely to suggest policies that primarily benefit the institution of the military, which at times may not be in the best interest of the nation. And the civilian leadership, lacking expertise in military affairs, is likely to defer to the men in uniform. The result is makaa-sukari and other glaring failures.

(ii) Kenyan internal security policies are subject to politicization: With every al-Shabaab attack (so far more than 360 people have been killed) Kenyans have wondered why Ethiopia, which is also in Somalia and has a large Somali population, has remained relatively safe. My guess is that Ethiopia has done better in thwarting attacks because it has a coherent domestic security policy backed by unchecked coercion and surveillance of potential points of al-Shabaab entry among its Somali population.

Now, Kenya should not emulate Ethiopia’s heavy-handed tactics. Instead, focus should be on an honest assessment of how internal security policies in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Kwale, Kilifi, Mombasa, Nairobi, and elsewhere are playing into the hands of al-Shabaab. What is the best way to secure the “front-line” counties that border Somalia? What is the role of local leaders in ensuring that local cleavages and conflicts are not exploited by al-Shabaab? How should the security sector (Police and KDF) be reformed to align its goals with the national interest? What is the overarching goal of the KDF in Somalia and how long will it take to achieve that goal? How is the government counteracting domestic radicalization and recruitment of young Kenyan men and women by al-Shabaab?

These questions do not have easy answers. But Kenyans must try. The reflexive use of curfews and emergency laws, and the blunt collective victimization of communities suspected to be al-Shabaab sympathizers will not work.

I do not envy President Uhuru Kenyatta: Withdrawing from Somalia will not secure the homeland. Staying the course will likely not yield desired results given the rot in KDF and the internal politics of northeastern Kenya. Reforming the police and overall security apparatus comes with enormous political costs. A recent shake up of security chiefs and rumors of an impending cabinet reshuffle are signs that Kenyatta has realized the enormity of the insecurity situation in the country (and overall government ineffectiveness due to corruption). But will Kenyans be patient and give him the benefit of the doubt? Will the president be able to channel his laudable nationalist instincts in galvanizing the nation in the face of seemingly insurmountable security threats and ever more corrupt government officials?

Meanwhile 2017 is approaching fast, and if the situation doesn’t change Mr. Kenyatta might not be able to shrug off the title of “Goodluck Jonathan of the East.”

For the sake of Kenyan lives and the Jamuhuri, nakutakia kila la heri Bwana Rais.

Graph of the week

Over the last two decades there has been a remarkable shift in the composition of domestic government debt in Kenya, with long-term debt instruments (bonds) increasingly preferred to short-term debt (T-Bills).

The financial market in Nairobi is telling us a thing or two about creditors’ perceived time horizon of the Kenyan government; and Treasury’s capacity for credible commitment.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 8.46.08 AM

Source: The World Bank

For curious readers, I would argue that the explanation for this structural change (especially after 2003) is more Stasavage than North and Weingast.

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.

Most read posts in 2014

Here are the top posts in 2014

1. Corruption under apartheid South Africa: This post was top partly because of the 2014 South African elections. More on the legacies of apartheid era corruption and rent-seeking in South Africa here.

2. Kenya Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014: This bill (now an Act of Parliament) is further evidence of Uhuru Kenyatta’s autocratic tendencies. I personally don’t think that he is an incarnation of Moi or other dictators of years gone. Rather, Mr. Kenyatta is a poor administrator who likes taking shortcuts to get quick results. As I argued in a related post, the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014 could potentially severely limit civil liberties in Kenya.

3. Did European Colonialism Benefit Africans? The popularity of this post is perhaps a reminder that more research is needed on the long-run effects of colonialism not just in Africa but in other formerly colonized places as well. So far all the literature tells us is that colonialism was bad, but that the Western institutions that Europeans spread around the globe are good. More recently we’ve seen evidence that pre-colonial institutions in the colonies were pretty resilient in the face of colonial intrusion; and have had lasting effects (also remember that the duration and intensity of colonialism varied widely across the globe). One avenue of research that I have been exploring is how pre-colonial institutions interacted with colonial administrations, and how this shaped the institutions that emerged out of the independence wave of the early 1960s. More on this in the new year.

4. Why Raila Odinga Lost: A sizable proportion of Kenyans still believe that Odinga was robbed in the March 2013 election in Kenya. I disagree. In my own projections on this blog – merging disaggregated opinion polls with historical district turnout rates (perks of having a case with tight ethnic voting) – I found Mr. Kenyatta to be ahead of Mr. Odinga by about 740,000 votes, or 7.2 percentage points (which was close to the final official figure of 6.7% difference between the two).

I don’t think that Kenyatta won in the first round, but do believe that we would have trounced Odinga in a runoff anyway. Which is why I have never come to terms with the unanimous Supreme Court decision granting Kenyatta victory on the basis of less than 9000 votes out of 12.3 million cast.

5. Understanding Uganda’s Military Adventurism Under Museveni: General President Museveni has managed to create an image of himself as the anti-terror hatchet man in the wider horn of Africa region. Ugandan troops are the backbone of the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Since his triumphant entry into Kampala in 1986 Museveni has also been involved in conflicts in Rwanda, the DRC, Sudan, C.A.R, and more recently South Sudan. Because of the degree of militarization of the Ugandan state and recent public displays of intra-elite friction, I think Uganda will continue to inch up in the coup sweepstakes ahead of the 2016 election.

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

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Financial Times reporting on the creation of the Kenya Colony

Kenya is 50 today. Or 93 if you take the Order in Council of July 1920 creating the Kenya Colony to be the founding instance of the geographical entity that became Kenya (well, most of its land anyway. The coastal strip was then still a property of the Sultan of Zanzibar). I would actually suggest a different date, 1907, to be the instance when the Kenyan state opened shop. This is when the first rudimentary legislature was established (in Nairobi) within the East African Protectorate, thereby enabling settlers, and by extension indigenous Kenyans, a little more say on government policy. Yes, you are very right in thinking that this view has nothing to do with the fact that I am writing my dissertation on African legislatures.

Direct representation came in 1944 with Eliud Mathu, but settler demands brought to the fore issues of the welfare of indigenous Kenyans as well. It was unlike the IBEAC days when the locals had almost no say at all. Speaking of the IBEAC, you could make the argument that Kenya is actually 118 – going by the date, 1895, when IBEAC officially handed over the managed of British East Africa to the Foreign Office.

Anyway, since much of the period between 1895 and 1963 was marked by the exclusion of the vast majority of indigenous Kenyans form the political process let’s take 1963 as the starting point. However, the significance of the other dates shouldn’t be lost on us. Kenyan history did not begin in 1895 or at midnight on December 12th 1963. This account will be brief. Feel free to add to it in the comments section.

Independence in 1963 came on the heels of a brief period of partial self-government. Official history taught in schools puts President Jomo Kenyatta as the first indigenous leader of government. Most Kenyans don’t know that Ronald Ngala was official leader of government business in the LEGCO and even became Chief Minister. At the time Kenyatta was in prison, KANU had just won elections but refused to form a government until Kenyatta was released from prison. Back in 1958 Jaramogi Oginga Odinga had adamantly insisted in the LEGCO that “Kenyatta Tosha” [my own rendition] and that a precondition for independence and self government was the release of Kenyatta from prison.

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Kenyatta with Odinga and Mboya

When Kenyatta was released from prison he found two dominant parties, KADU and KANU. Both tried to persuade him to be their chairman since it was clear that whoever had Kenyatta on their side would win the independence elections (Daniel arap Moi, a KADU man, had even visited Kenyatta in Kapenguria). Because of interests (especially around land; KADU was then perceived as a tool of the settler community) and historical reasons (James Gichuru, a KAU man, was a founder member of KANU) Kenyatta chose KANU over KADU. At independence he inherited a state that was dominated by the Civil Service and Provincial Administration. Kenyatta kept this intact. Sons of collaborators who hunted down the Mau Mau inherited the colonial state. Unlike in many African countries where independence brought about a steep discontinuity – think about Guinea, for instance – in Kenya there was a good amount of continuity.

It was almost as if the Ashanti aristocracy and colonial era collaborators had inherited the reigns of power in the Gold Coast in 1957 and not the outsider mass mobilizer, Kwame Nkrumah; Or the Kabaka, instead of Obote, had inherited power in Uganda in 1962.

The nature of colonial transition explains Kenya’s political stability and reasonable economic success since independence (at least compared to its African peers). It is Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest non-mineral economy and has never experienced a successful military coup (though attempts were made in 1971 and 1982).

Kenya is a lesson on the difference state capacity can make. Any attempts at separatist armed struggle – from the Shifta War, to the Sabaot Land Defense Force, to the Mombasa Republican Council – have been crushed (sometimes with foreign help). Civilian insecurity is a serious problem that is getting worse. But the state is not one that can be toppled by bands of armed men on technicals (see here (pdf) for reasons as to why).

The country got a stable start (and many may argue normatively unjust system) because the indigenous upper class inherited the economy and a strong and moderately developed state (largely because of the need to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency) almost intact. Individuals close to Kenyatta took over settler farms almost intact. The last British Officer in the Kenyan military left in the 1970s. The social foundation of the state ensured continuity (redistribution of land to the masses was a non-starter) and the inherited strong bureaucratic-state had the capacity to suppress any form of dissent (of course starting with ex-Mau Mau freedom fighters who demanded for a greater degree of land redistribution). It also helped that Kenyatta and his close associates were from Central Kenya, the economic heart of the country.

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Snapshot of the triumph of conservatism: Kenya’s Four Presidents, Kenyatta I, Kenyatta II, Kibaki and Moi

The confluence of economic and political power (in Kenyatta and his close co-ethnics) made redistributive policies unworkable. As Bates has ably argued, this explains the great investments that the Kenyan state made in agriculture. This also explains why Kenya never flirted with socialism, unlike nearly all of its African (Ghana again being a good example) peers. Leftist elements within KANU lost out in 1966.

Even among the Kenyan public, the idea of individual ownership of property – and especially land – had become accepted as sacrosanct. Many had come to a pragmatic acceptance of inequality as a feature of life. It was OK for the big men to appropriate thousands of acres of land as long as ordinary families got a few acres for their own use. Right from the beginning, prevailing socio-economic conditions and the attitudes of politically relevant groups made it easy for the conservative ruling class to pursue right of center economic policies. There was no land revolution in the 1960s.

When Kenyatta died in 1978 a lot of things had gone wrong. Many freedom fighters had been neglected by the very people who collaborated with the colonial administration and who now had control over the state. Negative ethnicity had irredeemably corrupted the state and made Kenyatta’s co-ethnic unwilling to share state power or wealth with non co-ethnics. Pio Gama Pinto, an active backbencher in Parliament was assassinated in 1965. Tom Mboya, a charismatic likely successor to Kenyatta was assassinated in 1969. Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, a populist co-ethnic of the president who advocated for more redistributive policies, was also assassinated in 1975. The main opposition party had been banned in 1969. A raft of constitutional amendments had destroyed the regionalist structure of the Kenyan government and centralized power in the hands of the president.

But even at the most trying of times, twice in 1969 (the assassination of Mboya, the riots in Kisumu during a Kenyatta visit and the subsequent banning of the main opposition party KPU) and again in 1975 (following the murder of J. M. Kariuki), the Kenyan state held strong. Order was restored. For better or worse conservatism triumphed over populism and radicalism.

Moi’s succession brought new hope; like all good future dictators he started off by releasing political prisoners of his predecessor. But his security of tenure was never a given. He barely survived attempts to exclude him from succeeding the president as required by law. My own reading of the situation is that a key factor in the lawful succession in August 1978 was Charles Njonjo, the unashamedly Anglophile son of a colonial era chief from Kabete (some call him Sir Charles, others the Duke of Kabeteshire). As the Attorney General Njonjo probably eyed the presidency. Yet he wanted to get there lawfully. Moi was his way of outfoxing the Mungai-Koinange. Njonjo, like all good Kenyans, had internalized whatAtieno-Odhiambo calls the country’s pervasive “ideology of order.” Moi probably knew this. And the fact that there was an intra-Kikuyu split along the flow of River Chania. The Kenyatta presidency was a mostly Kiambu affair. Nyeri Kikuyu (who bore the brunt of the Mau Mau insurgency and counterinsurgency were largely excluded). Moi appointed a Nyeri man, Mwai Kibaki as Vice President. For good measure, he kept Njonjo – well until he got rid of him in 1985.

Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, a man that many in Kenyatta’s inner circle had viewed as a passing cloud, then went on to rule Kenya for 24 years. As an outsider his rule was marked by redistribution (as in the District Focus for Rural Development, gated); an attempt at greater control of the political sphere (he turned Kenya into a party-state); and poor economic performance (Kenya’s dominant economic group was excluded from political power). The coup attempt in 1982 was a reaction to Moi’s controlling tendencies. Earlier in the year he had engineered a change in the constitution to make Kenya a one party state. By 1990 a combination of economic collapse and increasing popular resentment made political liberalization inevitable (it also helped that democracy promotion by Western governments became sexy).

The most high profile political assassination during Moi’s rule was that of Robert Ouko in February 1990. Initially the government tried to suggest that the Foreign Minister committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, breaking his legs, and setting himself on fire. He then somehow found himself atop Got Alila where his remains were recovered by a herds-boy. Like all the high profile  political assassinations before it, it is not clear whether this was a result of intra-palace rivalry or whether it was conducted on the orders of the Big Man.

Despite his many faults, Moi maintained the hold of the center. He saved the elite around Kenyatta from self-destructing by refusing to share power and wealth. More crucially, under Moi order continued to be a key pursuit of the state. In other words Kenya did not fall apart under the pressure of demands for political reform like most of its African peers did.

Multipartyism was reintroduced and elections held in 1992. Moi survived with 36% of the vote. The opposition was divided. Their only victory was getting Moi to concede to term limits. Worst case scenario the man would only be in power until 2002.

ImageMoi retired after the 2002 election. In that year Mwai Kibaki won in a landslide, defeating current President Uhuru Kenyatta. The Kibaki presidency brought success and decline in equal measure. The economic consequences of the Kibaki presidency were largely positive. Kenyans acquired greater freedoms. It became OK to hurl abuses at the head of state without risking torture. The 2010 Constitution was enacted under Kibaki. But it is also under Kibaki that the country almost descended into civil war in 2007-08 following the rigged 2007 elections. Corruption and the ethnicization of state administration continued unabated. The euphoria and hope for genuine reform that marked the 2002 transition varnished. Earlier this year Kibaki retired to be succeeded by Uhuru Kenyatta, effectively bringing to power a significant portion of the group that lost the 2002 presidential election.

Moi was Kenyatta’s vice president, Kibaki was Moi’s vice president. President Uhuru Kenyatta is the son Kenya’s founding father.

As is implied by this account, the political history of Kenya has tended to revolve around key personalities, and the presidency. One defining characteristic of the Kenyan saga is the invariable triumph of conservatism over radicalism and progressivism. Great progressives from Pinto to Oginga Odinga, to Bildad Kaggia to J. M. Kariuki to Raila Odinga have fought hard and long to improve the lives of ordinary Kenyans. But the empire always strikes back. And wins. The Kenyan story is one of the triumph of conservatism over progressivism.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the new institutions created by the 2010 Constitution evolve. The Kenyan legislature is strong and continues to evolve (be sure to read my dissertation and book on this); the system of county governments will definitely chip away at the hitherto cohesive bureaucratic-administrative state; and the desire for rapid development and the management of economic equality will raise new problems of the conservative core of the Kenyan state. Will the centre continue to hold? Will Kenya continue to be economically center-right despite freer elections?